My interest in nature is apparently innate. I was intensely curious about birds, bugs and other fauna for as long as I can remember. Fortunately, my parents were supportive of my two brothers and my interests and helped us develop them.
We all walked different paths. My brother Mike was always interested in rocks and became a geologist. My other brother John liked to fix stuff from an early age and ended up fixing people and disasters big and small as a fireman and paramedic.
Our varied pursuits were actively encouraged by our mother, Martha, and dad, John. It didn’t matter that their sons’ interests deviated from tried-and-true familial pursuits. For instance, my mother was a teacher and dad a lawyer.
By the fourth grade, I was already pretty knowledgeable about birds, my first passion. My elementary school teacher that year was Deborah Moon. She liked birds and greatly encouraged my interest. By the end of that school year, she had other kids interested in the feathered crowd, too.
Around the time that I turned 16, I met Bruce Peterjohn. He was a walking encyclopedia of all things avian, and his field-identification skills were amazing. Bruce went on to author the definitive work on Ohio’s birdlife, “The Birds of Ohio.” We began birding together, and did so scores of times over several years, giving me the equivalent of a Ph.D. in field ornithology.
Through Bruce, I met scores of accomplished bird people: Tom Bartlett, Dave Corbin, Jim Fry (former author of this column), Tom LePage, John Pogacnik, Larry Rosche, Esther Reichelderfer, Tom Thomson and many others. All of them patiently encouraged me, and jump-started my skills.
But no one was more supportive than my parents, and parents are usually the most critical to a child’s early intellectual growth. Before I had my driver’s license, they — and my brother Mike — would motor me to good birding spots and to see rarities that I learned about via the phone rare-bird alert.
Dad and I made some epic chases to see mega rarities. One of these was a Bachman’s sparrow, which spent part of the summer of 1974 at Highbanks Metro Park. It was the last known territorial bird in Ohio.
Even better was our successful pursuit of a red-cockaded woodpecker that appeared at Old Man’s Cave in 1975. The only other Ohio record dated to 1872, and no one thought another would appear.
Even after I struck out on my own, there were birding excursions with dad. Some were as far as Alaska and Costa Rica. All of these forays fostered a deep interest in nature, especially birds, in my parents.
Dad’s legal career filled his life with weighty responsibilities. After a short career as a trial lawyer, he became dean of Franklin University’s law school. He orchestrated its successful transition to Capital University, where he also served as dean. He went on to serve three terms as an appellate court judge, was president of the Ohio State Bar Association and served the legal community with distinction in many other capacities.
Through it all, he made time for me and birds. For nearly two decades, he volunteered at Highbanks Metro Park, where his favorite duty was tending to numerous bluebird nest boxes. Dad helped produce hundreds of bluebird chicks, something he considered a noble calling.
On Feb. 1, dad passed away at the age of 92. His legacy lives on through the countless people that he mentored, and the progeny of all those bluebirds that he cared for. We’ll miss him greatly.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.