Have you ever wondered what it is like to be an outlaw? I have. I've always wondered how it felt to be the person being chased by the cops at full speed down the highway, with helicopters and media vans following close behind. I've always wondered what was going on in the mind of "the bad guy" as they were being arrested, for something that they maybe didn't do. Well, a few days ago a got a taste of what it is like to be a criminal. And the story goes like this.
Thomson Paris and I had decided that we were going to go "hoot out" (play an owl call from the car over and over, and watch them respond to the call) some owls. We had tried to do it before, but our attempt had failed. With stern determination, we decided to try again. We invited the dedicated birders on campus to come along, and a small remnant showed up, Diana Santos and Christy Kurtz. The small attendance was due to the rain (Do owls stay inside when it rains?). But this didn't deter us for a minute. We were off to Audubon Acres, a local animal sanctuary.
We had arrived at the animal sanctuary at dusk. It was 8:10pm and come to find out the refuge closed at 8:00pm, but once again we weren't going to let anything, especially a fence or a gate, get in between us and the owls. So we parked the car right outside the fence and began to play the various owl calls, over and over. After about 30 minutes of listening, with no signs of any owls, we decided to give the Great Horned Owl one last hoot and then we would call it a night if nothing came. As we continued to play the track monotonously, I heard, in the far distance, a high pitched "screech". At first, I assumed it was just an echo of the loud hooting coming for the car stereo. I called the group over to where to I was and had them listen to see if they could hear what I was hearing. Soon, we all agreed it was what we had come to see. A Great Horned Owl. Since we knew that the owl was out there and was responding to the tracks being played, we waited a few more minutes to see if the owl would come closer. Nothing happened. We were getting anxious, and decided that if the bird wasn't going to come to us, than we were going to go to it.
One by one, we each hopped over the chain, which was used to make sure that the gate was securely locked. We then followed after the responding "screech". As we got closer and closer, we walked slower and slower, to keep from scaring away this elusive bird. We eventually stopped along the tracks of a rail road and just listened. It was dark now, and the only light around was coming from a street light in the middle of the Audubon property. We couldn't see anything, but we knew it was there. Eventually, after staring in the distance, I saw its silhouette in the midst of the rustling trees.
Based on the unction of their curiosity, the others went in further through the bushes to see if they could get a closer look. I chose to stay behind, man the fort, you know, keep on the look out. And as soon as they had left, I saw a car pull up next to our car, which was on the other side of the gate, then another one came, then another and then another until there were four cars surrounding the car. I saw people with flashlights looking around the car and then coming in through the gate. I, then, began to say, as quiet yet as loud as I could, "Hey! Someone's coming! Someone's coming! Come back!". They quickly made their way back through the bushes, back up to the rail road tracks. (I found out later, they thought I said, "It's flying, It's flying!") We saw the people looking around and walking towards us.
Thomson and I realized that we had to either face up or run. Running probably wouldn't have been the best idea, since the keys were in the car and the doors were left wide open (to enable sound projection). Based on our dilemma, we began to walk closer toward the people with the flash lights. When we got within range, they shone their flash lights on us, and shouted, "Put your hands where we can see them!" Immediately, I started to smirk. The officer then shouted, "Get on the ground!" We didn't argue. Their guns could out do my "guns"(referring to my massive muscles) any day. We were then quickly handcuffed and interrogated. Randomly, in the midst of all this chaos, another officer came running up and barked, "we know there's a fifth person, someone's going to get shot!"
I couldn't believe it. It was just like that crazy COPS show (I couldn't stand that show, but since it was the only thing on in the afternoons before prime time, I had to watch it). All this for birding. Well, actually, it was really for trespassing and attempted robbery. This experience was so surreal. While this was going on, I was struggling to keep myself from laughing. Then I glanced over at Thomson and realized he saw things differently, he had an extremely sober look on his face and was humming a hymn. Kneeling on the wet and muddy gravel road for a while reminded me that persecution could be right around the corner. So, I look at this experience as a practice run for when things get serious.
After everything was said and done, and we had explained our suspicious situation, they let us off the hook with a warning. The officer explained that we could have all gone to jail for trespassing. To be honest, I was disappointed that we didn't. I've always wondered what it is like in jail. I thought that this could have been a good opportunity to check it out. Imagine the stories that could have be told.
Anyway, that's the true story of The Audubon Acres Avian Arrest.