My New Book


Jonathan Franzen Cannot Be The Most Annoying Bird Watcher In The World

I’m fairly certain that there are people out there who would gladly place that sash over my head and if it’s going to be a cage match, Franzen, I warn you now, I may be a girl, but I fight dirty, know my way around a folding chair and I’m not afraid to attempt a Pile Driver.

There’s an article about the documentary on HBO about birding called The Central Park Effect.  I haven’t seen it yet, I would love to have HBO cause I loves me some Peter Dinklage on Game of Thrones however, I’m not willing to pay over $100 to get one channel and a whole host of others that I’m really not interested in. I do want to see it because birdspot is in it and I’m generally interested in the subject.

However Jonathan Franzen is in it and well, Laura Helmuth over at The Slate has some harsh criticism for him in her article Jonathan Franzen Is The World’s Most Annoying Bird Watcher. Which I have mixed feelings about. She gets off some great quips and it’s clear that Franzen has given her some fantastic ammunition, from the article:

“And here’s Jonathan Franzen on birding: ‘I thought it was embarrassing. I still think it’s embarrassing, a little bit. You’re basically defenseless. You’ve got your binoculars up and you’re looking at something nobody else is looking at, and everybody else is looking at you and thinking, what a dweeb.’”

 Jonathan Franzen, nobody is looking at you. You’re in New York City. A guy in cowboy boots and underpants plays guitar for tips in Times Square, and another guy walks around town with a cat perched on his head. Carrying a pair of binoculars is not exactly letting your freak flag fly.”
I love that that sentence about the freak flag. I think all of us birders are tired of the “birding is stupid and something only old people do” and let’s face it, we are in the era of the Nerd/Geek/Dweeb so it really shouldn’t be an issue. If Franzen has shame issues, I suggest he check out Brony culture.

But let’s face it, whatever issue one my have with Franzen (I’ve never met nor birded with him so I have no idea how annoying he could be) I think the bar has already been set very high as to most annoying bird watcher on the planet. Not that the two gents in the above picture are the most annoying bird watchers ever, though, Non Birding Bill has pointed out on more than one occasion that when the three of us are out in the woods, I tend to stay several paces behind so I can hear birds and see the ones they flush.  But I love this photo because there they are in the woods with their phones and I’ve overheard more than one bird watcher grumble behind me that all I do is text when I’m birding–even tho I’m usually sending photos of birds we see in the field to Twitter and those same people who complain love my phone when they want to know football scores.

As cringe inducing as it is to have someone well known to the non birding public talk about his birding shame, that’s not that annoying.  When I think of annoying bird watchers, I think of scope hogs or people who walk/stand in front of spotting scopes, paying not attention to the group behind them.

Or I think of the awful field trip leader who waded into alligator infested waters to wander through a bunch of reeds to clap and flush a bittern so people could see it (where if we had just exercised a bit of patience a fantastic view of a stationary bird in full sun could have been had by all.

I also think of the know it all types who rip beginning birders a new one because they don’t know all the unwritten rules of the birding listserv and post something they shouldn’t have or ask a question that’s far too basic.

Or the birding related companies that offer trips to introduce new product and only invite male writers and editors because why would you want females out in the field?

There’s a whole host of most annoying bird watchers in the world.

I also think we should be careful with well known people who watch birds and the standard we hold them to. For most of us, bird watching is a hobby, a form of relaxation, a release. I know there are several celebrities who watch birds and for them, that is their break, their time to unwind. They may not want to be the poster child for birding, they may just want to hang out in the park and enjoy those kingbirds.

Granted, Franzen did bring this on himself by writing and being interviewed about his deep birding shame.



5 comments to Jonathan Franzen Cannot Be The Most Annoying Bird Watcher In The World

  • Brian Wisconsin

    I was asked to limit my posts to MN Bird Listserve to one a day. Apparently as a new birder with lots of questions I was too enthusiastic for their sensibilities.

  • I really got the impression that Helmuth is more jealous of Franzen’s fame than anything else. In addition, all the classic examples of annoying birders you listed makes it obvious Helmuth knows little about what actually makes a birder annoying.

    I published an essay arguing pretty much the total opposite of Helmuth a few months back.

  • Peter

    I have to take exception to another claim in the article. Johnathan Franzen is not the MOSt famous birder. Even after reading his wikipedia article I’m still asking Johnathan who???

  • Steve Lineback

    Something Laura needs to remember is that to a lot of us out in flyover country All Ney York city meens is over hyped, over priced and way to full of itself. As far as most famous birder a excuse me but Pete Dunne, Kenn Kaufman and i’m not even going to play the RTP card. End of rant

  • adrian forsyth

    I disagree with Laura Helmuth. Although not a birder myself I have been birding with tens if not hundreds of birders including Frazen. Next to my wife I find him to be perhaps the LEAST annoying birder. He is humble,highly intelligent,thoughtful and humorous. Moreover unlike most birders he is helping to save birds from the many threats they face. He puts large amounts of his well-deserved literary earnings into conservation and speaks on behalf of bird conservation around the nation. In his writings Frazen is just honest, analytical, and transparent about his feelings: exactly what we want in a novelist. I can’t think of a person better qualified to be the face of birding. Count yourself lucky to be in his good company.