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My schedule for February was significantly busier than January, and I hoped that trend continued through the dreary winter months. The travel committee at my retirement community, Phoebe Berks Village in Wernersville, Pa., set up a monthly trip to various restaurants. The outing is called Breakfast with the Bunch. I signed up for the February trip, and we were bussed all the way to a diner on the south side of Route 422, just across the road from our community. A new event, titled Great Decisions, meets monthly, so I decided to participate in the seven-week program. At the time I figured the balance of the month would fall into the routine of trips to the farmers market and various box stores of whatever type.

Saturday morning, the 5th of February, started with my daily ritual of checking email messages and sending my daily “good morning” greetings. The first message received was a request from my  daughter, Mary Ann, who lives in Delaware. She asked me to drive to a specific address in the nearby town of Sinking Spring, just under three miles away. She had received an email from a member of the American Birding Association who said there was a rare black-backed oriole from Mexico spotted at that location. He requested that she should see if the bird was actually there. Mary Ann in turn sent an email that was rather emphatic, starting with “GO SEE IF THIS BIRD IS REALLY THERE!” She mentioned that this would be the first time a Mexican oriole was spotted in the United States. If I spotted it, she might make the drive. 

I replied that I would swing by there on my way to the farmers market. I also displayed my lack of bird sense by adding that we saw orioles at our home in Pricetown. I checked Google for directions to the address and headed out. I passed right on by the address, parked around the corner and reported to Mary Ann that there was a crowd of people on the street armed with cameras of all levels, ranging from a basic smartphone to the higher grade used by professional reporters. News spread via social networking after the Ornithological Club identified the bird. And someone evidentially contacted a reporter with the Reading Eagle, as an article soon appeared. The people interviewed didn’t want to be called “bird watchers.” They identify themselves as “birders.”  

I forwarded a scanned copy of the article to Mary Ann, and she apologized for asking me to drive by because another of her friends suggested that this was a bird that escaped from a cage and would not be certified by the Pennsylvania birding committee. The next week she had a change of heart and sent me an email with the following message: "My friends talked me into driving up to Reading to see the bird in case the PA birding committee decides it is a wild bird after all." The first time I knew she had made the trip was when I received an email with her picture and the birder friend by her side plus a website where I could view a video of the oriole feeding. In the video dozens of people were entranced as they watched the oriole fly to a feeder, get bullied by a dove, and fly to another feeder to peck away at some fruit. That was the show. I decided this was a nonevent for me. 

A couple of thoughts struck me. Mary Ann is a “birder” and not the less intense “bird watcher.” Like the fictional Alice, I had passed through the looking glass to view a different world. My bird watching is nearly at the bottom rung. Only those with zero interest in birds are below me. I had several bird feeders in the yard at my home in Bernville and really enjoyed watching the various species interact. Phoebe snuffed out that pleasure with their standing rule that allows a bird bath but forbids us to place bird feeders or bird houses on the property. 

My world of auto enthusiasts has a hierarchy similar to the birders. A clear majority have a superficial interest in cars. There is a group that includes me. We know about makes and models and which company sells what vehicle. Then there is an extremely concise list of individuals one sees at auto auctions. They can spot an incorrect bolt, mismatched paint or interior for any vehicle.

The opening statement in an AARP bulletin article “Find Your Purpose” posed the question
“Do you wake up looking forward to something?” My answer is “Yes, I do.” Being involved in activities at my community, writing an article for publication by our writers group, and discussing my views with neighbors has given me a new outlook about my life at Phoebe. Mary Ann has proven to be a true birder and can add one additional sighting to her list. 

That makes me proud of my daughter who once again displayed her drive. This old dad is also glad that he is content with his world a notch or two below the hot-blooded hobbyist.

Dick Levan

Dick has written short stories for a newspaper and for a car club magazine. He still enjoys creative writing.

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