Tuesday, June 14, 2016

In Memory of Alex Pirko

When I received the news from Minty of Alex Pirko, passing away I was very saddened. Alex, lived alone and as far as I know, no family nearby. He was found dead in his apartment by a neighbor who had not seen him for awhile.While Alex was neither a blood relative nor someone close to me, he was someone from my birding family. A guy I met while leading walks at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx NY. A quiet, soft spoken gentleman, Alex was one of the first attendee to go out with me when I began leading walks at VCP. He loved the park and birds and I loved that he enjoyed both. During the time I led the walks, he never missed a Saturday except when it snowed really bad or his body failed him. He showed me what he knew about the park and in return I got him new birds and was rewarded with his joy at new lifers (birds seen for the first time) that I found for him.

Alex far right with his smile
Over the time that I led the VCP walks, I saw Alex regressing, losing some of his sight  as well as mobility. As a result, he slowed down and even expressed to me that he did not want to slow down the group, such was his concern for others. Realizing that, I paced the walks so that he was never left behind or felt he was a burden. Unfortunately, I stopped leading the VCP walks due to differences I had with the VCP Admin and NYC Audubon on plans to pave the Putnam Trail. Alex, then had expressed his disappointment and threatened to stop going to the walks. I was touched by his loyalty but encouraged him to keep on attending the walks and to ignore the politics.

Alex (L) with the 2011 VCP Birdathon winners.
We kept in touch, along with other regulars from the walk and I helped him a few times with bird identification. As time went on our communication became infrequent though, I did ask others about his well being. I found out that he would be seen sometimes in the park but not with the group. Despite his health issues, Alex came out in 2013 to support a video that was made by Will Sanchez who was trying to bring the Putnam Trail issue to the screen. The sincerity of Alex's love for the birds came through with this quote - "And sometimes there's something out of the ordinary that pops up that is amazing, and people come from all over to see it". - Alex Pirko, 2013. The footage with his statement can be seen here.

I fondly remember the few memories with him like the VCP Birdathon which our team won in 2011, the time I got him on a Swamp Sparrow and watching him break out in that smile of his. Having him tell me about his Yellow-headed Blackbird that he found in VCP--the record, is still up on the NYSARC (New York State Avian Record Committee) website.  I wished I had done more for Alex, he was a gentle soul that could have used more companionship and friendship. These days, so much emphasis is put on young birders with very little attention to the older birders. We should not forget the folks like Alex, they need our love and attention too. R.I.P. dear Alex, may the after life be filled with the songs of the birds you loved so much.

Alex (center)  with birders on the Putnam Trail

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