20 January 2013

Birding and the Paranoid Perspective of People

After another checkup last night [July 14, 2005] by law officers in Lincoln, there came back reminiscences of other similar events of the past two years while birding. Each interrogation was apparently brought about by someone noticing my presence at a locale. Since they did not know what my real activity was, they called in the officials to check out what they figured was illegal.

Each time I was watching birds.

The first recall is from Spring Lake Park, in April 2003 at Omaha. Was there a terrorist on the loose?

During an outing about the wonderful park, my pencil was lost. When going back to the truck to get something to keep bird notes with, I noticed a police cruiser coming to stop at my truck parked at the swimming pool entry at Spring Lake park. The officer said they had a call concerning someone with a gun in the park. The had been looking around to find me for some time — though less than an hour. He said that I would suppose would they would get the call because of my gunstock mounted spotting scope being carried around. I mentioned my bird watching and showed the visit list. Then showed him how the scope worked. The officer finally got a look through and then asked if the black truck was my truck. After my yes, he got back in this cruiser and called to inform others that the so-called "guy with a gun," the proverbial "shootist" was a bird watcher with a spotting scope, or something to that effect. I got another pencil, made some survey notes on the parking place and then went back into the ancient woods for some more looking around.

The interesting aspect of this confrontation, was three days later. I was pulled over for so-called "loud pipes" on my ride, a classic aged, and flat-black paint Chevrolet pickup. This instance — a seeming ruse — included a whole series of things. But it was quite grand to see the officer poke at my spotting scope with his batons. I had been looking at birds at Carter Lake and was pulled over — siren and lights going on behind — on North 16th Street, north Omaha. Another couple of days later, I was followed again by some other officials, they were simple University guys behind me in Elmwood Park.

Birder Enforcement

Got going on a Friday a.m. in December 2004 on the highway to Omaha land. First visit — from out-of-town — was to Carter Lake to get the Cackling goose to add. Then a quick check of N.P. Dodge and Hummel parks. A short stop at Nathans lake — NRD property — led to another time of law enforcement action. My route was to drive down a trail along the drainage ditch and parked and looked about from there. This was a place where I had been several times previously. Birding was slow. But the situation quickly changed.

First it was the Washington county sheriff that was there within 15 minutes of my arrival. A call was placed by a nearby resident. Then when I was ready to go, the sheriff had arrived right behind my vehicle. When he noticed I was looking to move, the sheriff car lights came on. I got out and walked towards his car. The first thing sheriff told me was to get my hands out of my pockets. The officer asked for details of identification and vehicle registration. Then the usual many questions. Who are you? Why are you here? Who do you work for on this? A radio-call had already been placed for backup. Soon the guy and gal FWS enforcers from the nearby wildlife refuge arrived to get into the scene. The Feds did not own the property yet but were supposedly helping with management. Helping with enforcing rules seems more the case from my view of the moment. There were no signs saying: Area Beyond This Sign Closed.

There came questions, some repeated. I explained abut getting access through a discussion with the NRD guy and receiving a map of the area. The subsequent wait included idle chit-chat about birds and the new road. There was no mention of the removed willows or the complete lack of parking places which there had once been present.

The guy asked if he could look inside and I said ok since the door was hanging open anyway. Then when I approached him to point out the gunstock scope he first told me to back away. I then showed him the scope stock and what it was and then he looked inside. and was able to proceed. The glove compartment was opened, something which I would have thought required a warrant. The cop going to open the driver side back door but that was locked. He walked around and tried to look through the darkened windows.

Both enforcers reps asked several times if I was hunting. "I don't hunt" was the repeated and standard answer. The FWS guy suggested I could bird at nearby Boyer Chute NWR but I explained my aversion to that scene of regulation if not on the boring trails. Eventually my freedom to roam returned. Elapsed time until I could go was 15-20 minutes in the sun, keeping my hands out of the bib-overall pockets.

It was only later I gave thanks for the door being locked. Repeat that again and I give thanks once more.

Swifting With Lincoln Law

Since the end of May 2005, many evenings have been spent looking about urbane Lincoln for chimney swifts and the places where they habitate. There was one evening where a law enforcement official, call them a cop for short, stopped to check if my situation was okay. I was dandy so they left with little fanfare while my spot along mainstreet did not change.

Then came Thursday, July 15, 2005, in the evening. Swifts were out and so there I was. Some chimneys under review just did not have any action in the aerial space. My bicycle trek continued onward to more fruitful realms. It went past two big chimneys just west of the center of Nebraska law. There was nothing there at the places with a structure of 4.5x4.5 bricks. Then came the realization that my writing instrument was missing. Checking out the route did not help to find it. So ... visit the nearby convenience store. That would be south on 13th street.

While in the hood, my route changed in order to bike around nearby. There was a wonderful big chimney on the back of an apartment on south 15th street. It was 8 blocks north of main street and looked to be a grand spot for chimney swifts. In wheeling around, a grand spot was found that presented a view of seven chimneys. Each looked nice for the black bugeaters. So I stopped there, drinking a pop in the evening of a torrid day, after 8 p.m.

Swifts were doing their antics in the sky. They zipped into some of the chimneys. A new pencil wrote fine for keeping notes to document the swift nesting locales. My spot was behind all the residences, near a dumpster placed at the public alley.

Swiftian notes aside, it was real dusk and I noticed a cop car park in the east end of the alley, at 15th street. Then the cop came around. She said hi twice, something to establish what they would probably call rapport. Apparently my first reply was not enough.

Then came the typical confrontation and questions. Apparently someone was paranoid about a guy with a bike lurking about. I must have been a thief scooping out targets for illegal activities.

A law enforcement official will ask the same questions. Conformation norms apply ... just answer the queries. What are you doing? Why are you here? Who do you work for to do this? Then, where do you work? Do you have some identification.

An id is always required. My activity was to see what chimneys were being used by swifts. That meant about as much as visiting with a rock. Then the alternative answer was that bird watching was what was going on. That brought about a certain sense of realization. Kinda-like an oh. They seem to think OK at that time.

The caller had also reported the miscreant — me — had a flask. My answer to that should have said they were delusional. My things did include a plastic coke bottle, thrown away in the dumpster.

It was nice to be able to ask the officer if she had seen the article in the newspaper on Monday. That brought a look of duh! Then more asking. Officers need to know. What is in the bag? Binoculars were in the black bag hanging from the handle-bar. Then they wrote in a small notebook ... noting address and phone number, but the latter does not apply.

Then arrived the big man-cop. His car was also parked in the alley, blocking traffic. He walked a bit to join his comrade, but said nothing while there. After the interrogation, they both walked off in the dusk on an urbane alley. The neighborhood was one of the most decrepit and least-goodly appearing places visited in the star city.

My route to depart was biking up a sidewalk, getting addresses for the places watched, and then onward. The cops had to explain to someone there what was going on.

My goings were home to chill and have some ice-cream and appreciate the evenings findings. Several new chimneys were added to my documentation of places used by swifts. And it was quite nice to be able to watch seven chimneys at once. My project does include pictures, so maybe I should visit again, this time with some camera that would be suitable.

It was a nice thing that the swifts cooperated. They had already gone to their residence of the night so there were no vital observations missed.

This weekday was the most enforced outing of my 30-evening affair with the lovely swifts in the skies of developed Salt valley.

I look forward to further instances! Perhaps I should prepare a handout, with some details.

What would happen if out in the city — on a bicycle — without any identification. Is that a requirement for birding in this modern era of homeland security and certain limitations on birding activity?

Perhaps more could be said, but it is time to go swifting in urban Lincoln. Young birds should be about, and there has yet to be a sweet sighting of the fledglings about their chimney. There is a parking garage in the Haymarket that provides a fine perspective of some substantial chimneys. Loitering to watch swifts, there I go.

Originally posted Friday, July 15, 2005 on the NEBirds online forum. Also in the August 2005, Lueshens Birders Newsletter. Pages 75-78.