Birding rests on varying degrees of trust. There is a need to trust the information contained in the field guide you are using (minute details matter and sometimes there are variations not provided, and some guides even contain errors). And of course the reliability of the reporter can make a difference to accuracy of sighting reports.
Birding can be more than a hobby. Even a beginner’s records can provide valuable data for professional ornithologists. Whether the observer’s knowledge is limited or advanced, accuracy is critical. It is fine to estimate the number of birds in a flock when a precise count is not the goal because there is a difference between 5 birds and 500 birds that can matter in research. Naturally, identification is the primary data being sought. Newbies clearly run the risk of inadvertently reporting rarities. The first White-faced Ibis I saw was reported by inexperienced birders who didn’t have the experience to assume that every ibis on Plum Island was a Glossy Ibis, so they examined the handful of birds in the field and found the needle in the haystack. Now since they were unknown in the birding community, it was initially reported as “possible” until the field ornithologist saw it himself a week or so later. It was a lesson in trust, but verify. Over time, some birders gain a reputation for always seeing rarities that no one else sees. Sadly, they become like the boy who cried wolf so all of their reports get taken with a grain of salt.
Doubt can be a tool that leads to greater faith. When questions lead to better understanding, trust grows. Some field records list someone other than the original observer, followed by the word fides. This means that the record is accepted on the faith of the person passing it along. It takes time and hard work to build a reputation that can be trusted like that. It can feel like an insult to be challenged, but with the right attitude it can also be the reason your skills improve. Of course, doubt can also be a weapon to silence even experts. There is a delicate balancing act when it comes to questioning others, so be careful to do it out of genuine curiosity without a trace of accusation. Even those insignificant moments of bird identification when all you see is blur, what a joy to trust those with you enough to ask “did you see that well enough for me to list it?” How much more important is it to build relationships of trust as we manage real struggles?
Prayer: Steadfast One, thank you for not requiring blind faith, instead blessing our earnest, curious, questioning. Amen.