The Core Team attended a Bat Mitzvah (Mazel Tov, Jessie!) in New York’s Putnam County this weekend. The reception, which was a total blast, was held in a venue overlooking lovely Lake Osceola. Good thing it was, since Mason spent a substantial portion of the day outside throwing rocks in the water!
Since I was outside and can’t help myself, I practiced some surreptitious avian identification. Birds like Red-tailed Hawk and Yellow-rumped Warbler were easy to ID even without optics. What got me were the ducks. Out there in the middle of the lake lived a mixed flock of waterfowl. Right off the bat I could tell that the birds were all smaller than Canada Geese and Mallards, which immediately made them interesting. I don’t get worked up over birds I see all the time but whatever was out there clearly didn’t fall into that category. Now that it’s November, the pool of potential waterfowl species in New York freshwater has increased tenfold.
A fellow birder and I puzzled over the distant ducks, straining to puzzle out distinguishing marks as our sons played on the lakeshore. We noted that some were divers rather than dabblers, that some bore white facial patches while others had white flanks. At times, individual ducks drifted tantalizingly close, but still remained frustratingly out of range. Maybe the flock included scaup or Ruddy Ducks, maybe mergansers of the Hooded variety. At the end of the day, I knew as little about those mystery ducks as when I arrived.
To my fellow bird watchers, I put the question: What do you do when you’re out and about? From what I gather, many of us are always watching, incessantly, unconsciously classifying and cataloguing. But some occasions just don’t lend themselves to (polite) birding. A person would look pretty foolish showing up for a wedding with a scope regardless of how productive the setting might be. So how do you handle yourself? Do you ignore avians out of hand? Drink so much that you don’t care? Maybe some of you stash a secret scope or mini-bins discrete enough not to ruin the lines of your tux. Share your experience…
Two pairs of Hooded Mergansers. My favorite waterfowl!
Did you consider Buffleheads? I’ve already seen a good size flock on a lake in College Park, MD. The ducks in the photo are almost surely Hooded mergansers. What’s the “maybe?”
I think you’re equating “polite” society with non-birding members of society. I know plenty of birdwatchers who wouldn’t mind if someone brought binos to their wedding, though they might prefer if you saved that for the reception!
One trick is to make sure everyone you know knows you’re a birder. You can get away, sometimes, with birding in a non-birding group/event if everyone there can simply shrug and say “oh, she’s a birder.” Of course, this likely contributes to some of the stereotypes non-birders have about birders, but would you rather see a good bird or have people think you’re polite? I’d rather see the good bird.
You can still finesse the birdwatching, though. Ask the host/ess upfront if they mind if you bring your binoculars. Offer to show neat birds to other people/kids who will also be there; offer to limit your birding to certain times, perhaps just before or just after the event (and then also offer to help with set-up or clean-up). In other words, be polite about your birding.
These aren’t actually the ducks I saw at the lake, Enchilada. I added the photo for color.
I did consider Bufflehead as well.
Hmm… quite a dilemma and it really depends on the crowd. If it was a family gathering, I’d have no problem going to my car and getting my bins. In other settings, I’ve tried using my 12x zoom on my camera with some luck, but not much. That may be a solution for you… did you try breaking out the big lens? Then you can just disguise it as photography.
Carolyn, you raise a lot of good points. I guess I’m a bit self-conscious about my avian observation activity. My experience is that most people find it quaint at best.
The long lens would have done the job for sure, Patrick, but i was shooting with a shorter one. Plus I didn’t want to intimidate anyone!
Part of an answer:
Fantastic piece, Rick.
Oh, I realized that the photo was not the baffling (buffling?) ducks…. Just wanted to answer both questions. That’s a nice photo, BTW….
When I am at a non-birding event, I usually focus on the event and not the surroundings, so I probably would not carry optics around. But I will continue to bird by ear and naked eye.