birders' behavior

Constance J. Sidles csidles at
Tue Mar 5 06:08:00 PST 2002

Hey tweets, I echo Steve Mlodinow's plea to respect the wishes of people
lucky enough to find rarities near their homes. I agree that while we may
have a legal right to descend like one of Genghis Khan's hordes onto the
public access of some hapless person's home, that doesn't make it the right
thing to do. We had the good fortune earlier in the season to encounter a
couple of homeowners who were thrilled to have crowds of birders observe
their rarities (the hoary in eastern Washington; the tropical kingbird in
Stanwood). But when that doesn't happen, I think we should let a rarity

I still remember vividly the time I posted onto tweeters an American
bittern at the Fill. A crowd of birders came down to see it. To my horror
they splashed into the water near the bird's favorite roost, flushing it.
When it flew to the main pond, the birders stampeded after it, causing it
to flee to the hidden pond near the dime parking lot. Lo and behold, I saw
the birders tromping off to that pond too. By now the poor bittern was
really spooked. It flew off south, not to return. I didn't see another
bittern at the Fill for two years. When I confronted the chagrined birders
about their behavior, their most common response was, "Well, I just wanted
to see the bird." It was plain that their desire to see something for their
own satisfaction far outweighed any consideration for the bird itself.

Birding books call this behavior "loving the bird to death." I have a
different name for it. Any time I put my own satisfaction over the welfare
of another creature, I have to look myself in the mirror and admit that I
was being selfish. It's no good trying to tell myself that I'm not causing
very much damage, or that a little won't hurt. Myself in the mirror reminds
me that I myself should weigh very, very little on the scale that weighs
harm against my own pleasure. It's probably the only scale in the universe
on which I am not overweight. So I never trespass on property with posted
signs, even if there is no one there to catch me or see me. I never play
tapes to attract birds, even though my owl list could use a lot of help. I
hope I never step off the path in alpine meadows, even on that happy day
when I finally see the mythical ptarmigan camouflaged behind a rock that is
blocking my view and that I could see perfectly if only I took just one,
tiny, insignificant step onto pristine alpine plants. I know that glorious
day will come, and even though I've been waiting for it for fifteen years
and it has yet to pass, I hope I have the moral strength to let the bird go
without taking that step off the path. Because I also know there will be
other ptarmigans out there for me to see, so long as I respect Nature and
do whatever I can to help her.

I'll tell you one more story: Three years ago, I was at High Island in
spring. A troop of British birders were aggressively pursuing every
sighting everywhere in Boy Scout Woods. When they heard the call,
"Golden-winged warbler," they surged off at a run, pounding the boardwalk
so loudly that every bird in the area flushed. I was so upset, I left High
Island and drove down to Sabine Woods. I sat down on a bench there in the
shaded grove and slowly felt my inner turmoil subside. In a few minutes,
the peace of that silent place filled my soul. Then I heard a faint rustle
in the bush next to my head. I turned to see a male golden-winged warbler
foraging not two feet from my eyes. I watched him for 15 minutes. We were
alone together in that place. I could see every feather, every bug in his
bill. It was glorious.- Connie, Seattle

csidles at

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