When Gerry Cooperman put his “What Sparked Your Interest? on the MASSBirds listserve, I asked him for permission to post it here. I figured he’d get a half-dozen responses and perhaps I’d excerpt one or two and move on. The response has been overwhelming as dozens of birders from across the Northeast tell their story. Here are a few examples from just the first day of responses.
Paul was in college:
My spark came as a nineteen year old at UMASS. I was told one could see bald eagles at the Quabbin. I packed my girlfriend in the car one cold winter morning and made the trek down route 9 and arrived at the reservoir expecting there to be an eagle in every tree. How naive I was. It wasn’t until I arrived at the Enfield lookout that I noticed a few older gentlemen with very large homemade telescopes. I built up the nerve to speak to one of them and asked what they were looking at. The answer was something like “that eagle in that tree on Mt. Ram” I looked with my naked eye and saw a mountain. He suggested I look through his scope and that’s when I saw my first adult bald eagle. Amazed by what I saw, I immediately went and purchased the best binoculars and scope that I could afford and decided I wanted more!
Kathleen was a young girl:
I remember the day very well. It was in May and I was perhaps 10 or 11.
My sister had come down with scarlet fever. I was perfectly healthy but the house was quarantined, so no school for me. It was a lovely warm morning, my window was wide open and I heard birds singing. Encouraged by an aunt, I was just beginning to become more seriously interested in birds. I knelt by my open window, looking down at the pear tree in full bloom below, and suddenly the brightest bird I had ever seen flew into the top of the tree…the brightest red I had ever seen, with black wings and tail.
I knew robins and crows, blue jays and chickadees, but I had NEVER seen anything like this. This scarlet red atop a white tree. I just had to know what it was. My aunt had given me her old copy of the little Chester Reed bird book with black and white drawings. It look a long time of turning pages, but eventually I found the bird and immediately took my crayons and colored it in, and decided to try to see every bird in the book. I’m still looking, and marveling, at all the wonderful birds that are out there waiting to be discovered.
David is a birder who began in middle age, decades after he wished he had begun.
My spark birds were Harlequins at Cathedral Ledge in Rockport in late fall, 2008. My first-grade son, Tim, had gotten interested in birds via feathered dinosaurs, and my wife and I enrolled him in the Chickadee Birders program at Drumlin Farm. That Saturday we had gone to the Gloucester Fish Pier, where I figured out how to use binoculars, but when we got to Cathedral Ledge, something had dawned on me: I had been blind until that day, to birds, that is. Beautiful, glamorous, utterly surprising birds. I was hooked, and began strolling around our neighborhood in Concord trying to see birds; it turned out I wasn’t all that good at locating them, but I thought that hearing them was almost good enough, so I began concentrating on finding them by ear.
My son, meantime, has turned to other things, but still remembers his Sibley and asks to see local rarities now and then. Even if he doesn’t turn into a lifetime birder, he’s given me that gift.
Steve Arena described two spark moments:
The first time was the second week of May, 1970. I was staring out the window of my first grade class at the Henry Grew School in Hyde Park, Mass. Like a beacon of light, a bright red bird with all black wings alit atop a weeping willow tree – singing continuously. True to form, I jumped up, disrupted class, and got the teacher “on the bird”. Mrs. Ferrara was wonderful. She stopped the class so that all the kids could see this beautiful bird singing in the clear morning light. She took it a step further and over the next couple of days, we learned all about birds. The Scarlet Tanager and Mrs. Ferrara’s encouragement were all I needed.
The second time for me was after taking some time off from seriously birding to raise two wonderful children, a Massbird report of two (2) Black Rails at PRNWR entered my inbox. The birds were found by some hot shot birder I never heard of before (you all know him as Marshall Iliff) and a young man that I last knew as a boy (Jeremiah Trimble). I ventured up to the Island on 6/21/10 and was treated to the odd yet wonderful sound of two Black Rails calling at dusk. Zing! The hook was reset.
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