Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Birdwatching is not a crime!

Full Moon - August 24th, 2010. Can you spot the bird?

A neighbor that moved into my building early July discovered I own a bunch of binoculars when she came to my apartment (uninvited) on two separate occasions. The first time, July 18th, she apologized for having a having a loud party that went past midnight. The only other time, August 2nd, she pitched a Charter WI-FI deal to me. It all seemed completely innocent to me at the time.

However, on the night of August 24th she observed me in the parking lot with my Celestron 8” SCT telescope while I was moonwatch birding and attempting to photograph migrating birds transiting across the full moon's face. She erroneously thought this activity had something to do with her, but I didn't even notice she was watching me. Overcome with fear for the next few weeks, on September 13th she broke her lease, hired a moving company, and filed a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against me. I had no idea any of this was going on until a deputy sheriff came to my apartment to serve me the petition.

Her accusations were ridiculous and totally unbelievable. According to the TRO, she wrote I was responsible for breaking into the apartment building mailboxes. She accused me of stealing money from her desk where she works. She also claimed I attempted to break in to her apartment during the night when she was there. In the petition she was skeptical that I was even a birder: "He claims to be a birdwatcher..." She felt fearful of me because, in her words, "He has a lot of binoculars in his apartment, especially near the windows." She asserted that the apartment courtyard didn't offer a "particularly special vantage point to see birds" and that "watching birds that come to the feeders on his balcony does not require the use of binoculars."

The next day I hired a defense attorney to represent me at the injunction hearing on September 22nd. Shocked, baffled, outraged, and totally stressed, I lost 4 nights of sleep, missed a few days of work, paid a hefty attorney fee, and missed out on nearly a week's worth of eBird data at Pheasant Branch Conservancy during the peak of fall migration. Sadly, it was all for nothing because the judge dismissed the case immediately after hearing her pathetic testimony. At one point the judge said, “So he has a bunch of binoculars ... so what!?” I'm sure she probably still believes I did something wrong, but owning and using cool optics for birding is not a crime.

Full Moon © 2010 Mike McDowell


  1. Wow. Mike, I'm sorry you ran into a crazy person, because that's basically what this sounds like.


  2. I can't believe a judge even granted her a TRO in the first place. Nonsense. The law is "loose" on this one. I have no doubt she has a history of mental illness. An unfortunate event for you to go through.

  3. I wonder whether people think the same thing about me; I'll sometimes whip out my binocs while I'm working (I sell door to door), and I'll be looking up at someone's tree or whatever, trying to tell a Hairy from a Downy--and I wonder, "Hmmm.... let's hope I don't attract attention."

    I agree with Donna: this lady sounds insane, delusional. Glad you got a reasonable judge.

  4. Keep on birding like a rockstar man! We all appreciate your blog and binocular knowledge.

  5. Bummer. Americans have been taught to be afraid. I feel bad for her and even more sympathetic to you.

  6. All,

    Thanks for you're comments. I'm just glad it's behind me!