False sightings

Does the Ivory-billed Woodpecker exist?

To be certain, I am not a birder … but I sort of know what it’s like to be one.

In high school I shared the morning commute with a fellow down the road who – had not a chronic bad knee cut is playing days short – was probably among the handful of best athletes I’d ever known.

On alternate weeks I drove my Ford Elite and he his VW Rabbit. When he drove it was a paradoxingly slow-motion race against time to make the bell:

You see he was also a birder.

The drives were a vexing combination of him hunched forward at the wheel scanning through the top of the dashboard from tree top to tree top (and me pointing out traffic signals and being mindful of the bell schedule).

Sometimes he’d pull over into the gravel just to get a better look.

I myself either lacked the penchant, or didn’t possess the eye sight, the latter of which was confirmed on a daily basis by my growing need to sit in the front row of all my classes (particularly math):

“Who could read the scribbles on the chalk board from the back row anyhow?

– Apparently everyone.

Whatever the cause, and even after I got fitted with glasses (talk about a watershed moment!) I still didn’t bird, nor did I leave the front row.

But somehow the daily tutorials soaked in anyhow.

It was a non-descript morning voyage, like any other, only this time with plenty of time to spare before the bell, when – low and behold – off in the distance, at the forests edge, high on a bare branch, through the mist of my foggy morning thinking, a giant blob took form.

“A bird, a bird … a BIRD!” I blurted out in astonishment, and pridefully. “Do you see it? Over there!”

He slowed the Rabbit to a crawl, peered out the window, then nodded his head in recognition.

“That’s a BIRD alright Bob,” he said, breaking into laughter:

“It’s called a red shouldered hawk.”

(Clearly my species identification skills were in need of further refinement.)

That makes me think of the Ivory-billed woodpecker.

Whenever I see a Pileated Woodpecker I jokingly “cry wolf” that it’s an Ivory-billed. Sadly the truth is just the opposite: if by chance I ever saw a real live Ivory-billed (staring me in the face) more than likely I’d write it off matter-of-factly as a Pileated.

A discerning birder I am not.

Either way, I’d like to raise a toast to blurry vision, and hope beyond hope:

Long live false sightings!

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