Thursday, December 30, 2010

Birder Profile: Kathie Brown

Kathie Brown
Andover, Massachusetts
How did you get into birding?

I don’t know. I have been aware of the birds all of my life and from a young age always knew what a robin, blue jay, catbird, cardinal or mockingbirds was. (These are common birds in CT where I grew up.) I remember even as a child looking at my grandparents’ bird book or my mother’s. I also consulted the World Book Encyclopedia. We had a set of these in our house.

Did you or do you have a birding mentor and can you tell us about that person?

At age 16 I left home and went to live at a Christian Home for Troubled Youth called His Mansion. While I lived there I met a naturalist and ornithologist named Trudy Smith who set up a bird feeder for the residents. When she found out that I liked nature and birds she gave me my first bird guide, Golden’s Field Guide to the Birds. I still have the copy she gave me inscribed by her. The amazing thing about Trudy is that with all her love of the birds, she is deaf and cannot hear them. She was not born deaf but went deaf as a child from an illness. I met her when I was 16 years old and we climbed Mt. Washington together. She maintained her friendship with me all her life and to my utter amazement I found her still alive at 101 years old when I moved back east this year. My husband and I went to see her and she still had her hummingbird feeders set up. I do not think she remembers me anymore but she tried to fake it. I just hugged her and cried. She is truly an amazing woman!

How long have you been birding?

As I mentioned, I have watched and enjoyed birds all my life but I did not begin “birding” until the early 2000’s when I first learned about The Great Backyard Bird Count and later Project Feeder Watch, all administered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. That is the first time I ever went out on purpose to count and identify birds. Until then I would just observe whatever birds came to my feeders or look for birds when I went to a National Park or other natural area. I started keeping a Life List shortly after I was married. I would write down the date and location of each new species next to the entry in my bird book and I continued to do this until I started eBirding in January of 2007 urged on by Larry from the Brownstone Birding Blog. He challenged all of us bird bloggers to participate in Big January, something I had never done before. It is eBird and my blog that have really turned me into a “birder.”

How often do you go birding?

Just about every day. I am addicted and it seems I cannot see a bird without feeling like I need to count and record it! This is ironic since I hated math in school and failed it so many times, but when I got into college I found that I liked statistics and I aced the course. Until now I considered myself more of a writer/artist/poet and math was my nemesis, now it’s part of my passion! I suppose it is a great cosmic joke on me!

And where do you regularly go birding?

In my own yard as well as on walks, at parks, National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, store parking lots, restaurants, anywhere I feel like it. Sometimes I just pull over to the side of the road randomly to count birds. I submit all my bird counts to eBird because I feel like it does make a difference as it helps them to track bird populations. I have found some of the most unusual birds in unlikely locations by doing this.

Where is your favorite place to bird in your state/province?

Well, I am just getting acquainted with my new state of Massachusetts but so far I like Plum Island, Lake Cochichewick, and the bog near my house. And since I live only 5 miles from the New Hampshire border, I also go birding up there in a location I found through eBird called the Geremonty Drive Wetlands.

In the U.S.?

Sweetwater Wetlands and Whitewater Draw in Arizona, The Great Salt Lake in Utah, and anywhere in Idaho.

in the world?

Well, I haven’t been out of the country except to Canada a few times before I was a birder, so I will say Yellowstone National Park.

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

I just discovered Lake Cochichewick in North Andover, MA. It is not listed as a Birding Hotspot but I have already found some really cool birds there. I still have more exploring to do around here and hope to discover some more new places, perhaps Harold Parker State Forest will be one of them. In Connecticut I like to visit Lake Hayward near East Hampton. Most of the lake is private but there is a public boat launch on East Shore Drive where one can legally park and observe birds. I recently found a brown creeper and a yellow-bellied sapsucker in the woods at the edge of the lake there.

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

Well, there are a lot of birders in the state of Massachusetts from what I can see but I also see many areas that look like they would be good birding spots but no one seems to bird there. Since I have only lived here for 2 months I will have to get back to you on that! In Connecticut there are many untapped areas, especially the Northeast corner of the state where there is little birding data. I also travel to Maine quite a bit and while many people bird the coastal areas few bird the interior sections like Androscoggin County, Franklin County, Somerset County or Aroostook County. To me, birding these under birded areas are the most crucial for there is little data coming into eBird from these locations. I would rather bird these areas than the more popular sites because I feel like I am doing more good. I took a trip to Kentucky earlier this year to visit my son and in that state I would say Christian County. I counted 29 species of birds when I was there in March but it is a great birding area and I was only there for 4 days. I spent most of my time visiting my new grand-daughter but did manage to squeeze in a few minutes of birding here and there. Since then only a couple of new species have been added to the count I made!

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

I would say a watcher and a lister. I have only rarely chased down a species one of which was a wandering juvenile stork that showed up in the Phoenix area while I lived in AZ. A stork in the desert is indeed a rare sight!

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I use Eagle Optics Ranger 8 x 42 Binoculars that my sweet husband bought for me and the Nikon D80 digital camera with a 70-300 mm zoom lens.

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

For my own pleasure and to benefit the birds by submitting my bird counts to eBird. I enjoy being a Citizen Scientist! I also use all of this information in my birding blogs. I love to write about the birds and how I experience nature. I love to share my passion.

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

I would have to say it is the first time I ever saw Sandhill Cranes. In 1986 my husband and I moved to Idaho from Connecticut. We had never lived out west before and in 1987 we took a trip to Yellowstone National Park for our 10th Anniversary. On our way there up through Island Park we saw these large gray birds in the field alongside the road. They looked to me like ostriches though I knew that could not be. Back then we had a Nikon FG 35 mm film camera and we pulled over and took pictures. It wasn’t until we entered the park and were able to ask someone that I discovered they we sandhill cranes. I was enthralled with them then and I still am. They are amazing birds and I love the “garrooing” sound they make when they call to one another. It is so wild sounding and it tugs at my heart.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

Bird Watcher’s Digest, Living Bird, All About Birds, eBird, Whatbird

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

I have Sibley, Kaufman, Peterson’s, Audubon’s, National Geographic, Golden, and now Stokes. I like them all and consult them all but if you were going to take them all away from me except one I would probably opt for Sibley’s and plead for my old Golden Field Guide to the Birds. Kaufman would be my 3rd choice.

Which three books from your personal birding library would you recommend?

The Big Year, Of a Feather, and Kingbird Highway.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

A little. I took the Tucson Audubon’s Important Bird Area class in the fall of 2006 and participated in surveying a one mile transect of Sabino Canyon with three other women for the rest of the 3 years that I lived there.

What future birding plans do you have?

To learn as much as I can. I was going to take a birding course through the Tucson Audubon but we moved away right before it started.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

I am involved with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Tucson Audubon. I am considering joining the ABA now that Jeffry Gordon is the new president and it looks like there may be some positive changes going on. I was always too intimidated by it before.

What is your nemesis bird?

It was the Elegant Trogon but I got that in Cave Creek Canyon right before I left AZ so I’m not sure right now. I’ll have to find a new nemesis I guess!

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

My youngest son is serving in Afghanistan right now on the front lines. He is in a very dangerous area and I pray every day that he returns to us safely. Watching the birds helps me to feel at peace and find joy and whenever he sees an unusual bird he tells me about it. All my kids know that their mom is bird crazy. I have tried to convert them but so far no takers. I am working on the next generation now! I have 4 children and 4 grandchildren. I have been married to my husband, Gus for 33 years. He very patiently puts up with my birding and blogging and even accompanies me on some trips. He had to buy himself his own camera as we soon discovered that having me ask him to “shoot that bird right over there…oh darn, it just flew away,” didn’t work.

Outside of birding, what are your other interests or hobbies?

I like art, poetry, gardening, painting, sculpture, homeopathy, hiking, horses, dogs, reading, and writing my blog. I love my family and my friends.

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

I would be a brown creeper or a western meadowlark. They both live in habitats that I like. I love how sweet and subtle the brown creeper is but I also like the beautiful song of the western meadow lark and how it is compelled to sing its song to the sky. I feel I am like each of these birds. I am torn between wanting to be unobtrusive and quiet in the woods or get out on the fence and sing my heart out for everyone to hear. I think I bounce back and forth between these two personas.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

Well, I am working on trying to count birds in every county of every state before I die. It’s a huge goal I know but I am getting there. With all this moving around and travelling it makes it a bit easier. I was inspired by eBird when they put up their news bulletin about the most wanted counties and I discovered there are some counties in the USA that they have little to no birding data from.

Total life list?    389

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

SE Arizona where I lived for 3 ½ years. Now that I have moved back east I realize just how exotic it was!

Your mission in life as birder?

1. To count as many birds as I can for eBird, especially in places no one else wants to bird
2. To make a difference for future birds by helping to preserve bird habitat.
3. To educate others about bird and birding and bird populations
4. To try to encourage others to preserve bird habitat so that our children and grandchildren will be able to see and enjoy the birds that we do now.
5. To learn as much as I can as fast as I can about birds
6. To learn to bird better by ear
7. To share this love and this passion like Trudy Smith shared it with me!

You can continue to follow Kathie's birding adventures on her blog Kathie's Birds

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!


  1. Thank you for spotlighting Kathie! I know her from blogging and spent a week with her in West Virginia at the New River Birding and Nature Festival two years ago. She's as nice and sweet as her interview and I think Kathie is a superb lister and a lover of statistics. She's motivated and extremely organized. I admire that.

  2. Mary, you are too kind to me! I love you too!

    Robert, this is nicely done and I have linked up to this page on my blog and my Facebook page. BTW, I've added one more species to my Life List since answering your questions for a total of 390 species of birds. I saw my first Long-tailed Duck at Ft. McClary State Park in Maine about 2 weeks ago!

  3. A wonderful profile of my wonderful sister-in-law!