Monday, May 07, 2007

More Fun in the Ghetto, Another IBWO Rant

On Saturday we had a whore working our parking lot. Called the police, but a customer tipped her off and she hoofed it. We've had thieves, drug dealers, shootings...and now a hooker. At least she wasn't an ugly hooker.

Sunday a large overwrought black woman called me to the front of the store to have a look at something. I went outside with her, and she told me that she had just seen a big rattlesnake. I knew there was no way it could be a rattler, but I was curious. I asked her where it was, and after some overly dramatic and uninformative blather she finally pointed me toward the street. I walked across the lot and found the snake lying in the road, either dead or nearly so. Even if it had been a rattlesnake (which it wasn't) it was in no condition to harm anyone.

It was just a large watersnake. The lady who told me about it had driven over it with her car. Don't know why she should be so terrified of it - the snake had more reason to be afraid of HER, and would have been, if she hadn't already killed it.

...which brings me to the twin subjects of ignorance and stupidity, and leads by a circuitous route to the related topic of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. A harmless watersnake became a big dangerous rattlesnake that needed to be dealt with, and I'll tell you why: idiots love drama. A rattlesnake is dramatic, a harmless watersnake isn't. To an ignorant woman who has little contact with wild nature and is afraid of snakes an encounter like this is scary. To validate her fear and excitement she dramatizes the event, and the snake becomes a threatening monster in the retelling.

This is yet another reason why reports of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers from non-birders are not to be trusted - particularly when reported by those unfamiliar with Pileated Woodpecker. Even a hunter who spends a good deal of time outdoors in places where Pileated Woodpeckers are common could be unaware of their presence. Large woodpeckers are generally wary and maintain their distance, and hunters tend to focus their attention on game species. Still, close encounters occur every once in a while, and a Pileated Woodpecker at close range is an impressive sight. It's a big bird. It looks like something rare.

...So let's say a Pileated Woodpecker lands right in front of a hypothetical hunter. Maybe he's heard of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, maybe he hasn't. All he knows is this is the biggest damn woodpecker he's ever seen. Afterward he thumbs through a field guide and finds the illustrations of Pileated and Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. He's already inclined to think it's something rare - it's unlike any bird he's seen before, anyway - and then he reads that the Ivory-billed is believed to be extinct. Of course he didn't take any notes at the time of the sighting, and is unlikely to accurately remember plumage details, but book illustrations help fill the gaps in his memory.

He soon convinces himself that he really saw the rarer species, and has made an important discovery! And making an important discovery makes him feel more important. With the passage of time his "memory" becomes more detailed. If his claim is challenged he professes absolute certainty. Ego and personal credibility are now involved. Who cares what some dirty doubting skeptics say - he KNOWS what he saw! Does any of this sound familiar?

Aside from an occasional walk around our yard I haven't been birding much since my last trip to High Island. A pair of Eastern Bluebirds are using one of our nest boxes. Summer Tanagers have been conspicuous around here lately, and on May 3rd I saw a small flock of Indigo Buntings (two males, three females) in a neighbor's yard. Otherwise neotropical migrants have been scarce, and there's not much else to report.


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