Watchers of our fine, feathered friends

Baltimore Glimpses

April 13, 1993|By Gilbert Sandler

READERS of this newspaper are accustomed to finding articles catering to their special interests: sports, bridge, automobile commuting, stamp collecting, computers, politics, TV, books, drama, movies, astrology. And once, on a semi-regular basis for 31 years from 1936 through 1967 -- birdwatching.

Those birdwatching articles were written by an Evening Sun writer and copy editor, Hervey Brackbill. (No kidding: A guy whose name sounds like a bird ought to write about them, just as Don Flowers ought to be selling flowers out in Randallstown.)

Mr. Brackbill's articles appeared perhaps three times a month, but not on a regular schedule. "I began to get interested in birds in the early '30s," says our former resident birdwatcher, still very much alive and full of love for animals avian.

"I had been finding books about ornithology here and there in the Pratt. Then one day I was up at Smith's bookstore on Howard Street, and I struck gold. I came across a whole patch of ornithological journals. Reading them stimulated me into writing the articles and joining several ornithological societies. But I was more interested in how birds lived than in simply identifying them."

Other aspects of birdwatching can be read from the titles and explanations in Mr. Brackbill's articles. Here are some partial quotes:

"How the House Finch Came East

"One of the newest species to be discovered in Maryland -- and the very newest to be found here -- these birds which previously belonged no nearer than western Nebraska, are believed to be descended from a caged group released in New York City 25 years ago."

And: "How to Watch a Mocking Bird

"Observations are continued from the time the parents begin to work as a team to feed their young, to the morning 12 days later when the fledglings leave their nest; the foraging females' wing-flashings call attention to an act that ornithologists have not conclusively explained."

And: "The Song Sparrows and the Cowbirds," "The Cowbirds' Duet," "The Mixed-Up Bigamous Wren," "Egrets in Gwynns Falls" and "The Snow and the Birds." Mr. Brackbill's articles in The Evening Sun attracted national attention. He was chosen in 1963 to write the section on birds for the Harper Encyclopedia of Science.)

Mr. Brackbill, of course, isn't the only birdwatcher to hold forth in Baltimore newspapers, but so far as I know he is the only columnist. William Amelia, a Baltimore public relations man, is a serious birder who occasionally writes columns about winged creatures. Environmental writer Tom Horton and freelancer Anne Stinson, formerly of Baltimore, now of Easton, also occasionally take flight. But the pickings have been slim in recent years.

Meanwhile, I have the word of both Mr. Brackbill and Mr. Amelia that there are tens of thousands of birdwatchers and at least two birdwatching clubs in Baltimore. (And Mary Bowers, editor of Birdwatchers Digest, recently moved here.)

These birders deserve a little better coverage. Where is the Hervey Brackbill of the '90s?

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