11 January 2009


for those of you who, like me, love to tread quietly through forest or marsh or desert, or across mountain meadows or sandy beaches, spying on our avian friends, i've discovered a terrific resource online. the site offers a data base in which to store one's own life list of sightings, as well as space for recording field trips, an array of truly outstanding photos, and the chance to network with other birders. i transcribed my own life list from the index of my decades-old Golden field guide, and discovered that taxonomists had renamed a few species while i had my back turned. so far in life i've verifiably observed 360 species, with another 40 probables. nothing near the 700 level that seems to mark the beginning of the realm of truly devoted (or pathological) birders, who have the time and $$ to venture all over the world in pursuit of numbers.

i guess you could call me a serious enthusiast who happened to be in the right place at the right time, more than once. much of my exposure occurred while attending the University of Arizona in Tucson, enjoying the numerous field trips that were part of the UA's prestigious Ecology & Evolutionary Biology program (including, of course, ornithology). another chunk of exposure was linked to my four years as caretaker of the Nature Conservancy's Canelo Hills Cienega preserve. the region happens to include not only migration flyways, but also the southern range limit of some northern birds, and the northern limit of some southern birds. a fortuitous overlap.

later in life, i was fortunate (?) to have moved to Charleston, SC, a month before the arrival of hurricane Hugo, whose path of travel was targeted quite precisely on the suburb of mount pleasant, where i lived. Hugo's devastation of the nearby Francis Marion National Forest created a number of emergency job openings with the U.S. Forest Service, one of which i landed. i spent the next year as a wildlife tech, doing habitat restoration for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, which involved installing artificial nesting cavities (using climbing and safety gear, chain saws and hand tools, and swedish ladders, placing them as high as fifty feet off the ground), and assessing the clan populations throughout the forest, and coincidentally seeing birds on a daily basis that other birders can only dream of.

a third stroke of luck happened in suburban Philadelphia, where i found work as a counselor and teacher at a private residential school for SED teenagers. nearly all my teaching was spontaneous, right off the top of my head, since the material was so familiar to me -- math, algebra, biology. the school administration allowed me to develop my own environmental studies class for more advanced students, a rare privilege. i led field trips to several birding meccas, including Hawk Mountain in PA, and Cape May in NJ.

in my nomadic life (i've lived in MT-WA-AZ-GA-TX-AK-SC-PA-TN, and visited all the remaining states except four), in most places i've tried to take an adult ed birding class, thus hooking up with local experts who could steer me in the right direction. those field trips were as much fun as the university ones. so many colorful memories. and so many more yet to create. you just never know what surprises life is going to place in your path.

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