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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Birder busted for spotting scope

I’ve tried to keep the focus of this weblog on my nature observations and to avoid any political commentary or opinions. However, something happened to a friend of mine in Prospect Park today that demanded I bring it to everyone’s attention. I suppose under other circumstances I could have overlooked today’s event. If you remember, last week I wrote about how I was required to have a permit to birdwatch at the beach. Now that a birder has been harassed in Prospect Park for enjoying such an inconsequential activity, I had to speak out.

I received a cellphone call from my friend Mike who was being bullied by a female police office in the park. The following was forwarded to me from Peter Dorosh:

“Dear Peter,

It's been a weird morning. I was across from the Three Sisters [Island} at about 7:30 when a scooter cop called me over. I said good-morning and asked what the problem was. She pointed to my tripod (my really small Gitzo carbon fiber set) and asked if I had a permit to use it in the park. I told her I wasn't aware that I needed a permit to use a spotting scope. She said I did, so good-bye and good luck, here's your summons. The really annoying thing was having to wait almost an hour for a supervisor to arrive and then to have them run a warrant check on me!

Since I have Rob on my cell phone I gave him a quick call to see what he had to say. Without my saying a word he described her exactly [...]. It seems she tried to write up Steve Nanz some time ago. So it seems she's harassed other birders as well. She's officer Lewis from the 78th Precint.

I made several calls to a few people and no one seems to know what rule this cop is talking about. Let me know if you know of anyone I can contact about this. As it stands now I have to appear in court on June 28th. God knows I don't have enough headaches.

Just to let you know, I mentioned that I was a friend of the President of the Brooklyn Bird Club; it didn't do me a damned bit of good! (Ha, ha).

Thanks. Let me know what you suggest.


Here is another e-mail I just received on the subject:

“I ran in to Mike Zablocky(sp?) this morning on Lookout Hill. He told me and another fellow that he had just received a summons for "unauthorized use of equipment in the park".

He was using a tripod looking for the Least Bittern around the lake--presumably with a scope. He was not using a camera.

He said that officer Lewis was very unpleasant and followed him afterwards. She did not, however, do anything about the unleashed dogs right around them.

This sounds totally ludicrous and quite worrisome. I intend to use my scope as I have in the past!

Could you shed some light on the official regulations about scopes and tripods in the park? [...]


What is especially troublesome about this is the fact that some very serious problems exist in Prospect Park which are ignored by the rarely seen patrols. At the risk of losing some readers here are some things that I’ve never written about but are part of the "scene" in Prospect Park:

- Male prostitution goes on unabated in almost every wooded section of the park
- Drug use occurs regularly in those same areas
- Hundreds of unleashed dogs run through the park ILLEGALLY every morning and afternoon

I guess it’s just easier to tackle the important issues like spotting scope usage in the park.

-Click here to contact the NYPD-

I will post e-mailed comments that I receive in the comments section as "anonymous".


Anonymous said...

I think every birder in NYC should visit Prospect Park this week and bring their scope and tripod.

Anonymous said...

I just got off the phone with Rob a little while and he pointed me to his current post. It seems my adventure this morning caused some comment. I want to say thanks to Peter, Rob, and to Roberto (thanks for your support!) I promised Rob that I would keep this blog updated on what happens next. As it stands now I have to follow-up with the Prospect Park Alliance and the precinct commander at the 78th. If anyone has had dealings with this officer, let me know. I was inclined to let this incident pass at first, but when I heard that officer Lewis said that I was discourteous to her I decided to answer her version of the events. Simply asking an officer for clarification of what rules were broken does not equal disrespect.
You can reach me at

Anonymous said...

When I got back to the office today I heard about this unfortunate incident. Yes, I am very concerned about this! As I understand it, a report of the incident has already gone to PPAC's Director & VP, Glenn Phillips, as well as Tupper Thomas, PPA's President. I plan on getting more information about this tomorrow afternoon and will hopefully be able to provide useful and detailed information on Thursday (my next day of availability).

Arleen O'Brien

Anonymous said...

I had heard that there have been problems with the tripod going back several years. Merril, an original RTH watcher in Central Park had had run ins with park personnel saying that a permit was required for the use a tripod. Possibly this was an arcane rule/law to prevent unauthorized filming in the park. That has now been reinterpreted by any literal minded, petty fascist with a badge and a semblance of authority in their miserable lives.....oh sorry,...anyone have any sense of what the real LAW is here?

Anonymous said...

Interesting - especially since in Central Park, Lincoln has been given a shed to store his large scope. Therefore, you have a first defense: selective prosecution. Cops in Central Park have also stopped to look in our scopes to see Pale Male.

In order to prepare a defense, you also need to look up the citation number - something like 59:34-5 or whatever the particular statue refers to.

Thirdly, This is certainly something that Audobon might help with. Also, the New York Times. Publicity certainly helped Lincoln with his troubles.

Finally, A.C.L.U. I am not sure if there is a Constitutional issue here, but it is worth a try.

Good Luck

Anonymous said...

Further idea: Unauthorized use of equipment may be "Constitutionally Vague" and may be dismissed as a 4th amendment violation - Also, if there are no signs saying what equipment needs a permit, this is also a due process question. For instance, do you need a permit for a stroller? Geriatric walker? Tricycle? and on and on. Again, these questions might interest the A.C.L.U. and the Times.

Good Luck

Anonymous said...

What a pain! You'd think cops would know enough to tell the difference between people making movies without a permit (presumably the concern of the regulation) and birdwatchers. I hope your friend gets his ticket overturned without too much hassle. [...]


Anonymous said...

In addition to getting everyone we know in the birding universe calling the PP Permit number tomorrow to request a permit, we should get the Audubon to weigh in on this, since they are obviously in the park, and also our council member (DiBlasio?) and good old Marty Markowitz

Anonymous said...

Try a monopod. They do make such a thing. Better than nothing, and hopefully there is no law against monopods. Or two legs would be slightly steadier. Or four, with maybe only 3 touching the ground.......
The whole thing is stupid.
Had you heard about the birders at Niagara Falls, about a year ago? They were allowed to look for birds from some spot close to the bridge.... lucky for one man who somehow had gotten stranded on a ledge down below, near the river, and was desperately in need of rescue. Because the birders were there, they heard his cries for help. It is my understanding that birders are still allowed to look from that area, but to make everybody happier, they call the police in advance to tell them. I live near Syracuse, so I'm not sure of the accuracy of my info.

Anonymous said...

It may be off the subject b ut I fear it is right on target. We have had two instances in Nassau County, LI of birders being harassed by law officers for having a scope and looking at something the law officers thought they should not look at.

Incident one-Levy Preserve in Merrick-A spotter in a refuse collecting facility across the water from the preserve called the police when he spotted what he said was "an arab in a red turban and a dark person" looking back at him through a scope. The arab in a red turban was a respected birder from North Shore Audubon in fact the leader of the birdwalk who happened to have on a tall red hat, the dark person could have been one of two of our non caucasian friends who are excellent birders and well respected . A Freeport police car and a Nassau county police vehicle were dispatched (ironically into a jurisdiction that neither represented) and raced into the preserve. No one was detained but the birders were questioned.

Incident two-There are two peregrines on a facility in the vicinity of Sea Cliff. People have been observing them for a whole month. When a birder was seen looking at the facility through a scope, the birder was taken in for questioning.

I am not naming anyone in this email, their privacy is important, If there is any doubt that these incidents actually happened I can put you in touch with those involved.

Anonymous said...

I received a note from Doug Blonsky (Central Park Administrator and Chief Operating Officer, Central Park Conservancy) back in October of 2002 related to using telescopes on tripods in Central Park.

I'm not sure if this is the same policy for Prospect Park or other city parks under Benepe's authority.

Doug wrote to me after I asked them about the policy of using tripods in Central Park:

/----- original message -----\
Subject: Tripods in Central Park
From: "Doug Blonsky"
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2002 16:17:10 -0400

Parks Commissioner Benepe has asked me to respond to your email regarding tripods in Central Park.

Tripods are usually associated with use of cameras for commercial film shoots. Because we want our lawns open for public access, we prohibit these shoots on lawns. However, I have instructed my staff to allow telescopes on tripods on the lawns. Should you have a problem, please notify me by phone, 212-360-8236, or by email, dblonsky at

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me directly on any matter concerning Central Park.


Doug Blonsky
Central Park Administrator and
Chief Operating Officer, Central Park Conservancy
\----- end message -----/

Anonymous said...

Rob et. al.,
You might recall that my father and I were hassled for a tripod in Inwood Hill Park a few years back- no summons was issued, as we did not have a tripod in use at the time, and presumably it is not illegal to carry one in a city park. At the time, someone passed on the story to Alex Brash , Chief of the Urban Park Rangers, and he responded with a nice apologetic note, and a promise to remind park police of the intent of the law. My understanding is that the tripod law is designed to apply to commercial film crews, making them pay for the privilege of using public places as a backdrop, but, like any unjust law (see Aristotle), the strict application of the letter of the law is absurd. Unless Mike was trampling on a flowerbed, blocking a road, or cussing out a police officer during the commission of this "crime", the summons-issuing officer needs a brush-up on the meaning of "Serve and Protect." But I guess Bloomberg has a stadium to pay for.... I wish Mike luck in fighting this summons, and hope all birders who care to will continue to use their tripods- Fight the Power!


Anonymous said...

I just got your email re: your friend getting the summons in Prospect Park. Is he connected to Audubon or any other organized birding/environmental groups? What about the ACLU? If there's no law prohibiting this, I think this is a good local news story and a good thing for a local group to get behind. It's outrageous!

Anonymous said...

This is outrageous. I would suggest contacting Adrian Benepe, the parks commissioner about the issue rather than the NYPD. I think you may get further. "There is an e-mail the commissioner page" on the parks dept website, and although I haven't always gotten the swiftest response from his office, I have always gotten a response. If many birders write and ask the same question, it will be addressed for sure.


Anonymous said...


I thought I would ask if anyone has asked National Audubon, who has an Audubon Center located in Prospect Park, for their input on this issue. Unless I am mistaken, the Audubon Center in the park has (or used to have) a scope on a tripod set up at the center for visitors to use. Maybe they could weight in on the issue since they promote birding.


Anonymous said...

Please contact Audubon. (National) (NYC) (Prospect Park)