We all know I adore Patterson Park. I like to think of it as my gigantic backyard. A backyard I never have to mow, weed, or otherwise maintain. The playground is nice. The birding is very respectable, especially for an urban environment. During workday hours, the place feels nearly empty. . .but over the last 21 months of nearly daily park visits, I’ve had some interesting experiences. (here, here, here, here)
The most recent experience occurred last Thursday (before we met Psychopath Panda Hat). I was doing my usual loop through the Park looking for birds. For a few weeks now, I have been specifically (and unsuccessfully) looking for woodcock and sparrows.
I had heard from several reliable sources they had seen a few different sparrow species and woodcock near the community gardens and maintenance facilities way up on the north side of the Park.
My typical loop involves cutting off from the northern-most walkway that parallels Baltimore Street and diagonally making my way in front of the gardens and maintenance area. However, I decided this time, I’d take the path that paralleled Baltimore Street to get a full view of the backside of the gardens and maintenance area.
As I started along the path, I caught a very fleeting glimpse of something flitting about outside the community garden. I knew it wasn’t a woodcock but it might have been a sparrow? I couldn’t readily relocate the thing, but I was keen to do so.
As I was rapidly approaching the spot where I had last seen the bird, I heard someone yelling over the din of traffic on Baltimore Street. Normally, this wouldn’t strike me as odd, but this time it seemed a little off. The screaming was a man’s voice: “I can see you!”
I looked around and there was definitely no one else in the vicinity. So I felt as if the screaming was certainly directed to me. I paused searching up and down Baltimore Street looking for some idiot who was likely just mocking me because I was wandering around with a pair of binoculars.
That’s when I noticed a man in a truck parked at one of the cross streets that runs perpendicular to Baltimore Street (so his view was facing directly into the Park), waiving around a pair of binoculars.
What. The. Hell?
I’ve always believed avoidance and ignorance are excellent life skills, so I put them to good use and pretended I didn’t hear any of the commotion. I veered off the path a little, through the grass closer to where I originally saw the bird. A decent amount of ruckus continued to emanate from the general area of the truck but I kept my back turned away from it.
Then I felt a little panicked. Birders are a notoriously odd bunch. What if this Man was for some inexplicable reason birding from his truck, (parked across a busy street?) and was on a good bird, which I spooked by walking through the area? That. Would. Suck.
I searched in vain for the bird but couldn’t relocate it. Why would he be birding from across the street? Why wouldn’t he come into the Park? Could he even have seen a small bird from that vantage point with just binoculars? He definitely wasn’t scoping anything.
I glanced nervously over my back. He seemed to have settled down a bit, but I was afraid to look for too long for fear he’d realize I KNEW he was there!
Then, I started looking for a bigger bird. Perhaps he was looking at a Cooper’s Hawk or even a Bald Eagle. People get all jazzed about seeing Eagles. (Yes, they are magnificent but honestly, they are quite common these days) and he was worried I was going to spook it with my presence?
I couldn’t locate a “bigger” bird anywhere either. So I walked back to the path that parallels Baltimore Street and proceeded west behind the maintenance area. I had gone perhaps 15 yards and paused to check the area for birds. I glanced over my shoulder, and caught the Man from the truck, clutching his binoculars racing towards the area where I had originally caught a glimpse of the mystery bird.
And. This. Freaked. Me. Out.
Yes, Birders are a quirky bunch, but most of them are not anti-social. Typically, they are pleasant and ask if you’ve “Seen anything good?” (They don’t typically start getting indignant until they suspect you are withholding information regarding “good” birds.)
This Guy? I don’t know what he was up to, but it was weird. He dodged traffic, crossing in the middle of Baltimore Street to get into the Park as fast as he could. . .(Including an uphill sprint, as the Park is pretty well elevated from Baltimore Street in this location).
My crazy over-active imagination went on high alert! Oh my gawd! This is straight out of The Wire! That guy is a plain clothes cop! They are staging some elaborate surveillance operation! Why else would I have seen that other police car circling the Park so many times this morning? I’m in the middle of some dangerous situation with my KID!!! There’s probably drugs or other contraband hidden right here! Something’s going down. I always knew it would end this way: A freak birding accident!
Run, You Idiot, Run!!
Except I’m not in nearly good enough shape to sprint up the hill pushing Mac in the stroller. Plus I had to pee pretty badly and I didn’t want to pee my pants and have to skip the playground since I promised Mac we would go. . .
So I made the decision to continue to act clueless and briskly headed towards the northwest corner of the Park as I originally planned.
That was a close one!
But then curiosity got the better of me. . .
I slipped Mac a piece of cookie to ensure he kept quiet and then I risked ahem life and limb to cut back along my typical route around the front of the maintenance area and gardens to see if I could check out the Man without him seeing me again.
My heart was racing as I crept along the edge of the garden fence. I wondered if I shouldn’t hunch over more to try to obscure my identity (As if that was going to be possible with the kid, stroller, and my bright yellow hat).
Try as I might, I couldn’t see the truck from that vantage point. And unless the Man was hiding, I couldn’t find him. . .He was gone that fast!?
I acted all cool pretending to look at a mockingbird while I was really using my binoculars to scout out the area around me. The man was nowhere to be seen. Poof. Vanished.
And that weirded me out even more!!
And that’s when I decided running wasn’t such a bad idea – especially since it was all downhill to the playground.