The best, the brightest, the bird-brained

For the Moment

"That high-pitched chirping you hear is the call of the chickadee." Ten pairs of ears listen intently.

"In the middle of the pond you can see a flock of ducks. Notice that these are of the diving variety as opposed to the dabbling type." Ten pairs of binoculars peek through the gaps of the chain link fence that encircles Fresh Pond.

This may be reminiscent of a grade school trip to the zoo, but it's actually an expedition of the recently formed Harvard-Radcliffe Ornithology Team (birdwatchers, for those not in the know).

On a Sunday not long ago, several members of the fledgling organization circumnavigated Fresh Pond's pavement path in search of winged wildlife. Varying in age from freshman to senior, each birder was dressed for the part--warm, sturdy clothing, sleek binoculars and a copy of The Field Guide to North American Birds. Co-captain of the team Allen Hutcheson '95 also sported a duck call. "They're not standard equipment," he said.

Despite the noisy disturbances of joggers, golfers and unleashed dogs, the HROTers managed to identify at least 7 or 8 types of birds in less than an hour.


In between sightings, Co-captain and team founder Dan Cooper '95 spoke of the group's beginnings. Cooper is an avid birder who "can't remember not being interested in birds" and met another founder of the group, Will Hutcheson '97, at bird watching camp in 1988. Dan and Will's brother, Allen, spent their first two years at Harvard going on birding expeditions of their own, but decided to expand when Will started at Harvard this fall. They postered and began holding regular weekly meetings. The result: an as yet unofficial organization with 15 active members.

But the question still remains: Why a team and not a club? Apparently, the group's title was the subject of much deliberation. Cooper and Hutcheson pointed out that they rejected several options. "Society was too wimpy--club was too social. We're all action and camraderie. We don't sit around -- we go out and we look for birds."

While Cooper spends much of his academic time studying birds as well (he's a biology major focusing on issues of conservation and ecology), other HROT members have different reasons for joining the group on these excursions. Junior Jessie Cohen knows relatively little about birds but enjoys "the hiking aspect" of the group. Anne Guiney '95 speaks of the influence of her mother and brother, both avid birders, that led to her own interest. HROT is described by its leaders as "an eclectic group of people.

While Cooper and the others feel that HROT is a relaxed, casual type of organization, they do have ideas for expansion. Team t-shirts, complete with numbers on the back, are in the works, as well as extended trips that involve traveling outside the greater Cambridge area.