Interview with a Local Bird-Watcher

January 5 was National Bird Day, a day to celebrate and honor birds. There are about 10,000 known bird species in the world with about 1000 here in the United States. Birding is a highly popular leisure activity wherein one observes birds. Millions of people across the world are birdwatchers and, of those, roughly one fifth of all Americans have identified themselves as birdwatchers. LAA Pet Talk is proud to present the below interview with local birdwatcher, Larry Einemann. Please stay tuned throughout the year from posts from birders in other parts of the United States too.

ALLISON: When did you become a birdwatcher?

LARRY: I became a birdwatcher in the early 1960’s when I was in high school at West Point, Nebraska. I wasn’t into athletics, music, farming, or other school subjects, and I needed something to write about in my English classes.

Bird personalities vary from species to species and are always fascinating to observe. Read The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman for deeper insights into the behavior of birds.

ALLISON: What popular bird is your favorite? Why?

Eastern Bluebird, Wikipedia Commons
Eastern Bluebird, Wikipedia Commons

LARRY: The eastern bluebird. The male is stunning with its bright blue back, rufous sides, throat, and breast; white belly and undertail coverts. In the 1960’s, bluebirds were in decline because the more aggressive starlings outcompeted the native bluebirds for nesting holes. Concerned people started making and erecting bluebird houses in the birds’ breeding range. Bluebirds have responded well over the years. They’re rather hardy in Nebraska as quite a few overwinter, especially in areas that have plantings of trees and shrubs producing berries for them to eat. Bluebirds can be found in appropriate habitats in many parts of Nebraska, especially westward.

ALLISON: What rare bird do you most want to see? Why?

LARRY: The California condor. In the 1960, only about 40 survived in California. This Ice Age bird was on the brink of extinction. With human help through captive breeding, the condor now numbers a few 100 individuals. It’s been introduced into Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. It still faces many problems—habitat loss, led poisoning from toxic shot, and poisoning from other sources. But there’s some hope for it.

ALLISON: What unusual things have you done or places have you gone to see birds?

California Condor, Wikipedia Commons
California Condor, Wikipedia Commons

LARRY: I drove to southeast Arizona in early June 2008 for a camping trip with other birders. We spent a wonderful week observing varieties and specialties of birds that occur nowhere else in the United States.

I birded the lower Rio Grande Rover from Brownsville to McAllen, including Port Isabel on Padre Island, in April 2003 and March/April 2011. A few of the new life species that I encountered in this birding paradise included: brown jay, Aplomado falcon, common pauraque, green jay, least grebe, rose-throated becard, clapper rail, and Altamira oriole.

Swainsons Warbler, Wikipedia Commons
Swainsons Warbler, Wikipedia Commons

In May 2014, I participated in a birding festival in Idabel, Oklahoma. The festival featured guided field trips to see birds, flowers, dragonflies, and champion trees. It was my first encounter with the hard-to-find Swainsons Warbler and the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. I then spent a few days on the other end of Oklahoma in the Wichita Mountains around Lawton in search of the black-capped vireo. I tramped over rocky terrain covered in scrubbly oak/juniper habitat in stifling heat and humidity—almost giving up after a 7-hour search. The vireo has a very limited range in Oklahoma and Texas.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Wikipedia Commons
Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Wikipedia Commons

I check NE Birds and e-bird for rare and unusual sightings. I do this on a regular basis each week for Nebraska. If sightings are too far away (over 100 miles), I don’t usually go. It often depends on how busy I am. Birds often don’t stay in an area too long after they’re sighted. I report unusual sights to both sites, but mostly focus on e-bird, and don’t send all my sightings. It takes a lot of effort and time.

On November 19 of this year, a rare—first time ever for Nebraska—Anna’s hummingbird was found in Central Omaha. I drove over on November 23. The birding family invited many birders into their home to observe this tiny, wayward bird. It fed on sugar water offered by the family members. Some nights the temperatures dropped down into the single digits. The hummingbird left on its own on December 9. It was a thrill to see this tiny bird!

Anna's Hummingbird, Wikipedia Commons
Anna’s Hummingbird, Wikipedia Commons

Many Nebraska birders participate in a birding “competition”. I’ve been doing it now for about 15 years. Nebraska has 93 counties. Birders try to find at least 125 bird species in each county. I have 33 countries with 125 or more; some birders have 69 counties. There are many other conditions for comparison that goes on. For example, I have 329 species for Lancaster County. One Nebraskan birder has 415 species for the state. I had only 376 this past year. As I mentioned earlier, some travel quite a lot in a year searching for reported varieties and adding more birds to their county lists. I don’t.

ALLISON: What’s the farthest you’ve gone to see birds? What was that like?

LARRY: In June 2012, I flew from Lincoln to Nova Scotia. There, I joined a group of birders. Our search on Cape Breton Island produced the rare Bicknell’s thrush in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. We also took two pelagic boating trips onto the open Atlantic. This enabled me to see the Atlantic puffins, roseate terns, great cormorants, northern gannets, and common eiders, among other oceanic species. We had a wonderful time!

Bickells Thrush, Wikipedia Commons
Bickells Thrush, Wikipedia Commons

ALLISON: How could one become more interested in bird watching?

LARRY: Many factors can lead to bird watching. A deep interest in nature, a curiosity in birds and other aspects of the natural world, and a desire to get outdoors and do something different.

I know some retired gentlemen who are retired fisherman/hunters who recently became bird watchers. It gave them one more reason to do something outdoors. It also helped them learn more about birds and nature, and to interact with others. Some even purchased expensive camera equipment to document their findings. It’s a new and rewarding hobby for them.

ALLISON: What equipment and knowledge does one need?

LARRY: Knowledge comes through experience by getting out and learning and studying birds. Equipment should include: decent binoculars (the best you can afford, but check them out before you buy) and a good field guide covering all the birds in the region. Once you master the use of birding with binoculars and honing your bird identification skills, you may want to invest in a good spotting scope and a tripod for more distant birds on large lakes and open fields. Along the way, you can buy a digital camera to record what you find. If you’re into smart phones, you can record your sightings on e-bird right out in the field using the multitude of birding apps and send them to e-bird. Who knows? You might find a new fascinating hobby!

ALLISON: How can the average person best help birds?

LARRY: Create a habitat right in your own back yard—whether in the city, on acreages, or on farms. Encourage city, county, and state agencies to create and maintain diverse habitats for birds and other wildlife. Join conservation organizations to help promote conversation efforts in this country and in the tropics where many birds migrate to in the winter. Encourage others to help with conservation efforts and the many problems birds face, including outdoor predators.

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