Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Birding Community Loses a Friend and Ambassador
January 17, 2015
By Steve Grinley

     Last week, the Massachusetts birding community lost a friend and an ambassador, Herman D’Entremont, to Parkinson’s disease. Herman and I have been friends for more than fifty years. We met in the early sixties at Mount Auburn Cemetery, where I did a lot of my early birding. Herman told me about the Brookline Bird Club and together with Bob Stymeist, and the late Charlie Parker of Cambridge, we became a birding foursome. Herman had the wheels, which I thought was a big Suburban, but Herman recently corrected me that it was an International. Either way it was a large SUV that got about 8 miles per gallon (if that). It wasn’t so bad back then since gas was only 25 cents a gallon.

     Every Saturday or Sunday, we would go birding, enjoying each other’s company and learning about birds along the way. Usually one of those days, we would head to Newburyport, travelling up Route 1, before there was Route 95, where we would join a BBC trip. In winter, it was usually a BBC trip to Cape Ann.

     We traveled to all corners of the state with Herman. The Massachusetts Year List was the driving force behind our efforts back then. We were reaching for the holy grail of 300 year birds, which was seldom achieved back in those days. We were content to break the 250 or 275 mark. We often traveled to Cape, Cod, the Westport /Dartmouth area, and to the Berkshires. We would go on Lee Jameson’s Mt. Greylock Camping weekend in June and sleep in Herman’s huge SUV. We went on the spring Martha’s Vineyard Weekend and the fall Nantucket Weekends. 

     In addition to our travels, we also shared stakeouts for numerous feeder birds including green-tailed towhee, black-crested titmouse, varied thrush and European goldfinch. 

     I also remember several out-of-state trips that we took. One was to the Connecticut Lakes in northern New Hampshire on a July 4th Weekend. We slept in the SUV then as well, and I remember the rude awakening in the middle of the night by some local pranksters who lit fireworks near our car. But we were happy to find Gray Jays and Boreal Chickadees for our life lists.

     We also made trips to Delaware and Maryland for Swainson’s and Yellow-throated Warblers, Brown–headed Nuthatch, and, yes, even for red-bellied woodpecker back then. We went to Arcadia in Maine in mid-winter, and trudged through waist high snow to find our first American Three-toed Woodpecker together.

     Herman’s nephew, Glenn, also a good birder, called Herman an ambassador and Herman certainly was that. He shared birds and birding with everyone he met. He was the best ambassador that the Brookline Bird Club ever had. Maybe it was the dollar dues and free field trips that inspired Herman to share the news. He always carried Blue Books (BBC Trip Schedules) in his glove box and whipped one out every chance he got to spread the good word about the BBC.

     In recent years, Herman birded extensively with Oakes Spalding. Herman and Oakes were the odd couple for sure, but in many ways they complimented each other. Oakes has trouble hearing and Herman’s ear continued to be sharp as a tack, even as his health declined. Oakes’ vision, on the other hand, was better than Herman’s in the last few years. Many a time they would come into the store and argue about a bird that Oakes saw but Herman did not, or argue about a bird that Herman heard and Oakes did not. I had to play moderator, or even referee at times. They seemed to disagree more than they agreed, but I knew that they were also great friends and it was all part of their love for birding and their admiration for each other.

     Herman also traveled with his wonderful wife Eva, who took him everywhere. She would help Herman fulfill his undiminished passion for birds, lifting him in and out of the car, and often pushing his wheelchair over rough terrain in order to find birds. While Herman birded, Eva took pictures of people, places and birds. Eva had great patience, helped foster Herman’s quest for birds, and cared for him deeply. 

     As Parkinson’s took away Herman’s mobility, it never dulled his senses and his enthusiasm for birds. The last time that we saw Herman was on December 27. Margo and I had just come out of the Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary after seeing the Townsend’s Warbler and Herman was having his lunch in his car in the parking lot. Eva informed us, however, that he wasn’t eating, and I knew that wasn’t good. We told Herman that the Townsend’s Warbler was still there, and that it was number 300 for Margo. Herman smiled. In his almost inaudible whisper, he said that he was around 260 or so, as best that I could make out.

     As Margo went to the car to get warm, I helped Eva navigate Herman’s wheel chair over the tree roots in the paths of the sanctuary and up the steep hill to where the warbler was coming to a suet feeder. Eva went to the fence to get closer for a photo while I stayed on the path with Herman to try to get him on the bird. The bird moved about above the fence, but I wasn’t sure that Herman could see it. Then I realized that Herman was two feet lower than me, so I crouched and could direct him better on where to look. 

     After the warbler finally showed itself well, I asked Herman if he had good views of the bird. Herman smiled and nodded and shook my hand as a thank you. Another bird that we were able to share together.

     I was pleased to learn that Herman will be interned at Mount Auburn Cemetery. I can say goodbye to Herman near the very same spot where we first said hello more than fifty years ago. Thank you Herman for our friendship, for all the birds we encountered together, and for all the good times and memories that we shared. Rest in peace my good friend. 

     Just a reminder: I will be leading a FREE bird walk this afternoon, Saturday, January 17 for Eagles and Owls. We will meet at Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift at the Route 1 Traffic Circle here in Newburyport at 1pm. We will carpool to spots along the Merrimack River and to Plum Island or Salisbury where we will search for bald eagles, snowy owls, and other winter visitors. Beginners and families are welcome. Dress warmly and bring binoculars or a scope if you have one. Hope to see you then!Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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