A Heightened Sense of Awareness

Yesterday’s picture of the avocet chasing away the Wilson’s Phalarope reminded me of a phenomena I have experienced several times: you’re totally focused on one bird for quite a while and suddenly you notice other birds that you had entirely missed. It seems to be a corollary of the rule that the best way to bird is simply to stand silently in one place and the birds will come to you. I think both are related to a heightened sense of awareness. Too often we get caught up in our thoughts and ignore what’s happening around us.

In this case I was focused on getting shots of the American Avocets, the birds I had come to photograph. Until the avocet lunged at the Wilson’s Phalarope, I hadn’t even seen them, and it wasn’t until my attention shifted that I noticed there was more than one phalarope,


the out-of-focus female Wilson’s Phalarope in the lower left-hand portion of the picture. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even see it when I took this photograph.

I probably didn’t see it until it began to come into focus as the male phalarope landed.


Once I knew they were there, I shifted focus and got this shot of the pair,


perhaps the first shot I have ever gotten of a pair of Wilson’s Phalaropes.

Of course, once I was aware that the phalaropes were in this area, I noticed them right away while birding the area the next door,


though I might well have missed seeing the pair again if I hadn’t expected them to be there.

The transformation from a back-yard bird watcher to an experienced birder has been an interesting one for me. I’m still amazed at all the birds I’ve seen nearby that I missed seeing for the first sixty years of my life and wonder how I could ever have been so unaware of my surroundings.

Of course, I would like to think that taking up birding has increased my awareness in other areas, too, but maybe I’ve just tuned out other channels of information so I can focus on one that I enjoy more.