An Unexpected Birding Hazard
As I came closer to the school I began to hear police sirens. As I entered the parking area next to the school, I put my binoculars in the car and walked toward the parent's waiting area on the school grounds. Then one police car drove right by me and turned back behind the school towards the park. I thought that was odd. Then I arrived in the waiting area to pick up my daughter. Two police officers were outside and the school principle pointed to me, and then the two officers came over to me and began to politely question me. They asked to see my camera bag--that is, for my little compact point and shoot camera. One officer said to the other that I wasn't wearing suspenders--an odd remark. And then I saw a helicopter fly over the school! Anyway, they quickly realized that I was no threat, and they let me pick up my daughter. Thankfully it was all over before my daughter even came out of the school. It turns out the principle had seen me birding in the park next to the school, thought my binoculars and/or camera bag looked like a holster, and called the police. As my daughter and I got in the car I figured out what the "suspenders" remark was about--the principle must have thought that's what the straps for my binoculars were.
I share this story for three reasons: 1) Given current events, I'm so glad that the school administration and police are taking seriously the safety of our children. I feel more comfortable about my child's safety after today. 2) After getting over the embarrassment of being publicly questioned by the police and the anger that I was viewed as suspicious simply because I had binoculars in a public park, I began to see the humor in the events. 3) I suppose it's a good reminder that many people do not recognize serious birding/camera equipment when they see it. It's always possible that people will look at other people birding and think they look suspicious. So it would be good to be aware of those possible suspicions before birding or taking pictures near a school, even if it is in a public park where you would expect there to be people looking through binoculars and taking pictures.