Illustration: Meryl Rowin

Murmurations

From Hog Island to Sanibel Island, a Love Story—with Liz Bergstrom

“They volunteered during the war using their birding skills.”

This is episode no. 4 of “Murmurations,” a podcast asking people why birds and the environment matter to them.​

My grandmother Teedy was the daughter of two geologists. My grandfather Alex was the son of Scottish and Swedish immigrants. Both of their mothers were birders (Teedy's mother actually wrote a book), so both of them grew up with a love for birds. And they met because of Audubon.

They went to the Audubon nature camp on Hog Island in the summer of 1941. They met each other there; they exchanged information. My grandfather started to ask my grandmother to go birding with him, early in the morning. (They were both in college near Boston.) But it didn’t happen until he said, “Take this exact train, at this time, and I’ll meet you at the station.” They went birding, and they started dating. They went back to Hog Island in the summer of 1942; they were married in 1943; and for their honeymoon, they went birding.

This was also during WWII. My grandfather didn’t go to fight. He had polio as a kid and had been affected by that, so he got a deferment. But they volunteered to be plane spotters near the coast. They had a little field guide of what German planes looked like, and they volunteered to look for these planes during the war using their birding skills.

From left: Teedy Bergstrom venturing through a Florida swamp in the 1940s; Alex Bergstrom banding a grackle in 1953. Photos: Courtesy of Liz Bergstrom

My grandfather Alex continued to be a birder and to band birds and be an Audubon chapter leader until his death in 1973. My grandmother Teedy is 95 and continues to bird. My dad became a biologist and passed his love of birds on to me and my siblings. So, it’s all come full circle.

I got to go birding with my grandmother on several occasions; she introduced me to the concept of birder jargon like “little brown jobbies.” We got to see these Roseate Spoonbills at dusk on the tidal flats in the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge [on Sanibel Island, Florida]. It was amazing. We had been looking everywhere for them; we heard a rumor they were there; we jumped in the car.

It was really lovely to be able to see those birds with her, which were a first for me, whereas she has traveled all over the world and seen birds, probably on every continent at this point.

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Credits: Interviewed by Hannah Waters; Edited by Purbita Saha; Intro music: Podington Bear, “The Mountain” (CC BY-NC 2.0); World War II plane: audiosoundclips.com; Bird calls: Roseate Spoonbills, © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.

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