Thanks Again Mark: For a daughter's curiosity

Few who read this will have ever heard of Mark Koninendyke, and fewer still ever met him. Earlier this evening I took a short break from editing a Fall 2008 North American Birds column in order to check my e-mail. To say that I was stunned to see his name in the subject line of a message would be an understatement. Crazier still, the sender--unrecognized--was simply listed as “J O.”

This picture of Mark Koninendyke, taken in the early 1970s, appeared with Jeff Gilligan’s “In Memorium” piece that appeared in Oregon Birds Vol 12:152-153. (Photograph by Harry Nehls)

Mark was one of my favorite birding companions during my youth. More importantly, he was a friend. He died in a single-vehicle accident on 31 May 1986 while on his way to go birding in southeastern Oregon. I still think of him often, especially when I’m in the midst of a great birding trip like my recent adventures in Baja, or the December weekend in eastern Oregon and Washington. Mark would have been in his element. He was as genuine as any person I’ve ever met, and recollections of travels with him reside among my fondest memories.

When I opened the e-mail from this mysterious J O, I learned that it was from Mark’s daughter, who was just eight when he died. She had found my name when she did a Google search of her dad’s name. On occasion, I have written about Mark in posts to various birding listservs, thus she decided that I might be one who could offer insights about who her father was. I was heartened to learn that she was still interested in getting to “know” her father 23 years after his untimely death.

Obviously, he made an impact on her, as was the case with anyone who ever got to know her dad. I was immediately inspired to reach out to old birding buddies who all knew Mark well. I forwarded his daughter’s e-mail to several of them in hopes that they might be willing to share their own stories about Mark. After all, if this young woman wants to get to know her dad, shouldn’t we be the ones to tell his story? One of our mutual friends reminded me of a tribute to Mark published in Oregon Birds shortly after his death. Its author, Jeff Gilligan, had grown up with Mark and his cousin Randy Wright. The three of them and a couple other neighborhood teens started birding together in the 1960s. Jeff’s piece captures the essence of Mark and his tribute ends with three simple, telling words, “we miss him.”

Take a moment to think about those folks who you bird with regularly. I suspect that, like Mark was for me, they will be among your favorite people and, hopefully, your closest friends. The undistracted shared experiences one has while birding--long drives across the desert, a day of eating salt spray on pelagic trip, getting stopped by the police when you are out owling, or just wandering about your local patch--create opportunities to really get to know someone well. Embrace those times and you will surely come across some human gems… like Mark.

1

I remember Mark for his big heart and his zest for life. He and I traveled together to see our life California Condors in June 1985 (when there were still wild ones out there to be seen). On the way, we stopped at Malheur headquarters and caught up with the state’s first Yellow-throated Warbler. Mark had a habit of tossing a food wrapper, pop can, etc., over his shoulder into the back of his truck accompanied by the summary announcement, “File it!” He would even reach out the window and, with the flick of his long arm, File It unerringly into the bed of his truck. Those of us who knew him miss him still. During the years after his passing, I would learn of great additions to the Oregon list thinking, That would have meant a lot to Mark. And he would have been among the first on the scene.

2

I first met Mark with you (Dave) when he drove us both to my first pelagic trip to Garibaldi on Labor Day 1983. I was just a kid, about to start my Sophomore year of school. You guys were older. I remember my dad dropped me off at the golf course where you worked in SE Portland and Mark came and picked us up in his truck. It was late on a Sunday night when we drove over the Coast Range to get to pelagic boat trip the next morning.

I was kind of scared as you guys enjoyed some liquid refreshments on that drive. I was relieved when we got to the coast and drove out onto the beach to get a few hours sleep before the boat left in the morning.

Waking up in the morning we were surprised to see that Mark’s truck was stuck in the sand. We couldn’t get it out. Mark said he would stay behind and try to get it out, and encouraged us to hitchhike to the marina to make the boat.

What had I gotten myself into? We made it to the boat and fortunately, just before the boat left Mark showed up, having gotten his truck out of the sand in the nick of time.

What an adventure for a 14 year old!

I got to bird with Mark several more times over the next couple of years, and he was very generous to us obnoxious birding teenagers. One of my best birding trips to the Oregon Coast was a trip I took with Mark and Jeff Gilligan in the fall of 1985 before my senior year of high school. We shorebirded from the South Jetty of the Columbia River to Tillamook, and scored such goodies as Hudsonian Godwit, Stilt Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and what I’m still convinced was a juvenile Red-necked Stint (at the time Oregon was engaged in stint wars with California birders, and nobody wanted to really put their neck on the line for this bird!).

Mark died right at the end of my senior year of high school. Soon after that I left Oregon to go to college in Utah, and I have been an infrequent Oregon birder ever since. But for me, growing up as a young Oregon birder in the ’80s, Oregon birding was the model for how great birding should be, and Mark was a generous and companionable part of that.

I didn’t know him as well or as long as many here did, but he left quite an impression on this former teen birder. I’ve been able to reconnect with many of my old Oregon birding friends through email and Facebook and occasional visits. Alas, that will never be possible with Mark. He will always and ever remain missed.

3

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4

I am so happy to see this post and the recollections about Mark. This page came up in my genealogical research about our family – I believe he and I share a (grand)father.
It’s good to know he was so well regarded and loved birding. My brother and I are barely ameteurs but have always had immense respect for the birding community in Oregon.

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