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On Busting the Bird-a-Day and Unleashed Dogs

March 22, 2010
by

I have a lot to cover in this post so apologies for something of a spastic topic Monday feel to all of this.  None of them are probably enough to get anything out of on their own, but together?  It’s post city man!

First, despite all of my stopping at ponds on my way home and swallow looking I was unable to find a new bird for my Bird-a-Day list as of last Friday.  So for next year the mark is set at March 18th.  It was a good run, and while I thought I had a shot at getting into the spring, it simply wasn’t to be.  Needless to say,the very next day while taking the day off of birding and in the middle of a jaunt around my neighborhood with wife and son I can across a big fat Common Raven sitting in a pine tree not more than 100 meters from my house.

Ravens are not uncommon in the state as they nest on rocky outcrops in the Appalachians, but here in the Piedmont they’re still uncommon winter vagrants.  This was, in fact, the first Raven I’d seen in my county for a couple years.  Not incidentally it would have been a good day bird for any of the days this year let alone the day after I bust out of the challenge.  And just to taunt me, the Raven was present and vocalizing all day where I could hear him with my windows open.  I suppose if there was any bird for whom taunting comes second-nature, this would be it.  Though I do have to say as fun as the game was, and as much as it made me focus my birding in a positive way, I’m a little glad it’s over and I can just bird normally again.

And last, but hardly least, with counting and listing obligations put to bed and with birding normally high on the agenda, I headed out Sunday morning to Mason Farm.  Spring hung heavy in the air as nearly every resident bird had burst into song an even several winter species were getting into it.  I heard at least half of the hundreds of White-throated Sparrows congregating in the fields, several Ruby-crowned Kinglets singing their pull string song, and even the ethereal fluting of a Hermit Thrush. In addition to the singing residents, I had my first White-eyed Vireo and Savannah Sparrow too.  This time of year is really great.

One of the cool things about Mason Farm is that it’s used by several university students as a location for running any number of experiments from song bird habitat requirements to plant transects.  You can usually find the trappings of this work throughout the park and it’s cool to think that even in a place where important work is taking place, the general public can come and do their thing too.  Doubly cool that it happens to be one of the best birding spots in the triangle.

That said, on account of the sensitive research being done out at the farm, there is a very strict no dogs policy here.  Even though the rules are clearly posted at the trail head, it doesn’t seem to prevent people from ignoring the rules and taking their dogs out on the trails which is completely ridiculous considering Mason Farm is the only park in Chapel Hill of many where dogs are so restricted.

Normally, I’m not one for confrontation but this morning I was put over the edge when a pair of walkers had their dogs not only off leash but walking well off the trail in the woods.  It was too much, so I stopped them, noting that the sign clearly stated at the trailhead that dogs are not allowed on this trail.  They hemmed and hawed at this, indicating that they had in fact seen the sign and that they had been escorted here by a police officer who told them it was ok.  I reiterated that this was not ok and that for future reference, please take your dogs elsewhere.  At this point the lady got holier-than thou and asked who I was.  I replied that I was someone who comes here often and follows the rules.  At this point she said she hoped she would see me again, with her dogs, and turned and walked off.

Now, I have no particular problem with dogs.  I’ve known many, of many temperaments, and while I’m generally not what you would consider to be a dog person, I tend to like most of them.  I fully accept that when I go to a park where dogs are permitted, that I’m going to be around dogs.  And I even admit that I almost certainly had an edge to my voice when I talked to these people.  But when you operate on the assumption that your personal arbitrary desires are more important than the needs of everyone else who uses the resource, then I’m sorry if it makes you uncomfortable to be called on it.  What I can’t stand, what gets my blood boiling like no other, is when people think that they don’t have to follow the clearly-stated rules.

There are signs stating that dogs are not allowed not once, but twice, in prominent locations at the trailhead.  This is not something you miss. This is not a mistake.  This is an active decision to disregard and disrespect other people who use the park.  What you’re doing is wrong and you know it to be so.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a Wall Street banker, a corporate lobbyist or some rich jerk who thinks the rules don’t apply to you because, you see, your dogs are so nice.  It’s frustrating.

So consider that a warning, dear reader.  If you come to Mason Farm, leave your dog at home or a slightly excitable dude with binoculars might give you the what-for.  You’re on notice!

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16 Comments
  1. March 22, 2010 11:09 am

    I too have seen dogs (both leashed and unleashed) at Mason Farm, and it really makes me wonder how these people can so blatantly flaunt the rules like this. But I’ve never actually called anyone out on it, so I guess… good on ya, Nate!

  2. Thornius permalink
    March 22, 2010 11:27 am

    I was at a local Hospital pond Saturday and these two young beer-swilling morons showed up and started to harass the wildlife, running ducks and geese off their nests and then rummaging through the nests and then started chasing the basking turtles into the water. I started yelling at them that they were breaking the law, and they in return started cussing me and giving me the finger. Then they started coming for me with fire in their eyes, so I put even more fire in their eyes by starting to take flash pictures of them, they looked a little shocked and started to leave so I followed them for awhile taking pictures of everything they were doing. They left pretty quickly then and I haven’t seen them since.

  3. Nate permalink*
    March 22, 2010 12:03 pm

    @Robert – It is indeed frustrating. And the people were probably the unfortunate recipients of my pent up annoyance on the issue. I talked to the guy who manages Mason Farm and he said they’re going to replace the gate soon and that will probably be more trouble than dog walkers will be willing to put up with. If you bird there often, I’d suggest getting a key card for a $5 deposit at the Education center so you’re not caught out without one when they put the gate up again. That’s happened to me before.

    @Thornius – How obnoxious. People can be such jerks. I realized too late that I, too, had a camera and could have snapped a shot of them. That would have shut them up.

  4. March 22, 2010 12:26 pm

    Here in Vancouver it seems that NO ONE abides by the clearly posted dog restrictions–no one, that is to say, except for Alison and me. It’s very hard on our dog, because he has to be on a leash when the scoff-laws are letting their run free, and at places where no dogs are permitted at all he has to sit in the car watching other dogs run through the habitat. Alison says that the rules will probably be enforced come summer. Meanwhile, I think they could pay their Olympics debt pretty quickly by issuing the tickets threatened by the abundant signs.

  5. Becky permalink
    March 22, 2010 1:00 pm

    Way to go Nathan about the dogs. When we were working on the YBSA project we always saw folks at Moses Cone with dogs off of leashes. I always wanted to get Curtis’ son, who was ~9 at the time, to come with me and act totally freaked out by dogs of leashes (acting like he was dog phobic) just so I could yell at them. I felt like just talking to people didn’t do any good.

    Ravens actually do breed in the piedmont, in Lexington and at Hanging Rock SP. Wouldn’t it be cool if they were at Raven Rock state park? I think its only a matter of time…

  6. March 22, 2010 2:39 pm

    People routinely ignore dog rules in my area too. Even though there is a fenced dog run specifically for letting dogs run off-leash, people still let dogs run all over my local park, and some of them are rather aggressive.

  7. Nate permalink*
    March 22, 2010 3:54 pm

    @Rick- I wish there was some way to enforce it, because it feels like I’m just shaking my fist. But thanks for responsible dog owners like you. It probably stinks for your pooch though. 🙂

    @Becky – Thanks for the info about Ravens! I didn’t know they were down there. I wonder if the ones we see come from that population or the Appalachian one. They’re probably pretty far ranging.

    @John- Aggressive dogs are a real concern, I also think about allergies. I had an incident when I was younger with our pet dog and another one that kind of made me leery of big dogs for a long time. I’d hate to have other kids go through that too.

  8. March 24, 2010 4:37 am

    I did what I am frequently told to avoid. I thought hard about something.
    The bird-a-day challenge.
    This is a very, very tough thing to complete (365 birds). I would guess a “Big State Year”, which one could do without taking specific birding holidays, just weekend birding and week day chases, is unlikely to get you much more than 300 species pretty much anywhere in the US, particularly with the rule of seeing a new one each day.
    That still leaves you with around 65 species you need to get through travelling somewhere else, rather far away to avoid seeing the same species. So you need to spend 65 days far away, which required a holiday. That’s two complete months off work in a single year.
    Who can do that?
    German’s got it comparatively good in getting between 26 and 30 days of payed leave from work each year, but that only sums up to 6 weeks of potential birding holidays, not two complete months.

    I can see that professional tour guides could do this kind of thing – possibly. But it seems to be almost a mission impossible.
    And with almost 100 species, you’ve done well.

  9. March 24, 2010 4:39 am

    Maybe one could soften the rules by allowing for one or two “jokers”, good birds you’ve seen but get to keep until later for days where you otherwise would be busting the challenge.

  10. March 24, 2010 5:27 am

    Or again, the contest could not be about how far into the year you get, but how many “Jokers” you needed to make it to the end of the year (and of course you could still “fail” when you don’t have any “jokers” on your year list anymore to fill a gap).

  11. Nate permalink*
    March 24, 2010 8:29 am

    @Jochen- It is difficult, and without being close to multiple great sites or having a job that allows for near unlimited birding, I think it’s impossible. Florida would be the ultimate state as the birds are fairly easy and you’d have loads of free-flying exotics to count on.

    That said, someone did make it 365 days last year, but that was in Texas.

  12. March 24, 2010 11:09 am

    You inspired me to go even more extreme on The Truth about Cats & Dogs. (Not that I believe there is any truth.)

  13. Nate permalink*
    March 24, 2010 3:44 pm

    @Andy – Yeah, stick it to ’em!

  14. March 25, 2010 2:51 pm

    This reminds me of a recent incident in my neck of the woods. A dog off leash attacked a birder. The dog’s owner finally stopped it (and the birder jokingly admitted he never considered using his expensive dSLR for defense). Still, the dog was free to roam where it legally should have been on a leash. The birder wasn’t seriously injured (mostly pride with some physical wounds), but the issue was the dog’s owner became angry about the incident because the dog is really friendly, you know, and wouldn’t attack anyone, and you looked like a threat, and it’s OK to be off leash if no one is around, and yadda yadda yadda… Very unfortunate and very revealing.

  15. laurent permalink
    January 6, 2011 9:53 am

    I had a funny experience in my local park in Michigan (dogs are supposed to be on leash), where I asked a lady to keep her dog on leash (she was playing catch with the dog). She then tried the relatively smart idea to answer to me in French, telling me she did not speak english.

    Relatively smart I guess, since the odds to find a french speaker in michigan are relatively small.

    Small, but not nill, though, since I was born and raised in France! (she was lying of course, she had a terrible american accent, as I pointed her out).

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