The Scope

The shorebird class of 2018 left the classroom at Hornsby Bend Treatment Center in Austin, clamored into cars, and headed five minutes away to the mudflats at nearby treatment ponds. It was a  warm and breezy early evening, and pink clouds dusted the western sky as the familiar stink and flies of Hornsby filled our cars. We caravanned the short distance on narrow dirt roads, parked, and unloaded the scopes. One scope after another created the scope line,ten lenses trained on a scattering of shorebirds about fifty feet in front of us.

Let me tell you about the scope line. If you have never been in a scope line, it is a thing to behold, an exhilarating experience, a sense of belonging and camaraderie like no other. The birders start scanning, and it is quiet until one and then another start the narrative. "Second group from the left, lined up with the far power pole."
Another birder says, "Chevrons?"
Another says, "same group, second bird from the right."
You can almost hear the birders thinking, checking the fieldmarks, and someone calls out, "pectoral." Another says, "The one facing us? Preening now?"
Another says, "semipalmated and least in the back." All birders are talking into their scopes, eyes trained to the eyepiece and ears listening to birds and each other. You cannot overestimate the learning and bonding that goes on in the scope line.

And, for years, I could not participate in that very special experience because I use a manual wheelchair. For years my fellow birders tried to help me get scope views. They lowered their scopes, situated the tripod around my wheels so I could get my eye to the eyepiece, patiently instructed me on focusing the scope. Valient efforts all and sometimes successful, but always frustrating. I wanted to be in charge of my own scope and be an independent and full fledged part of the scope line.

I awoke the next morning to a text from Judith picturing a window mount for a scope. It was time. I borrowed her lightweight Nikon scope and headed to Precision Camera on a mission. I rolled in the door and headed toward the information desk. I held up the scope and said, "I need to find a way to get this scope attached to my wheelchair." The employee said, "I have just the guy for you." 

He escorted me to a counter where he introduced me to Robert Bachman and Ethan Strong. I held up the scope and said, "I need to find a way to attach this scope to my wheelchair." Robert said, "I have just the thing" and set off across the store. I wheeled behind him trying to keep up. We arrived at a shelf where he grabbed a package, opened it, and pulled out what looked like two metal sections connected in the middle with a toothed gear. It looked rather like an arm, the gear in the middle like an elbow. He showed me how the device worked and then said, "Okay, next C-clamp," and off he went. The whole time he was putting this attachment together, he was saying, "I know exactly how to do this." He attached the C-clamp to the arm, and then set off to another part of the store, saying, "Now a mount." I followed in close pursuit. He attached the mount. By now we had attracted a couple other curious employees. As we attached the scope, I said. "Wait, the scope has to move up and down and right and left," and one of the employees said, "Baby ball bearing!" and off he went. Once baby ball bearing was attached, scope was attached, and the eyepiece was immediately positioned below my right eye, and...and...and...I could SEE!!! Everyone clapped! Oh Happy Day! I almost cried with joy.  

I could put the scope on and take it off myself, each piece lightweight enough for me to manage independently. And, I could even wheel easily with the scope in place. The entire event at Precision Camera had taken fifteen minutes. Needless to say, I was thrilled. Next step, purchase my own scope.

Another Hornsby early evening, same warm, smelly breeze, another beautiful western plateau of blushing clouds. As the birders piled out of their cars and set up their scopes, I excitedly put my scope together, went down my ramp and wheeled to a place on the scope line, listening eagerly to the conversation already underway and getting on the bird with everyone else at the same time. I looked up joyfully from my scope and said, "Guys! I'm part of the scope line!" Everyone smiled and said, "Yes you are."
Pure bliss.


Unknown said…
Thanks for sharing this! We are working hard at Madison Audubon (WI) on making our birding events and our sanctuaries accessible for all abilities, and this post on having a wheelchair-mounted scope is so helpful. Thank you! Can you share how much this set up (without the scope) costed? Is it transferrable between wheelchairs (i.e., could our organization buy a set up like this and mount it to whichever wheelchair user (s) is/are at our event)?
Birdability said…
Thanks for your comment. The attachment was $170 at Precision Camera here in Austin, Texas. It can attach to any chair, I think. It's super easy to put on and take off. It's lightweight and easy to carry. I love the idea of purchasing an attachment or two and using any lightweight scope to put on whenever you need it. That's a cool idea! Keep in touch. I would like to bird in Madison at some point in time.😊
Charlie B. said…
Loved this post! This is a beautiful depiction of a kind of camaraderie among birders that I hadn't previously known about or experienced: now I want to someday be on the scope line! Props for figuring out a way to do it, and for the can-do attitude of the dudes at Precision Camera!