Celebrity birding

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Meeting Rick West was like meeting a phenomenon of nature itself. The boyish enthusiasm and energy permeated his 80-something body. A restless and exacting man arrived at our apartment at around 6:30 one Saturday morning in May a couple of years ago. We were about to go on a bird observation and count in my general neighborhood.

Who is Rick West? He is a bird-enthusiast and former chemist out of Tallahassee, Florida who holds a claim to fame of championing the Delaware State bird atlasing some years back. When we met, he was in the driver seat to do the same in his native Florida. A bird never had a more relentless friend and advocate than Rick.

How did Rick arrive from Tallahassee to my neck of the woods (Everglades) to do a bird count? My youngest daughter met him in Tallahassee while attending Florida State University. She was doing medical volunteer work, and encountered Rick. In conversation, he learned where she grew up, and he shared his interest in birds. She mentioned her mother was “interested” in birds. Rick was looking for amateurs in this part of Florida for the records he was collecting.

Before I knew it, I had a three inch thick book from Rick titled “Birds of Delaware” and a laminated parking pass to show that I had special parking permissions for the task I agreed to take on. Bird atlasing is a counting of species observed in certain areas during non-migratory parts of the year. I gave myself a crash course on the species that I might observe. I had to ratchet up my “interest” to a reasonably informed observer in my neighborhood.

Months before Rick arrived at our doorstep, I visited endless parks and nature spots in about a 10 mile area. I wanted to at least be able to show him where the various species were observed by me. This paid off in dividends.

When Rick arrived, I think he and his grandson were surprised that my daughter and I had mapped out the route to observe the birds. It was an efficient plan to move methodically around the area and hit the spots when the birds were most likely to be observable and abundant. Rick timed himself for about three minutes at each of a dozen sites, observed and listened, noting his observations on a clipboard. He had a GPS drop of each location he made observations on.

He wanted to hit the everglades before about 10 a.m. The plan was to hike out on the dike about one mile in. We were in search of a yellow-throated warbler (or was it yellow-rumped)?! Anyway, it was a bird that there was concern about. We did manage to see one in a bush. Along the way, we saw red-winged blackbirds. Living only about two miles from that spot, I was surprised I hadn’t seen any outside of the preserve zone. Rick said it had to do with spraying that is done. That species eats the insects that the insecticides kill in developed areas.

Along the way, we passed an alligator about 20 feet below the dike and the footpath. My daughter and I were reluctant to pass, but Rick kept trudging. “My mother taught us not to be afraid of wildlife that doesn’t see us as food.” We weren’t so sure, but kept following Rick anyway.

Our bird observation day gave us sightings of ibis, herons, purple gallinules, crows, mockingbirds, shrikes, cardinals and a few other species. I learned that ordinary observers can contribute to the greater good when matched with leadership like Rick’s. As we came out of the everglades area, we had to squeeze under and through a fenced area. We asked Rick if he needed any assistance. “I’m not planning on using my age card any time soon,” was his response. No kidding.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

 

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