People often ask me, “What’s your favorite bird?” For many birders that is a hard question. Truth is, I have many favorite birds. Often it has to do with some unique experience in which a bird was involved. I’m not alone in this. Recently, I spent the morning talking with Frank Vogt, a Bethel resident and life-long educator, birder, and fisherman. He told a moving story. Years ago, while fishing in Alaska above the Arctic Circle, he caught a large trout. As he knelt on the sand bar with that fish in his hands, he thought of his closest fishing buddy who had recently passed away. In that instant, three Whistling Swans flew low overhead. As Frank told the story, it was clear, even all these years later, for him it was a powerful moment. If you asked Frank about his favorite bird, he might not list Whistling Swans (photo by Becky Matsubara), but I bet that moment is high on his list of most memorable experiences.

That’s the way it is for many birders. Birds can be powerfully associated with different places, experiences, and even the time of year. So, for me it’s hard to give you one bird. A better question is, “What are your favorite bird stories?”

Ask that question, and the stories will come tumbling out – stories of the wild places I feel lucky to have visited. These include Saw-whet Owls in Maine and my first Golden Eagle which soared overhead as my wife and I watched a big horn sheep in Colorado. I’ll tell you about a Green Heron with a broken leg that my brother and I rescued from a swamp, the Wood Ducks that nested in my family’s yard and the ducklings we escorted to a pond to keep a hawk away. I’ll tell you about the fledgling Kingfisher that had fallen from its nest burrow and what it took to return him, the first American Avocet I ever saw, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters in burrows in Hawaii, or the South Polar Skua off the coast of Cape Cod.

These are the stories of adventure and surprise. And, like Frank, often these are stories of the people who mean the most to me. Birds serve to anchor these special events in my memory. So, when you ask me about my favorite bird, understand you’re likely to hear stories of the people, times, places and, yes, birds in my life.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to [email protected]

Whistling Swan Photo: Becky Matsubara


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