Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Caged Birders

One of the features of the National Wildlife Refuge known as The Great Swamp in northern New Jersey is its tour road. Drivers enter the refuge and quickly leave a paved road for a gravelly run on which they are supposed to travel at 15 miles per hour.

If they are birders like me, they are going far slower and frequently stopping in hopes of hearing or seeing something from the road – a harrier, bluebirds, perhaps an owl.

There are two lots to park in along the way, and serious birders park, get out of their cars and start scanning the skies.

It’s the other type of birder I’m writing about here.

These are the people who drive considerably faster than 15 mph, sending up dust clouds. They like to “look at nature” with their windows up and the heat or air conditioning on in what is their four-wheeled cage.

There are other tour roads where serious birders drive, such as the NWR near Atlantic City known as Brigantine. You can stop along the road and scan birds from the road or your car. Green flies be damned! This is no place for a quick run through “nature.”

Pleasant Plains Rd. tour road, Great Swamp

Then there are birders who can only bird from a car. I met an older woman at one of the Swamp lots who told me it’s hard for her to walk now and so she drives to a spot and sits there with her binoculars. If something flies by she’s happy. She’s had a lot of luck thanks to her patience while others stop and go after mere minutes if they see no action.

Contrast her with a couple I saw recently at the same Swamp lot. I had already pulled up and left my car to scan the area. Redheaded woodpecker sometimes show up in the dead trees far to the left, bald eagles drift on the distant horizon and ducks fly up from the marsh grasses.

A car pulled up containing a boomer couple. The man raised his binoculars and watched the black ducks that would suddenly rise, fly a bit and then put down. It was a cold day and their windows were closed. The woman just sat there. They never left the car.

I, meanwhile, had turned around and found an American kestrel, the smallest of U.S. falcons, sitting on a power wire behind the car. Such a pretty little killer. Another man had left his car and was taking pictures. But the couple in the first car backed out and quickly left the lot. Did they see the falcon? I doubt it.

We all need to get out of our comfort zones. We need to walk around, not just for the beneficial exercise but to experience the world around us. That’s why I bird. What kind of world do you really see from a closed car?

People who experience “nature” looking out the car’s front window might as well be at home watching a big-screen TV.

No comments:

Post a Comment