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The Forward March

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Seventy years ago today, on December 1, 1946, Ben and Lula Coffey with Mr. and Mrs. B.F. McCarney discovered the largest flock of European starlings ever seen to that date in Mexico.

Naumann, European starlings

This was not the first record for the country, but the band of 500 individuals encountered just south of Nuevo Laredo was some 20 times the cumulative total reported since the species’ arrival in Mexico a dozen years earlier.

The rest is history, as they say.

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Why You Should Bird Tuscany With VENT

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Panama. Ecuador. Kenya.

Central Italy?

Of all the places around the world I’ve been lucky enough to bird, none combines so many different and so many wonderful activities as Tuscany, that gentle landscape of hills and sea in the center of the Italian peninsula.

Food? Outstanding. Wine? Excellent. Architecture? Stunning.

And oh yes, there are birds.

Lots and lots of birds, including colorful European Bee-eaters and Hoopoes, Rollers and Woodchat Shrikes, Black-winged Stilts and implausibly shaped, impossibly colored Greater Flamingos.

We experience all this and more from just two hotels, one nestled between the Apuan Alps and the Apennines in the lovely Garfagnana Valley:

and the other tucked into the hills above the Mediterranean and beneath the medieval city of Manciano.

What could be more perfect? Only one thing: having you along. Our next tour is scheduled for May 2017.

At first, you’ll think it’s the trip of a lifetime — and then, if you’re like me, you’ll decide you want to go again. And again.

Florence from Boboli Gardens

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A Central Park Birder

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Marcus Charles Rich died seventy-five years ago today, on November 12, 1941.

I did not know him, and I doubt that anyone living now did, at least not well. I have never heard his name in conversation, and as far as I know there are no memorial bird walks, no annually awarded prizes, no commemorative park bench plaques in his honor.

And I find that comforting.

Rich, a securities broker in New York City, was a prominent figure in the Central Park birding scene in the 1930s, eventually becoming “the unofficial compiler” of records from that famous site. His eulogist, Eugene Eisenmann, praised him for the ardor with which he approached his role, the encouragement he and his wife offered young birders, and his efforts to make city officials more aware of the park’s value to migrants and their watchers.

His passing was a great loss to his many friends.

And now, just a lifetime later, he is forgotten. That circumstance could be a source of introspection, even regret; but Rich’s life, his death, and our oblivion remind me instead that all of us are links in a chain of tradition and transmission, and that though history may not remember and posterity not much care, each of us makes a contribution that is essential to the way the future will be.

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Captain Sydney Edward Brock succumbed on this date in 1918 to wounds sustained a month earlier at Courtrai. He was thirty-five years old.

According to his contemporaries, Brock had ahead of him an important career as an amateur ornithologist, entomologist, and ecologist. He was one of that class that Robert Shufeldt, warning a few years earlier of the likely effects of the war on science, had described as “of exceptional and unique value and actively at work upon scientific researches” in their field.

Brock died on the very day that the First World War came to its official close.




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A Halloween Spook

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Scary movies are supposed to terrify. Most of them, I find, merely horrify. But this one just might do the trick.


Released just before Halloween 1915, “The Spirit of Audubon” was a two-reeler produced by the Thanhouser Company and shot in Florida and New York by Herbert K. Job. Teddy Roosevelt himself makes a cameo appearance as Protector of the great wader colonies, but the real stars of the show were Laurence Swinburne as Audubon and two apparently once-famous child actors, Leland Benham and Helen Badgley, the “Thanhouser Kidlet.”

Bird-Lore called the film “interesting and highly educational,” but it also sounds more than a little creepy:

Audubon comes at night and takes two little children from their beds…. at the end the children, standing at the Audubon monument in Trinity Cemetery, pledge loyalty to the birds and to the Audubon idea.

The stuff of nightmares, even 101 years on — and I thought so even before I saw the photo of Badgley.

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