An old man approaches me wearing a twenty year old suit jacket with binoculars around his neck. He looked to be in his eighties. I had already photographed pigeons, ducks, blue jays, cardinals, catbirds, robins, starlings, and my first wood thrushes.
Luck was on my side. The weather was good, my batteries were charged, and I found an ideal spot to wait for birds in the Ramble, a park nestled away deep within Central Park. This spot was away from most foot traffic but provided a wonderful vantage point to a lake. I wasn’t about to move.
“You a birder?” That’s my way of identifying friend or foe. If he said yes, my spot was still threatened by what appeared to be the old guard of the Central Park Birding elite. If he said no, then I had no where to run. Either way I was stuck in quite the conundrum.
“I do watch birds,” the elder responds. I smiled. I had just photographed what I believed to be a new Vireo. However, I left my field guide at home. Perhaps a bargain is in order?
“Fantastic!” I smiled. Now comes the true test. “Maybe you can help me with this new vireo?”
The old man glowed. It was clear this was a chance encounter of cosmic proportions. I raised the viewfinder to meet his gaze. He hunched over contemplating and the silence to follow was deafening. For twenty seconds or so he mumbled under his breath several bird names as if hooked up to the internet thumbing through every bird guide in the greater Northeast. Or maybe this man was trying to figure out how to weasel his way from the bird identification itself. Surely he wasn’t a fake. I was about to open my mouth to assist when suddenly his lips began to move. “Could be…”. The man had identified my bird as a Warbling Vireo. I Googled images for the bird as I was a bit skeptical when I was interrupted. “Make sure you check allaboutbirds.org,” the old man had said cautiously. “You can’t trust the internet. Allaboutbirds is highly reputable.” Instead if arguing with the oracle I did as he said and pulled up the bird.
To my surprise the bird had all of the markings of a Warbling Vireo. I was ecstatic. It was the second time in the past two months I had photographed a vireo with my 300mm lens. My joy switched to gratitude. This man the real deal.
“I know where there is a nest of Eastern Kingbirds if you’re interested,” the man said in a shy manner. If there was any debt owed, surely I shall repay it by seeing a bird I have yet to really photograph.
“Lead the way,” I shouted.
Two hours later I was led through Central Park by its human manifestation — a Bran like character (Game of Thrones reference). Seeing all of the park’s past, its failings, and strengths. I heard stories upon stories like the Captain’s Chair, Turtle Pond, and the Polish monument which was a fake, but the only reproduction in the entire world due to the original being destroyed in Poland. “I hate monarchs,” the old man said gritting his teeth. “I wish we give this thing back to the Poles.” I wanted to stop all the time to photograph Catbirds. I could tell he wasn’t pleased with my love for the native. I can empathize. I’m not a fan of the Cowbird either.
Mr. Birder did fulfill his promise by leading me to the Eastern Kingbirds. And yes, I got my photographs.
Believe it or not I had to actually decline the old mans offer to go to the history museum. He had a free pass as he was a yearly subscriber. But I just could not imagine thinking my own thoughts during the journey no matter how informative it was. Nobody wants Google tagging along when you’re walking from point A to point B. At least I don’t.
And with that we parted ways. The sage on his journey and me on mine.