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Neophyte birder finding out there's still much to learn

So we're birding now. And we're not very good at it. When you live in South Delta, it's difficult to ignore the abundance of bird life all around.

So we're birding now. And we're not very good at it.

When you live in South Delta, it's difficult to ignore the abundance of bird life all around.

Identifying those birds is another matter entirely, and so we've become the owners of four new bird books in the last month alone: two field guides, a well-loved copy of Birds of Vancouver by Robin Bovey and Wayne Campbell from Bryan's used book store and Anne Murray's A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay.

That's a lot of reading. Before the bird books, all birds were either eagles, robins, ducks, crows or herons. What more could there be?

Lots more, it turns out. The two dozen snowy owls that visited Boundary Bay last winter piqued my interest, and since then we've identified cedar wax-wings, shorteared owls, grebes, red-winged blackbirds, barn swallows, coots, dunlins, Cooper's hawks, woodpeckers, sandhill cranes, 18 million great blue herons and a pretty yellow bird that could have been a goldfinch or a grosbeak. This is in addition to the bald eagles, seagulls, starlings, chickadees, crows, mallards, robins, pigeons and other birds we see every single day.

It's been a bit of a bumpy road though, this birding. Imagine my embarrassment when I asked the gentleman with the high-powered binoculars at Brunswick Point if the large grey bird perched atop the old pier was a double-breasted cormorant. Alarm replaced the smile on his face as he corrected that it was a double-crested cormorant. I decided right then not to ask him about what I thought was a bushtit in the blackberry bushes.

As a former reporter for this very newspaper, I know exactly the type of pandemonium that ensues when a bird is misidentified - what with all the demands for apologies, retractions and corrections, it shatters your confidence. I cringe thinking about the severity of the offence I committed offer-ing up a fake and arguably pornographic name.

After that unfortunate incident I resolved to do better, consuming those books with the aggressive determination of a mute swan during breeding season.

Still it's tough. I don't always carry the books with me, and by the time I get home from walking the dog, having spotted what I thought was something new, I can never remember what it looked like to make a match. Many times the bird I thought I saw - pulled from a page in one of the field guides - doesn't even reside here.

It may take more than simple desire and a few field guides to make me a better birder. I'm thinking about outfitting the house with some well-placed birdfeeders to attract the different species and investing in a pair of really good binoculars for those weekend treks.

I'm not sure if camouflage clothing is warranted, but on that I've already failed. A friend of mine just returned from the Galapagos, bringing back for me a souvenir baseball cap. It's bluer than a blue jay but not as blue as a steller's jay, and it says "I love boobies." I can't think of a better hat for birding.