Cindy the Purser and David with RFK Jr.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else happens to kick it up a notch. I was scheduled to fly to Guayaquil, Ecuador the other night out of Miami. There are many Ecuadoreans flying back and forth of course, but Guayaquil is also one of the jumping off points for tourists who travel to the Galapagos Islands. I fly it a lot because the schedule tends to work with my life; such as it is.

We just getting ready to board when Cindy, the Purser pulls me aside and says, “We’ve got the Kennedy Family coming on.”

“The what?”

“We have the Kennedy Family on our flight.”

“You’re kidding…”

“Nope.”

“Which Kennedys?”

“I don’t know, but it sounds like all of them. They have about 30 seats. The kids, the cousins, the..”

Holy Shi-”

“I know!”

“Okay, well, we’ll just deal with it.”

Deal with it we did. And we did a good job too. They loved us, and I can tell you with the utmost authority: Damn, the whole damned family look like, like…well, Kennedys.

The teeth, the eyes, the facial features, it’s still there. It’s just so “John and Bobby.” There is no mistaking any member of this family. The resemblance to each other is shocking when you’ve got twenty or thirty of them running around an airplane. And let me tell you something else; they were the nicest group of people you’d ever want to meet. They kids were very rambunctious but incredibly polite. Shockingly polite.

I got my photo taken with Robert Kennedy Jr. at his insistence, and he gave me his card with a very special invitation. The gentleman is very much into ecology and environmental concerns. He is on the Board of Directors for Waterkeepers.  He happens to have a raptor center where he breeds falcons and hawks to be released into the wild. He also bands wild birds every fall where they are caught, banded and released. This is where I come in.

Robert Kennedy Jr. has invited me to help band wild falcons and hawks with his crew next October.

Grimly Flying to my glove. (Photo, Steve Martin- NEI)

I told him I’ve banded a couple of penguins, but never raptors. So, I’ll probably be doing a bit of studying and reading up on banding wild raptors. And just for insurance, I’ve invited a friend who knows her raptors. Yup, I’ve invited Rebecca K. O’Connor to come with me. I can’t think of a better person to cover my keester when it comes to raptors. Because as far as I’m concerned, a raptor has two business ends: that beak and those talons.

Rebecca, her dog Booth and Anakin, her falcon

(If you don’t know who Rebecca is, may I suggest her book, Lift? You can get it Here.  It’s a hell of a read.)

Rebecca and Anakin

But what an opportunity! Banding wild hawks! Hanging out in upstate New York somewhere at a raptor facility where they help the environment by boosting the populations of these magnificent animals! In the Fall! When the leaves are changing! With Rebecca! And a member of the Kennedy family! I’m sorry, but I never get over this stuff. I’ve done a lot of cool stuff but I’m still like a kid in a candy store when neat stuff happens like this.

With a ring-tailed lemur at the Cincinnati Zoo

May I take this opportunity to point out that my Mother’s maiden name was McNamara? And that my Grandmother’s maiden name was Cody? So you’ve got an O’Connor and a member of the McNamara clan going up to band some birds with a Kennedy. Do you see the serendipitous nature of this? I see some Irish coffees in my future…

The RFK Jr. facility also takes in, rehabilitates and re-releases birds brought to them by the wildlife center.

Robert and I talked a bit about the now extinct Carolina Parakeet and what his theory is on their extinction. While blowing them out of the sky with shotguns certainly didn’t help matters any, I was unaware of something. Shortly before their extinction, Robert said there was a blight that killed a particular tree bearing an important food source for them. They were a type of chestnut and these chestnuts died with the trees in the blight. There went a huge part of their food source. Robert said that he felt this blight contributed greatly to their extinction.

As you can see, I get into some interesting conversations on some of these flights: tree blight, banding birds, and of course a bit of politics. I won’t go into that.  Robert’s younger brother Max and I traded parrot jokes and even Robert remembered one. The Kennedy kids made me do my impression of a pissed-off baby grey about nine times. They thought it was funny. In return they showed me how to play a card game called “Spit.”

“Oh, don’t worry Patricia, you don’t really have to spit!” one cousin assured me. I may like this family, but I kind of draw the line at getting spit on by one of them.


As you might guess, it was one of the most memorable flights of my career. A great flight, wonderful people and an upcoming adventure. What more could you want from a routine flight to Ecuador?

And Please remember to vote for my entry at the Quark Expeditions Blogging Contest here: Quark Expeditions


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