education specialist Gene Brown, seen here at his Upper Nyack
home on Sept. 3, 2004, has just written a comprehensive book for
local birders, "Birds over Bear Mountain."
( Karen Vibert-Kennedy for The Journal News )
Local naturalist writes, illustrates bird book
By NANCY CACIOPPO
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: September 4, 2004)
Outdoor education specialist Gene Brown has written "Birds
Over Bear Mountain," a comprehensive book for local birders
and environmentalists just published by the Palisades Interstate
Park Commission Press.
Guided by the spirit of two of his historic heroes — naturalists
John Burroughs and John Muir — Brown transferred this love
of the out-of-doors to the printed page. His first book, subtitled
"Nature Notes from the Hudson Highlands," is accompanied
by his own delicate illustrations.
Sitting on the porch of the 1858 Van Houten's Landing house he
has called home since the age of 4 months, the 77-year-old Brown
is surrounded by the views he loves best — a grape arbor
that invites visitors to enter a garden, a variety of birds that
flit across a sweeping lawn and a panoramic view of the Hudson
The numbers and variety of birds are indicative of the health
of that environment, Brown said.
"The return of bald eagles to Iona Island was only because
DDT was outlawed as a pesticide," he said. "Birds are
a barometer of the climate. If they disappear because of global
warming or pollution, we should be paying attention."
Native species are also affected by uncontrolled human development,
"When bird populations are disrupted, you have more mosquitoes
spreading disease and grasshoppers eating crops," he said.
"That's the reason you need parks and open space, for birds
to make their homes."
Brown gained his intimate observations of the region's flora,
fauna and cultural resources from years of hiking through Bear
Mountain and Harriman state parks, as past president of the Rockland
Audubon Society and as a member of the Bear Mountain League of
Early influences also set the tone for his appreciation of the
avian species. His grandfather, Ohio state Assemblyman Charles
McClave, was nationally known as a leader in the poultry industry.
"His collection of rare breeds of poultry and exotic fowl
fascinated me as a kid," he said.
He said summers spent at the family's cottage on Lake Chautauqua
also inspired his love of the environment.
Brown, who holds a master's degree in outdoor education from
New York University, was a specialist in the field at the Christian
Herald Children's Home in Upper Nyack from 1949 to 1960 and was
assistant camp director of the home's Mont Lawn Camp in Bushkill,
Pa., from 1961 until his retirement in 1994.