Carpool Etiquette

fcnc-birding-trip_e-elpasococo_20100116_lah_6797The president of our local Audubon chapter, Risë Foster-Bruder, wrote a little article on carpool etiquette for our chapter newsletter. That started both of us thinking about all the aggravations that are associated with carpooling, as well as some helpful hints. I added them to what Risë wrote. The result this post.

Most birding clubs center around field trips. And, being the conservation-minded folks that we are, we  meet somewhere to carpool. Why drive four vehicles when you can crowd into one? Besides, having too many cars frightens the birds.

birders_birders_lakepueblosp_lah_4795Yes, carpooling is expected, but have you ever thought about carpool etiquette? It can get so convoluted—and it’s just carpooling!

For example, there always seems to be one car that stops whenever it wants. They are obviously not following the premise “if the lead car doesn’t stop, nobody stops.” If you are in front of them, do you slow down so you don’t lose them? Or do you go back in case they are seeing a rare migrant? If you are behind them, do you pass and get out of “sequence,” or do you stop to find whatever it is they are seeing.

Of course, everyone wants to be in the lead car. It’s well known that the last car misses most of the birds. By the time they pull up, car doors are slamming and the bird has taken off for the next state. Then you have to decide—at the risk of being left behind, do you wait and hope it comes back to roost? Plus, many of the roads we travel aren’t paved. The first car gets to breath clean air. The rest eat dust.

Speaking of being left behind, it’s good to pay attention so you’re on time when everyone heads back to the vehicle.

If you can’t be in the front car, at least you can hope for the front seat. It’s hard to see a soaring bird from the back, and you’re limited to just one side of the car. Worst is the back-middle position. Not only are you unable to see any birds, but the hard hump numbs your rear while your feet have nowhere to go. You end up playing footsies with those sitting beside you.

birders_elevenmilecyn-co_lah_6034

Then there are walkie-talkies. Hopefully your car has one, it is fully charged, and the person holding it knows how to properly use it. It is so frustrating hearing a garbled, partial bird identification (hold the button for at least two seconds before speaking). You may or may not see the bird because you don’t know on which side of the car it’s being seen. If the identification comes from a car behind you—never mind.

Or how about the issue of cargo space? It seems as if there’s always one person (I confess, it’s usually me) who shows up with binoculars, spotting scope, scope tripod, camera (with long lens), camera tripod, lunch, jacket, hat, water bottle, travel mug, backpack (with sunscreen, bug spray, toilet paper, etc.), two field guides, and their next of kin.

It seems that the same people always end up as the drivers. Perhaps they have the roomiest cars, or they’re wary the driving skills of someone who spends more time looking at the tops of the telephone poles than the road. Then it’s up to the passengers to reimburse them for gas and other expenses. Was there an entrance fee? Did your hiking boots track in mud? This leads to yet another puzzle—how much gas money is appropriate? Should you contribute toward a car wash? Do you want to ride in their car again?

It’s essential to choose your companions well. There is always the chance for informative discussions—how’s the family? What’s for lunch? Definitely ask about their latest birding adventures. And from time to time there is gossip. So remember the most important thing about carpooling—what happens in the car, stays in the car!

Continue for the answer to last week’s quiz…

The “dash and comma” markings should tell you that this is a Red-tailed Hawk.

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