You will be reading this on the 50th anniversary of a great event, although my memory of the time remains a bit tarnished. 1969 had already become memorable, although not in a wholly positive way, by the time we got to July. I graduated with my bachelors, Dr. Wifey with her Masters, and Jennifer was a toddler. I tried to enlist and failed, based in equal parts on a problem with my left eye and the aforementioned toddler.

My major in anthropology and minor in genetics did not seem likely to produce many job offers. We were surviving on an unpredictable group of jobs ranging from doing sometimes dangerous but usually dull grunt work for a private investigator to unloading cargo ships at the Port of Buffalo. People were blowing things up all over the country, but particularly in New York, in the name of peace and love and a lady I did not know well but had met a year before in Pennsylvania was found dead in an overturned car in a Chappaquiddick pond.

Given this miasma of misfortune, I truly needed something wonderful to happen and that was about to come true. My country had conquered space and was landing on the moon. I was beside myself with pride and anticipation.

With the joint challenges of two people in college and a child, our economic status was not even sufficient to be called a status. Actually buying furniture or appliances was out of the question but there was a huge resource I routinely tapped — garbage night in the affluent suburbs of Buffalo. Anything from living room furniture to washing machines was jettisoned to the curb in these locales, often for reasons no more significant than a change in décor or a broken drive belt. We would cruise the burbs after dark “shopping” for whatever we needed. Dr. Wifey would indicate something she approved, I would load the treasure in our old Chevy van, fix whatever needed fixing, and press it into service.

In this manner, it came to pass that we were sitting transfixed in front of a black and white TV. The screen of this device was about 10 inches across but the heavy wooden cabinet housing it was more than 3 feet long. It took great effort to round up the tubes I needed to make this dinosaur function but no amount of searching could replace a small resistor. It turned out that a single staple, formed into a U shape, worked perfectly. After a couple of weeks, the staple would begin to burn out and the picture would shrink from top and bottom until it was only a single line across the tiny screen. Replacing the staple made it as good as new.

Neil Armstrong was heading down the ladder when the cursed TV picture began to shrink. As luck would have it, we were out of staples and I could not even find some document to scavenge. Dr. Wifey, and the small assemblage of starving graduate students who did not have the luxury of owning a TV, began to ferociously exhort me so I took a paper clip, bent it to fit and shorted it across the resistor. This worked great, the picture was brighter and clearer than ever before.

Neil came down the steps but microseconds before the famous one-step quotation, there was a detonation as a couple of tubes blew, the screen went blank, and great grouts of flames began to pour from the back of the TV. Someone opened the door, I carried the TV by the cord and lobbed it into the yard where the faux mahogany cabinet burned cheerfully for the next half hour. The only happy one was baby Jennifer, delighted by the impromptu bonfire. It was over a week later, after the next garbage day, before I got another TV to function and was able to watch the moon walk in reruns.

1969 also brought a bird thing I found interesting. Several species, including the whitethroat, were in steep decline. Climate change was blamed (although it was supposedly getting colder due to CO2 collecting in the atmosphere and blocking the sun’s rays). In New York, however, there was a species that seemed to indicate exactly the opposite was happening.

New York City was reported to be the site of the first verified nesting activity by monk parakeets in North America. The nest of these South American interlopers never came to fruition because DEC destroyed them before any egg laying could take place, but only a few years later, in 1972, there was successful reproduction by these invasive birds. By that time people were beginning to demonstrate and protest on the birds’ behalf so all sorts of legislative mandates were springing up.

The monk parakeet, also known as the Quaker parrot, is a very interesting species, albeit a serious agricultural pest in its native areas. A popular cage-bird with some NYC residents, it can imitate human speech and its bright green body, gray front and vivid blue flight feathers are quite striking. From the standpoint of biology, it is interesting being the only parrot species in the world that constructs a nest of sticks instead of nesting in a tree cavity.

The nests are a marvelous construction, growing continuously to become huge affairs. The birds seem to particularly like power poles and there have been some spectacular fires when the birds’ propensity to chew insulation off wires provided the initial spark. The nests are not the work of a single pair of birds. Monk parakeets are communal nesters; 10 or more pairs may live in the same nest. Each pair has their own “apartment” with a downward-facing entrance leading through a tunnel to an inner compartment where they spend nights and raise babies. The largest nest so far has been in excess of 10 feet across and housing over a dozen pairs of birds.

Despite of the scientific findings of wildlife biologists and researchers, the “Save-the-parrots” folks appear to have prevailed and monk parakeet is beginning to spread through not only New York state but some contiguous states as well. Nesting is now well established 50 miles north of the metropolitan area and will likely continue unless some sort of natural limitations come into play. This is, by the way, entirely possible because some birds have been found to be infected with Newcastle disease. This is good news if you hate parakeets but bad news if you like domestic poultry or wild gallinaceous birds like turkeys and grouse.

I have decided not to worry about monk parakeets one way or the other. I am going to go watch the moonwalk on a new and unlikely-to-explode color television. ...

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Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


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