My Brother Dave

by Marshall Faintich

An edited and slightly shorter version of this article appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of Wildbird magazine

My brother Dave died on October 16, 2009. He had a heart attack a week earlier. Although he had some medical problems, his heart condition was not known and his death at the age of 65 was a shock to all of us. This article is not about a sad story, but one that tells how birding brought two brothers back together again.

Dave’s passion in life was birding. As a teenager, I remember his spending hours reading his Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds. At that time I did not appreciate how keen his birding interest really was, nor did I share this interest with him. Although I enjoyed looking at wildlife, prior to three years ago, the last bird walk I was on was in 1958.

Dave spent most of his later years devoted to two obsessions – his family, and birding. He, and his small group of birding buddies known as the Wagtails, traveled the U.S. and a few international sites to go birding. Dave, along with a few of the Wagtails are credited with the discovery of the 500th bird species in Florida, when in 2007 Dave spotted a White Wagtail at Moon Lake Park. He had previously seen this species in Europe, and immediately knew that he had a discovered a Florida rarity. He and his birding group thereafter named themselves after this bird.

That was an interesting birding trip for Dave, as he photographed five Smooth-billed Anis perched together in Ft. Lauderdale just prior to returning home in St. Louis County, Missouri – probably the entire Florida count for this species in one location. Less than a year later, Dave photographed two species of gulls in Grenada that were previously unknown for that country.

Dave may have been best known for his backyard – his wide variety of feeders attracted many species of birds. The Eurasian Tree Sparrow is only known in North America within about a 30 mile radius of St. Louis, and everyone teased Dave that his backyard was the ETS capital of North America.

Although Dave was 3-1/2 years older than me, growing up we were constant playmates – thousands of hours of ping pong, backyard cork ball, and board games. No matter what, Dave was always there for me when I needed him.

As adults we grew apart – partially because of different interests, and partially as a result of geography, when I moved to Virginia in 1997. But whenever Dave had the opportunity, he would offer to help me if I needed him to do so.

My wife and I moved to the Wintergreen Resort community in central Virginia in 2006, and after seeing all the birds at my newly erected bird feeder, my longstanding desire to try my hand at wildlife photography was awakened. I got my first camera at the age of six, and had always wanted to do wildlife photography, but never had the time nor good access to natural surroundings. At this point I did not know the difference between a nuthatch and a titmouse, but I did know someone who did – my brother Dave. For the past three years, and 85,000 photos, he has been my birding guru.

Every time I got a good shot or needed help with a species identification, Dave was the first person I e-mailed. And he never failed to take time from his family and his birding to send me a response, or call me on the phone. Gradually my need for his help lessened and our e-mails turned to sharing photos and birding stories, and my helping him with his photographic techniques.

About a year ago, I decided to write a photographic guide book about my local species, and asked Dave to contribute a few photos and lots of comments on the book text. Dave spent many hours helping me with my book, even taking time away from his wife, children, and grandchildren while on a family vacation to review some of the pages. My book, A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Wintergreen, was sent to the printer in August, and I received a few advance copies in September. I could have shipped Dave a copy then, but had already planned to travel to St. Louis on October 16, 2009 to attend a high school reunion, and to give Dave a copy of the book in person. He never got to see the final product, but his legacy lives on within the pages of my book.

Had it not been for birding, Dave’s passion for it, and my newly acquired passion for it, we would have remained brothers separated by geography and life interests. But because of birding, we rekindled the closeness that we shared in our youth.

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