orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

Local News

December 25, 2013

Keeping an eye on the birds

ORANGE — A stop at a Five and Dime in 1948 changed one man’s life.

Walter “Bruce” Bishop stopped at the store as he headed home from the Royal Theater in Orange and bought four books.

“They were twenty-five cents each, if you can believe that,” Bruce said. “My mom liked wildflowers, so one was for her and the others were very basic books on birds.”

Bruce, 77, said that he still has those four books.

In his early days, prior to that purchase, Bruce was the typical boy with a BB gun in those days.

“I was a pretty good shot,” Bruce said. “I noticed a difference in the birds.”

Bruce also made a trip to the G.I. Surplus store and bought a $6 pair of binoculars, paying on the item at fifty cents a week.

From that day on, Bruce studied birds, including writing an article on the Great Egret, a large shore bird often seen in the area.

“In the early 1900’s the Great Egret was almost wiped out because people wanted their breeding plumage feathers for ladies hats,” Bruce said.

Bruce is a self-taught naturalist who has a talent for being able to distinguish birds not only by sight but also by their sounds. During an interview at Shangri La, he was able to count five birds he identified just by hearing their calls.

“I feel I have a God given talent,” Bruce said. “I can hear, find and remember what I hear. I hear low and high tones and can identify 40 species by sound alone.”

Bruce participates annually in the Christmas Bird Count, an event that occurs between December 14 and January 5 across the country according to the Audubon Society website.

It is the longest running Citizen Science survey in the world, Christmas Bird Count provides critical data on population trends. The results are compiled into a database that is shared with federal, state, and private authorities. This is the 114th year of the event.

This year the Orange County team will meet on January 1, 2014 from 7 a.m. until dusk at the service station located at the corner of Farm to Market Roads 105 and 1442.

“We are in groups of two to four and stay within an assigned area,” Bruce said. “It helps show which birds are thriving and which are losing habitat. It gives us a pulse of nature.”

Bruce said all are welcome to the count.

“Novices are assigned with Birders,” Bruce said.

Birders are persons who seriously pursues the hobby or sport of birding while a bird-watcher describes the person who watches birds for any reason at all.

Bruce enjoys birds so much that he could not name a single favorite.

“I really enjoy them all,” Bruce said. “If you ask my wife, once I start talking about birds, I don’t stop.”

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