Forgive me if I sound like I’m boasting, but you need to know that last week I made it into a rare fraternity, which few others have ever reached. I’m among the special ones who have been verbally scolded by the Audubon Society. In front of my own co-workers, no less. I was given the verbal smack-down on the trail...well, now I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s what happened.
After an all-day meeting in a single conference room, some of my co-workers and I headed outdoors to enjoy a much-needed hike together in the late afternoon. It was the quintessential Oregon outing: a cool, crisp, invigorating walk among the old growth Doug Firs, alders, and cedars. Huge yellow maple leaves carpeted our path. The sounds from the nearby creek and the sweet smell of the forest soothed us. The exercise and clear air put us all in a good mood. A perfect way to end the long day.
The only real complaint was that this was supposed to be a birdwatching excursion, and it was being led by an honest-to-goodness Audubon Society guide, who I’ll call “Dave.” Well into our hike, we had still not seen or heard from a single, solitary bird. Nada. Dave didn’t seem too concerned, but I started to wonder if he was getting more nervous that our “birdwatching” tour might be birdless.
Dave would stop occasionally so we could all listen for bird noises. We’d hear cars, dogs, and people off in the distance, but alas, no birdies. Not one. We’d look up, high into the old-growth canopy where you might see Kinglets moving about way up there. Nope. Nothin.’
Now, imagine Dave’s great elation when after forty-five minutes we finally came to a spot on the trail where he’d seen some rustling in the nearby brush. Knowing the area well, he knew what birds tended to be in each spot along the trail. This was probably going to be a Pacific Wren. Dave started to make the little sounds with his mouth, sounding like the Pacific Wren. Maybe that would coax the little birdie out into the open where we could see it. He directed our attention to a mound of leaves at the base of a vine maple where he thought it was.
He started with the Wren’s “chk-chk...chk-chk” sound. I can tell you that I was quite impressed with how Wren-ish Dave’s sound was. Definitely Audubon-quality stuff. However, the birdie was apparently not impressed at all.
So then Dave began to whistle...that’s the other sound a Wren likes to make. It was a long, sing-songy tune that went high and low and for over fifteen seconds. That’s like three weeks, in bird years. Still, the Wren would have none of it. Dave tried to act like he wasn’t too concerned. Nonchalantly, he headed on down the trail as if it didn’t bother him that he couldn’t summon the bird. But still, I wondered if he was troubled about that...so I thought of a way I could help.
And this, dear friends, is where I spun myself off into Audubon Purgatory, the place from which I can never fully return.
I pulled out my iPhone, and played the Wren’s sound on my wild bird app.
My iPhone Wren was really good if I might say. It was so real-sounding, so irresistable, that of course the real Wren in the brush had to respond. The real Wren popped out into view, and seemed delighted to offer its own sing-songy response. First my iPhone Wren would call out, then the real Wren, back and forth, and back and forth.
I wish I could have preserved that fleeting moment of happiness we shared on the trail. Those fifteen seconds of satisfaction, seeing my co-workers’ delight while the real Wren and the iPhone Wren interacted. Happy that we could all just finally see a bird, any bird. Happy that we seemed to help make the real Wren happy, too. Happy that in these fifteen seconds, we were all finally able to have sweet communion and harmony in nature. There we all were, partaking in that sweet moment together with a bird. All thanks to my iPhone. It was blissful. Until...
He sauntered back up the trail, still appearing cool and calm, almost zen-like.
“So, no harm done...” he said in that way that you know, some harm’s been done.
I wondered who’d done it now...oh geez, he was looking right at me! With my iPhone in my hand, I was clearly the culprit. Defenseless now, I realized I was in the middle of a scolding.
“We in the Audubon Society don’t believe that people should be introducing electronic sounds out in the field. It presents an unneeded stress for the birds.”
Oh no. Unneeded stress! Now I’ve gone and done it to a tweety bird. I had no response. This was my own idea to use my iPhone. There was nobody else to blame but me, the Stress Guy. I stood there, tried and convicted by the court of Audubon before a jury of my peers. That iPhone suddenly weighed five pounds.
A colleague tried to step up with the obvious question. “So Dave, why’s it any different using an iPhone than what you did by making the sound with your mouth?”
“Good point.” He seemed to be stalling, but he recovered quickly.
“We just feel like it’s unnecessary to introduce electronic sounds out in the wild. It’s not really a bird, or even a person. It’s a waste of the birds’ time.”
And there it was. I had wasted the real Wren’s time. Curse the day I ever embraced technology. We all know it’s a time waster and now here’s the proof.
It was at this point that my colleague Jay (yes, ironically that is really his name) turned away from Dave’s view and shot a look of twisted delight in my misfortune. One eyebrow raised, and a grin to match. That’s when I made my second mistake.
Keeping a straight face was no longer possible. I completely lost it. Up came one of those laughs that you think you can suppress but you can’t, all the way up into my throat and then vocalized, louder than I thought it would be. It was an odd sounding noise, sort of primitive, and not really sounding like a laugh at all. This only added to my embarassment and there was no taking it back. Awkward....
Dave paused and looked at each of us, silently punctuating his message. Even the real Wren, whose time I had wasted, turned quiet and just stared at me. Everyone stood there with nothing to say while I tried to wipe the uncontrolled, goofy smile off of my face. I couldn’t; I was really trying to regain my composure which was of course only making things worse. It felt like I was back in the seventh grade.
The rest of the hike was a series of futile attempts to stop laughing. Occasional chuckles and chortles just blurted out uncontrollably. I really wanted Dave to know it was nothing personal, but c’mon. Wasting the birds’ time? Really? I wondered if he’d ever visited the Audubon website himself. I kind of doubt it. Did you know that they sell a variety of bird apps there?
I don’t think Dave knows that.