A yellow warbler lit in my willow tree one long-ago August day and I have never been the same since.

I didn't know it was a yellow warbler, of course. Unlike my husband Bill, whose interest in birds had begun long before with his Eagle Scout requirement of a bird-study merit badge, I had never paid attention to birds at all. Oh sure, I remembered my mother's putting out crumbs for the cardinals every time it snowed, and I guess I could have picked out a blue jay in a crowd, but beyond that every bird looked pretty much the same to me. Dull and brown, like the sparrows that came to the feeder Bill had made when we moved into our first house. Emphasis on dull.

But on this summer day, newly returned from a vacation in the North Carolina mountains that had opened my eyes to the infinite varieties of wildlife for the first time, I was finally ready to see things that had been around me all along. So after Bill left for work and our son Dave went off to a day at baseball camp, I took my coffee out to the patio for a quiet hour in my leafy backyard before beginning my own day.

A flash of yellow feathers caught my eye high in the willow tree and I thought, that's different. I couldn't remember having seen any yellow birds at the feeder. What could it be?

I decided I would find out, and surprise Bill with the news at dinner. I had no idea I would change my life in the process.

I had never used binoculars before, and hadn't a clue as to how to find anything in a field guide, so my self-appointed task turned out to be a lot harder than I'd imagined. Miraculously, though, the bird stayed around, moving from limb to limb of course, hiding behind branches at times and even zipping over to our neighbor's yard on occasion, but always staying within binocular range and giving me every chance to get it right. I needed all the help it was offering.

Was it an evening grosbeak? A female scarlet tanager? An oriole? A goldfinch? I'd never supposed there were so many yellow birds. And all those warblers! How could anyone sort all of those out? What was I doing, even trying?

But I couldn't stop.

It took, incredibly, three solid hours, but at last came that magic moment when the bird and the book came together and I knew. It was a yellow warbler. I had even seen those reddish streaks on the breast that told me it was a male. I'd done it!

I was exhilarated. To think that such a beautiful creature was right here in my own small yard! It was worth every second of the effort. And then I realized I could hardly wait for tomorrow, for what else might I find? I didn't want to miss a single thing from that moment on…

I have been birding, and learning, ever since.