Keeping secrets

Eugene Hunn enhunn at
Wed Mar 6 06:12:07 PST 2002

Dear Fellow Birders,

Sometimes we're confronted with a dilemma. By happenstance perhaps we hear
of a rare and beautiful bird, so we decide we'd like to go have a look. Sure
enough! There it is. A wonderful sight to behold.

But, here's the dilemma. Should we just enjoy it privately and go on about
our business? Should we share the secret with a few trusted friends? Or,
should we let everybody know so that they might enjoy it too?

It's a tough choice sometimes, as a rare and beautiful bird can draw a
crowd. So we need to consider the circumstances.

Would the revelation harm the bird? Would a bunch of birders disturb it
feeding or nesting? Or degrade its habitat?

Would the revelation harm someone, violate their right to be secure in their
property, or create a public hazard or nuisance?

If so, perhaps it's best kept secret. If not, I say, share the wealth.

Well, we arrived at the specified location (there were three of us). It was
the middle of a beautiful day, on a quiet residential street in one of
Seattle's nicer neighborhoods. People were out gardening in their front
yards, walking their dogs, jogging by. We found what we thought must be the
spot where the bird could be readily seen, a patch of grass just off the
sidewalk, on the corner. We stood around for sometime studying the House

We saw a lady gardening at a house kitty-korner across the street and went
over to chat her up, to let her know what we were about. We told her we'd
heard there was a rare and beautiful bird coming to her neighbor's feeder.
She said, "Really! What sort of bird?" So we showed her the picture in the
book. "Wow!" she said. "I'd like to see one of those myself. And my friend,
who's a real avid birdwatcher, would too."

At that moment the bird in question popped up out of the ivy and began to
feed out in the open on the ground. The neighbor lady came over with her
husband and young son and we showed them the bird in our scope. They were
most impressed. Soon, their friend arrived with her son. Meanwhile the bird
fed contentedly with his junco friends.

We apologized if we were causing any problems. The neighbor lady's husband
assured us that it was a wonderful bird, "Thanks for showing it to us."
Also, that we were standing on city property, that there was a street
right-of-way directly below our vantage point.

We wondered why anyone should have kept this a secret. No danger to the
bird, certainly. No trespass. No real nuisance. So I decided to post it on
tweeters with all the usual cautionary notes. Some people got upset about

I must admit, I'm no good at keeping secrets. In fact, in principle, I abhor
secrets. A character flaw, perhaps, but I can't help it.

Why should I abhor secrets?

Keeping a secret is like telling a lie.
Telling a lie distorts the truth.
Keeping a secret hides the truth.
Lies and secrets are deceitful.

Of course, there are many kinds of lies, and many kinds of secrets.
There are little white lies, and dirty little secrets.
Sometimes one should lie or hide the truth.
For example, if the truth is too painful.
If the truth is too dangerous.
But if the truth is simply inconvenient for someone?

Kenneth Lay knew the truth; his employees didn't; but now they do.
Richard Nixon knew the truth; the American Public didn't; but we found out.
John Ashworth knows the truth; the Congress doesn't, but would like to find
Bill Clinton knew the truth; Hillary didn't, but now she does.
The truth will out, eventually, and usually it's ugly.

Secrets make for bad government.
Secrets make for bad science.
Did Galileo keep it secret?
Did Darwin keep it secret?
Did Einstein keep it secret?
And, more to the point, secrets make for bad friends.
Secrets kill Community.

So, I don't keep secrets lightly.

Birders belong to a community of people who share a passion for birds. That
community thrives on information that we freely share. I've seen the
Washington birding community grow during the past thirty years from a few
isolated individuals to an exciting crowd. We now know much more about the
bird life of our state than we did then. The main reason is that we freely
share what we learn about birds. Now we have tweeters, WOS News, Washington
Birder, North American Birds, and our community is thriving.

Some people think there are too many birders. They fear the crowds. I don't
think there can ever be too many birders. Birders derive great pleasure from
learning about birds, admiring birds, contemplating birds. So birders are
passionate defenders of birds. So how can we have too many of us?

So, if you have a secret flower in your garden.
If you have a secret bird at your feeder.
And you're afraid of crowds.
Don't tell a soul.

Gene Hunn.

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