Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Birder Profile: Scott Simmons

Scott Simmons
Winter Park, Florida
I’ve been fascinated with birds for as long as I can remember, and occasionally I would go birding with my father as a kid. I did not become a serious birder, though, until a little over 3 years ago. I had become very interested in nature photography, and several of my friends I photographed with were also birders. So I gradually became more interested in wildlife and bird photography. I blame the egrets and herons for this, almost entirely. They’re so graceful, and they’re extremely fun to watch, especially when they catch their prey. When I was given a long lens, I began to devote more and more time to photographing birds. 

In general, I go birding at least once per week. Saturday mornings are generally birding days, though on occasion I’ll have an opportunity to put in an hour before or after work. I bird throughout Central Florida on a regular basis, and my favorite place is Orlando Wetlands Park, followed by Merritt Island and Viera Wetlands. I haven’t been any place especially exotic—perhaps Merritt Island NWR, but that’s really no big deal if you live here. 

I’m somewhere between a "watcher" and a "lister" as I have goals of seeing certain birds throughout the year. But really I’m a photographer that loves birding. I enjoy their beauty as well as watching and understanding their behavior. And my hope is to come back with photos. 

I suppose I’m somewhat unconventional in that I don’t use binoculars. I have a fairly decent pair, but I don’t think they give me much of an advantage over my camera. I photograph with a Canon 40D with a 400mm f/5.6L lens. On sunny days I have it on a sling, allowing me to quickly move it to my eye to focus on a bird. On cloudy days, I have it on a tripod, which slows me down, but I've become used to it. 

I record all my observations on eBird. I do this for two reasons: 1) it helps me keep track of what I've seen where so that I can remember to back to various places throughout the year and 2) it helps the Cornell Lab of Ornithology track bird migrations, population, etc. 

It’s hard to narrow it down to one favorite bird sighting - pretty much any quality sighting of a new bird is going to be up there on my list. My favorite yard bird is the White-Breasted Nuthatch. Here are a few: 

1. In Nov. 2011 I was able to watch an American Bittern at Viera Wetlands for about 10 minutes before he flew away. Finding him in the grass and then being able to watch him sneak around was a lot of fun. On the same day I was able to photograph a Loggerhead Shrike capture and consume a grasshopper, complete with impaling it on a barbed wire fence. It sounds gruesome to say that I enjoyed watching it, but I did.

2. In Nov. 2009 I was at Conowingo Dam in MD, and I watched an immature Bald Eagle catch a fish, and then two more chased it. The first eagle dropped the fish to avoid the fight and another one caught it in the air. 

3. In May 2011 I was able to watch a Reddish Egret search for food. The lighting was just right to catch the reflections of his wings in the water as he spread them out 

I use the iBird app for Android in the field frequently. At home, or if I’m shooting from the car I keep Sibley’s Guide handy at all times. I’m neurotic about books, and I hate crinkled pages, so I don’t want to bring my field guides out with me on a hot, sweaty Florida morning. The iBird app allows me to get the help I need. 

No formal birding education. Everything I know I learned from experience, websites, books and fellow birders. I don’t think I’m a true “expert” in any family of birds, though I think it fair to say that I’m proficient in the Ardeidae (Herons/Egrets, Bitterns) family of birds. I’ve seen all that you should be able to see regularly in the U.S., and I’m familiar with their various looks and behaviors. I still haven’t seen a white morph Reddish Egret, but I hope to remedy that soon. 

I've lived in Central Florida only for about a year and a half, so I’m still learning about where I currently live. My desire is to learn about the best birding locations in Central Florida. I want to know where to go at which times of the year to see most of the birds that come through my area. And when I go “home” to Baltimore for holidays and vacations, I’d like to continue to see new places there. 

I’m a fan of the Orange Audubon Society in Orange County, FL, and I've attended a few of their walks at Mead Gardens. 

My current nemesis bird? The Grey Kingbird. He seems to elude me every time I go to find him. If I were a bird, which species would I be? I love fish, and I think I’d want to be at or near the top of the food chain, so I think I’d be an Osprey.

I’m married with three kids, and so far I've convinced none of them to be birders with me. But I have hope for my 6 year-old daughter. She tells me she loves Bald Eagles, baby bluebirds (any cute bird that’s blue will do) and woodpeckers, and she runs to find me every time she sees a cardinal in my back yard. I’m a big fan of photography (obviously), but also music, in particular Jazz and Folk music.

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. Thanks! That was one of my favorite birding moments.

  2. Amazing photos! I especially like the shrike and eagles. It was enjoyable to read your birder profile.

  3. Amazing photography. I'm so glad to hear that you eBird. I became a better and more obsessive birder once I started eBirding. Good luck with your daughter. I hope she takes after her dad!

  4. Great profile , fantastic photography


  5. I'm new to Florida and I have been enjoying your blog very much, Scott. It is good to learn some more about you in this interesting profile. That Bald Eagle photo is really amazing, wow! :)

  6. Great pics. We saw quite a few Grey Kingbirds when we visited the Keys last May.