Dive Bombers and Other Birds

Tudor Richards, USNR

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The next day off was the first of many spent at Mrs. Reid’s at Atlantic Beach. She took in paying guests and had a lovely-looking daughter, Caroline, who, however, was more often than not off on a date. I’m afraid I was more interested in the local avifauna than in Caroline. Hiring a bicycle bicycle at nearby Jacksonville Beach, I rode out to the little town of Mayport near the mouth of the St. John’s after a shorter jaunt to the jetty and back. Near Mayport I found that a large area of salt marshes was a wonderful place for birds. birds
Clapper rails, which could be seen right beside the road, and beautiful black-necked stilts, were the new birds for me, but only less pleasing was the sight of a few willets, a fair number of snowy and American egrets*, little blue herons and white ibises and many least terns. Wilson’s plovers, Louisiana herons**, and wood ibises*** were the new species other “new” birds, seen there at a later date.

wood storks
tri-colored herons
great egrets

Actually my list of Florida water birds had started during those first trips to the beach back in January, royal terns and black skimmers, seen at Matanzas Inlet, the inlet south of St. Augustine, and the next one south of the St. Johns, being the first “new” birds of this group. Black vultures were added shortly after that, and along in April on a trip to Okeefenokee Swamp 4/19/42
(out of order)
in Georgia with Bob Marshall I saw my first red-cockaded woodpeckers and sandhill cranes, though the view of the latter, which were flying, was poor. The only other new water birds seen previous to the Mayport trips was the white ibis, which appeared in late April around Lee Field, soon becoming common. Usually flying in good-sized flocks these remarkable birds kept beautiful formations.

Well, finally on August 21 a group of us dressed ensigns
Aug. 21, ’42
in whites for the first time, adorned with gold wings and shoulder boards with a single stripe across the end of each and caps with wide chin straps and new devices consisting of crossed anchors and over them a shield with an eagle sitting on it. Reporting to the Captain, Captain Price, we were sworn in as ensigns, thus becoming commissioned officers for the first time. At the same time we were designated naval aviators, Naval Aviator
No. 15,001
having finished the course in flight training, the only reason we were being commissioned in the first place. It may have been because we were supposed to be first, naval officers and second, naval aviators, that the Navy didn’t see fit to present us wings, as the Army does its pilots, though that didn’t stop us from thinking we were something. Under the circumstances it was impossible to think of ourselves as anything but primarily aeroplane pilots, even if we had to buy our wings! Practically all our training had been connected directly or indirectly with flying, the amount of time spent learning how to become a naval officer having been close to nil. Some of us had come very close to “washing out,” so it felt all the better to come through. An ensign was just an ensign, or so it then seemed to us, whereas a naval aviator not only had special insignia, but collected with his flight pay half again as much as his base pay, and there’s no doubt about it we thought our main job was pretty glamorous.