Questions and Then Some with Henry ("Harry") T. Armistead
1. How and when did you begin birding?
In September 1949 at age 9, I stepped out of our Maryland house
and saw a brilliant yellow male goldfinch on a purple thistle. That was
my "goldfinch epiphany." I’ve been interested ever since.
2. What model were your first binoculars?
3X opera glasses that were my mother's. She was an opera buff. I sometimes
take my Bausch and Lomb 8 X 42 Elites, my "car" binoculars,
to the orchestra. Some of the musicians and soloists are worth looking
at (and listening to, even). Older favorites were big, clunky Bushnell
Custom 10 X 50s, almost 3 pounds. Now, I love the Swarovski EL 10 X 42s
but they take twelve to thirteen cranks to focus at close range. The best
scope is the Leica Televid APO 32X straight through. My worst mistake
was buying a Questar on reputation. I hate it.
3. Who fostered your interest in birds?
My mother, early on. My mentors have been Dave
Cutler, Dick Kleen, Chan Robbins, and Fred Scott.
4. When did you join the DVOC?
I joined DVOC n 1959. Several years earlier a schoolmate of my father,
C. Chandler Ross, declined to sponsor me. He said I was too young. He
was SO right. As an ageing preppie, I am STILL trying to decide what I
want to be when I grow up. My father, though not a birder, had additional
birder/DVOC connections. A classmate of his at Chestnut Hill Academy,
class of 1918, was Frederick V. Hebard. Another earlier classmate of his
at St. Paul's School was James Bond.
5. Which DVOC members are most memorable to
The ones with an edge, characters: Alan Brady,
Ernie Choate, Dave Cutler, and Phillip
Street et al.
6. Who are your most regular birding companions?
Bob Anderson. George Armistead. Liz Armistead. Carl Perry. Julia Roberts.
Will Russell. Jared Sparks. Paul Sykes. John Weske. Hal Wierenga and Lynn
Davidson. Catherine Zeta-Jones. And of course the late Dave
Cutler. Will and I attended Penn at the same time. He once told me
the DVOC was essentially his fraternity while at U of P.
7. Where did you go on your first local birding
Many times along Wissahickon Creek at my first home in Fort Washington
on Lafayette Avenue.
8. Where was your most memorable birding abroad?
See 14 below.
9. Where is your favorite place to bird?
Our family vacation place in Talbot County, MD, where I've kept records
since 1954. The yard list is 265. Best days were 93 species (once) and
92 (twice). My Mount Airy yard list is 108. Also: Cape Charles, VA and
10. What place would you most like to see?
Antarctica. Also: Alaska, Greenland, and the Canadian Arctic. And the
big marshes/swamps: the Okevango Delta or the Pantanal. Elat during the
spring raptor migration.
11. Are you a lister or a record keeper?
Record-keeper, and compulsive diarist. In the past 24 months, my posts
to MDOSPREY and VA-BIRD comprise about 92,000 words. But some lists are
important, such as the Maryland yard list, Maryland state list (335) and
Dorchester County, MD, list (296). I don't know what my life list is and
don't much care. I CAN tell you it is under 600 for North America. I haven't
traveled much since I was a teen.
12. Do you chase rarities?
Rarely (pardon the pun). Last March I chased a Great Gray Owl
at Cape Vincent, NY. It was only 60 miles from where I just happened to
be anyway. I didn't know about it until my wife, Liz, read about it in
a local newspaper while I was visiting my in-laws. I also chased the Baltimore
13. What was the most exciting bird you discovered?
A Black-throated Gray Warbler, a first for Cape May County, September
30, 1961. Best of all: I was able to show it to many others the same day.
Finding a new Cape May bird now is like discovering a previously unknown
Mozart symphony or Rembrandt painting. In general I do not find rare birds.
In 56 years I have found 3 state records, none of them really rare.
14. What is the greatest avian spectacle you
In September 1959 off New South Wales, Australia, I was a deckhand
on a freighter. The sea seethed with countless thousands of seabirds:
petrels, shearwaters, and Wandering Albatrosses.
15. What is the most amusing event while birding?
Have a seat.
1. In September 1966 on our honeymoon, we found a Bausch and Lomb scope
on a tripod lying in the surf at La Push in Washington State. Fifteen
years later in Norfolk at Paul Sykes' house after the Back Bay Christmas
count I was talking to a man I'd never met before from Lantana, Florida:
the late Howard Langridge, Florida's top lister. When I told him about
the scope, he looked at me in disbelief. It had been his. While canoeing
in the surf six weeks earlier he'd capsized, losing his scope then!
2. At Cape Charles, Bob Anderson noticed an Osprey flush and drop a large
fish into some high weeds. After a long search Bob found it, took it to
the banders to weigh on their scales, cleaned it, and it fed three of
us handily. It was a nice Channel Bass.
3. After Virginia made him jump through countless hoops, the state finally
issued John Weske a banding permit. He showed it to me. Among the species
they OKd for him to band was Sable Antelope, the result of some computer
glitch in their template, not someone trying to be funny. Best of all
was their irritation when he asked them what had happened.
16. What built your career as a birder?
Chances to write, edit and compile.
17. As someone who enjoys writing, do you have
a favorite bird book or author?
As bad as asking if I have a favorite bird: robin, Green Heron,
Merlin, any chickadee, owl, nightjar, rail, or nuthatch. Stop me when
I get to 30. "Birds Over America" by Roger Tory Peterson is
number one. RTP is under appreciated as a writer. Any book illustrated
by Fuertes, Liljefors, Thorburn, Lars Jonsson, Dave Sibley, Major Allan
Brooks, Francis Lee Jacques, Walter A. Weber, or George Miksch Sutton.
"Sand County Almanac" by Aldo Leopold. The Sibley guide, is
a masterpiece, although it skimps on habitat information. Any book by
Brooke Meanley. Pete Dunne is a very entertaining writer.
18. What are your other interests?
Classical music. Redneck jokes. World War II. Squirrels. Boating.
Poetry. The Holocaust. Colonel Richard H. Meinertzhagen, his ornithological
and British army careers. Collecting natural history books. I have over
3,400. I've reviewed bird books for "Library Journal" since
1969. As a librarian I've had countless opportunities to acquire books
for free, or nearly so.
19. What is the most dramatic change in birds
or birding you've seen?
1. Electronic resources and improved communication, such as LISTSERVS,
the internet, BNA online, websites, SORA (elibrary.unm.edu/sora),
birdingonthe.net, e-mail, GPS,
cell phones, even Google.
2. The quantum leap in bird book publishing, now in its golden age, especially
with magisterial Handbuecher such as "Handbook of Birds of the World,"
"Handbook of the Birds of the Western Palearctic", the similar
set for New Zealand, Australia and Antarctica, "Birds of Africa"
and "Birds of North America." Plus countless 100s of regional
bird finding guides as well as field guides for most countries/areas of
3. The phenomenal growth of ecotourism.
20. How do you think birders can improve as
Write letters, become involved with local conservation issues,
attend hearings and speak up. Write and document what you see - it has
significance. Participate in citizen science activities: Christmas counts,
atlassing, breeding bird surveys, the feeder watch, etc. Volunteer at
a local refuge, park, sanctuary, and your bird club. Give money to outfits
that get things done, such as The Nature Conservancy.
21. Is there anything you would like to change
in the DVOC?
No. Great website. Good newsletter. Excellent speakers, programs
and field trips. Otherwise ... more outreach to younger birders. Our hobby/avocation
22. Will you be at the DVOC annual banquet this
Oh ... probably. I am something of a prodigal
son and loner. I never go to meetings hardly. All my fieldwork is on the
Delmarva Peninsula - thirty weekends a year and most of my vacation leave.
When home, I work, pay bills, catch up. But this year I'd like to go.
Speakers Judy Fieth and Michael Male are great people. Super boat handlers,
each year they take us to Cedar Island, VA, for the Wachapreague Christmas
count. Their videos are tops.