[CT Birds] birders, police and the public

Mntncougar at aol.com Mntncougar at aol.com
Sat Jan 9 15:58:36 EST 2010

I understand entirely people's feelings about harrassment and  worse from 
the police and the public when bird watching.  I've been there  myself, 
thankfully in only a limited way.  Most recently was in Stratford  only a month 
or so ago, in the parking lot at Short Beach when I was scanning  the 
pond/marsh behind the beach.  I was parked in the circle at the   end of the lot 
which faces towards the marsh, a location marked with parking  spaces.  As I 
was scanning the marsh with my  binoculars I heard a car pull up behind me 
and saw that it was a Stratford  cruiser.  I didn't think much of it, and 
having spotted a few ducks I went  to my car and got out my scope.  As I was 
setting it up I heard the  cruiser pull around the circle and stop again, 
followed by the cop walking up to  me and asking what I was doing.  Frankly I 
thought it was pretty  obvious.  However, I calmly explained that I was a bird 
watcher and wanted  to see what kind of ducks were at the far end of the 
pond.  I received a  few more probing questions.  Finally I guess I convinced 
him because he  said he had to be careful because of the proximity of the 
airport.  (This  was well before the xmas undie bomber, btw). He went on his 
way, and that was  the end of the incident.
Frankly, I considered that both ridiculous and outrageous.  First of  all, 
Stratford is possibly the most heavily birded town in the state, and I  was 
within eyesight of the Audubon Center at Stratford Point, and even closer to 
 the Center at Milford Point.  I find it very doubtful that a cop could  
spend 1 day on patrol in the town without encountering a birder or 2.   
Secondly, Stratford has had a spring Birding Festival for at least  the  last 
couple of years, which presumably is meant to promote birding in the town,  not 
discourage it, and the police should at least be aware of that.  
The point of all the above is simply that you can never take it for  
granted that police or the public are aware of what it is you are doing, much  
less have any sympathy for it. Particularly when dealing with the public,   we 
need to assume that they have no clue what we are doing, nor do they have 
any  interest in or knowledge of it.  I will have to say, frankly, that it 
might  well look suspicious to find someone poking about the neighborhood with 
a pair  of binoculars, possibly in camo clothing.  
I am familiar with Paul Peterson, from the MASSBird list, and knowing how  
avid a birder he is I doubt he was doing anything other than what he says.   
Obviously, neither I nor anyone else really knows. Bottom line is to always 
give  a little thought to what you are doing, and particularly how it might 
look to a  non-birder.  If you do get approached/confronted by police or 
the public,  swallow any irritation you have and patiently explain what you 
are doing with a  smile on your face.  In fact, we are often approached by 
people who are  just curious what we are looking at, and most birders I know 
are happy to give  an explanation and maybe even a peek through the scope or  
binoculars.   That can only promote education and good will, and maybe  
avoid a disagreeable situation somewhere down the line.  It's unfortunate,  but 
today's world is a different place from what it was 25 years or more ago,  
and at times boundaries are much more well defined.  I was very well aware  
of that situation when in southeast Arizona last August, when I was 
questioned  several times by both local police and the Border Patrol (rather nastily 
at  that) on what I was doing, even though I was in the middle of nowhere 
and  minding my own business.   And obviously, we know that area as a  birding 
hotspot and a very popular destination.  If we are to pursue our  avocation 
we must be prepared to deal with the possibility of potential  conflict, 
and the only way to come out on top is to be open and affable, even  though we 
may not feel so inclined.
Don Morgan    

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