Thom Smith: Local naturalist, friend will be missed


Often, I include friends when I hike, kayak or just go exploring for features I write for Berkshires Week & Shires of Vermont. Such was the case two weeks ago when Norman Budnitz, a Pittsfield native, visiting from North Carolina and local naturalist David St. James -- basically my brother with different parents -- joined me for a reenactment of many South County bird watching drives dating back to the 1960s.

The story will likely never be written for submission. Dave wasn't feeling well, but as he so often did, had a plan for the route we would take to hear and perhaps see the greatest number of species.

Three days later, he passed away, and is now I believe, at peace in a place where passenger pigeons, ivory-billed woodpeckers and Carolina parakeets fly.

"Uncle Dave-ud," as our daughters called him, was mentioned often in this column for answering a wide variety of queries that stumped me. He will be missed, for among other things, his vast knowledge of nearly everything nature has to offer, and his humor.

Learn a bit about animal tracking:

On Wednesday, Berkshire Natural Resource Council will offer a basic wildlife-tracking hike on Steepletop -- BNRC's largest reserve encompassing more than 1,200 acres -- from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Hike 2 to 3 miles of wood roads and game trails that circle productive wetlands that should provide participants with wildlife tracks, signs and scat. Learn where to look and what to look for when you're out in the woods. Be prepared to hike off trail. Bring rain gear, plenty of water, lunch, a camera and binoculars.

Directions: From Great Barrington take Rt. 23 east toward Monterey. Turn right onto Rt. 57 and travel into New Marlborough. Take a left onto New Marlborough-Monterey Road (just before the Old Inn on the Green) and park in the lot behind the church on the left. We will carpool/caravan to the start of the hike. Email with questions.


With all the rain this summer, it is an exciting season for early mushrooms not particularly just to eat, but also to identify, photograph and simply enjoy their oddness. And for those interested in learning more, getting out with other, more knowledgeable enthusiasts is a good way to begin learning. A very informal group, The Berkshire Mycological Society ( is a great place to start. A mostly armature local Facebook group may also be found by searching for Mass Mushroom Hunters on the social network.

Three upcoming field trips being held soon by the BMS are:

n Today, 10 a.m. at the Appalachian Trail -- Meet at Shay's Rebellion Marker off Route 7 on Rebellion Road, Sheffield

n Aug. 3, 10 a.m. at Mount Everett High School, Sheffield -- Meet by the tennis courts

n Aug. 10, 10 a.m. at Kennedy Park's West Dugway Road parking lot, Lenox


In my earlier years, having the opportunity to explore with The Greylock Mineral Club (no longer active, but the Northern Berkshire Mineral club -- -- is alive and well) and the Hoffmann Bird Club ( greatly influenced my becoming a naturalist.

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email


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