Love and Relationships

Meet bird-watchers Bob and Cynthia, whose love story took flight in their 50s

Iya Gozum

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Meet bird-watchers Bob and Cynthia, whose love story took flight in their 50s

LOVEBIRDS. It was the second marriage for birder couple Bob and Cynthia Kaufman. Now the life-long commitment that comes with marriage is less demanding and more enjoyable.

Errol Almario/Rappler

Love came the second time around when Bob and Cynthia were in their 50s. The couple spent the next 20 years finding birds and going through the latter half of life together.

MANILA, Philippines – “What are you looking for?”

An old woman on the other side of the lagoon was asking us. Beside her was a man who seemed to be her partner, wearing a shirt with Arizona’s birds printed on it. He was carrying a camera with a telephoto lens.

We said we were looking for the naked-faced spiderhunter (Arachnothera clarae). They immediately clambered down the empty lagoon. The old man descended first and offered his hand to the woman.

They walked toward our bird-watching group. After a while, the spiderhunter perched on one of the branches overhead. The woman saw it, then the man took a photo.

“She’s my spotter,” he said.

“And listener,” she added.

They have been watching and taking photos of birds together for the past 20 years.

Photography, Person, Photographer
PARTNERS. For the last 20 years, Bob and Cynthia Kaufman have harbored a shared love for watching and taking photos of birds. They’ve been to different parts of the world to visit bird parks and see rare birds. Courtesy of Bob and Cynthia Kaufman
Love at website

On August 28, 2003, Cynthia Mercado logged onto an online dating site and got a match who went by the name Tender Storm. She was Young One at 53, looking for someone to grow old with.

He was 5’7″, a Christian, and a widower. She sent him a note. The man thanked her for her interest. Then he asked her if she could be the Annie Reed to his Sam Baldwin.

His name was Bob. He lived in Los Angeles at the time, although he grew up in Manila, where he was already interested in birds.

Bob and Cynthia wrote to each other for eight months. A widow and widower, both knew what it felt like to take care of a loved one and lose them to a lingering illness.

By April of the following year, Cynthia flew from the Philippines to the United States for a reunion with former classmates. She made a stopover in Los Angeles to finally meet Bob.

“He was funny,” she remembered 20 years after the first time they met in person. “I went to the hotel. He was at the lobby, wearing a cardboard mask of Tom Hanks.”

“He was Sam Baldwin in Sleepless in Seattle,” Bob explained.

“Sam Baldwin,” Cynthia repeated. “He had the face of Tom Hanks on a cardboard. ‘Yun (That’s it).”

Five months later, they were reciting their vows at the Justice of the Peace.

Blouse, Clothing, Face
HITCHED. Bob and Cynthia Kaufman got married on September 17, 2004, less than a year after they met online. Courtesy of Bob and Cynthia Kaufman
For life

In the natural world, courtship and mating are simple matters of biology. Birds dance, strut, and raise their wings to attract potential mates. They sing and ward off rivals.

When the rhythm is right, they copulate. Some change mates when the seasons turn. Some mate for life, like penguins and mute swans.

Humans go through similar, fundamental motions, too – but with a lot more at stake. The social order has defined how love and relationships should feel, how they should play out, or how people should be involved.

Marriage, in many love stories, is often the happy ending to a fairy-tale romance. But for Bob, who is now 77, and Cynthia, 74, marriage was the beginning of the second half of their lives.

Person, Sitting, Bench
SECOND CHANCE. Bob and Cynthia sit on one of the benches near the lagoon inside the University of the Philippines Diliman. The campus is one of the go-to sites of bird-watchers in Metro Manila. Errol Almario/Rappler

After all, it’s the second marriage for both of them. A second marriage can offer clarity in retrospect. With their kids from their first marriages all grown up, Bob and Cynthia were liberated from the usual expectations that come with getting married.

“You see, this is the second time around, so a lot of things don’t matter anymore,” Cynthia said. “As long as you vibe with each other [and] you’re on the same wavelength.”

For them, spending the rest of their lives with another person is not anymore a romantic pursuit but an uncomplicated arrangement.

“I told him that in my second marriage, I don’t want PTAs, obstetricians, or tuition fees,” Cynthia said. “With him, I didn’t want any of that. Just a good time.”

Good times

They define a good time by reading the novels of Robert Ludlum and Mary Higgins Clark, and going out on Saturdays to watch and photograph birds.

Bob keeps a bird list that boasts of about 1,300 species seen so far. He says it’s still a meager count considering there are more than 11,000 birds in the world.

After they got married, Bob wanted to try bird-watching, but he had poor eyesight and hearing. Cynthia had to go look for and listen to the birds for him.

“I take my job as helpmate seriously,” she said.

Animal, Bird, Finch
SIGHTING. The couple had long sought for the common yellowthroat and finally sighted it in Camarillo, California. This photo was taken in San Joaquin. Courtesy of Bob Kaufman

Soon, Cynthia was hooked on the hobby too. The shared interest made them fly to other countries to visit bird parks.

She was Bob’s eyes and ears, his travel planner and life companion. During the interview, Cynthia would often repeat the question to her husband. Then, Bob would answer. Most times, though, Bob would let Cynthia speak. He would nod, smile, and laugh in agreement. He knows that what she says is their story.

There were many eureka moments in seeking out both rare and common birds.

In San Gerardo de Dota in Costa Rica, they found the resplendent quetzal. It was the national bird of Guatemala. In Camarillo, California, they finally spotted the common yellowthroat after looking for it in the wrong places.

After the thrill, once the list is completed and the quota hit, they go back home. Didn’t Frank Sinatra croon that the second time around is more comfortable like a friendly home?

Twenty years have passed, and 20 more years will pass. The birds will continue to sing overhead, and the world will always welcome lovers. –

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.