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DVOC Main Page > Our Members > John Danzenbaker

John Danzenbaker

(John passed away in 2008)

Fellow of the DVOC

The "20 Questions" below,
originally appeared in Larus

20 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 best?
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 the year.

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 involved.
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 (political) areas.

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 the years?
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 to attract.

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
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 Life.

How did you get your sons into birding?
I think the birding must be contagious, if not hereditary. I'm very pleased, of course

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 re-discovered?
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 where?
No life birds chased recently. Cackling Goose at the Brigantine refuge was my last lifer; not chased!