WIN’s Special Bond with Noted British Twitcher

Typically, the public sees birders and birding on opposite ends of the adventure spectrum from spies and espionage. However, a WWII British Commander of Naval Intelligence tapped into his personal cloak-and-dagger exploits, his passion for twitching (birding in British vernacular), and his compelling writing skills to unite these two diverse activities.

After retiring, the Commander bought a modest estate in the British colony of Jamaica, where he set out to write the ultimate spy novel. He was well disciplined, writing for several hours every morning. Such diligence freed up his afternoons for other pursuits, such as birding and an ample number of dry martinis (shaken, not stirred). Although beyond his prime, he still fancied himself to be quite the ladies man. Further blurring that gap between life and art, he preferred his staff to address him as “Commander.”

When contemplating a name for his main character, the Commander sought an unassuming yet masculine name with which he could cloak his secret agent – much like Clark Kent gives cover to Superman. He found such a name on the cover of his birding bible – Birds of the West Indies, Second Edition, written by an American ornithologist. His protagonist’s name for Casino Royal would be Bond… James Bond.

The actual James Bond was an esteemed ornithologist, the premier authority on Caribbean birds, a prolific author of scientific papers and books, and the curator for Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences. Ian Fleming (the Commander) pinched the name without contacting its namesake. In 1960, when Mr. Bond and his wife Mary showed up unannounced at Fleming’s Jamaican estate, named GoldenEye, the transgression was quickly forgiven. They took a photo together and Fleming presented Bond with an autographed first edition of his yet-to-be-released You Only Live Twice.

James Bond 1974

By Jerry Freilich (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (https://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to the Caribbean locales featured throughout his spy novels, Fleming included many references to birds and birding. These were carried over to the 007 film series, as verified by enthusiastic journalist Taryn Simon. She precisely recorded 331 species of birds that share the silver screen with Commander Bond. In Die Another Day, Bond (Pierce Brosnan) goes undercover by portraying an ornithologist. When he picks up a copy of Birds of the West Indies, he deftly blocks the author’s name.

As a wordsmith, Fleming relished the use of risqué double entendre – likely a byproduct from his years in the murky world of code names and assumed identities. Octopussy comes to mind. But, so does birdwatcher – the intelligence community’s vernacular for “spy.” So, did Fleming’s passion for birding spark his fascination with James Bond’s book, or was it vice versa?

Fleming’s intelligence work offers a clue. In May 1945, Fleming led a covert mission to kidnap Nazi treasurer Martin Bormann from East Berlin and clandestinely transfer him to London. While the result of this mission is obscure, it is certain that Fleming provided its code name: Operation JB (James Bond) – eight years before he moved to Jamaica or wrote Casino Royal, and two years before the Second Edition of Bond’s field guide was published. The First Edition was published in the UK in 1936.

So, what is the Bond connection with Wings In Nature? WIN board member, BJ Worth, mothballed his degree in zoology as he pursued a 35-year career of aerial stunts and filmmaking. Worth was aerial stunt coordinator / stunt performer for nine sequences in eight James Bond films – doubling Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, Grace Jones, and Kabir Bedi. His focus has now come back to earth as he records video of bird behavior, and pursues bird photography, conservation, and research projects.

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