QUESTIONS (and then some) with John Danzenbaker
Give us a little background on where you grew
up and what you did before you retired?
I was born in West Philadelphia, 11 April 1919. Ten years later
the family moved to Llanerch (now Havertown) PA. I graduated from Haverford
Twp High School with a small scholarship (Biology) to Bucknell University
and left after a year and a half to do game farming in Broad Axe, and
also took a job as factory clerk for Keasbey & Mattison Asbestos Factory
in Ambler, PA. I was drafted into the Army 5 February 1942. Attended Officer
Candidate School and was commissioned 2nd Lt. 12 October 1942. Had various
military assignments, training troops and was sent to England, arriving
Christmas Day 1943 in Scotland. Joined 9th Infantry Division, training
as Infantry machine gun platoon leader and participated in Normandy invasion
D plus 4, Utah Beach, and was wounded twice and returned to the States
in July 1944. After recovery, had more infantry assignments, including
Company Commander, Recruiting officer and in January 1947 went to Kumamoto,
Kyushu, Japan, duties in 21st Infantry Regiment, Army of Occupation as
a Troop Information and Education Officer, then to Kokura as 24th Division
T I & E Officer.
Returned to States 1949 to Fort Benning GA as 3rd Infantry Division T
I & E O. Was returned to Japan 1950 when the 3rd Division was dispatched
there to train raw Korean recruits enroute to landing in Wonson, Korea,
participating there with Korean troops and other nations' troops for a
year. Next assignment was in the Pentagon, Army Office of Chief of Information,
heading The Army Newspaper Section. While there I completed my Bachelor
of Science Degree requirements in night classes with University of Maryland.
Next, after completing the Advanced Infantry Officer Course at Ft. Benning,
GA, I was sent to Orleans, France, (1955-1958) where I met my wife, Sylvie,
whom I married in England in 1957. Next assignment was to Boston Army
Base, MA as Director of Administration. There, at the Chelsea Navy Hospital,
our sons Mike and Jim/Chris were born. Next assignment was to Tehran,
Iran to the Army Military Assistance Advisory Group (1961-1963). Final
military assignment was back at the Pentagon, OCINFO, 1963-64. I retired
as Lt.Col. on 31 August 1964 and began work as a civilian with the FAA
Technical Center 1 September 1964 at the Atlantic City Airport, and moved
to our present home in Linwood. I retired from the FAA in 1980.
What got you started in birding?
My "birding" started one day back about 1929, when I noticed
that a sparrow in our back yard was heavily streaked. I had no bird books
or field guides. My grandfather had a pair of field glasses and somehow
we figured out that the streaked bird must have been a Song Sparrow and
all the rest must have been House Sparrows. That was my "start".
Did any elder birder influence you?
I knew of no one else interested at that point. I had a favorite cousin
about my age who lived in West Philadelphia and he visited us in Llanerch
often and we quickly became great birding friends. He was a Boy Scout.
He continued education and became a Veterinarian, establishing his practice
in Titusville, PA. His name was Dr. William Savage. Locally, my Uncle
Norman DuBree, a NJ State Trooper, learning of my growing interest in
birds, took me and our family to Brigantine Refuge, starting my long association
there. Then, at work, at the Airport, I heard of Jim Akers who also worked
there and we became great friends, frequently birding around the airfield
at lunchtime and at the Refuge other times.
How and when did you join DVOC?
It was Jim Akers who told me about Jim Meritt and the DVOC. Eventually
we both became members in 1973, but distance dissuaded us from being frequent
attendees at meetings.
Which DVOC personalities have you known the
DVOC member Joel Abramson, head of Bird Bonanzas of Florida, got me started
in taking birding tours in many distant places such as Costa Rica, Madagascar,
Antarctica, New Caledonia, China, Argentina etc. Locally, we became friends
with Bill and Naomi Murphy,
Frank Windfelder. I'm not sure who are DVOC
members: Bob Dodelson, Chip Krilowicz, Ward Dasey, Tom Sutherland, Jean
Fuschillo, Dave Cutler, Ed Manners,
Alan Brady, Armas Hill, Bill Tannery, Kate Brethwaite,
Jim Dowdell, Fred Lesser. My closest DVOC friend is undoubtedly Jim Meritt
with whom I keep in very close touch.
What is your current World List?
My current World List is 7529.
What is your current ABA list?
Current ABA list if 787.
What is your current NJ List?
NJ list is 422.
Do you keep an annual list? Any state lists?
I usually keep an annual NJ list: highest was 326 but I don't remember
It was rumored that your World List was the
2nd highest at one time?
I did have the highest World List one year, but don't remember when.
At what stage did you realize that your hobby
had become an obsession?
I don't consider my birding an obsession, just a hobby I truly enjoy.
Regrettably, as I get older, its importance fades.
We know that you have birded all over the world,
what has been your most memorable trip?
I expect my most memorable birding trip was a five week tour with Ted
Parker. Covering the best birding areas in Peru with a legendary leader
made it outstanding.
How well did you know Phoebe Snetsinger?
We went on many trips together along with Norm Chesterfield, often to
South America and to Asia with Ben King. At one time the three of us had
similar totals. We would work closely together and it was a blow when
I heard about her accident. We were never competitive but friendly helping
each other. She was quite a lady, very diligent. We went on trips together
for about 20 years. The last time I saw her was in northwest Peru and
she was on a trip there as well – that was shortly before she passed
away, in Nov 1999.
Which three of the overseas birding destinations
would you recommend and why?
Recommending overseas birding destinations has to include such factors
as the cost of the trip, the experience of the birder, physical requirements
for the participants and time requirements.
1. The Galapagos Islands is a great trip for the opportunity to get very
close to the birds, to see many birds and reptiles seen nowhere else,
for the pleasant boat travel and for relatively short time and expense
2. Madagascar is an incomparable birding experience. A very high percentage
of the birds there are endemic, found nowhere else in the world. Five
endemic FAMILIES as I recall and many animals similarly endemic....lemurs,
chameleons and vegetation too. Many are also very rare. Be sure your leader
is well experienced. Bret Whitney, a Field Guides leader, discovered and
showed us a new species on one trip.......the Cryptic Warbler, Cryptosylvicola
randriansoloi (last entry on page 444 of Clements Checklist).
3. Antarctica is traveling and birding in luxury. Food, comfort and leadership
are usually readily available. Be sure your itinerary includes South Georgia
(mine did not!). It is expensive, sometimes long, but the birding for
penguins, petrels, albatrosses, skuas, cormorants is incomparable and
there are seals and whales too. Mountains and icebergs make it a very
scenic trip also.
Which birding experiences stand out the most
in your memory?
Two birding experiences stand out in my memory:- (1). the search, even
including the use of a helicopter, to find a Brown Kiwi on Stewart Island,
New Zealand, and (2). the 3a.m. chase to meet our expert guide to find
the very rare Kagu on New Caledonia, and having this very unusual bird
responding closely and vigorously to a recording of its voice.
What is the rarest bird you have seen?
It's difficult to say which is the rarist of the rare birds I've been
privileged to see. A standout trip, my last tour to Peru, covered the
northwest part of the country and it yielded a bird I don't think Ted
Parker ever got to see: the extremely rare White-winged Guan.
Which bird that you have not seen, would you
most like to see?
I would have to say that there are 2 families of birds that I would most
like to see, both being amongst the hardest to add to ones list - the
Rockfowls (Picathartidae) and the Hypocolius (Hypocoliidae). There are
only 2 species of Rockfowl, the Gray-necked Rockfowl and the White-necked
Rockfowl found in central Africa. I have looked for them in Gabon, but
they are very difficult to come across. The Hypocolius is the only species
in its family. It is found in the Middle East in generally inaccessible
What is your favorite family of birds?
The Pheasant family (Phasianidae) are something special. When I had my
game farm we had 11 species including Swinhoe’s and Mikado, which
we were very successful in getting them to reproduce. I saw both of these
very rare endemics in Taiwan. At one time there were less than 200 Swinhoe’s
in the wild.
Who has been your most frequent birding companion
in New Jersey?
Jim Meritt, his health permitting, has been my most frequent birding partner
in New Jersey and occasionally out of state. Before Jim Akers' untimely
death, he was my most frequent companion.
What are your favorite NJ birding spots?
My favorite birding spots in New Jersey are Forsythe (Brigantine) Refuge,
Belleplaine State Forest, Cape May, Dividing Creek, Barnegat Light and
sometimes Lakes Bay, McNamara and Cape May and Atlantic County Parks.
Has Forsythe NWR aka Brigantine changed over
Forsythe Refuge has not changed much. Some new paths have been developed
which may be good but are too long for me. The new dikes in the West Pool
probably divided the water and the vegetation to provide more diversification.
Unfortunately, hunting for geese, ducks and deer goes on regardless of
necessity or effect on wildlife, which the "refuge" is supposed
Your sons, Mike and Chris were on the winning
DVOC World Series team in 1985. What are
they up to now?
Our sons, Mike and Jim/Chris both graduated from St. Augustine Prep, in
Richland NJ and both won partial academic scholarships to Villanova University
from which they both graduated with high grades. Before they left this
area and were constrained by work hours, we took several family trips
together. Bonaventure Island, Gaspe Peninsular, Canada; Trinidad &
Tobago; Kenya & briefly into Tanzania; the Galapagos Islands; Guatemala;
Colombia. They are still actively birding, but with both of them out West,
Mike and his wife Lee, also a birder, live in California; and Chris was
also in CA for several years, then moved to Wyoming and now has just settled
in southern Washington state so we don't get to see them as often as we
would like. Mike is still
very actively photographing. He had a few field days with the owls in
Minnesota this past winter, and the Redwing and McKay's Bunting in Washington
state. You can see his photos on his website.......www.avesphoto.com
Chris is now on the Brunton staff, travels extensively around the country
to shows, festivals and exhibitions. Both are leaders on pelagic trips
and Chris is a naturalist leader on Antarctica trips with Cheesemans'
Ecological Safaris. Both boys were in the Boy Scouts: Mike, Eagle, Chris
How did you get your sons into birding?
I think the birding must be contagious, if not hereditary. I'm very pleased,
What advise would you give a new birder?
I would advise any new birder to keep records, use good field guide books
and photos. A little family competition and helpful companionship are
good. Use camera and tape when appropriate.
Do you have any advice to give the DVOC?
I think the DVOC is doing fine. I wish members would share information
more readily and speedily.
Is the Ivory-billed Woodpecker on your ABA list?
In your wildest dreams, did you ever expect that this species would be
No it is not, and I never saw it in Cuba either. Yes, the Ivory-billed
Woodpecker rediscovery was most remarkable. I hope the bird has a mate.
What was the last life bird you chased, and
No life birds chased recently. Cackling Goose at the Brigantine refuge
was my last lifer; not chased!