Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: A Birding Friend Passes On

I can’t say I knew him very well. We never exchanged Christmas presents or birthday cards. No family dinners or formal gatherings, no graduations or Baptisms. Never sure about his family situation or what relatives he may have, had but we loved birding together and that was all we needed to know.

This past week I received the sad news that my longtime birding friend and former BCAS board member Dick Engsberg passed away. I first met Dick when I joined Bergen County Audubon many years ago. He was a scholarly, soft spoken man, kindly and knowledgeable but most important he loved the birds and allowed me the honor and privilege of accompanying him into the field.

Dick loved birding places like Overpeck preserve and Teaneck Creek and joined me on many of our Bergen Audubon field trips to the Meadowlands. On one of the trips to DeKorte a summer storm brought rain and lightning, causing us to cancel the walk and send everyone home for their own safety. After everyone was gone Dick looked at me with a smile and I knew exactly what he meant. He and I were going out there regardless.

Despite getting soaked and not being able to see a thing through our binoculars it was a wonderful morning. We didn’t have to say it in words; birding friends just understand each other. We never felt the need to mention the beauty of the birds we saw, the magnificence of the species or the grace of its flight. We could look at each other and acknowledge it just as instinctive as any avian species when it knows it knows the time to migrate.

Dick especially loved the sparrows and taught me the difference between a Savannah and a Song and a Chipping and a Tree as well as all our other Sparrow species, something I will cherish always.  I stood next to him as he searched the muddy shores of Mill Creek Marsh for the many different Sandpipers and combed the skies of Overpeck searching  for Kestrels and Peregrines. He also loved the butterflies and native plants and helped put in much of the milkweed we have at our Overpeck butterfly garden.

It seemed to happened suddenly; Dick’s health began to fail. He joined us less until one day not at all. Phone calls, knocks at the door and the offers of rides could no longer convince him for even  a short time to come out and enjoy the birds with us.

Many times our conversations in the field would refer back to something Dick once said or something he taught us about the birds. Never a day went by that myself or anyone that had the pleasure of birding with him wished he was there with us. But as life and nature does it continues on with or without us .

When I got word that Dick had passed away I was of course saddened and then selfishly angry that I would never have the joy of raising my binoculars with him ever again. He will forever be missed by everyone he taught to love all of nature, especially the birds .

Just as we learn to find a special place in our hearts for the birds we love we should never forget to appreciate and cherish the people that we go birding with. We may not know much about them, what they do for a living or even where they come from. But we do know how much we  enjoy the passion of birding along with them and how they along with the birds enrich our lives and make our trips afield memorable and irreplaceable.

Through all the rainy days, summer heat and winter cold we get the privilege of experiencing what we love most together along with these very special individuals and that is all we ever need to know about them.

13 thoughts on “Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: A Birding Friend Passes On

  1. Brenda McIntyre

    So many wonderful connections in my mind: every so often when I check the tail length of a song sparrow, or see some wonderful creature that sends me to the field guide, I recall Dick’s gentle teaching voice. He was a gentle man and a gifted teacher, and so kind.

  2. Dr. Roselyn Rauch

    My condolences on the loss of your special birding companion. May your memories bring you comfort and may he Rest In Peace .

  3. Lisa Rosenfeld

    Don this is such a beautifully written remembrance of a friend and fellow bird watcher. I am sorry for your loss .

  4. anna kurz

    A wonderful warm tribute to a wonderful, modest warm person.
    Very sad for you and for the world that Dick is no longer with us.

  5. Mary Ellen Shaw

    Dick was truly a gentle man and a birding mentor to many. I remember being at Overpeck several times with him and Harold. Truly I was a beginner then, never will I be able to know half as much as either of them, even were I to spend the rest of my life in the field and studying all the guidebooks!

  6. Karen Nickeson

    I treasure the times I was privileged to bird with Dick. There was a fall afternoon when I pulled into the little parking area at Overpeck in the days before the butterfly garden and I found Dick just setting off. I asked him if I could tag along and he gave me a twinkling smile and a hearty, “Certainly!” Near the creek we puzzled for a long time over a confusing fall warbler that was giving us short glimpses. Finally, after compiling some fleeting field marks, I asked him if we could just call it a female magnolia. He agreed and we moved on. His quiet persistence and dedication to awarding the bird the attention it deserved was an inspiration. He was endlessly gracious, and a very kind soul.

    Thanks, Don, for the tribute.

    1. Don

      Thanks Karen, That was Dick for sure ….still saddens me very much ..we need to appreciate each other much more and cherish the time we have together while we can


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