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Background photo by Don Sylor

Vernon Laux

Naturalist

Cape Cod Life I was a big jock when I was in school in Wellesley. In eighth grade, right after Thanksgiving and right after football season ended, I had a great science teacher, and he put up a chart titled “The Common Winter Birds of New England.” And I didn’t look at the chart. He gave us a quiz, I called every bird a chickadee, and I flunked. That Christmas, I saw a cedar waxwing on a frozen multifora rosebush, covered in ice about six feet away from me. It’s the same shape as a cardinal, only much more beautiful—it has a crest, all sorts of colors, and a terminal yellow band on the tail. It really struck me, and I became enamored of birds.

I started bird watching sort of secretly (laughs). I didn’t tell anybody. When I got into high school, I kept birding. And it was not a cool thing to do. Back then, you didn’t tell people if you were a bird watcher. When I was a sophomore, I was a defensive tackle on the football team. One day, some of the seniors grabbed me and said, “We heard you’re a big bird watcher.” There were three of them, and there was a big fight and everybody got all bloody. But they left me alone after that. I didn’t fit the picture of the birdwatcher as a little old lady in tennis shoes—I’m sort of a big guy.

I got a call from the Massachusetts Audubon Society when I was a junior in high school, and they asked me if I’d be interested in working at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on the Outer Cape. I ended up doing that for five seasons, leading beach-buggy tours, wildlife tours down Nauset Beach and out to Monomoy, back when we had a few four-wheel drive trucks out there. Of course, Monomoy’s a wilderness area now and there are no vehicles, but I really got to learn a lot about shore birds and I had a great time.

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Now, here I am, at the ripe old age of 55, and I’ve been birding on all seven continents. I’ve been to Antarctica about 40 times. I’ve seen most of the birds in Australia. I’m planning a trip to Ecuador for January and February that’s going to take me to remote spots, and I’m going to see an insane number of birds that I haven’t seen before. And there you have it. The crazy bird guy.

At some point when I got out of college, birding became cool. Some claim there are 80 million birdwatchers in North America. I think the need to reconnect with nature is occurring in North America more and more.

I’ve been interested in anything that flies. I like aviation, I’m interested in planes. I ended up moving to Martha’s Vineyard as the station manager for Air New England. I lived there for more than 26 years after college. While I was there, I found a bird called the Eurasian Cuckoo—it’s actually the bird that cuckoo clocks are named after—and it was the first American record of that bird. It’s still the only record for the continental United States. That showed up on May 3, 1981, the same day the Celtics beat Dr. J in Philly. People used to ask me what my favorite Bird was and I’d say, “Larry.”

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Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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