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It wasn’t really their first date, but it was the decisive one: When Alison Beringer accepted Rick Wright’s invitation to visit the local swine lagoons in search of shorebirds feeding in the effluent, he knew that this was the real thing. Rick and Alison are still birding together, now from a base in northern New Jersey, where large-scale hog operations are few, but fragrant birding sites abound nevertheless. Over what is now some 25 years together, they have lived on the Pacific coast and the Atlantic, in the suburbs of Atlanta and the farm country of upstate New York, and for nine wonderful years in the desert foothills of Tucson, where Rick founded Aimophila Adventures, a modest one-man show introducing visiting birders to the hotspots and avian specialties of Arizona and adjacent Sonora.

Trained as a historian of art and literature, soon enough Rick was looking farther afield to create tours taking full advantage of his expertise. Southern France was an obvious place to start, with great food, great weather, and great birding. April 2007 found a first AimAd group enjoying the Romanesque churches, Greater Flamingos, and lavender fields of Provence together—and the Birds and Art program was born.

When a few years later Alison accepted a faculty position at Montclair State University, in the New Jersey suburbs a few miles west of New York City, easy access to three nearby international airports inspired a significant expansion of the Birds and Art offerings, an expansion enthusiastically supported by Victor Emanuel and the entire staff when the program was adopted by VENT several years ago. Rick’s beloved France remains prominent in the program, with tours on the books to Provence, Brittany, and Burgundy; but with VENT’s encouragement, Barcelona, Berlin, Edinburgh, Florence, Krakow, Norwich, Oviedo, Salzburg, and Venice all now host congenial groups eager to explore the natural and cultural landscapes of Europe and the Americas.

The combination of concerts, birds, museums, birds, architecture, birds, historic sites, birds, fine food and wine, birds, and, of course, birds means a richly enjoyable experience for everyone—even our less bird-obsessed partners and traveling companions.

Happily, when she isn’t in the classroom or the library’s rare books room, Alison is able to co-lead some of these tours, where her language abilities and unfailing good nature combine with her scope skills and superhuman tolerance of Rick’s snoring to keep the days running smoothly. As that long-ago visit to the swine lagoons might suggest, Alison’s favorite birds are the shorebirds, especially the plovers, but she is as keen-eyed as any for all birds all along our routes, leading in one case to the immortal text message, “Be there soon. Stopped for a European Roller.”

Back in New Jersey, Rick and Alison share their home with Quetzal, the world’s blackest black lab. If they’re not birding the Hackensack Meadowlands or the Jersey shore, you can find them at the opera, in a museum, or in a good bakery huddled over plans for the next trip to another new and exciting landscape.