Wildlife Watchers, Unite!

My new Wildlife Watcher emblem; Copyright Audrey R. Smith, 2013.

My new Wildlife Watcher emblem; Copyright Audrey R. Smith, 2013.

Are you a Wildlife Watcher?  More than likely, you are, you’re aware of it, and you’re proud of it!  Or, maybe you are one and you don’t even know it.  It’s an easy thing to determine.  Whether you are birding, herping, photographing, or any other nature-field-ing, your eyes are doing their owl impersonation: left, right, up, down, peripheral left, peripheral right, foreground, horizon, round and round.  Not necessarily in that order.  (Yes, I know owls’ eyes can’t move, and that they rotate their heads when looking around.)  That is typical when you are out looking for wildlife.  The TRUE Wildlife Watcher, however, does not restrict their searches to a scheduled outing.  We don’t WAIT for the birding trip or photo shoot that we planned on the weekend; we are constantly searching every single time we drive.

Now, that can be a dangerous thing if it fully occupies our minds while driving.  But I have discovered that since I am constantly doing a visual scan, I have actually avoided numerous accidents, because I am paying attention to my surroundings, and that includes the other drivers.  I was recently a resident in South Florida, and if you have ever had the experience of surviving a trip across town in that region, you will understand why this is such an accomplishment:  drivers are not exactly polite or courteous down there, or sober, or even conscious at times.  It is absolutely imperative that anyone operating a motor vehicle abide by all rules of the road and pay complete attention to their driving at all times.  This is not the only disclaimer on this post, but it’s a start.

To find out if you qualify as a Wildlife Watcher, answer these questions.  I don’t need to know the answers, but you might!

  1. Could wispy-haired Sunday drivers look like NASCAR racers as they pass you in the midst of one of your photo shoots?
  2. Are you constantly the recipient of angry hand gestures (from other drivers, passengers in your own car don’t count!) each time you find yourself on the road, even when just driving to the grocery store?
  3. Are you the ONLY ONE who spots the hawk/deer/bear/person being savaged by a chipmunk just inside the tree line along the highway?
  4. Do you swerve suddenly–and with the deft of a figure skater on ice–to avoid a snake on the road, only to back up carefully for a second look?
  5. Have you avoided more than eight accidents in the last twelve months, simply because you were the one paying attention to what was happening on the road?

If you answered yes to any of these, I would say that you qualify as a Wildlife Watcher.

I realized one day, as I was being flipped off by a car full of teenagers on their way to the beach, that I needed something on my car that said, “Hey, you may want to go around me, because I will be driving slowly and stopping a lot.”  (I was born and raised on Florida’s east coast: been there, done that.  It just doesn’t seem like that long ago.)  Then it came to me: a simple emblem that could be attached to my car via magnet, bumper sticker, or other means, that would not only serve the purpose of photographers, but also birders, herpers, and other wildlife and nature watchers who cruise the roads and piss off other motorists with their annoying habits.  If you think about it, there is really a very large group of us!

So I took my meager Photoshop skills and my outdated Photoshop version of software, and I went to work.  Already knowing what I wanted it to look like, I took my pair of Nikon binoculars and scanned them.  Working from that, I got the outline, and filled it in.  Then I selected a font for the “WILDLIFE WATCHER” part, and formed that.

A Wildlife Watcher round car magnet on the back of my car.

A Wildlife Watcher round car magnet on the back of my car.

The idea was for a circular design that could be incorporated into most anything, even clothing, though the main purpose was more of a driver alert.  Think of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who tour national parks, state parks, national wildlife refuges, conservation areas, and preserves in the United States every year.  That is a lot of vehicles pulling off to the side of the road or traversing narrow, winding side roads.  A simple emblem might give drivers around them a little “heads-up” to pay extra attention; sort of like the buses with the “stops at all railroad crossings” sticker, or more closely related, “I brake for wildlife” bumper sticker.  However, I will say this:  a simple emblem is no replacement for careful driving and good judgement.  Please do not think that this emblem or sticker absolves its user in any way of state or federal highway laws.  I will not be responsible for accidents or incidents that occur while someone uses or abuses it.  Okay, disclaimer stated!

It came in particularly handy one day over the summer in Everglades National Park.  Heading back toward Florida City from Flamingo, my son and I stopped to move a snake off the road that I first mistook for a python due to its size.  It turned out to be a very healthy eastern diamondback rattlesnake!  Other cars around me maneuvered to avoid both my car and the snake, when they saw that I had stopped.  Now, you may think that since this is a national park, they would have driven carefully around us anyway, but I have seen enough native snakes run over on that road, that I would have to disagree.  This was a magnificent animal, almost five feet long, with a long unbroken rattle.  Having it become roadkill would have been a travesty.

A large eastern diamondback rattlesnake crosses the main road to Flamingo in Everglades National Park.  Copyright Audrey R. Smith, 2013.

A large eastern diamondback rattlesnake crosses the main road to Flamingo in Everglades National Park. Copyright Audrey R. Smith, 2013.

What sorts of animals do you watch for?  If you are a Wildlife Watcher, are you a generalist like me, who watches for everything, or do you have a particular group of animals you pay closer attention to?  Honestly, as a Wildlife Watcher, it really doesn’t matter.  The important thing is that each of us is out there in nature, enjoying it for what it is, and allowing it to nourish our soul at our most fundamental level.

If anyone would like to purchase a “Wildlife Watcher” item, please click on the CafePress link on the sidebar, or follow this link:

http://www.cafepress.com/naturequestwildgear1

Again, neither I nor anyone associated with me, including companies and businesses, will be held responsible in the event of an accident.  This is a bit of fun for clothing and accessories, to let people know what we like to do.  It is up to you to be the responsible party while you are out and about.  Happy Wildlife Watching!

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