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The Problem with Expectations

July 8, 2013

In a sense birding is all about having expectations, and then adjusting and resetting those same expectations. Because nothing ever transpires as you’d expect it would.

This past week, my husband and I traveled to Winnipeg, and I got it into my head that I would see a Yellow-headed Blackbird. I couldn’t resist the bird’s bumble-bee attire and remarkable-sounding scientific name, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus, which translates, even more remarkably, to “yellow head.”

Photo by Gemit Vyn from here.

Photo by Gemit Vyn from here.

I even wrote our hosts, who assured us that I’d have no problem seeing the bird, since the Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus (except our host referred to the bird by its more pedestrian name, which I totally understand) often made an appearance at their bird bath. This thrilled me to no end — not only would I lock eyes with a new life bird, but I’d also have the chance to experience¬† bird bath exposure. (Full disclosure: not only did I grow up with very little exposure to nature as a child, but my current living arrangement in a condo in Toronto means that I had to Google “Bird bath” because I began to imagine all sorts of peculiar scenarios involving bath tubs and birds, and suffice it to say that a few Google images cleared all of that up for me.)

My poor husband. The days leading up to our trip overflowed with yellow-headed blackbird/xanthocephalus this, yellow-headed blackbird that. A “bird bath” weaseled its way into even our most banal conversations. Let’s just say that my expectations ballooned.

We arrived in Winnipeg and headed straight for Grand Marais on Lake Winnipeg. The striking bird bath didn’t disappoint. I should have snapped a picture, but it looked much like this one here.

A BIRD BATH! The one I saw had a sculpted bird instead of a turtle on it.

A BIRD BATH! (Ours boasted sculpted birds rather than somewhat inexplicable turtles.)

And I waited. And waited. (In my brand new Tilley Hat, should you be wondering about my attire.) I watched a Catbird interrupt a flirtatious encounter between two House wrens. They tried their luck again — a few seconds later, on a higher branch — but it was not to be. The Catbird turned out to be a serious and somewhat creepy lurker; he refused to let the wrens do their mid-summer wren-like thing and obliterated their romantic tete-a-tete. I saw Tree swallows feeding their young, yellow warblers singing up a storm, barn swallows swooping downward frenetically, all sorts of sparrow-like creatures that I couldn’t properly identify, majestic American White Pelicans gliding over the lake, a woodpecker pounding away rhythmically. And, alas, no Yellow-headed Blackbird.

I know that part of thrill of birding is that things never happen as you expect. But couldn’t nature, FOR ONCE, deliver what I had flown two hours to see?

Well, ok, full disclosure again: the focus of our trip to Winnipeg was a visit with dear friends who had left Toronto three years ago — and here, nature delivered splendidly; we had a wonderful visit, almost as if no time had passed (I even got the chance to pet a rat named Beatrice, but that’s neither here nor there).

I never did manage to see the Yellow-headed blackbird. Instead, I saw what may have been the World’s Largest Osprey nest and, finally, the piece-de-resistance of our entire trip:

photo(2)That’s right — a BLACK BEAR. One hour north of Winnipeg, ambling happily along the highway, peeking in and out of the forest. (I nearly had a full-blown anxiety attack! It didn’t help that my husband rolled down our car window and claimed all was OK because he was fully versed in “bear psychology”!) Not exactly what I could have ever expected.

That’s how things happen in Magical Manitoba! Hopefully the Xanthocepalus xanthocephalus won’t be so shy next time we visit…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2013 6:42 pm

    That’s nature for you! You rarely find what you set out to see, but often see something just as marvelous!

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