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Birding is a good way to set aside the threat of the COVID virus for a bit of time. There are precautions to take, however, particularly if you are with other people.

These comments come from Dr. Peter Crosson, a birder in Massachusetts. He posted them to a birding email list in his state. I received them from Madeleine Linck, a birder formerly of Medina, now living in Massachusetts. Dr. Crosson’s cautions are used with his permission.

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In my non-birding day job I'm a physician, bracing for the ramping up of COVID cases and the horrifying specter of lives lost to this disease. It's become abundantly clear that this is a disease that needs to be beaten on the public health front, not at the bedside. As a member of a wonderful, vibrant birding community, I feel the need to speak up about our responsibilities to each other and to the country as a whole.

As we've all heard, social distancing is key, and birding can be a

wonderful form of social distancing. However, it's not social distancing

when you are riding in the car with other birders who don't live with

you. It's not social distancing when you are clustering in groups, and

certainly not when you are sharing optics such as scopes.

Anyone of us can be exposed to the virus through asymptomatic friends, so it is not enough to restrict yourself to hanging out with people who have no symptoms.

Since this began, I have gone birding once with another person. We met

at the site, having come in separate cars. We kept 6 feet distance between us at all times, and did not share any optics.

If you are not following procedures like that, you're not social distancing. It's also obviously important at more popular sites to avoid touching handrails that other people could be touching, as the virus can live on surfaces for up to three to five days. Frequent handwashing and use of at least 60 percent alcohol-based hand sanitizer is also crucial.

It discourages me when I look on eBird and see multiple people reporting the same group checklist from a site. Maybe I am wrong, and they are all arriving in separate cars and keeping distance between themselves, but I doubt that's the case.

We are at a tipping point in this crisis, and as an educated and caring group we need to commit to doing everything we can to stop COVID-19. If we lose one member of our birding community because of this virus, it will be a tragedy. Make no mistake, if we do not change our behavior, that is near certain.

Peter Crosson, MD

West Barnstable, MA

capecodbirder@gmail.com