[CT Birds] April 1953: World Series of Birding (Time Magazine)

Robert DeCandido PhD rdcny at earthlink.net
Thu Mar 29 20:36:41 EDT 2012

Time Magazine

Monday, 13 April, 1953

With the warmer spring weather, and with the northward migration of 
millions of birds, two of TIME'S writers are beginning to hear more 
questions about their favorite spare-time activity, prowling the 
woods and fields looking at birds, counting them, imitating their 
calls and studying their habits. For them it is an all-weather, 
year-round pastime which calls for old clothes, field glasses and an 
abundant knowledge of bird lore. They know, for instance, that a 
robin sings, not because he is happy, but because he has just staked 
out a claim to a clump of trees or a bride, and his song is a 
chirp-on-shoulder challenge to the rest of the robin community.

The two writers, longtime members of the nation's fast-growing legion 
of field birders*, are Gilbert Cant and George Daniels. Why do they 
study birds? Both are a little vague on the subject, except to say 
that, once they started doing it, they liked it so well that they 
kept at it. Cant began as a small boy in England, where he saved the 
illustrated cards that came in packages of cigarettes. There was one 
series on birds. Says he: "That got me interested, and I started 
hiking around the countryside and beaches of England. I got dozens of 
books on birds from the public library. I guess the satisfaction of 
birding starts with actually seeing the birds that one has read about."

Daniels' initiation was somewhat more opportunistic. He was keeping 
company with a girl whose father was a serious ornithologist, and who 
once asked Daniels if he liked birds. "Sure, I love birds," answered 
Daniels diplomatically. So the girl's father took him along on a 
birding excursion, and Daniels has been fascinated with the sport 
ever since. (He also married the girl, no birder herself.)

Both Cant and Daniels are members of the Urner Ornithological Club in 
New Jersey. Cant, who was president of the club for two years, 
credits the late Charles Anderson Urner, for whom the club is named, 
for bringing him "out of the dickey-bird stage." Cant has never 
totaled the birds he has seen on four continents and dozens of 
Pacific islands, but he was once a member of a party that sighted the 
only western grebe ever seen in New Jersey. Daniels has a "life list" 
of some 800 different species. They include about 100 he has seen in 
Europe and 50 more on a recent trip to Jamaica.

Cant, who is now training one of his two sons in the sport, has also 
organized an "area count" in the national Christmas census of birds a 
tabulation of the numbers and kinds of birds in various areas in 
early winter. A similar count will be made next month. Last year 
Cant,  Daniels and James Baird, a graduate student in ornithology at 
Rutgers University, set out to break the record of 173 species of 
birds seen in one 24-hr, period in New Jersey. They found 169, ran 
out of time. They tried again, and this time they ran into some 
zealous police in Chatham, N.J. The birding team, whistling to 
attract screech owls, was walking around behind a gas station, 
carrying flashlights and dressed for tramping through salt marshes, 
when the cops noticed them. For about 20 minutes the birders showed 
various identification papers, repeatedly swore that they were only 
looking for birds, and gave references. But the police were adamant; 
two homes in the vicinity had been broken into that night. Finally, 
when Baird produced a Government bird-collecting permit from Daniels' 
car, the police reluctantly released them.

The hazards of birding are not confined to such unexpected brushes 
with the law. Daniels and Baird once saw the only spurred towhee ever 
identified on the East Coast. To pin down the discovery, Baird got 
out his .410-gauge shotgun. Daniels worked around to the other side 
of the bird, moving it closer to Baird, but was obscured from Baird 
by the foliage. Finally Baird said he was going to shoot. A faithful 
birder to the end, Daniels covered his face with gloved hands, 
bravely replied: "Go ahead." Daniels was peppered with fine dust 
shot, but the towhee got away. The next day Baird went out with a 
12-gauge shotgun, brought down the bird and sent it to the U.S. Fish 
and Wild Life Service. Daniels, happily, was out of range at the time.

Cordially yours,

James A. Linen
* Most field birders defer to their more scientific brethren, refuse 
to call themselves field ornithologists. They also feel that the more 
common lay term of birdwatcher is undignified and inaccurate, and 
would be more appropriately applied to "dickey birders," who retain 
the fledgling illusion that birds sing because they are happy.

More information about the CTBirds mailing list