Forget everything I said about birds. I went to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge with some serious birders out of Connecticut over the weekend. They toted the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America and gigantic binoculars and huge monocular spotting scopes on tripods, and wore floppy hats and spray-on Off!, and at least one of them had a special vest with net pockets over the buttocks for her water bottle and field guide. It is certain that what I thought all along was a skimmer (because of the way it flies low over the water with its beak open, skimming the tiny foodstuffs off the surface) is an oystercatcher (its beak is orange right to the tip; the skimmer’s beak has a black tip), and what I have taken for piping plovers, those little birds that run back and forth on the beach, are most likely sanderlings (the plovers are plumper and have a ring around the neck). So I am still on the lookout for the piping plover, but I like sanderlings and am glad they're not endangered.
At the last minute, I was joined on this excursion by my evil twin, and so, though I tried to behave, the avidity of the type of birder who keeps a life list struck me forcibly as absurd. Here is what my life list looks like: Birds–check. My evil twin’s life list is more extensive: Big ducks, Little ducks–check, check. The leader never spoke directly to anyone: he was always scanning the treetops, his attention snapping away as if he were afflicted by some birder’s version of attention-deficit disorder, and saying things like “Cedar waxwing at two o’clock” and “That was a yellow-tailed warbler—actually, it was a tail-less yellow-tailed warbler.” At one point, in a blind from which voyeurs had spotted a pair of doves and a muskrat, the leader was making an expert birdcall to attract something, and my evil twin almost split her sides because she wanted so badly to say, "I hear it, but I don't see it."
I saw a green heron, and a soro, and a semipalmated plover, and I learned that a passerine bird is not, as I thought, a bird that is just passing through but a sparrow (it’s from the Latin). The birders got excited about birds I see all the time: There were snowy egrets, of course, roosting, fishing, flapping their big sail-like wings in flight; and cormorants; and ducks and geese (which my mother used to call “long-necked ducks”). There were terns wheeling, their wings sharply angular (though I cannot distinguish the least tern), and laughing gulls, with their distinct black heads and heartless cry: Hah Hah Hah Hah Hah Hah Hah! Later, on the beach, we noticed one rather aristocratic-looking gull slumming among a flock of herring gulls competing for Cheetos—a Bonaparte?
So I have made fun of the bird-lovers and the bird-haters. I’m sure that somewhere in the great pecking order of the universe, some big bird is making fun of me. Hah Hah Hah Hah Hah Hah Hah!