James Bond

 

(This column was first published in the September 6, 1993 issue of The Buffalo News.)

 

     Two newly revised editions of the famous Roger Tory Peterson field guide series have just reached my desk.  They are Birds of Britain and Europe by Peterson himself together with Guy Mountfort and P. A. D. Hollom, and James Bondıs Birds of the West Indies.  Both are in the best tradition of this quite remarkable series that now includes 44 titles: books on everything from minerals to medicinal plants, from seashells to stars, from mammals to moths.  All of them represent an extension of the identification scheme developed by Peterson and before him Ernest Thompson Seton.

 

     The second of these new books brought back pleasant memories of an incident forty years ago.

 

     I was attending a meeting in Philadelphia.  With a morning free, I made my way to the Academy of Natural Sciences, the fine Philadelphia museum. I paid my entrance fee at the door and crossed to the information desk to ask if it would be possible to visit James Bond, the author of this book who was also Curator of Birds at the museum.

 

     I knew Dr. Bond only by reputation, but at the time I was considering a career change and wanted the advice of a senior ornithologist.  I hoped that he would be able to spare a few minutes for me.

 

     My request received an immediate and quite unexpected response.  The young woman I had approached first rushed over to the cashier and retrieved my entrance fee.  She then called Dr. Bond and, at his instructions, escorted me up to his office.  As we walked along the marble floored corridors, my guide made it increasingly clear that the museum staff held their bird curator in both high regard and personal affection.

 

     Before we reached his office we were met by a slim erect man, then I expect in his early sixties.  He wore a jacket and tie, but the rumpled condition of his clothes gave him an air of informality.  Most noticeable were his penetrating eyes: they could have been stern but for the friendly wrinkles that surrounded them and the wide smile of greeting that now creased his face.

 

     When I explained my mission, he responded openly and enthusiastically.  He had some time, he explained as he walked me to his office, and he would be delighted to talk to anyone with an interest in birds.  My few minutes turned into one of the most stimulating four hour periods I have ever spent.

 

     I recall many things from those hours including the excellent advice he gave me, but two other things stand out.  I asked something about Darwinıs finches, the Galapagos Island birds that contributed so importantly to the 19th Century English naturalistıs thinking about evolution.  This struck a chord, because, unknown to me, Bond had discovered the only member of this group away from the Galapagos.  He had found it, not on mainland South America, but across that continent in the West Indies, something no one had been able to explain.  We examined tray after tray of the museumıs collection of these unusual birds.

 

     I finally asked Bond if people teased him about the association of his name with Ian Flemingıs notorious superspy.  ³As it happens,² he responded smiling, ³I am that James Bond.²  He went on to explain that he was a neighbor and friend of Fleming in Jamaica.  When Fleming was writing his first story, he had asked Dr. Bond for permission to use his name.

 

     For others the name James Bond, I suspect, brings to mind the actors Sean Connery or Roger Moore or now Timothy Dalton.  Not for me.  Even the number 007 will forever be associated in my memory with that kind and gentle man who so generously shared his day with me in Philadelphia.