I Don’t Know


This week’s photo, taken August 24, 2013 in Discovery Park in Seattle, WA, features an ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD during a relaxing moment between feeding sessions.

This past Sunday, I drive an hour south of Seattle to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Along the popular Twin Barns Loop Trail, I encounter 3 other bird-watchers who are debating whether a wading bird they have spotted across the waterway is an American Bittern or a Green Heron. While they are looking at the bird with binoculars, I have the advantage of viewing the mystery bird through my spotting scope. One of the other birders asks me if I know what it is, and I respond: “American Bittern.” No one questions my call, probably because I’m equipped with binoculars, a scope, a tripod, and a camera with a long lens. Since I’m traveling with the whole nine yards, they must think I’m a famous ornithologist and author of several field guides. By the way, that’s precisely the look I am trying to project.

When I return home, I download my images to my computer and examine them carefully. After comparing my photos to illustrations in a few field guides (none of which I wrote), I determine without any doubt that the bird discussed earlier at the refuge is actually a juvenile GREEN HERON.

I reflect on why I originally labeled it a bittern, and I conclude that since I was the only person observing the bird through a high-powered scope, I put pressure on myself to come up with an answer. In other words, my ego got involved, and I simply threw out a guess. In hindsight, the answer I should have given at the time (and it would have been the right answer) is: “I don’t know.”


About Joe Sweeney

I photograph birds to share the beauty and wonder I find in nature.
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9 Responses to I Don’t Know

  1. I love your honesty here!
    Really enjoy your blog

  2. Brenda Peterson says:

    Funny! And intelligent insight! Good work!

  3. Susan K. says:

    I bet this has happened to us all. What a great essay on the perils of trying to be an expert!
    Thank you, Joe, for this honest piece!

  4. Dennis Sweeney says:

    Who can we trust anymore?


  5. Margie Rovarino says:

    It’s often the best answer. It’s taken me 60 years to figure it out!!

  6. Judy Zeckhauser says:

    Amazing Joe! Did you get their email addresses so you that you can rectify the situation? J

  7. Fabius Fox says:

    Dear Joe, A thousand years ago, a great Jewish Scloar once said “Teach yourself to say I don’t know, and you will progress”. I am enjoying your pictures and your stories, and passing on to a friend who is a serious birder. Best, Fabe Fox NYC formerly at RLP

  8. Cindy Ackley says:

    You are too funny. C

    Sent from my iPad

  9. Amy Converse Hunter says:

    Hi Joe,
    Always good to read your tweet reports, enjoy them very much!

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