Monday, January 3, 2011

Birder Profile: Laura Kammermeier

Larua Kammermeier
Rochester, New York
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”?

My interest in nature was innate but primarily fueled by TV with shows like Wild Kingdom and even that dang 1970s commercial where the Indian cried over strewn garbage—you know the one. I had no single birding mentor, but have learned so much from friends and colleagues and my own study over the years. I also don’t have a spark bird in the usual sense, but I sometimes wonder if this career is karmic payback for running over a baby robin when I was a teen (story here).

The ultimate spark for birds/birding happened after I set foot into the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and started working for Project FeederWatch. At that point, there was no going back! I guess you could say half the employees at Cornell were my mentors…but so were the data sheets and educational materials I prepared, and the participants who wrote in asking questions…

How long have you been birding?

Seriously, about 15 years. I can remember doing eco-surveys in the early 90s, having the burning desire to name the birds my boss was seeing and rattling off. Whenever he'd spot a black-throated green warbler in the treetops, I saw nothing more than a charcoal silhouette. That had to end!

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

In one respect, I 'bird' everyday from my desktop. I work in the birding and nature field, so I get to think and talk and write about birds all day. I get in the field more often during spring migration and nesting season. But I make special trips when time and birding opps allow.

Locally, you'll find me birding at Mendon Ponds, in Ganondagan (a park that was once a flourishing village and granary for the Seneca People), and along the Rochester lakefront in winter. I am lucky to have a beautiful vista just three miles south of me that has several Short-eared Owls all winter.

Occasionally, I make a long-distance trip to revel in new bird life and then come home and write about it so that others can experience it, too.

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

I go wherever the birds are! I am not a creature of habit, and there's so many great places to bird, so I don't really have what you'd call «favorites.»

In New York state, I guess my favorite place to bird is the Adirondack Park---there's a handful of Spruce Grouse there that hide when they see me coming. I intend to outwit them this year.

I've had great times and luck birding in Florida and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and in Belize and Honduras. But I'll get back to you on «favorites» once my sample size includes the whole world.

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

Lyndsay Parsons Biodiversity Preserve south of Ithaca, NY is one of my favorite places in the world to walk and roam. The old field and marsh habitats at the base of a tall ridge are great for nesting songbirds, including warblers, flycatchers, and indigo buntings.

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

I am all of those at different time so I just call myself an «avid» birder. In the field, I am driven by a sense of discovery and great hope about what could appear around the next bend. That's why I enjoy birding in new places – you never know what you'll see next. Sometimes I am competitive and fanatical about the checklist and numbers. Sometimes I just like to sit back and watch a bird feeder. In my work, I get TONS of satisfaction from inpiring others to discover and understand birds. So as long as SOMEBODY is out there birding, I'm happy.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I carry Leica bins (Ultravid HD 8x42) and scope (82 mm), which are fantastic pieces of glass. I’m a prostaffer for Leica, and I’d say that even if they didn’t pay me. I use a Bird Watcher’s Digest-branded birding “bra” for my bins. The best accessory ever made. EVER.

I carry a Nikon D90 dSLR, and usually use a 70-300 mm zoom. Great camera, but unfortunately I noticed all too soon how inadequate a 300 mm lens is for GOOD bird photography! I haven’t decided yet whether I want to be a birding photographer or a shutter-snapping birder…you approach those activities with different pace and equipment.

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

The old fashioned way: pencil and notebook. I also make notations in my field guides. I have an eBird account but my Cornellian friends would nudge me to be more disciplined at using it. A lifelist is floating around here somewhere...

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

Oh, my gosh. Without a doubt my best birding story is the time I staked out for HOURS in a muddy, tick-infested cow path in Belize, near a known red-capped manakin lek, waiting for the male to do its courtship display. After six hours and a hundred ticks (yes, a hundred, in my shoes and on my body), the bird finally started its display, and in that ten minutes I lived the glory and fascination of a thousand nature episodes... I immortalized that story in a Bird Watcher's Digest article called «Finding Life Birds and Lost Dreams in the Rainforest of Belize». Check it out here.  I have a much longer piece about that trip that I hope to polish off and publish someday.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

I receive Bird Watcher's Digest, Birder's World, Living Bird, and Birding in the mail. Being a blogger, I try to keep up with relevant online content, too. Being connected to so many writers via social media allows many of the important headlines to come right in front of me.

I recommend Ted Eubanks writings on conservation, birds, and related topics. He provides extraordinary depth and insight into many topics. His blog is called and he's a contributor the ABA blog, to which I also contribute.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Sibley's North American Guide. Seeing maps and several plumages on one profile page is great. And his info is so concise and spot-on useful in the field. But when I'm doing serious ID or writing, one field guide is not enough. My shelves sag under the weight of all the bird books I currently have. I use the 2008 edition of the Peterson Field Guide to Birds, the Sterry and Small photographic guides by Princeton, as well as state-specific (Birds of Ohio by McCormac) or species group-specific guides (Hawks from Every Angle) as needed. I can't live without a Breeding Bird Atlas for my state! And my 60 Places to Bird in the Adirondacks has seen a lot of love... Okay, I better stop here...

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

Sibley Guide to North American Birds by David Sibley
Young Birder's Guide by Bill Thompson, III for any young or beginning birders.
Life List by Olivia Gentile. Both an inspiration and cautionary tale of what birding can do to/for you!

Do you have any formal bird-related education background? If so, what is it?

Yes, I have a MS in Aquatic Ecology so I was often in the field and studying nature at some level. I did citizen science with water quality before that term was in the common vernacular. My bird-specific work began when I was hired by Cornell to run Project FeederWatch. Since then, I've found my calling in writing and new media communications, which means I help bird and nature organizations promote their message, programs, or activities through web, print, film, and more.

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?

I'm resourceful, not an expert. So I am good at connecting birders to what they need or want to know. While I envy those blessed with a reservoir of bird info in their heads, I'm afraid there'd be no room left to remember my mother's birthday or the next American Idol lineup. I seek information when I need it.

What future birding plans do you have?

2011 may be a great year for birding...I plan on attending a few festivals (The Biggest Week in NW Ohio, The Midwest Birding Symposium, maybe the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival again). I plan on at least one Adirondack adventure, a Yellowstone adventure with my family and best birding friend in the world (Courtenay Willis), some Florida birding in February. Also, a new endeavor I'm working on may bring some exciting travel opportunities.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

I'm a member of all the usual national ones, plus the Rochester Birding Association.

What is your nemesis bird?

Right now? The Spruce Grouse!

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

My husband Paul and I have two young boys. We take them outdoors as much as possible and at least one shows interest in birds. Paul enjoys casual birding and is really good as spotting birds, even with his entry-level Bushnell bins!

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

Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware there were other interests…

Hiking. Yoga. Exploring. Sharing time with friends. Making the world a better place through word or deed. That’s all that life is about.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

Some of my favorite stories are:
Confessions of a Reluctant Gull Chaser.
Epic Gull Failure

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

I'd be a female yellow warbler. I love their habitat, size, beauty, and simplicity. But they are hardy little creatures. When I'm in a romantic mood I think I'd be a Tricolored Heron or Snowy Egret. But I light up like a Flame Bowerbird whenever I'm happy.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

In addition to my own blogging, I'm proud to contribute to both the ABA blog and blog. I get to work with fantastic people and organizations. I have some exciting work lined up for 2011 that I can't talk about yet!

Total life list?

Embarrassed to admit I really don't know even which hundreds group it is in! Now that eBird is worldwide, I need to get on there and see if I can start putting my various lists together.

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

Near Cerro Azul Me├ímbar National Park in central Honduras. My guide and I explored a trail that meandered along the steep ridge of a coffee plantation set into the side of a mountain. We encountered massive migration fallout in a single tree—a miracle tree—that in the space of 12 minutes had more than eighteen different species coming in and out to feed off its fruits. It was a stunning experience that left me in adrenaline shock for days.

Your mission in life as birder?

To spread the joy of birding. That's it.

Laura, as you have just seen, is a delightful and skilled writer.  You can continue to read her work and follow her birding adventures at her blog Birds, Words, and Websites and in other great birding publications and websites.  Follow @lkamms on Twitter.

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 comment:

  1. Laura sounds like a person I would love to meet! Great interview. Keep spreading that birding joy!