Birdwatching

What is it that the whiskered tern — a 12 inch bird -­possesses that Congress does not have? Watch Appeal!

We, the citizen watchers of Congress in Washington, D.C., can only shake our heads in awe at the pulling power of this little bird.

Last month this gray and white feathered bird was seen at Cape May, New Jersey, thousands of miles from its habitat in Europe and Africa. Instantly telephone hot lines and international computer networks, run by committed Bird Watchers, spread the word. One of the communicators was heard to say “It made the blood race with excitement.”

Within hours, hundreds of Bird Watchers jumped into their cars, dashed to airports and train stations with their watching gear headed for Cape May. The innocent tern took off and flew to a wildlife area, south of Little Creek, Delaware. Immediately, the watching hordes rushed down there.

The Babe Ruth of American Bird Watchers, Benton Basham, M.D. from Kentucky, reached Cape May too late and was last seen slogging in a Delaware coastal marsh looking for the only whiskered tern ever to be seen in North America. Dr. Basham has recorded 810 sightings and has only 40 more bird species to spot to bat 1000. His closest competitor is only a few sightings behind him, which may explain the doctor’s hustle.

Compare all this with Congress. This legislature can do the darndest things week after week with the people’s monies, the people’s health and safety and the people’s rights. Yet, I’ve never seen such immediate rushes by citizens to Washington by road, train, bus and airplane to train their acute gazes on such outrageous sightings.

Bird Watchers take risks that citizens, who might like to watch Congress, would almost never take. Do you know any voters who “walk through the desert, bear mosquitoes, flies in the marshes and step over poisonous snakes,” as related by one Bird Watcher? Why “there’s one man who was killed by a tiger in India while chasing a bird he’d never seen before,” he added.

Another Bird Watcher shows even greater empathy: “You’re in the mountains. You’re on the beaches. You’re hot. You’re miserable. You’re bitten by bugs and you love every minute of it. You’re just — you’re compelled.”

These words don’t sound like a normal recruitment poster. Yet people are pouring into Bird Watching. It’s competitive, social and get’s you outdoors. And no animal is hurt.

There are an estimated 20 million Bird Watchers of varying intensities in the United States. A computer network called BirdChat, a North American Rare Bird Alert 800 hot line, and magazines such as Winging It, published by the — you guessed it -­American Birdwatching Association, keep them in touch with one another.

Can you imagine citizens risking being bitten by insects, slowly sinking in marshes or being eaten by tigers in order to watch Congress? But then Congress only appropriates over 20% of family income; it only can send young Americans off to war, waste a good deal of your money, enrich its own members, and giveaway the public lands (upon which many of the birds alight) — to name a few worthy views.

All this can be called a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. Why are there millions of Bird Watchers — a volunteer, legal endeavor -­and probably no more than 15,000 serious, citizen Congress Watchers — likewise a volunteer, legal endeavor? Surely, Congress Watching can be fun — if going after abuse of power, greed and other diverse mischiefs can lead to a happier society. And unlike birds, Congress can’t run off to some Delaware wildlife refuge.

There are 535 members of Congress which is not that much smaller than the total number of bird species in North America. What’s more there is a turnover of numerous members every decade, unlike birds who stay pretty much the same as their pictures in bird books.

Still, the human mind must find better insights in order to learn from the enthusiasms of Bird Watchers.

Maybe we can bring the Bird Watchers to Congress. A few dozen rare bird species can be collected to find a home in the various niches of the Congressional dome. Then — wow! Thousands of Bird Watchers would descend upon Capitol Hill. And who knows; they may just find other sightings to watch — call them Congressbirds.

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