Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Early this morning I went looning, specifically to chase a Pacific Loon reported on Lake Monona yesterday to the Wisconsin Birding Network. I haven't seen one in Dane County for several years and since I had off work today, I thought I might as well try and hopefully get a decent picture of it.
I was the first birder to arrive at Law Park/Monona Terrace, soon joined by a few birder friends. Numerous Common Loons kept us scanning the water and eventually the smaller loon came into view. Quickly diving and working its way in our direction, the Pacific Loon treated us to a wonderful view from a mere 30 to 40 feet away. What luck! Sadly, I wasn't expecting it to surface so close to the terrace wall and wasn't ready with my camera. A missed photographic opportunity, but what a spectacular view! I'll never forget it. The loon wouldn't get as close again for the duration of the morning.
A multi-use trail runs along the front of the terrace and through the adjacent park. Pedestrians, joggers and bikers were noticing us and naturally curious about people with binoculars and spotting scopes looking out over the water. Regardless of the birding situation, if a non-birder approaches me and asks what I'm doing or looking at, I'll always offer generosity and patience by answering all their questions and provide as much information as they care to listen to. And if they have an observation to share, I'll listen and acknowledge them by saying how cool I think it is.
"Hey, are you looking at the loons?" someone asked while riding past me, which at a minimum necessitates only a moment to politely reply, "Yes, aren't they great?" Eager to help, other non-birders might add, "I saw more of them further back that way!" Those who stopped and inquired were met with my open Sibley Guide and given the added knowledge that we were looking for a very special bird called a Pacific Loon. But heck, offer them a look through your binoculars or spotting scope. I almost always take the time to teach, showing winter plumage versus breeding illustrations, explain a little about migration patterns and the rarity of the bird - as much detail as they care to listen to.
So, here's the point I'm working up to. There was one birder who showed up later that was really beginning to annoy me regarding his conduct toward non-birders. In one instance, a smiling and friendly young woman rode by on her bike and innocently asked, "Did you see the four loons by the parking lot?" This particular birder blurted back in a rather condescending tone, "We're looking for a Pacific Loon," wiping her good morning cheer and smile right off her face. I cringed. I'm sure she was, like, "Oh yeah, duh...these guys are way too serious to be looking at only Common Loons."
It's a safe bet that any and all non-birders one encounters during a rare bird chase at a public park will have no inkling or idea regarding the bird you're after. But that's what the fuss is about, as a dozen birders really wouldn't converge upon a city park at the crack of dawn to watch Common Loons. But they (non-birders) don't know that. This particular woman will probably only remember a quip that had about as much warmth as, "Don't bother us, you don't know what we're looking for."
I think it's important to be a good ambassador for the hobby of bird watching, even if it's a chase and a rare bird you've never seen before. Seeing a Pacific Loon on Lake Monona isn't as important as being friendly to your fellow non-birding citizens and making the most of such interactions by taking the opportunity to inform and educate in a courteous manner.
Common Loon image © 2006 Mike McDowell