As a beginner, I am aware of the temptation of wishful thinking, or drifting detail, or as some have called it, creative memory. Knowing I may only get a few seconds with a bird in my binoculars, perhaps I rush to gather diagnostic details and miss something important. Then I pull out a book or an iPod app and look for something that matches or comes close to it. That’s what this beginner does with the birds I don’t know well.
Creative memory happens when a photo or documented detail tends to confirm what I remember. But it’s easy to be selective, focusing on the confirming details, overlooking nonconfirming ones. Then I might begin to question what I remembered: “Did I really see gray on top and not olive/green? Maybe it was the angle of viewing or the sun that was nearly behind the bird.” And then maybe the memory creeps.
One thing I just started doing to help nail down details so they don’t drift with time and subsequent research is to bring along a digital voice recorder. I did that today. When I saw a couple of birds I wasn’t sure about, I turned on the device and narrated the details of what I saw as I was seeing it. Until I learn warblers better (and esp. the confusing fall warblers), this should help with the drifting details/creative memories/wishful thinking problem. I’m not able to ID everything I see, and for now, I’m satisfied with that. It just means I have more to learn and the Creator’s universe has abounding opportunities for that endeavor.
Today, I watched a common yellowthroat foraging in the tall weeds by the bog creek. This makes the second or third day of noticing this species at this location. I also noticed a great-crested flycatcher among the flimsy branches of a scrubby willow by the bog’s edge. I love this bird’s coat of colors: a soft gray and warm yellow offset by russet tail feathers. Magnificent.