Thursday, November 4, 2010

Birder Profile: Jann Dorothy

Birder Profile is a weekly blog segment at "Birding is Fun!" spotlighting a fellow birder.  If you would be interested in sharing a little about yourself and your birding experiences, please send me an email.  Is there a birder you'd like to see featured?  Please nominate that person by sending me an e-mail too.  Enthusiasm for birding is the only prerequisite!

Jann Dorothy
San Rafael, California
 How did you get into birding? Did you or do you have a birding mentor and can you tell us about that person? Did you have a “spark bird”?

When I was 4 or 5 years old, I saw a picture of a bright red Scarlet Tanager in a children’s book. I thought it was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. Although I didn’t start birding until I was older, I still remember that photo. That was my spark bird. It’s a good testament to the importance of early exposure to enrichment – kids do remember.

How long have you been birding?

Since fairly young adulthood, so more or less lifelong. Notice how I side-stepped how many years that is?

How often do you go birding? And where do you regularly go birding?

I’m always birding, whether I’m on an outing or driving to the grocery store. Like many birders, my eye is just trained to see what non-birders don’t. A few weeks ago, I drove to the drugstore and less than a mile from home, my eye caught a shape that didn’t belong there. Cars were whizzing past, so I quickly pulled over to grab my camera. And there sat a Black-crowned Night-Heron on a post, big as day, with traffic swirling around it, oblivious.

Like everyone else, I fit my birding around other commitments, but I’m out a few times a week as time permits. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so opportunities are everywhere – the Point Reyes National Seashore, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, all over Marin & Sonoma Counties, and numerous coastal, creek and inland waterways. It’s a paradise.

Where is your favorite place to bird in your state/province? In the U.S.? in the world?

See above. We’re right on the Pacific Flyway here. There’s nothing like the San Francisco Bay Area for birders. I just recently wrote a blogpost, “Tourist In My Own Backyard: San Francisco” that gives folks an idea what it’s like in this area. I admit that I’m completely spoiled.

Do you have any local birding hotspots that may be yet unknown to other birders that you would be willing to share with us?

The birding hotspots in this area are well known, so I’d have to name my own backyard as the only birding hotspot unknown to others. I have abundant wooded areas behind my property and many regular backyard visitors, such as chickadees, finches and nuthatches. One of the things I most enjoy about birding is that my “ordinary” backyard birds that I see daily are not-so-ordinary to others. For example, I see Chestnut-backed Chickadees and California Towhees and Scrub Jays virtually every day, but these are birds that others don’t see in their areas. And I don’t see eastern Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals, “ordinary” birds for others.

Where in your state/province would you say is the most under-birded place that may have great untapped potential?

This may sound odd, but I have to say all of California, and here’s why: California is a huge state, as everyone knows. But the distinction I’d point out is that California has every climate classification there is, save tundra and arctic, which makes it stand apart from other great birding locales in the continental U.S. such as Texas. Look at range maps and climates and you’ll see that California is unique. From coastal to desert to mountainous, California is has such a variety of climates and habitats that it makes for great birding. And it’s so vast, I’m sure there are places still undiscovered.

How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, a “chaser”, all of the above, or something else?

I’m a “watcher.” I loosely keep a list, but I just enjoy the recreation of birding and enjoying nature. I admire others who are “listers” and “chasers,” but that’s not me.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I have a pair of Nikon 8 x 40 binoculars, an ancient spotting scope, a simple Canon Rebel XT and a Panasonic Lumix DMC point-and-shoot. Nothing fancy.

How do you keep track of your bird observations? And why?

Years ago I’d jot down sightings in a journal or right on the page of my field guide. I still see the ballpoint pen notation in my Peterson’s Guide from 1981 next to a Western Bluebird I saw. Little did I know I had birthed an obsession. Then a number of years ago I started casually keeping track on

What is your favorite bird sighting and what is the story behind it?

A number of years ago I was driving about 60mph on a rural highway area with a friend in the car when I spotted two Yellow-billed Magpies sitting on a telephone line. I nearly wrecked my car spinning off onto the gravel shoulder to do a hair-raising U-turn and get back to them before they took off. My friend, who is fortunately still a friend today, has gotten used to this now and simply says, “What bird?” when I exhibit erratic driving.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

I’m an ABA member and enjoy Birding magazine, but I don’t have other subscriptions because so much is available online. There’s not enough space here to list the blogs and online resources I follow. Many, many of them. And Facebook and Twitter expand that breadth even more.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

I don’t have one favorite, I have several. I enjoy each for different reasons and use them frequently. My first field guide was Peterson’s probably 30+ years ago. But I enjoy Sibley’s, National Geographic, Kaufman’s, Audubon and Stoke’s. I just got the new Stoke’s Guide and it’s wonderful.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

None whatsoever. What little I know is self-taught.

If a fellow birder had a question about a bird, do you consider yourself an expert (or at least proficient) on any specific family of birds?

Absolutely not! I’m an amateur learning every day.

What future birding plans do you have?

I don’t get to travel as much as I used to, so I’ve no immediate plans to stray far from home. And there’s so much to see here, I’m never disappointed.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

I used to be a member of my local Audubon chapter, but I’m afraid I let that lapse when I found it difficult to participate meaningfully due to other time commitments I had. Nationally, I belong to the ABA, as I mentioned. I’m very excited about what the ABA’s future holds under Jeff Gordon’s new leadership. I’m a marketing professional, so I’m planning on lobbying Jeff to hire me to head up the ABA’s strategic marketing. Wouldn’t that be fun? (I’m joking.)

What is your nemesis bird?

Owls. Any owl. All owls. I simply never see them when I’m out. We have Burrowing Owls, Barn Owls and Great Horned Owls in my area, but they have secretly joined together in a conspiracy to deny me from seeing them at any time, day or night. They’re very sneaky that way.

Anything about your family you’d like to share with us?

My family consists of three canines, none of whom enjoy birding. They prefer squirreling in the backyard whenever possible.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

The funniest experience that comes to mind happened last November. I live in a suburban neighborhood and one morning my dogs had hopped up on the couch and were furiously barking at something they could see through the window. I figured it was a neighbor’s dog, since my dogs bark at other dogs all the time. But when I walked over to the window to see what was causing the frenzy, I was surprised to see five Wild Turkeys in my driveway just a few feet from the window.

If you were a bird, which species would you be and why?

An egret. They’re beautiful, graceful, quick and deadly to prey. All qualities I admire very much!

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

I only brag about other people and it would take too long to brag about all the folks I know who are deserving. But my Twitter friends know who they are and that I think they’re super birders, photographers, nature lovers and friends.

Total life list?

Less than 200, so pretty meager, but they have to come one at a time, right? I have the attitude that tomorrow could still be an Ivory-billed Woodpecker day.

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

I haven’t yet had the pleasure of birding in any exotic places, though birding at Point Reyes National Seashore and along Pacific Coast Highway 1 can sometimes feel that way. The beauty is seductive and compelling beyond words.

Your mission in life as birder?

Simply to enjoy as many birds in their native habitats as possible and stepping up whenever and wherever those habitats are threatened. We need to preserve and conserve for everyone’s benefit, people and wildlife alike.


  1. ...really interesting. Glad you have this segment on your blog!

  2. I like reading about other birders.Thanks for sharing that with us Jann.