When I think about birds, my mind often wanders back to the early 1940s, to mountain bluebirds in passage, flying low over the mostly dry bed of the San Gabriel River, and to the voices of northern cardinals calling from wild-grape thickets along the river's bank. My parents had given me a copy of Pearson's massive Birds of America. I was hopelessly infected, especially by Louis Agassiz Fuertes' color plates. Paying little attention to the text, and with no thought at all about geographical distributions, I most wanted to see the black and white warbler. That was not to happen for many years.
Sometime in 1942, a large banner appeared, hanging from the balcony at the rear of St. Matthias Church. Blue stars formed a
large cross, with a tiny cluster of gold stars at its center. Through my third- and fourth-grade years, both fields, blue
and gold, grew gradually. Then came fifth grade. The field of gold had begun to grow rapidly. In the fall, somewhere in France, my best friend, Hugh, lost his first cousin-- who had been like an older brother to him. In April, a student delivered a message to Mrs. Bishop. She wept as she read it to the class. It was the only time I ever saw a teacher weeping. By that time, the field of gold was beginning to dominate the center of the cross; and it seemed it would continue to grow for a long time.
The contrast between that year and my sixth-grade year is perhaps my most stirring childhood memory. It was punctuated at
the beginning of sixth grade by the return of two young men from service in the US Navy. Both enrolled in biology studies
at Whittier College— one focusing on entomology, the other on ornithology. The ornithologist, Howard Cogswell, took a position at the Southern California Audubon Center, at the edge of the San Gabriel River Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary was a little less than three miles from home— a fairly easy bike ride. Wandering its paths had been a wonderful adventure for a ten- and eleven year-old— even without binoculars and portable field guide. Then I met Howard, who took me around those same paths with field guide and glasses. I rode home that afternoon with my first copy of Peterson and heightened passion for birding. In a very few years, Howard would leave for Berkeley, doctoral studies with Frank Pitelka, and a very long life-- full of teaching, full of service to the ornithological profession, and full of service to the Bay Area community. By the time he left, I had begun birding with my dad’s
first cousin, Ted Hall— the best amateur field ornithologist I ever knew.
Memorial to Howard Cogswell in The Auk
Before the sixth-grade school year was over, however, I had another passion. In late spring, the entomologist, my
Uncle John, had taken me out of school for some independent study. At a cabin, high in the San Bernardino Mountains,
I spent a week with him and my Aunt Mary, immersed in a living world of insects. I went home with mounting boards,
an assortment of pins, a killing jar, a relaxing jar, a key to the local species, and a knowledge of the major insect orders
and families that remains with me today. Eighth grade was to give me another passion— tide pools and my first copy
of Ricketts and Calvin. Visiting Florida for the first time, nearly thirty years later, I faced a terrible choice. I was parked on the shoulder of the road on a small, uninhabited key. I could take my binoculars and be certain of finding birds I had
never seen before; or I could leave my binoculars hidden and locked in the car and don my snorkeling gear to explore the
turtle-grass flat that stretched from shore as far as the eye could see. The snorkeling gear won. But the binoculars would
win many of the rematches on that trip and others.
In the summer of 2004, I bought two Canon products—a digital SLR camera body, and a 100-400 mm lens. It was in preparation for a November birding trip, sponsored by Los Angeles Audubon Society, to the Pantanal and Atlantic Rain Forest. And it led to a new quest, match each bird on my North American life list with a photograph. At about 70%, completion now, progress has slowed and the challenge has risen. The table below has links to my favorites among those photographs so far. At the end of it there are links to a few other small sets of photographs.