Ira, a retired investment banker from the Bronx NYC is sitting on a bench outside a bookstore in Bayfield, Wisconsin. True story. Our friends Susan and Brian and my wife Jude and I have been browsing books. Susan buys a book, and then walks outside to wait for the rest of us. She asks Ira if she can share the bench. Certainly. Then she notices that Ira is wearing a cap bearing an embroidered California Condor, the once-going-extinct bird best known now as a California success story. Turns out that Ira’s nephew Mike, who is in the bookstore, was involved with the condor recovery program. He worked at the Los Angeles zoo, one of several institutions/organizations that devoted years of effort and hundreds of thousands of dollars to the restoration of that magnificent bird to the wild. He gave Ira the cap. 

I come out and see Susan and Ira on the bench. I begin to visit. Ira’s sister-in-law walks out of the store. She joins the conversation. She’s a petite lady with a sharp sense of humor and eye-rolling that could win contests, her eyes accenting her comments. Jude joins us, then Brian. Now Mike joins the circle. He tells us about the condors, near 300 birds now alive, about 150 in the wild. The recovery program was built on a remainder population of 22 birds. They were captured, and housed at the Los Angeles zoo. You know the story. A breeding program built the population to where it is today. It was hastened when biologists discovered that if you removed the condors’ lone egg from their nest the birds would replace it, not once but twice. You could in this way raise as many as three young per pair per year instead of the single chick wild condors would raise. The best place to see a condor now, Mike says, is at the Grand Canyon. Birds have been release in California, Arizona, and Baja California. 

Ira is into photography since his recent retirement. We discovered he and I own the same camera model. Both old film-camera guys, we agree that the new digital cameras are far too complicated. We talk about Wisconsin and weather and more birds. We exchange cards and email addresses. For the past couple of weeks a Hooded Crow, a European bird, has been hanging around the Bronx, object of much attention from birders all over the country. If this is a wild bird, on North American soil of its own volition, it is a truly great bird for life lists. Ira didn’t know that, and didn’t seem to care, his bird knowledge pretty much confined to his nephew’s work and his cap.

What a great visit, standing there on a Bayfield sidewalk. This is another reason why I enjoy birding so much. You meet the most interesting people.