Saturday, November 26, 2011

Birder Profile: Robert Ripma

Robert Ripma
Carmel, Indiana
My family has always been into birds. My mom had feeders up at our house when I was growing up and would point out the common feeder birds to us. My younger brother took a strong interest in the birds when he was only 10, but at the time I honestly couldn’t have cared less! We took a lot of family vacations through the years and much to my disliking, birding was always included. Two trips changed all of that. The first was a trip to Fort Myers Beach, Florida. I became fascinated by the herons, egrets, and shorebirds that were seemingly everywhere in the lagoon by our hotel. After that, I began doing some Christmas and Spring Bird Counts with my mom and brother. The trip that really pushed me over the edge was to Magee Marsh in northwest Ohio. We took this trip after my freshman year in college, and I have been birding nonstop ever since. It seems like much more than 10 short years ago that I started birding!

I go birding a few times a week, mostly at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis, IN. My absolute favorite spot to bird in Indiana is Goose Pond FWA in the southern part of the state. It is an 8,500 acre restored wetland that consistently attracts unusual wetland birds, including Indiana’s first state record Roseate Spoonbill in 2009! Picking a single favorite spot in the United States is really tough for me. I have been to so many wonderful places and love birding in Florida, Texas, California, and Alaska, but my favorite spot has got to be southeast Arizona. To me, the hummingbirds are what pushed Arizona to the top. There is nothing like sitting at an array of feeders watching 10 or more species of hummingbirds zipping around! I would have to say that Hawaii is the most exotic place that I have been birding. My wife and I went for our honeymoon, and I’m excited to go back in two years!

My all time favorite bird sighting involved a Kirtland’s Warbler at Magee Marsh in Northwest Ohio. It was the first day of an Indiana Audubon field trip that I was leading, and I had taken some group members over to another park because the amount of birds on the boardwalk at Magee was low. While out hiking at the other location, I received a phone call from another member of our group letting me know that there was a Kirtland’s on the beach trail at Magee. We got back as fast as we could and joined a huge group of birders that were attempting to relocate the bird. It didn't take long before the Kirtland’s was back in sight. As we stood there watching it, it seemed to be oblivious to our presence. It actually came so close, that at times, neither my wife or I could not get my camera to focus on the bird!

I just moved into my first house in September so I don’t have all that many yard birds yet. The best so far have been four warbler species, American Redstart, Black-throated Green Warbler, Palm Warbler, and Yellow-rumped Warbler.

I’m pretty much a Vortex/Eagle Optics guy. I have Eagle Optics Ranger ED 10x42 binoculars and a Vortex Razor HD 20-60x85 spotting scope. I also take a lot of photos with my Canon 50D and 100-400mm zoom lens. Since I lead a lot of hikes and field trips, I always carry a laser pointer to easily point out birds to the participants.

My primary birding list is kept electronically. I have a digital checklist that a friend of mine created that covers the AOU area. I also submit all of my sightings to eBird. I participate in eBird because I feel that it is a great way to keep track of all of your sightings while also contributing a significant amount of data for research purposes.

I think the best source of information on birds is in the Birds of North America from Cornell. I subscribe to their service and reference their material all of the time. I also enjoy reading Birding from the ABA. I have always used the Sibley Guide to Birds. I have the Eastern and Western versions as well the complete version that I like to call “the big Sibley”. It’s also had so much use that the spine of the book is covered with masking tape. It is the guide that I have always used so I am very comfortable with it and can pretty much flip to any species without having to use the index. I have also recently started to refer to the Crossley Guide. I find it to be an interesting book that allows you to get many different angles and perspectives on a species. The only birding app that I have right now is BirdsEye which uses sightings from eBird. I have a lot of fun looking over the sightings of rare and unusual birds, especially right before I go on a trip. I have so many awesome books that I refer to on a regular basis that is it tough to just pick out three to recommend. I think that many birders struggle with shorebird identification so my first recommendation would have to be The Shorebird Guide by O’Brien, Crossley, and Karlson. Another great reference for a tough group of birds is Gulls of the Americas by Howell and Dunn. The final book that I would recommend is not a reference guide but a story that is a must read for everybody not just birders. Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman is one of my favorite books of all time and the book I would most highly recommend to all birders!

I have a degree in marketing from Indiana University. I would consider myself very knowledgeable about all birds that typically occur in eastern North America. When you ask what future birding plans I have, my wife laughs, mostly because I’m always birding, whether it’s looking out in our yard, while I’m driving or walking outside, or at a local park. Most of the time, my binoculars aren't more than 10-15 feet away, and I find a way to go birding on all vacations. The only other definite plans that I have are trips to St. John in the US Virgin Islands, southern California, and northwest Ohio for warbler migration in 2012. I don’t have a nemesis bird right now, but my last one was a Clapper Rail. That bird took me forever to find!

I am very involved with the Indiana Audubon Society. I am the current Treasurer and will be the Vice President in 2012. Through the Indiana Audubon Society, I helped establish an Indiana Young Birders Club that has some really exciting plans for 2012! I run a website called with my brother Eric. Our goal is to build up the largest directory to birding sites in the United States and around the world. There is also a blog associated with the site where you can read all about our birding adventures and see photos we've taken.

My mission as a birder is to teach as many people about birds and birding as possible. I really enjoy introducing birding to as many people as I can, especially kids! Over the past few months, I've had the opportunity to speak in four different school districts in central Indiana, and I've recently made contact with a few others as well. I also do many other presentations and programs around Indiana to expose people to 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. Bring a group to the Oak Openings and let us know when you'll be here!

  2. Loved your profile, Rob! Especially the photo of you with that cute girl! ;-)

    So happy to be part of the same team with you on BiF!