[CT Birds] birders, police and the public

Sharon Abner sharonorganist at hotmail.com
Sat Jan 9 16:14:43 EST 2010

This is all a bit disheartening, and I realize that my behavior could look odd to others at times when birding.  My sister and I alarmed a policeman at the Downtown Kansas City Airport a few years ago, but she convinced him of what we were doing.


In terms of the public, however, the response I've had when pulling my car to the side of the road to look is that people have stopped to ask if I need help.


> From: Mntncougar at aol.com
> Date: Sat, 9 Jan 2010 15:58:36 -0500
> To: ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org
> Subject: Re: [CT Birds] birders, police and the public
> 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 
> Coventry
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