106 and Counting

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Even though Don Ware is determined to continue to lead an active, engaged, healthy and balanced life until he is well past the century mark, 106 does not refer to any age, but rather to the number of different bird species he has been able to count from just within the fence of Park Springs CCRC.

He became fascinated with birds when he was just 7 years old. A male cardinal came in an open window of his family’s home in Arlington, and it took Don an hour to help the bird find its way out. In that hour, he fell in love with birds. His fascination with birds first led him to breeding parakeets, which he sold for $10 each, “…and the proceeds paid my first year at Duke University,” he recalls.

Was it a coincidence that Don joined the Air Force immediately upon graduating with a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering? “I have a true love for all kinds of birds, including the F100s and F105s that I flew while stationed in Germany during the early 1960s,” he notes.

After completing two combat tours in Vietnam as a fighter pilot, he then earned an MS Degree in Nuclear Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1972. He and his first wife, whom he had met in Germany, and their two sons settled in Ft. Walton Beach (FL), where he retired at the end on 1982. By age 47, he had served as a fighter pilot, test pilot, ROTC instructor, staff scientist, and program manger. For the past 31 years he has been on a quest to live his life to its fullest potential. And for these past 30 years, he has: by learning, loving, volunteering, teaching, traveling and birding.

Don’s first volunteer job was as bird count coordinator for the Choctawhatchee Audubon Society. He managed Christmas Counts, North American Migration Counts, and Breeding Bird Surveys. From this, his involvement grew to serving on the Board of the Alabama Ornithological Society and managing the Breeding Bird Atlas Project for two counties in Florida and ten counties in Alabama. He greatly enjoys his time in the field as a citizen scientist.

Don’s card says “Truthseeker and Birder.” Unlike a birdwatcher, a ‘birder’ is someone who gathers official data that is of value to professional Ornithologists who study bird populations and migration. “In order to slow the extinction of a species, you need carefully recorded information,” Don explains.

Two years ago, Don and his second wife Carol, whom he married after his first wife died too young at 51, decided to move from Florida to Park Springs CCRC. They are now surrounded by four of her five children and have 12 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. “We are so blessed with our big family, including my two sons who live in North Carolina and Florida, respectively,” he notes.

“When we married, I promised to become a golfer, if she became a birder! We’ve traveled all over the world together to find species to add to our life lists. I have now identified more than 5,600 species and have visited 135 countries. That is more than half of the birds of the world.”

Not ready to slow down until at least age 100, Don is actively involved with the Atlanta Audubon Society, monitors one of four blue bird trails in Stone Mountain Park, leads daily bird walks for Park Springs members during migration seasons, accepted a Georgia Breeding Bird Survey route, and continues to work on four Christmas Bird Counts each season. Carol accompanies him as a recorder and shares his love of nature and exploration.

“Never stop learning,” says Don. “Always have an open mind. Explore, investigate, live with passion, love unconditionally and celebrate every day– that’s what keeps you strong.”

November 3, 2013 – Park Springs Bird Walk Report from Don Ware:
“Dear Bird Lovers,
    The cold front this weekend brought down some migrants that may spend the winter with us.  S.G. was the only one brave enough to experience the lower temperatures with me, 45 F when I went to breakfast at 8.  It was sunny with beautifully colored leaves, and it warmed up a bit by 9-10.  Many small birds were at various feeders and at the edge of the woods just across the road from the lake. I saw 27 species.”

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