‘Today for no apparent reason I want to honor a woman who died about 20 years ago named Phoebe. I have held on to an article about her death for many years. She died as the result of an accident. The article about her death appeared in The New York Times. She lived, however, in Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis. I lived in St. Louis when she died. There is a lesson to be learned from reading about Phoebe. She perished in a van accident in Madagascar just after sighting a rare Helmet vanga. This is an extremely unusual and endangered bird seen above thanks to birdsoftheworld.org. Phoebe had seen and recorded the names of more birds than anybody else at the time of her death.
Birding became Phoebe’s passion after a doctor told her she had incurable cancer and less than a year to live. She immediately took off for Alaska. This state is a bird-watching paradise because it gets birds from the Asian Flyway in the summer when days are very long. Phoebe aways said that her love for spotting birds came from a death sentence. Her cancer recurred about every five years after that initial diagnosis, but the cancer consistently went into remission so that she could continue seeking birds. The American Birding Association verified that she sighted more than 8,400 of them. This was about 2,000 more than her nearest competitor. She kept notes on her sighted birds like the woman who introduced Ruth and me to the Resplendent quetzel in Costa Rica. The 2nd photo above is one of these beautiful birds and is from istockphoto.com. This species is described as near threatened because its numbers are decreasing. This birder and Ruth & me found the Resplendent quetzel the world’s most beautiful bird, and it is becoming rarer.
Phoebe and her husband had 4 children. She became a birder after raising them. She began to take long trips after her diagnosis and saw 500 different birds while in Kenya for 3 weeks. She began to call herself a birder, not a lister. She died as the result of her accident, not from cancer. This is to be admired, I believe.
In September, 2021 the US Government declared 22 more birds, fish, and other species extinct. The now extinct birds include the ivory-billed woodpecker and other birds no longer found anywhere. I’m certain that some of the birds that Phoebe recorded as seen on her file cards no longer exist. I deeply admire her solution to what to do about the cancer ravaging her body. She became a world traveler who held the record for bird sightings instead of accepting her death sentence. That’s grit.