Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sharing Nature

The Pheasant Branch creek corridor trail is multi-use. As the population of Middleton grows, so too does the number of people who utilize the trail for other forms of recreation. There are more joggers, bicyclists, and people walking their dogs than ever before. This makes observing and documenting the nature's gifts a little more difficult each season, but with a little patience the beauty of the conservancy still shines for those who look closely for it.

Everyone enjoys the beauty of trail at their own pace, but I wonder if there's any real difference for those who traverse the trail of this nature preserve in a hurried manner versus zooming down a city street; I can't help but feel like they're missing something. Do they notice the Spotted Sandpiper foraging along the sandy bank? The bird was there from dawn until dusk, but it blends in so well to its surroundings I'm sure many who crossed the bridge didn't realize it was there or where it came from. Can they see or hear the Chorus and Green Frogs? Does it matter to them that there are frogs in the duckweed pond?

For at least one curious jogger who stopped and asked what our group was looking at, the splendor of a Black-and-white Warbler was enjoyed by someone who had never seen one before. I quickly detached my binoculars from my harness strap and offered them to him. I pointed out exactly where the warbler was in the trees and he quickly got on it like an old pro. He asked, "What is this bird, again? Why is it special?" Our group was happy to fill him in on several details of warbler migration. Experiences between birders and non-birders on a multi-use trail can be as diverse as personalities of the human character. Here's an excerpt from an email I recently received:

We bumped into nearly 15 different birders between Pheasant Branch and Fisher Road yesterday, with an obvious wide range of knowledgeable amongst them. You and another birder were the only two that offered identification or the use of scope respectively without reservation amongst all other individuals. Our brief conversations with others left us feeling like we were pulling their teeth by talking about birds (perhaps because we had the two kids with at Pheasant Branch). This led my wife to ask me if most birders were that way, and also why there was not a more open dialogue in the 'shared' pursuit of watching our feathered friends rather than a ‘hush hush' secrecy feeling.

I shared this sentiment with a friend who responded with this:

I enjoyed reading this and thanks for your kindness towards the Gold family of bird watchers. This is why we get a bad rap - some in our rank don't really want people to be watching "our" birds at "our" favorite properties. Imagine how awful that would be! Imaging our numbers swelling to 3 or 4 people at each one of our favorite haunts and then imagine what it would be like if everyone brought their children along, as was the case with your experience! Well, you can see what that would do to our pastime.

You and I have talked about this when dealing with the crowds of people that came to see Wilson. It's about making people feel welcome, and helping to educate, educate, and educate the public. I have often wondered about how the elite among us learned about birds? Were they born with this knowledge or did someone mentor them along the way? Perhaps a family member or kind neighbor or park ranger took a few minutes to make them feel welcomed instead of intimidated. Are avid bird watchers different from other bird watchers?

At last, to correct a great misconception a certain Milwaukee birder possesses regarding my blog, nature photography, my style of birding, and my motives. While the hobby of birding and visiting with nature provides me with virtually endless transcendent experience, my mission has always been to expose my blog readers to the vast rewards of nature that can be found simply by walking down a rather diminutive trail that slices through the heart of an urbanized setting.

All images © 2009 Mike McDowell

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