I’ve found that binoculars are a great icebreaker: hanging around my neck, they invite people to stop and chat when they otherwise might not. The conversation often starts with a query about bird sightings—“any good birds,” “what’s moving around today,” etc.
At the boardwalk crossing the Yellow River in Effigy Mounds National Monument (Allamakee County), two of the rangers stopped and asked us what we’d seen. As it turns out…not much, just the usual suspects: blue jays, cardinals, robins, gray catbirds. Could see those anywhere, pretty much. But we also saw a few ducks, and an Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus), one of the Tyrant flycatchers (I have a photo to prove it!). We spoke briefly about how birds and other animals use this wetland as habitat.
So…I really enjoy seeing, hearing, and learning about birds. But truthfully, I’m not much of a “birder.” I don’t even (*GASP*) keep a “life list” of species I’ve encountered over the years. When I’ve gone on birding trips, it was always more about the beauty of the landscape and about enjoying the company of the fellow enthusiasts. It was about studying Nature generally, through birds specifically. I was never a “trophy hunter” as a birder. I just wanted to enjoy it all, not win a competition of some sort.
Birds have always been admired for their plumage, and song, and graceful flight. But maybe they have other amazing abilities, being able to cut through our cluttered, busy lives and capture our attention. Birds can fuel our imagination (animals such as birds and insects taught The Wright Brothers how to fly). Watching birds helps us build community with other nature-lovers and spend our time and effort on a shared pastime. Maybe we even begin to notice, and care more about our environment, and are motivated to work on conservation. I’ve seen this happen. I suppose it was important to my own development as a conservationist.
Anyway, the Park Service personnel spent a few minutes telling us about the birds they’d seen, followed by a discussion of other topics. I’m always impressed by how hard-working, knowledgeable and cordial our park rangers are; their saintly patience with the crazy questions and misbehavior by visitors is most impressive. They took time to tell us about this site, including information about the flooding by the Yellow River and its connection to the nearby Mississippi (the confluence of the two rivers being just off-site). They were encouraging when they heard about this 99wetlands project. And they wished us well.
I like to think those binoculars around my neck that day, connected me to the birds and to some fellow humans as well.