Published on February 21, 2019

In Memory of David Whipple

David Whipple © Carol Gladstone & Ben Whipple
© Gladstone-Whipple family

David the Birdman

We’re not 100% sure what got David hooked on birds. We think it started with airplanes—an early enthusiasm. Then in kindergarten, his wonderful teacher Jeanette Reynolds did a unit on birds. Each kid had to make a bird out of paper—David’s was a Cedar Waxwing.

The following summer we were in Westport—our neighbor, John Preston, was also an avid birder, and had a collection of feeders—we called it the bird restaurant—and David would spend hours watching. John recognized a kindred spirit and started helping him identify what was at the feeders.

Then came the apocryphal moment. One afternoon we saw a bird perched on a conifer—David pointed it out and said, "That’s a Cedar Waxwing." We dismissed it and said, "No, that’s just a cardinal." John happened by the house while this discussion was underway, and sternly corrected us—and we never doubted a David siting again.

Our summers in Westport and annual excursions to Wellfleet fueled the enthusiasm. We started making a regular trip to walk from the tip of South Beach, back when it was just a magical experience during migration. We went to Mount Auburn Cemetery, where experienced birders pointed out the warblers on the ridge. And, the ultimate in validation: we got a key to the gate!

Somewhere in this development, David and I started doing Mass Audubon's Bird-a-thon. My records show the earliest real effort was in 2000, when David was six and we got 23 species. The next year we got 42.

A young David Whipple birding on South Beach © Carol Gladstone & Ben Whipple
© Gladstone-Whipple family

David & the ladies at South Beach

While we didn’t see that many birds, we always got a lot of pledges, and by 2003, Mike and Norman realized they had an opportunity to actually raise some money, and paired us with Denise Cabral.

David’s birding took off. Denise was an amazing partner to work with—she shared with David her lifetime of experience in identifying birds, and taught him about birding by ear. We had some truly memorable days. 2005 was a big milestone: 101 birds. 2007 gave us another record at 102. 

Eventually high school, college, and the Red Sox took precedence, but we had a great run. David won a spotting scope when we raised the most money one year, which is the scope we use to this day.

David's painting of an American Oystercatcher © Carol Gladstone & Ben Whipple
© Gladstone-Whipple family

David's American Oystercatcher painting

Some other highlights of David’s birding:

  • the young birders outings Betty Anderson arranged with Wayne Petersen—speed birding for boys was a revelation;
  • a young birder trip with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours to Chiracahua in Arizona in 2007 where they ID'd the first mating pair of Crescent Crested Warblers in the US;
  • a family trip to Costa Rica;
  • and birding with Fred Bouchard, where we learned about alpha codes and names like "MODO."

Throughout, there were regular outings with mom to our favorite birding spots in Westport.

A young David birding South Beach with his mom © Carol Gladstone & Ben Whipple
© Gladstone-Whipple family

A young David & his mom birding South Beach

Kayaking in the east branch from our house gave us joy as the Ospreys arrived, had babies and fledged, the American Oystercatchers (our shared favorite bird) always appeared, and the Green Heron fed from our rip-rap at high tide. Regular outings to Gooseberry and Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary gave us warblers, ibises, turnstones (another favorite), and Spotted Sandpipers (yes, that’s the one that bobs). Late afternoon at the beach blessed us with Willets, Whimbrels, godwits, baby terns, and each year’s new effort by our special Piping Plovers to hang in there. And there were always one or two unexpected birds that came by—getting a "That’s a good one, Mom" on such an ID would make my day. 

We also enjoyed the yearly crane migration spectacle in Nebraska through CraneCam—this was the year we finally decided to make that trip.

Along with music, birding was a core part of David's soul. His acceptance letter to Yale had this note: "An aspiring rock-star who loves bird-watching—you make a natural Yalie."

Blue Hills Trailside Museum was a big part of David's early life with birds. Norman and Mike, I cannot thank you enough for all you did to encourage him in this special passion—it has given us a lifetime of joy and some of our warmest memories.

– Carol Gladstone & Ben Whipple

Memorial donations may be made to the Blue Hills Trailside Museum Raptor Fund. To donate by mail, please send your gift to Mass Audubon, ATTN: Sarah Arsenault, 208 S Great Road, Lincoln, MA 01773. You may also donate online and direct your gift to Blue Hills Trailside Museum to ensure it is designated to the Raptor Fund.