|My god, they are smaller than my hand!|
Now, I told that story a month or so ago while I was on a Cape May Bird Observatory walk, and included the part where they mispronounce 'Caracara' but still make fun of my binoculars (they had nice binoculars). The birders on the walk laughed and reminded me that having good binoculars doesn't mean you're a birder, it just means you have money.
I bring up CMBO also because they are a good lesson in how to be good birders. At the beginning of each walk, they ask people if they want to borrow any binoculars (and they do have some nice ones), and let me tell you, they will always ask someone with binoculars like mine. I politely decline, and then go out and have an enjoyable day birding with them. You know what? After a few times, they stopped asking me because they knew I'd decline and they weren't going to press it. If they would constantly harp on me needing different binoculars it would be off putting, but once they knew me they stopped. I appreciate that.
Little things like that just show how CMBO does an amazing job of encouraging all levels of birders. You go on a walk with them and the leaders are damn good, but they aren't these authoritative people rattling stuff off without any regard to the people around them. No, they are good with people and explain things and are never anything other than happy to go over basic or advanced stuff.
They are inclusive and encouraging. That is what makes a good birding organization, and I'm glad one as high profile as CMBO is like that.
I've been lucky that people whom I interact with locally have tended to be similarly inclusive and open and encouraging. It helps having people with good social interactive skills, and those that lead walks often hone these skills while leading (or else were good to begin with, hence leading walks). But, like I've written about before, birders come in many forms, and one of the more common forms is the type that lacks good social abilities and thinks birding is Serious Business. I've had my recent share of those types.
With my local birding hangout of Heinz National Wildlife Refuge closed due to governmental shutdown, I've had to branch out over the last couple weeks into other birding locations. That's good and keeps me out of a rut, but it also keeps me away from familiar birding partners and introduces me to Serious Business and less socially able birders. Those aren't as fun.
But what is doubly worse is when you run into a group of new birders that are dominated by that personality type, and they see you and immediately but silently judge you by your binoculars. It is little things, like barely acknowledging you except to point out something as inane as a freaking deer. When they see other people they do the usual ask about what birds they've seen, but not me and my little binoculars (I had just seen a couple of Magnolia Warblers, both kinglets, a Lincoln's Sparrow, a Wood Thrush, and a whole lot of Yellow-rumped Warblers, in case they cared).
No, I'm not giving specific details because this is really a composite of many encounters in many areas over the past few weeks (and I don't want to call out any places or people), but I find it amusing in an off putting and awkward kind of way. I'm fine though, I don't dislike scouring the woods in search of warblers alone.
Oddly this make my binoculars, despite my frustration with them, actually great. It shows me how people are and how they interact with others. If people see them and start having a condescending an authoritative attitude, then I know they probably aren't the people I want to bird with. If, on the other hand, I'm with a group of damn good expert birders who welcome me without regard to the crappy optics, then I know they are good people and good birding compatriots. This is not theoretical; I've had both these types of interactions. You can easily guess where I've had the more positive ones by where I prefer to go birding.
So, it is with a sad heart that I think it may be time to retire my crappy binoculars. It isn't because I'm sick of the pre-judging or constant offers for loaners (though I am), but it is more for functional reasons. The more I bird with them, the more I see how much they hold me back. And while I like having them as a talisman of detecting good and crappy birding groups, it may be time to move on.