A Story We Had To Share

Editor's Note: One of the things we hope for when we publish articles in our online journal is response from you. Some of the pieces we publish inspire lots of comments, while others spur little if any feedback. As older pieces slide deeper into the archival cyber glacier they are only occasionally visited by those who are just discovering our site. I occasionally review the comments to older articles to delete spam and see if anyone has added anything new. This evening I found an absolute gem, posted by Bob Tarte on 6 March 2011. I've never met Bob, but I felt compelled share the story below. He posted it as a comment in response to our December 2010 photo essay about abused field guides entitled: No Easy Life: Abused Field Guides


This image shows the 1949 Zim and Gabrielson guide that Bob references early in his story. (photo sourced online at http://www.vintagepbks.com)

I found BirdFellow quite by accident today, and I was pleased to see the essay on abused field guides. Yesterday at a second-hand store in West Michigan, I found a 1949 hardcover copy of Zim and Gabrielson’s “Birds” and bought it for the low price ($3.98) and because I enjoy the large illustrations and quirky text. Only after I gave it a second look at home did I notice that it had been autographed by Herbert Zim.

At the same second-hand store I found a field guide to birds of Great Britain last fall. I discovered a postcard stuck inside the book that was an invitation to a 1983 reunion of the Second Air Division Eighth Air Force in Norwich. On the back of invitation is a list of birds in the book owner’s handwriting, and inside the book cover is the price of the book in English pounds written in pencil.

So I’m guessing that an American serviceman who was stationed in England in WWII went back to England in 1983 for a reunion. While he was there, he bought the field guide and went birding in the area. The experience was undoubtedly very important to him, since he saved the postcard, and I am betting that he would have wanted someone to have his book who would value it, as I do.
I couldn’t let it sit on the shelf after that.

I love it, because I’ve never found another book that tells a story about the book’s owner as clearly as this one does. I’ve got email friends in England who report bird sightings to me, and whenever I look up the birds in this book, I feel the presence of its original owner.

Thanks again Bob for sharing this story. The Golden Guide pictured above was my mother's first bird book. She's bought a few more since then, including a few for a very grateful son, for whom birding has provided constant source of joy for 45 years and counting.


Thanks for putting this up as a new post. My most-abused bird book is a bird-finding guide, not a field guide, but this inspires me to do a post about it on my blog. Bob’s line about “the presence of the original owner” is wonderful.

The most unusual bird book I own in the “abused” category is a copy of Portraits of New England Birds (which collects the plates by Fuertes and Brooks that illustrated Forbush’s Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States). The back few pages are filled with seasonal observations from a past owner going from 1949-1957. It was as if the writer had wanted a notebook, but entered (his? her?) notes on the blank pages between the plates instead for some reason. I’ve seen field guides with scribbled notations any number of times, but big “coffee-table” books of this sort with marginalia seem to be much less common.


While not an abused field guide anecdote, still one worth sharing. In July, 2004 I was in an antique store in Dorchester County, Maryland with a large used book section. I found a © 1970 Birds of Europe by Bertel Bruun with color illustrations by Arthur Singer hardcover field guide with dust jacket in excellent condition. On the inside cover was a beautiful library plate with Lazuli Buntings and the names of the field guides’ previous owners. Further page turning revealed that the field guide was also their life list with the date and place of the many birds seen printed by a tidy hand. What a treasure! I snapped it up. I think I paid no more than $5.00. I occurred to me with some sadness that the prior field guide owners were probably no longer alive and their field guide/life list had ended up for sale in the antique store via some estate settlement. The reason I think this is because there is no way any birder would have ever parted with such a record of travel and birds while their was still breath in their body. Now I treasure it for them.


I haven’t opened the field guide pictured in many years, and never owned it, but I remember it because that was likely the very first bird guide I ever picked up. Between its cover were the first illustrations and descriptions I’d ever seen for many birds. How could I have conceived that I would see far more of nearly all of these creatures than I could possibly begin to recall? The book must have been in the library at my elementary school. I remember especially the Osprey. I seem to recall there’s a boat in a hazy background (and, now, I’m just not sure of that). The artwork suggested the haunts and lifestyle of the bird well. The old “eastern” bias also first came to my vague attention; there were summary comments such as, “The Steller’s Jay of the West is similar but…”. I think the Golden Nature Guide series overall has probably been one of the most formative “gateways” for young minds. It is likely that the moment I began poring through that particular book, my life had changed forever, and I could have no idea.


Thanks so much for re-posting my comment about the British field guide. If I had known that it would receive this kind of attention, I would have proofed it better. Since I have no shame, I might as well take this opportunity to note that I’m the author of the pet bird books “Enslaved by Ducks” and “Fowl Weather,” and that I have the luxury of a professional proofreader in those instances.



The fact that you wrote your comments in a casual style without over-thinking how you wanted to express your thoughts is what made them appealing enough to feature. Glad to see that you “found” your way back to BirdFellow.com again. We welcome your visits and contributions.

Dave Irons
Content Editor BirdFellow.com


My Golden Guide was originally owned by my great-grandmother. I don’t know how much she used it, but it’s the only thing I own that belonged to her and it is a treasured possession.


I promised you I would visit your website and found it so very intriguing. It brought to mind my very first large bird book given to me by my grandmother at least 62 years ago. Since then we have moved many times, now I must unearth that precious book, I only hope it is still packed away somewhere. My hubby and I have two small bird books which we use as source guides for the many birds we have seen all across our wonderful USA. Bird Fellow is fantastic.

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