A while back I went to one of my favorite places to go bird watching. It's a lovely preserve with a few different habitats, some creek/marsh type areas, some grasslands, some deep woods, and some more open spaces. The sheer variety of birds that can be found there, both in types of birds as well as individual species, is really quite amazing. There's been a few times I've been there for six or more hours and it felt more like two. I just kind of get lost there, in a good way.
One day though I pull up to one of the general parking areas and seeing as how it's pretty early there's only a couple of other cars there. As I'm getting out to put on my sunscreen and bug spray, I notice a small speaker hanging from a tree. I don't think much of it and keep doing what I'm doing and start to head my own way when I notice a pretty colorful songbird that I don't usually see in the area. Not wanting to miss my chance to try and catch a picture of it, I walk a slow half circle across the lot to get closer and get a better angle. Then some guy yells at me from out his car to get out of his shot. The man has a hardcore camera setup and I can tell he takes his hobby pretty seriously, so I get out of his way, take a few shots of the bird, and ready myself to head on for the day. He asks me to hold up a bit, asks if I know what the speaker is for, I say I don't, and he goes on to explain how it's attached to his phone by Bluetooth. He uses it to play bird calls, usually territory calls, sometimes alarm calls, to bring them out into the open. He's not young anymore, he says, so it makes bird watching easier. I can hang around for a bit if I want, take advantage of his technique. I kind of wanted to walk, but I didn't want to be rude either, so I decided to take him up on his offer. What happened next was a sight.
The guy names a bird, plays their song, and I'm not even kidding, in a minute or two one shows seemingly out of nowhere. He does it again, and again, and again, with consistent results. It was just non-stop birds for an hour. It was overwhelming, like when a kid who only ever got little pieces of chocolate here or there gets his first candy bar from Grandma and finds it both amazing and too much to handle at the same time. I don't think there was a single minute without birds at that time. After an hour, he says he's gonna hang it up at that spot and try some place else. Did I wanna come along? No, I said, thanking him. I didn't. I wanted to hike a trail and keep an eye out for some sparrows that have been eluding me the last few times I was there. He insulted my taste in birds, like sparrows aren't special. I definitely didn't want to hang out with him after that, so we went our separate ways.
I spent the rest of the day bird watching my way. Walking trails, keeping an eye out for movement or activity. Often I'd hear the birds but not see them. When I did see them, they'd often fly away before I even had a chance to get my camera up. When I did get my camera up, the shots would come out too dark or too blurry or the camera focused on the wrong object. Sometimes birds would show up, rest in just the right spot, and I'd get a picture or two before they disappeared, and I'd feel blessed and thankful for that little moment. Sometimes birds would show up and I didn't take any pictures at all, knowing they wouldn't turn out, so I'd just take the time to admire them. Every now and again I'd take pictures of a plant, curious as to what it might be, hoping someone on iNaturalist might be able to ID it for me. The farther away I got from that first hour of that day, the more I realized that that style of bird watching isn't for me. I like the slowness. I like the frustration. I like the little moments of success that feel less like I did anything right and more like they were gifts given to me, by God, by nature, by chance.
When I got home that night to look at the pictures I got that day, I discovered that the shots I took in that first hour, while easier to get and more numerous, weren't better than the shots I got the rest of the day. In fact, some of them were even worse by quite a bit. So with all that, the speaker isn't for me. But I was curious about it, so I read into it. Turns out, it's a bit of a controversial topic for birders. Some think it's okay, some think it's not. The territory calls, the alarm calls, it's believed stress out birds thinking that there are threats they need to face. When mating calls are played, especially if they're played too loud, females can lose interest in actual males in the area in hopes of running across what they think is a more suitable mate, even though he doesn't exist. In some places, this very method of attracting birds is illegal. I'm very much team "hands off" with nature. I think feeding wildlife is a black and white issue and baiting animals to get photos is a huge no-no. I think animals shouldn't be handled without reason (such as rescuing or relocating or for identification purposes for research and population counts). I know that just by sharing the same space as these animals causes them stress, I'm an outside element, an unknown element, a potential threat, so sometimes I feel guilty walking in their very backyards.
This whole bringing birds to me, through calls, just doesn't jive with how I interact with nature. Even if it did though, knowing that it's something that can potentially cause these animals to feel duress and harm their well being? Well, that just doesn't jive with how I want to be as a person. It's amazing that the more I interact with other hard core birders and bug hunters and herpers, I come across more and more scenarios that make me really have to think about the ethics of our actions when we're out there.