Fishkill Ridge
Community Heritage

Birds Over Bear Mountain


 Gene BrownOutdoor 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

(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 River.

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, Brown said.

"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 Naturalists.

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.

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