Fortunate Encounters With Birds

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Jeffrey and Jason WardIllustration by João Fazenda

Thanks to Anna Russell for this short wonder:

Birding Brothers of the Bronx

A chance sighting of a hungry peregrine falcon gave a homeless teen a lifelong passion; now Jason Ward and his brother Jeffrey star in “Birds of North America,” on topic.com.

When Jason Ward was fourteen, he spotted a peregrine falcon devouring a pigeon on the windowsill of the South Bronx homeless shelter where his family was living. “I was literally witnessing a nature documentary unfold,” he recalled, adding, “That was definitely my spark bird.” Ward, now thirty-two, has five siblings, but only he and his younger brother Jeffrey are birders. (Jeffrey’s spark bird was a barn owl, which he saw in Central Park.) “These peregrines are really powerful fliers,” Jason said. “They have the ability to just change their immediate surroundings. Growing up in the Bronx, that was something that I admired, and wanted to be able to do myself.”

Last week, Jason, who has lived in Atlanta for more than a decade, was back in the Bronx for a birding trip with Jeffrey. A documentary series, “Birds of North America,” starring Jason, with occasional appearances by Jeffrey, had just premièred on topic.com. The brothers met in the Orchard Beach parking lot, in Pelham Bay Park, at the end of the 6 train. Jason wore a puffy jacket, hiking boots, and an Osprey backpack full of gear; Jeffrey had on a red Adidas cap, spotless white Nikes, and a sweatshirt that read “Thebronx.”

In “Birds of North America,” Jason and Jeffrey, who are black, spend time with groups, such as the Feminist Bird Club, whose members don’t resemble that most common varietal of birder: the mature white male. “That’s the vast majority of the makeup, but I don’t think it will be going forward,” Jason said. “Birding is going to become more colorful.” Like most serious birders, they track their findings on the app eBird. They also compete on Twitter to see who can spot the most species in a year. Last year, Jason won, two hundred and seventy-nine to two hundred and thirty-nine. This year, after a trip to the Bahamas, Jeffrey, who still lives in the Bronx and works for New York City Audubon (and a juice place downtown), was ahead by twenty birds.

“I look at twenty birds as a nice, comfortable lead,” Jason said.

“Was twenty a comfortable lead last year?” Jeffrey asked.

“Migration is about to start,” Jason added, kindly.

“Red tail,” Jeffrey said, noting a passing red-tailed hawk…

Read the whole story here.

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