The Bird Meme: Day 13

Day 13: Your favorite birder

The Man, The Myth

Oooooo, tough one. There are so many birders I've been lucky enough to join in the field, even though I've taken relatively few organized birding trips. Still, whether I'm with a group or in a friend's passenger seat, the instruction and camaraderie I've experienced birding with others have been invaluable to me. My list of favorite birders would have to start with Mary Stevens, who dragged me into the birding community with an invitation to help her out with a Christmas count back in 1991. It would go on to include my teaching colleagues at Woodberry: Tom Parker, Jim Reid, Karen Bond, Will Cole, and Chris Sprouse, not to mention former WFS students such as Arnold Koehnke and Jacob Foster. Since departing WoFo, I've had the good fortune to get fine folks like Nick Morgan, Ginger Walker, and Lee Bristow to come out and bird, and I've gotten good use of their eyes and ears.

I have managed to get several people who claim not to be birders into the field with me, among them my cousin Michael Cope, who hosted me in Los Angeles, Shari Jacobs, who gamely braved the up-and-down of West Virginia with me, my old friend Nan McKenna and her daughter Maggie, who took me out to Point Reyes National Seashore, and author/friend of the blog David Abrams, who shared a beautiful morning of owl-chasing with me a few summers ago.

My 2011 sabbatical at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology was arranged by the esteemed writer, editor, and falconer Tim Gallagher, who taught me a lot of things in the field and in the office, and who introduced me to a Murderer's Row of ornithological heavy hitters: Kevin McGowan, Robyn Bailey, Jessie Barry, David Bonter, Myoko Chu, Wes Hochachka, and the big boss himself, John Fitzpatrick. Tim even forced me--FORCED me--to take a course from the legendary Steve Kress, who taught me a ridiculous amount of information about field ornithology and left me wanting to learn more.

Of course, Tim is also an author, and he's one of many whose bird-related works have helped me become a better birder. Obviously I have to thank Roger Tory Peterson for the whole "field mark" idea, but I never met him, and more recent birders have been extremely helpful to me as well. Back in 2004 I was lucky enough to spend a day tooling around Cape May with Pete Dunne, whose keen eye and gentle good humor made the experience just about perfect. A few years later, I obtained a copy of his Pete Dunne's Field Guide Companion, a work of gargantuan proportions, and one that has given me a great deal more confidence in my judgment in the field; I can't recommend it highly enough.

My work for Audubon.org introduced me to several terrific writer/birders whose online presence continues to delight me: Kenn Kaufman is perhaps the most respected figure in American birding today, while Nick Lund's energetic wit informs his work as The Birdist whether he's blogging or tweeting. 

There are, however, birders I haven't birded with (and in some cases have never met) whose work has inspired me. Chief among this group is Ursula Vernon, who has been a real mensch on several occasions; I look forward to finally getting to break out the binoculars with her. If not for Ursula, I would never have met Tina Klein-Lebbink, who hauled me across 1500 miles of the Pacific Northwest in order to fill my life list. I have become a big fan of the work of Rosemary Mosco, and if we ever get the chance to bird together, you'll hear about it.

Nor have all the birders who have helped and inspired me done it by writing. Photographer Marie Read was a mysterious figure when I was in Ithaca, and she would turn up unexpectedly whenever our class was out in the field, usually draped with zoom lenses and camo, but a look at her work will just stun you. (Someday I will own the Eastern Meadowlark photo that accompanied my article "You Must Believe in Spring" in Living Bird.)

With all that said, in determining my favorite birder, I've got to vote for the ringer in the group. I've hauled many a member of my circle of friends through a birding experience, willingly or no, and my family members have suffered as well. Some of them have been very helpful about it, mind you; without Kelly's company, I most likely would have missed the Tawny Owl that turned up in the parking lot at the base of the Civita di Bagnoregio pedestrian bridge, and I've had help from my mother, my brother-in-law Odell, my son Ian, and my Aunt Linda on a number of bird-related outings. 

But in the end, I have to name the birder who has done the most for me as both birder and human being: my father, Richard G. Cashwell. He has devoted his time, his money, his travel experience, and his unparalleled driving ability to getting me around the country to see new birds and new places. With him I have traveled across the heartland, through the Great Plains and all the way to Denver, from Las Vegas to the Four Corners and back, through the Everglades out to the extremity of Key West, through the Mississippi Delta to the streets of New Orleans, from the Finger Lakes to the rocky shores of Maine, into the jack pine forests of Michigan, along the lakeshore in Cleveland, over the crests of the Rockies to the Great Salt Lake, and all around the pine woods and barrier islands of his beloved North Carolina homeland. He will never be as obsessed by birds as I am, and frankly, that's probably a good thing, because somebody has to tell me it's time to put away the binoculars and get back in the car. But once I do so, I know I will be ferried safely to a place with good food, and good company, and a decent chance of not having to pick up the check. That, without question, is the best birder a man could ever want to meet.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on September 26, 2017 4:48 PM.

The Bird Meme: Day 12 was the previous entry in this blog.

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