It was the weekend we have waited for all year. The one when all the Warblers show up in one place all at the same time. Holly and I spent most of Saturday and Sunday in Clove Lakes Park on Staten Island. We found all the birds we were hoping to find, plus a few we haven’t seen recently. Cape May Warbler. Canada Warbler. Wilson’s Warbler. Seventeen Warblers in all.
The Park was chockablock full of birders, so we found all the birding friends we haven’t seen since our Christmas Bird Count. The place was also chockablock full of non-birders whose curiosity was aroused by all the people with binoculars. We could hardly bird with all the dog walkers, joggers, strollers, baby carriage pushers, fisherman, and roller bladers peppering us with questions:
“Any interesting birds?” “What do you see?” “Do you know what this bird is that keeps showing up in my back yard?’ “What kind of binoculars should I buy?” “How can I learn about birds?”
It wasn’t so long ago that non-birders thought we were weird. There was a time when I wouldn’t admit to being a birder to anyone who wasn’t. Until I joined the Audubon staff, I hid my passion for birds from everyone I worked with. This was a time when grabbing my boss's wife's bottom at an office Christmas party would have been a more forgivable thing to do than admitting to being a birder. Adults who spent time on something like birding were simply not to be trusted in those days.
How things have changed. Now non-birders call me with bird questions. My college alumni association asked me to donate a guided bird walk as a raffle item. "Smart Money" magazine has asked me to comment on birding binoculars. And I get lots of questions from strangers in the Park. We sometimes find ourselves feeling a little impatient. All the curious strangers approaching us with questions interrupt the flow of the pursuit. Most are tentative at first. Like they aren't sure if it's OK to interrupt someone doing something so serious. But we resist the temptation to be brief with our interrogators. We have come to regard their questions as part of the rhythm. As an opportunity to engage people. We always take time to answer their questions and to open our field guide and show people what we have been seeing. “You saw that here!”
Things change in unexpected ways. Sometimes for the better.