An Unexpected Birding Hazard

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Birdless Boardwalk
This afternoon I had to pick up my daughter after school. The parking lot is too small to handle all the parents that come to pick up their children, so if you want a parking spot, you have to get there about 20 minutes early. Which I did. So what does a birder do with 20 minutes of free time? Look for birds of course. My daughter's school is right next to a public park with a lake, so I pulled out my binoculars and my point and shoot camera and walked around the park. I found nothing interesting: Black Vultures, Ospreys and Cardinals for the most part. On the way back to the school I took the above picture of the boardwalk that runs along the lake in the park.

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.


  1. Good grief! While on the one hand you certainly want the principal to be alert, but this seems a bit over the top. I guess if you had been carrying the 100-400 she might have thought you had an assault weapon???

  2. Yea, I was pretty ticked at first. I can only imagine what would have happened if I had decided to haul out my SLR. When I told my wife about it I started to laugh, but I still get irritated when I think about it.

  3. Whoa! That added a bit of drama to the day didn't it.

  4. It sure did. I still find it hard to believe.


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