Category: Deep Thoughts (Page 2 of 2)

Race and Birding

Birding went viral last week in New York’s Central Park, when a white woman called the police, falsely claiming that a Black man with binoculars was threatening her life. That man turned out to be a well-known NYC birder named Christian Cooper, whose joy for birding can be seen in the delightful documentary movie Birders: The Central Park Effect. The woman’s behavior was despicable, a paradigmatic example of American racism. And it showed us (once again) that Black folks are subject to ugly behavior everywhere they go, including on walks in nature.

As a white birder, I live the flip-side: white privilege. I do a bunch of my birding solo, and have hopped over fences right past no trespassing signs, and walked around residential neighborhoods I didn’t live in (always with binoculars) many times. I don’t expect to have my presence questioned – though I understand why men peering through binoculars into the trees in a residential area might be confused for perverts peering into second-story bedroom windows. The rare times when my presence is questioned, I don’t worry for a second that the encounter will go bad, and it never has. I’m harmless, and more importantly, people view me as harmless.

Spurred by the Central Park incident, and hoping to prompt honest conversations, highlight the diversity amongst naturalists that already exists and promote more in the white-dominated world of birding, a group has designated this week as Black Birders Week. There’s a great article about it here. There are events on Twitter all week. Follow the hashtag #BlackBirdersWeek and #BlackInNature. 

#BlackBirdersWeek

Going forward, let’s all do what we can to promote nature and birding as a diverse and welcoming space. Any nerd can be a birder, and the more the better.

First Principles

Every blog has a beginning, and here it is. This has been a long time coming, and I hope it lasts. Since my five-year old son started casually identifying Baltimore Oriole nests in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park back in 2011 after taking a couple of guided Audubon Society walks, opening up a previously invisible world to me, I’ve been hooked. As impossible as it was for me to believe, there were birds of every imaginable size and color everywhere you looked. The challenge of finding and identifying them, and keeping a tally of those I identified, played to my strengths and compulsions. That it so nicely complemented our family culture of hikes and adventure made it an easy hobby to pursue. And here I am, nine years later, unable to shake the habit. 

What will follow, I hope, will be more than just observations on birds, and birding, and the places I go to see them. Whether it’s unexpected moments of drama and beauty and delightful little episodes of shared surprise, or observations on the unendingly curious rules, norms, and wardrobe of birdwatching, or deeper issues of conservation, class, and social justice, birding can (and this blog will) take us there. 

The title is an exhortation, a reminder, to be ready. I’ve never regretted bringing my binoculars with me anywhere–the birds are small, and often far away–but invariably rue when they aren’t around my neck. 

So without further ado, let us hasten forth – there are wonders to fetch as we go.

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, January 2011

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