It is afternoon on day 2 of the Great Backyard Bird Count. After counting birds all morning in Andover, Gus and I head off to Burlington, Massachusetts where Gus has an eye doctor’s appointment. We park at the doctor’s office and while he goes inside, I stay outside and count birds in the parking lot. I mean, why not? Birds are everywhere (I hope). So I bundle myself up and walk around the back of the building and try to stay out of the gusting wind by tucking myself into a corner against the building. This office building is built into the slope of a hill, so the land to my right as I stand against the back of the building slopes steeply up and is held by a retaining wall. Behind the building and the parking lot I face a wooded area and to my left the level parking lot stretches off to guardrails and a steep drop-off. On the hill above me are what looks like an apartment building immediately adjacent to the office building and then some small homes strung out along the ridge. I purposely avoid pointing my camera or bins at the houses or buildings and scan the sky and the wooded area instead.
Once again the lazy gulls float over my patch of blue and gray sky. As usual, there are a few Ring-billed Gulls and then, always there seems to be one lone Herring Gull. I hear a soft tweet beside me on the slope. Once again in a tangle of vines and twigs I find birds. This time it is a flock of house sparrows trying to find shelter from the wind. Tiny brown birds decorate the vines as camouflage. They fly from a small bush low on the slope up to a vine covered stump higher up, then fly back down when startled. As I am watching them, I see fluttering farther in the woods. There I find a dark-eyed junco hopping along a slender branch. As the wind howls I stand there freezing, waiting for my 15 minutes to pass. A few spits of snow taunt me. With no other birds appearing I head back to my car for warmth. As I do three blackbirds of some sort fly overhead and into the sun. I cannot tell what kind they are, so I do not count them. Only 4 species of birds in this location.
Across the street from the office building a large wooded area exists. Tall pines tower at a dark green height. I decide to drive up the street and see if this might be a place where I can count birds. As I turn the corner on Bedford Street I discover this is a town park. A sign welcomes me to Simonds Park and I drive up the paved entrance to a parking area. This park sits atop a small hill and I find a playground and buildings, a ball park, and the large wooded area beyond. The sidewalks are all plowed and dry, so I smile thinking this will be someplace I can actually walk around. Though the wind is buffeting my vehicle and a few flakes are falling, I bundle up once again and get out of my car with my Eagle Optics binoculars and my Nikon D80 with the 70-300mm lens attached. The parking lot and playground are abandoned. No one is here. I am alone and I like it this way. Besides, who but me would be out on such a cold, gusty, gray day?
As I step from my car a raptor flies by low and quick in a flat glide past me and disappears into the trees beyond. Perhaps I should have seen this as an omen. I hobble across the parking lot in the direction the bird went for my right foot has been hurting me since Monday making walking difficult. I am all the way to the snow bank across the parking lot from my car and staring off into the trees where I saw it disappear when suddenly I sense something behind me. My animal instincts kick in and I feel the danger before I see it.
I turn around and there is a small dark car parked between me and my vehicle. The person inside is just staring at me. I look at them and my heart starts to pound. Where did they come from? Why are they looking at me? I cannot tell at first if it is a man or a woman. Then, as I am running through ideas in my mind about what I will do I realize that I have several thousand dollars worth of equipment around my neck and my cell phone in my pocket. I try to act casual and look back at the trees as I think.
The person in the vehicle backs his car up, and I soon discover it is a man as he parks his car 3 spaces away from mine and gets out. He is a small, dark-skinned man with some facial hair. He casually walks over to the garbage can and examines its contents, always glancing back at me. He is sizing me up.
Then, he walks behind a nearby tree; a tree near to the playground and my car. He turns his back and takes a leak!
At this point I should have called the police, but instead I call my husband as I hurriedly hobble back to my car. The man is now walking towards the parking lot, which is also towards me, but he sees me on my phone and veers towards his car instead. I jump inside my car and lock the doors. Gus is with the doctor, so I need to hang up. I sit there in the car with my heart pounding as the man in the little dark car backs up and starts to drive away. It is then that I get my wits about me. Picking up my bins I look through them at his license plate and memorize the number. Then, still with heart pounding, I try to decide if I should call the police. Why is this even a decision, you might ask? I don’t know. It shouldn’t have been, but for me it was. Is this really a crime? I think it is. Was I in danger? I think I was.
I jotted the license plate number down on my birding list and now I use my smart phone to find the non-emergency number for the Burlington police. Still, I pause, wondering if I should call. I am doubting myself, and I come from a family which hates to make a scene and hates to bother people. Then, I decide. I dial the number and press the call button. I can tell by the voice it is a female officer. I explain who I am, where I am and what just happened. The officer not only knew where I was, but she chuckled when I told her I was bird watching and how I saw a hawk soar by. She told me she lives nearby and sees that same hawk soar over her house on a regular basis. But then she also told me that I should have called 911. She reassured me that my instincts were correct and she informed me that urinating in public is a criminal offense. It is indecent exposure. She pointed out that there could have been children nearby. Then she took the license plate number and my cell phone number. I do not know if they tracked the man down and arrested him but I know I got a lesson in safely. Next time I will call the police first!
After it was all over I drove back to pick up Gus. I chattered away about all that happened. He drove me back to the “scene of the crime” and I showed him where I was and the tree the guy used as a toilet. Though it is only about 30 minutes since it all happened, there are now families in the park and other cars parked in the parking lot. A mother and father with a small child walk past me pulling a sled. Two teenagers with plastic swords walk off for a pretend fight in the forest. Three young woman walk by as I step out of the car to take pictures to illustrate this story. As I stand there in the parking lot with the sun sinking behind me I ponder how quickly a place can go from bird watching solitude, to fearful menace, to playful family experience. At the moment this hardly seems like the same place!
Oh, and I forgot to mention, the hawk flew back past me at one point when I was here before and it was a Red-tailed Hawk which is when I got these shots! Success!