We birders must really love what we do, because the social cost of doing it is pretty high. I’m not talking about being shunned, or losing jobs, or being expelled from the village. The cost, of course, includes our friends and family being mystified by the time and effort we put into birding. But mostly, it’s just… the embarassment.
Let’s face it, the standard birder’s outfit are not exactly stylish. I don’t wear camouflage, or khaki, but I did finally have to accept reality and get one of those floppy cloth hats that you can pack into a suitcase. The only other advantage to a hat like that, is that it keeps people from questioning my motives for traipsing around the countryside. Who would ever wear a hat like that, if they weren’t looking for birds?
Still, it would be possible to bird without a ridiculous hat. It seems like breaking the rules, but I suppose it could be done. But there is one part of our gear that just cannot be hidden: the optics.
Maybe people up north are more used to seeing someone wearing binoculars, but here in Mexico, you would have to look long and hard to find someone using them. And then there is that camera. There is just no way to carry a 150-600 mm lens inconspicuously.
There is a nature reserve on the far side of my neighborhood that I often visit. Unfortunately, there is also a country club next to the entrance to the reserve. Once, somebody famous must have been visiting the country club, because the guards at the entrance assumed I must be a paparazzo, and tried to confiscate my oversized camera. Which is yet another reason I prefer to bird empty countryside where no one can see me (and my camera).
You might think lockdown would bring an end to the discomfort of hiking around the land with too-large optics around one’s neck. But birders gotta bird. And during lockdown my best shot at seeing anything, beyond the limited number of species that make it into my tiny garden, is to spend a couple of hours up on the roof of my house… with my optics… in plain sight of my many neighbors.
Now, again, perhaps in the U.S. Canada, and Western Europe, people wouldn’t think twice about seeing someone standing on their roof with giant photographic equipment around their necks. But I can only imagine what my Mexican neighbors must think. A few know me well enough to just shake their heads and think “There he goes again”. But the rest? Am I spying on them? Collecting valuable intelligence? Practicing astronomy with the wrong equipment and at the wrong hour? Auditioning for the part of a strange, photographic Santa Claus?
In the end, I just have to believe that birding is making me a stronger person, one less affected by others’ opinion of me. I cling to the wonderful phrase (origin unknown): “Most of us would worry less about what others think of us, if we only understood how rarely they do”.
Just maybe, birding helps us to be a little more shameless.
This post subject isn’t an easy one to accompany with images, but I’ll do what I can. There aren’t that many good photo opportunities during lockdown, but what could be more shameless than a bit of pigeon porn? Or, to be more taxonomically correct, an Inca orgy? (Inca Dove, that is.) What can I say? It’s spring, romance is in the air, and they gave good photos.
Nothing to see here…