“Are you a birder if you don’t carry binoculars?” asks Charlie. It’s an interesting post, and he presents arguments both pro and con, so go take a read.
I’d argue that being a birder has a lot to do with interest and attitude, and not a thing to do with what equipment you carry. Two examples follow.
A few years ago when I started birding, I was very excited when I signed up for my first overnight, out-of-town trip. We carpooled to be ecological, and I was riding with the trip leader when we went by a schoolyard with a large flock of geese in it. I asked what they were, and was scathingly told that they were Canada Geese. How embarrassing, to not recognize such a common bird! No wonder he was annoyed with me. I timidly remarked that they looked different than others I’d seen, and was rewarded with a dirty look. You know where this is going, right? We met up with the other cars, and everyone was excited about the flock of brant they’d passed on the way to our meet-up. At that point, the leader of our trip and respected local birder said to me, in a loud voice, “We went right by there. Why didn’t you say something?” He had very nice binoculars, I might add, which he used as he repeatedly ignored “no trespassing” signs throughout the trip.
A more recent example is a local day trip to a park which contains a disc golf course. We met near the parking lot and as we walked around birding, the trip leader (again, a highly respected local birder, Audubon member, and owner of nice binoculars) repeatedly made remarks about the disc golfers. For example, “Oh, good, look who’s here with his hangover.” She spoke loudly and repeatedly about how disc golf should be banned and how all the players were stupid jerks. Worse, the reaction of the birding group was to think this was cute – more than one person told me how funny she was.
Are these examples of bad behavior, by which all birders should not be judged? Absolutely. They are individual aberrations, and I’d argue the same for obnoxious, annoying photographers. I still consider myself a birder, but if it’s binoculars that make the birder, I’ll start leaving mine at home.