Whoa! Can you believe that guy?  I mean, I don’t know where to start after that.  Usually he is very nice.  But when he gets all toked up on coffee, he can be extremely annoying.  Believe me.   I know him pretty well.  Everywhere I go, there he is.

 

      So let’s start out with the “first year birder” bit.  Obviously he owns a field guide and read at least the first page of it  (Which allows me to say my first thank you to my brother, Ken, and sister, Mary, who got it for me as a birthday present ).  And it appears that he probably picked up the word “digiscope” off the internet.  So is he sandbagging us.  Has he actually been watching birds for years?  Is he -- let’s go there -- a poser?

      I will fill you in on his personal details and let you decide.  For the English majors out there, we can call this character development.  That’s the part where you get to know the main characters in a story, so that later on when something happens to them, you actually care.  I recently read a very good example of this.  It was my youngest daughter Rachel's first college English paper.  It was a story about food. She develops herself as a five year old cooking a Thanksgiving dish with her sister.  It ends with an obvious, but touching disaster, followed by a not-so-obvious (at least to me) twist.  And then a one sentence punch line that lets you know this wasn’t just a cute story, but about things much larger.  (A2).  The little “A2” after the last sentence stands for Appendix Two, which contains the story that Rachel has loaned to me as long as I promised not to rip her off.  That reminded me to put an “F1” after the quote in the previous section.  I just did that now, but when you read the foreword you would see it like it was always there.  All the really good info, I am getting from someone else, so I will do my best to not rip off anyone and add footnotes, especially for Scott Weidensaul, the world’s best nature writer.  His book about the Appalachian Mountains made me want to be a naturalist.  When my kids kept pointing out how much I didn’t know about nature and what a crummy naturalist I was, I decided to focus in on birds and maybe expand a little after I start to get that down.  So, all the footnotes will be in Appendix One.  Right now there is only one, but I’m assuming there will be more.  If you are reading this document in electronic form and your device has the ability to follow links, you can just click on the “F1” or “A2” to follow the link.  The footnote page will open in a new window.  To get back to where you were, you just need to close the footnote page by clicking the red X in the upper right corner.  Anyone who wants to read my daughter’s story, with the exception of the paid readers – who should read everything in order -- can flip or click to Appendix Two.  Oh, you already did that?  Did you like it?  I thought you would.

      Now there is a method to this madness.  When I read a book that’s really good or hear about someone who has done something really great, I want to find out more about the person responsible for all the greatness.  For example, David Sibley, the author of my field guide started “seriously watching and drawing birds” when he was seven.  (F2).  His father was a famous ornithologist.  From age eighteen on David has traveled North America studying birds.  So knowing just a few facts about this great man, I know that to be a great author of bird books, it would have helped if I had started at age seven and had a famous bird scientist for a dad and spent an incredible amount of time and energy learning about birds.  In a similar manner, I think it will be helpful to you to know more about me.  But he is not a great man, you are thinking!  That is why I introduced one of my kids here.  I’m a dad of three wonderful young adults, and every parent knows how great that is.

 

More Introduction   

      Everybody knows something about birds.  It is probably hard to go for a whole day and not see a bird.  I have lived my whole life in a suburb, but I bet that even in the cities, people see birds all the time.  Also most people can name quite a few birds.  Let’s try that:  Crow, Robin, Blue Jay, Sparrow, Duck, Turkey, Goose, Pigeon, Owl, Hawk, Eagle, Penguin, Cow.  Okay I was starting to get bored. But you get the point.  We all know something about birds, but most of us don’t actually study them.  Those that do would have a list more like this:  Fish Crow, American Robin, Blue Jay, American Tree Sparrow, Bufflehead, Wild Turkey, Snow Goose, Rock Dove, Barn Owl, Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, and on and on.  So at what point does a normal person becomes a birder.  I think it’s when the obsession kicks in.  When he starts to notice that there are a lot of little brown birds that he has seen for years and that he doesn’t know what they are.  And he wants to know.  And he tries to find out.  And he finds out that there is more than on kind of duck.  Well then he has probably crossed over that fuzzy line and has started to become a birder.

      The earliest that I can remember liking birds was when I was ten or eleven.  We had moved to a house with a lot of woods and streams and fields all around us.  It was central New York and my favorite summer time bird was the American Goldfinch.  Pheasants were common in the woods then and I loved to find one every now and then.  I also remember that a family of Blue Jays would nest near a stream in the woods.  It was fun to see the young jays dart all around the stream bed making an incredible racket.  My dad put up bird feeders and had big battles trying to keep the squirrels out of the feeders.   His favorite bird, I think, was the Wild Turkey.  For a long time they were rare, then we saw a few, then they got rare again.  At one point they came roaring back and we would see lots of them in the corn fields in the winter along Route 12 in NY.  Now I don’t see them as much, but I think they are still doing pretty well.  I remember hunting with my dad one time and we were walking along the top of a ridge.  We walked right through a whole flock of quail, which quietly flew off the ridge behind us on both sides.   By the time, I got his attention to point out the birds, they were gone.  I thought my dad was a bad hunter because he never got anything when we went out together.  Now I know he was a very good hunter and a naturalist and a better dad.  I’m sure every animal for a mile around us was thinking “here come that noisy kid and his dad again.  What an idiot that kid is!”  I read a story in one of Scott Weidensaul’s books that could have been about my dad.  Scott described how much he wanted to catch a wild salmon and after catching an immature fish that he thought was a salmon, he danced a jig.  (F3).  My dad would have a danced a jig if he had caught a salmon.  Once my dad went fishing during his lunch hour, caught a monster trout, and fell in the stream suit and tie and all.  He may be the only high school principal to have sent himself home for skipping school to go fishing.

      My dad’s most hated bird was the crow.  He would clap his hands loud to chase them out of his yard.  “Damn Crows,” he would mutter.  Once he heard the crows making an even more infernal racket than usual in the woods only about 300 feet from the house.  He found they were harassing a Great Horned Owl.  Following my dad’s directions, both Chris and I got to see this impressive bird.  My dad was especially pleased to note that when some brave crows got to close to the owl, the owl moved an inch on the branch toward the crows, and the crows burst out of there really fast.

 

Even More Introduction

      I’m back again, and on a roll.  You see, it is still three weeks to the New Year and I can’t start writing about my first year as a birder -- my first full year -- until then.  But if I let the no-caffeine Bill keep talking, he’ll go on and on about this bird and that kid and his dad.  That’s okay, but it will take too long.  So let’s do the speed dating version of what will be henceforth referred to as the “Lost Years”.

      In high school, I got interested in sports, academics, girls, and golf (which is a game, not a sport).  I still liked doing outdoor stuff, but don’t remember being particularly interested in birds.  I went to a college where every Friday we played touch football and got drunk.  After that I went to medical school for three years.  During that time I got really good at whiffle ball.  And I ran a lot.  And I listened to reggae music.  I didn’t much like anatomy or pathology or sick people.  They can’t help being unpleasant, after all they are sick.  Then I spent a year working as a medical assistant at a prison, doing first aid and handing out meds.  “Geez, Manny.  I sure hope you don’t cut your wrists, because if you do I have to walk all the way to the end of the block to get a guard and then we have to walk back.  So I probably won’t save you and I will be up the rest of the night doing paper work.”  Manny didn’t cut his wrists.  Then I spent a few months as a bus driver, then a computer programmer.  I got married, went to grad school, and got hired by Dupont as a programmer.  Then I went to IBM.  I left IBM in 1994 and still work as a programmer.

 

      Here’s an IBM story.  My first contract as a consultant was installing operating systems on small mainframes at a company in Philadelphia.  We call that kind of work systems programming.  The software at that site was a mess and so poorly organized that I had to re-install everything from scratch.  I got started right away on the first system, using the instructions directly from the manual.  Just after noon, my marketing rep arrived to do damage control.  It turned out the programming manager was freaking out because he thought I was a rookie because I was reading from the manuals as I worked.  The rep was very good and calmed the customer down.  We explained that I’ve done these exact installs dozens of times and can do them from memory.  That I’m probably the best guy anywhere to do this exact task.  The reason I was using the vanilla procedures from the manual was to leave the system in an easily supportable state so that his people could take it over after I leave.  He said, “Oh.  Sorry.”  Then he told us that his job was on the line and if I didn’t fix the system software on deadline that he would get fired.  “Don’t worry”, I told him.  “I’ll get it done on time.”  I did get the work done on time, but he continued to worry.  The rep and I started to call him the cardiac kid -- not to his face of course.  After a couple of weeks the cardiac kid actually did have a heart attack and was admitted to a hospital.  I continued to work on the project, many nights until 2 AM when the city is pretty much emptied out.   One night, walking along Chestnut Street to my car, after two AM, I heard a voice.  I turned quick towards the sound and I saw that it was coming from a store window.  There was a monitor playing a recording of a lady advertising vacations to the Caribbean.  So late at night, that recording struck me as very strange.  Then I thought about the cardiac kid lying in a hospital bed, potentially killing himself with worry.  I thought, “Some of the craziest people are wearing suits and ties and sitting in offices”.weeks, so I may be in trouble on this.  And “why a picture of a bird?” you might also ask.  Because that’s kind of what this story is going to be about.  It’s going to be about my first year as a birder, which is next year.  But in the nature of full disclosure, I currently still have a job and hope to continue in it.  And I have a wife and kids and hope to keep those as well.  And I started writing a completely different story.  And I need to go for a walk every day.  We will have to juggle around those things.  On the other hand, the Phillies and Eagles both really suck right now, which will mean I will save a lot of time by not watching them.

      To finish up this “foreword” (see I really did know how to spell it), I just need to give you the email address.  It is:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

      So that’s it for this section. I didn’t really thank anybody for helping me or supporting me.  That’s partly because you didn’t do anything yet.  But I can refer to some comments that some really good authors made in the forewords of their really good books.  Daniel Webster noted in the foreword for his ground- breaking dictionary that most of the people whom he wished to please when he started his book were already dead by the time he finished it.  Now that I write that, I have to admit that it isn’t as inspirational here as it was when Webster wrote it.  He was obviously a better writer and it sounded better the way he said it.  In the foreword to his great book the “Razor’s Edge”, W. Somerset Maugham admits that, although his story is basically true, he fudged some of the details to make the story more readable.  Okay, let’s do that.  I’m twenty-eight, very handsome, and run a four minute mile.  And let me quote from the preface of a truly great birder, David Allen Sibley -- “Birds are beautiful, in spectacular as well as subtle ways; their colors, shapes, actions, and sounds are among the most aesthetically pleasing in nature”.   (F1).  So keep reading and cut me some slack.  Remember this is just my first year as a birder.

 

Two dung beetles climbing their version of the corporate ladder on Cumberland Island in Georgia