A Bird of a Different Feather
|For Robert Schick
'48, travel is for the birds. For more than 25 years, he has
flocked all over the world playing name the game.
The Yonkers native and recently retired neurosurgeon has sojourned to all seven continents, spotting ostriches in Africa, quetzals in Panama, and loons in Central Park. He has trekked with Tenzing Norgay, who in 1953 with Edmund Hillary was the first to scale Mt. Everest. He has ridden atop an elephant in India, "supposedly to protect us from the tigers," he said. And he has sped along off-road in the back of a Land Rover in Guyana.
"I had always noticed birds, but never got into it passionately," Schick said. Then during a doctors' conference in San Francisco, he took an excursion to an island and was enchanted by all of the West Coast breeds. Shortly thereafter, he picked up a flier for a week-long bird-watching course in Mexico and thought, "Why not?"
He got hooked. "I do get off on seeing another life bird -- that's always part of the trip," he said of the excursions organized by the Audubon Society or ecotourism companies. "But the flowers, the butterflies, the countries, are all part of the thrill."
Robert Schick '48
Schick, who never married, says a big part of the attraction has been meeting all kinds of interesting people. He has gone on excursions with royalty, foreign birders with whom he has kept in touch, and Tory Peterson himself (of Peterson's Field Guides fame). "It's a wonderful way to spend a vacation, instead of just lying on a beach boozing," he said.
There are nearly 10,000 different kinds of birds, and Schick claims to have seen nearly 4,000 of them. A purist like Schick will only count birds that are seen in their natural habitat. Zoo exhibits don't count, and neither do introduced species, such as the pheasant in North America. Records are kept using field guides and lists.
"Some birders I find a little trying because they're just ticking off another species. I don't know what they really see," he said. "If they spot a bird on the other side of the river so it's in a different state, they don't know which list to put it on. I just have one list -- Bob Schick's list."
To other tourists, bird-watchers sometimes seem a bit odd. In Egypt, a small group including Schick took a spin-off cruise down the Nile. "There was a temple that everyone was going to see. But the birders? No way," he said, shaking his head. "We said, 'Drop us on this island!'"
The others thought it was strange, but didn't cry fowl.