Brian Sullivan has a wonderful piece on the ABA blog about the different stages we go through as our birding skill develops. From “beginner” to “college” to “middle age” to “expert,” he describes an evolution from a state where everything is new and unknown through various degrees of knowledge.
One of the most interesting things Brian points out about this evolution (echoed in the blog comments) is that birders at the very highest level seem to get back to beginner’s mind. The familiar seems new again and “knowledge” stops getting in the way and becomes an aid to experiencing each bird as unique and fascinating. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know.”
It seems to me that nowhere is this truer than in learning bird sounds. In the field, some sounds may elude our ability to say what species uttered it. That’s okay. Because there’s so much more to listen for in bird talk than just Who was it?.