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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

In Memoriam


BAINES--Robert E. Native of San Francisco, died in New York City, January 20. Dear husband of Sadelle. Actor, world-class birder and supporter of many conservation and civil rights efforts.

Published in The New York Times on January 29, 2012

Over the weekend I learned the sad news that my old birding friend, Bob Baines, had passed away. Bob was what part of what some would have referred to as New York City's "Old Guard", that is, someone who had been birding around the city since well before the Internet and smartphones impacted the sport. Bob and I used to cross paths usually during the winter in Prospect Park when it was mostly empty of other birders. I hadn't seen him in a while and asked a few people if they knew his status. I shouldn't have been too surprised to learn of his death, as he was no longer a young man, although I could have only guessed his age based on stories he told me, not by any obvious declining health issues. Several years ago he went missing from his usual birding haunts for several weeks. When I finally tracked him down in Prospect Park he explained with a smile on his face, why he hadn't been out birding. During a medical checkup, his doctor said that he needed a pacemaker. After the surgery, Bob immediately went back to his usual routine, which included lots of birding. His doctor discovered that his backpack was irritating the stitches from the surgery, causing an infection. He persuaded Bob to take it easy for a few weeks while he healed. It took a lot to slow him down.

I remember the exact date that I met Bob - February 28, 1996. I was birding in Prospect Park, walking the Lullwater path that passes beneath the Terrace Bridge. A gentleman on the bridge above excitedly shouted down to me, "There's a Red-necked Grebe on the lake!" As a relative beginner to birdwatching, I wasn't quite sure what a Red-necked Grebe was or why this guy thought it was important enough to yell the news to a total stranger, other than the fact that I had binoculars hanging from my neck. I decided to check it out. He introduced himself to me and was kind enough to lead me onto the Peninsula and point out the bird. We ended up spending the next hour or so birding the park together. Over the next few years it was with Bob that I spotted many other "life birds", such as, Greater Yellowlegs, Eastern Bluebird and American Pipit. Despite his advancing years, Bob had a great ear and would frequently pick out a bird by call or song before me.

Bob was an actor who's credits include the original Broadway production of "Mr. Roberts" which starred Henry Fonda. I found the following review:

His acting background made for an interesting birding experience. When birding with Bob there were times when he would unexpectedly break into a particular character or accent to help accentuate a point. Friend and fellow birder Tom Fiore sent me a nice note that I think really captured Bob's persona:


That is sad news.
Bob was a fairly regular presence as a serious birder in Central Park in the years before he started to spend more & more time in Brooklyn.  He was almost always among the "over-50" bunch who was willing to wander, that is to try searching for birds a little outside the familiar circles that so many Central Park regulars, & non-regulars seem to stick to, and for that reason, Bob was to be found in a variety of places, even outside of the principal migration periods. He also seemed to often have a sort of twinkle in his eyes and voice, partly - my perception anyhow - with a realization that for all our seriousness as active birders, there's a silly aspect at times to the notion of "chasing after sapsuckers" and such, yet he was also the sort who chased far and wide, having traveled on other continents to see birds, as well as a lot more. Bob was a trained actor and had been in a variety of roles in his days on stage and in film or TV, and he sometimes gave a dramatic, or Shakespearean lilt to the typical sayings of us birders, such as when we just miss a good sighting by just minutes. He moved along and would go to seek birds when some others just wanted to stand around as schmooze, which gave some folks a wrong impression. In speaking with him over the years, I found him very sociable and also very, very sharp, as in witty, as well as, modestly wise.  I know he was slowing down a lot in recent years, yet I am a little surprised at his passing, now... it just brings home that none of us are getting any younger. I will miss his presence in the parks, but will carry some good memories of him also.  I barely knew his wife other than speaking on the phone a few times, briefly. I hope she's doing OK.



You can visit Bob's guestbook and leave a comment here.

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