If you’re a birder, and if you’ve spent any amount of time out in the field (read: parking lots, sewage lagoons, and dumps) birding, you’ve surely received incredulous stares and dumb questions (i.e., crap) from nonbirders. They mean well, but it becomes wearisome after the fiftieth time. Nonbirders seem to delight in pestering me with trite questions.
Others simply gawk as they hurry by, clutching their small children closer…
THE SCHOOL PROJECT FALLACY
I don’t know his name—all I know is that he lives over on the next street. I’ll call him Bob. Average height, pudgy, balding, an overweight black lab waddling at his side—Bob is an entirely forgettable character. I, however, find Bob entirely unforgettable, since he’s given me the exact same question at least four times.
Bob had it coming. The final straw came one day while I was innocently studying a male Western Bluebird in my neighborhood. The scuffing of heavy footsteps on the sidewalk behind me caught my attention. “Hey—how’s it going?” Not recognizing Bob’s booming voice, I turned, finding him squinting at my binoculars slung across my chest. Without waiting for an answer, he immediately continued, “I see you birdwatching all the time! Is it for a school project or something?”
The following day, thousands of people cracked open the morning paper and marveled over a mysterious murder case: an apparently innocent man had been strangled to death with binocular straps.
Call it an overreaction, but my nerves fray after hearing the same query hundreds of times. People ask me this question nearly every time I’m out birding. “School project…school…project…” rings in my ears. Nope, not a school project…I do it just for fun. I sigh a breath of relief as yet another nonbirder walks off.
Until the next one comes along, asking whether…
THIS IS A SPOTTING SCOPE
It was a good day for seawatching—early on a cool summer morning, the sky clear, the smog minimal. Jamming my eye socket into the waiting eyepiece of my scope, I probed the distant swells for seabirds. A Sooty Shearwater glided by, followed by another…and then a Pink-footed. A good day for seawatching, indeed. Then, I heard those dreaded muffled footsteps. I kept my eye in my scope, ignoring them, hoping to avoid another awkward encounter with nonbirders. Soft voices approached.
“Good morning,” intoned a clear tenor voice. Turning, and returning the greeting, I quickly sized up my opponents. A young couple. The girl was a stereotypical Californian: blonde, slim, and good-looking. The guy was garbed in casual clothes, which, by the looks of them, probably had been purchased at Abercrombie and Fitch the previous day. Yuppies, I couldn't help but sneer silently. As they passed, the girl asked, “Getting any good pictures?”
“Sure,” I lied at their retreating backs.
This is a spotting scope. It doesn’t take pictures. Got it?
Occasionally, my scope is mistaken for a gun, or even a missile launcher. I can’t help but enjoy acting the part of a terrorist in such situations. It makes for a nice break from the scope vs. camera misidentifications.