BY WEVONNEDA MINIS
Edwin Blitch III would drop just about everything and travel to enjoy his passion for birding, says his son and namesake. Birds had been in the elder Blitch’s blood since childhood, when he joined the Boy Scouts. He loved birding and teaching others to “bird” all of his life.
Just after graduate school at the University of Michigan, Blitch became an assistant curator for ornithology at the Charleston Museum. In his later years, he was a volunteer guide at the Caw Caw Swamp. In between, he led the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count here for about 20 years.
Blitch of Charleston, also a teacher and principal in Charleston County schools and a medical representative for Abbott Labs, excelled at many things but will be remembered for his knowledge of birding, those who knew him say. “He was fascinated with the group of birds known as the warblers,” says Edwin Blitch IV. “You have to be able to go out and hunt them down. I think he was attracted to the hunt.
“If there was a very unusual bird (to be seen), he would travel to different states. He had a spotting scope and he had binoculars, but frequently he would just walk along the wooded terrain. He’d call out to the birds, and they would come to the edge of the woods to see what he was.”
Blitch, who was born in August 1938 and died Dec. 27, had been a bird-watcher for at least 60 years, the younger Blitch says.
“We’ve driven around and gone chasing birds in all sorts of places,” says Dennis Forsythe, who birded with Blitch for the better part of four decades. They once drove to Charlotte on a report that a green-breasted mango, a tropical hummingbird associated with Mexico and Costa Rica, was spotted in a Charlotte mobile home park. The report was accurate.
“He was the most remarkable person for finding birds’ nests,” says Forsythe. “He learned a lot about that from his affiliations with the Charleston Museum and the Charleston Natural History Society. He could spot these birds’ nests and eggs because of that background.”
Throughout his life, he recorded seeing 379 different bird species in South Carolina and had one of the longest such “life” lists in the state, says Forsythe. A total of 424 species is known to have been seen in the state, Forsythe says. Blitch also had life lists for Georgia and North Carolina, his son says.
“He was really kind of the last connection with old-time birding in Charleston,” Forsythe says. “He could tell stories about all the people who had been significant to the history of birding in South Carolina.
“He was very nice to be around,” Forsythe adds.
That’s what Nathan Dias, executive director of the Cape Romain Bird Observatory, thought as well.
“I was sort of a teenage birder, and Edwin heard about me from other birders and took me under his wing,” Dias says. “I learned all sorts of things beyond identification and habitat preferences. He also taught me fieldcraft, how to blend in and not disturb nature so you could get better looks.
“The big thing he taught me is about songs and calls. That’s one of the last things a birder learns.
“He was a stickler,” continues Dias, urging abundant caution before identifying a bird’s species. “You need to keep in mind all of the birds out there before reaching a conclusion and resist the urge for snap judgments.”
Blitch’s son says his father never believed that the carrier pigeon and ivory-billed woodpecker are extinct.
“That’s the kind of thing that always drove him back to the woods,” the younger Blitch says. “Weather was not an impediment to him.”
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.
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