Sunday, April 02, 2006

Letting off steam...

The wildlife photographer Cal Vornberger [author of Birds of Central Park, Abrams Books, 2005] posted this on his Central Park blog on March 31st. [] It rang a bell with me. I too have had peaceful mornings disturbed by the intrusive behavior Cal describes. The bird below, by the way, is a winter wren, [photo by Cal Vornberger] one of the early migrants appearing in Central Park these days.

Cal writes:

I'm really pished...

This morning I was set-up in one of my favorite spots in the Ravine in the North End of Central Park. I was fairly concealed and from where I was positioned I had a good chance of getting the Golden-crowned Kinglets, Winter Wren, Swamp Sparrow and Towhee I had seen flitting about.

I got some nice photos of the Winter Wren and Swamp Sparrow and was waiting for the Towhee to pop-up into view when a large group of bird watchers, led by someone who shall remain anonymous, came into view. Many people know this guy because he is famous (or should I say infamous) for his "pishing." Pishing is the practice of making sounds in an attempt to get birds investigate what's making the racket.

According to David Sibley, in his book Sibley's Birding Basics, "The making of hissing, shushing, and squeaking noises (known among birders as "pishing") is done in imitation of the scolding calls of certain small songbirds. . . Pishing is most effective when you are somewhat concealed within vegetation. The birds need to be able to get close to you without leaving their cover, and ideally there should be an open spot for them to sit when they do reach you. Curiosity will bring the birds in and then draw them to a perch where they can take a clear look at you. "

Clearly the guy and his group were not concealed and clearly the birds have never read Sibley. The minute Mr. Pisher started "pishing" most the birds started to flee. A couple (notably the Towhee) flew up so his birders got views but most just skedaddled. I think the strategy employed by Mr. Pisher is to "scare-up" as many birds as possible for his paying customers, never mind the birds are fleeing.

To my mind Central Park should be shared by everyone who enjoys the outdoors. Sometimes it can get a little crowded (which is why I prefer the North End) but other than that it mostly works. When some comes through with twenty people in tow making loud noises and scaring off the birds I have been patiently waiting for (in this case over an hour) then I get pissed.

The Towhee never did come back so I guess you can say I was pished...