Monday, December 18, 2017

The stupendous case of the human guard dog

Sweet flash setting, bro
  Last year on December 17th, Dan and I took part in a frigid ‘Christmas Bird Count.’ I couldn’t devote an entire day to this year’s event, but thought I should get out for an hour on its anniversary, just to knock the dust off the ol’ binoculars. I went over to the tree-lined grounds of a nearby school, which we surveyed as part of last year’s protocol. It was super cold, but there were a few dog-walkers and even some cross-country skiers out enjoying the weekend.
  I was working my way through a small wooded area adjacent to a condo parking lot on the other side of a chain-link fence when I spotted a White-breasted Nuthatch with a crown stripe that was greyer than I’d encountered in recent memory. I whipped out my Sibley to double-check how grey the females are meant to be.
  “Hey! You! Who are you? You're not allowed to be in there!”
  I turned and saw a short stocky fellow getting out of his BMW SUV about 30 feet away, stabbing his finger at me. He seemed quite angry.
  Always one to build bridges between birders and non-birding individuals, I flashed on my best fake diplomatic smile, and explained why I was there. ‘There’ was on the school grounds, not on the condo property, but 30 feet away, through a fence, mind you.
  “Hello! I’m watching birds, sir. There’s a nice nuthatch up there.” I showed him my binoculars, pointed up at the nuthatch, and even held up my field guide.
  “OH YEAH? I DON’T BELIEVE YOU!” He was absolutely screeching.
  It’s not like I was pointing my optics towards him or the condos - as a rule of thumb, I never aim my bins or camera at homes or businesses.
  “No it’s true, sir, there’s a nuthatch up there. I’m here watching birds. Have a nice day,” I gave him the last of my smiles, and kept on walking.
  At this point he took out his phone and started taking pictures of me.
  Spittle was actually frothing from his lips and speckling his sweater.
  “Why are you taking pictures of me?” I asked calmly, in spite of my raising hackles. Clearly the guy was under the sway of drifts of cocaine, and/or in the midst of a serious psychotic break.
  “I’M GONNA SHOW THESE TO THE COPS! OH YEAHHH! I GOT YOUUU!” His voice was raised in pitch and cracking up, like an over-stimulated teenager.
  I was done trying to reason with the little fellow. In a true Crocodile Dundee “That’s not a knoife!” episode, I swung up my big 400mm lens and took some pictures of him, in the spirit of the moment.
  In spite of his zeal for photography, he didn’t appreciate when I reciprocated the gesture, and his shaking hands snapped up to his face like he was on an episode of To Catch a Predator. I approached the fence and told him I’d wait there with him if he wanted to call the cops so we could all discuss birdwatching, but he lurched away, holding up his hands to prevent me from photographing his face. It sounded like he was speaking in tongues. He squealed: “Bllllaaarghhh! Imgonnacc-c-calltheCOPPPSS!!” all the way back into the building.
  I honestly feel sorry for him. Something must have gone horribly wrong in his life for him to end up snarling and snapping at folks through a fence like a neglected Chihuahua. Take a chill pill, duuuude!
  I carried on birding the rest of the grounds at my own pace for another 45 minutes. No police showed up. If he actually called them, I imagine his panicked conversation with 911 operators was a classic ("Um...sir? Did you just say nuthatch?"). Some people.
  This interaction was an apt example of the level of discourse in 2017. Can’t folks just talk to one another? Does anyone use their brains anymore? Fuck you, 2017.

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