Into The Air

The Official Blog of Backyard Chirper

Category: Interview

Interview with Birdorable: Amy & Arthur Give Some Insight Into the Site

Black-capped Chickadee from Birdorable

Since the first time I stumbled upon Birdorable, I was hooked. The site is filled with absolutely adorable renderings of birds, and I have spent hours and hours looking through the hundreds of birds at Birdorable.

I knew I had to learn more about the people behind this brilliant site, so I reached out to the creators of Birdorable, Amy & Arthur—a very charming married couple. They were kind enough to agree to an interview in which I asked them about their favorite birds, what inspired the site and more. Here’s what they had to say.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves, such as where you’re from, what you do for a living, etc.

Amy: I grew up in the Chicagoland area. When I met Arthur, he was living in the Netherlands. I moved overseas to live with him and we got married. We lived in Rotterdam and then Leiden for a total of over nine years. We moved back to the states in 2008. First we lived close to my family, in northern Illinois. Just last year we moved to the Orlando, Florida area.

Arthur: We are both self-employed. I am a freelance web designer and make websites for ourselves and small companies, as well as designs for our merchandise websites such as Birdorable.

Blue Jay from Birdorable

Amy: I like to say I’m an internet entrepreneur, because I work on so many different things. I create designs for t-shirts and novelties for several online shops, though Arthur does all of the illustrations for Birdorable.

I also work on marketing and handle customer relations for several websites we own. For Birdorable I write most of the text you see on the website and I create the products for sale via our production partners.

For those who aren’t familiar with Birdorable, could you explain what it is?

Arthur: Birdorable is a website with cute bird illustrations on t-shirts and novelty gift items for birders and bird lovers. The name is a combination of “bird” and “adorable.” I design different bird species in a cute cartoon style using each bird’s authentic coloring and features as much as possible. We currently have over 450 different species, from parrots to vultures.

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Interview with the Prairie Birder: A Young Blogger Offers Her Insight into Birding

Charlotte with a Burrowing Owl from the Beaverhills Bird Observatory, April 2012. (photo by Alexander Wasylik)

When I first started reading the amazing blog called Prairie Birder, I was instantly taken by the earnestness of the posts, the detailed and educational content, and the great insight offered by the author. That’s why when I found out it was written by a young 15-year-old girl, I was dumbfounded.

I knew I had to reach out to the intelligent young writer named Charlotte (aka the Prairie Birder) to learn more about her. Check out the interview below to find out more about this passionate young birder and what inspired her to start writing such a great blog.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am 15 years old and going into grade 10. I’ve been home schooled since grade 1, which gives me extra time for birding and reading and writing about birds. I live on a farm with my parents and two younger brothers near a small town in Alberta, Canada. We farm 640 acres, raise beef cattle, chickens, and grow grain such as wheat and barley; our farm has been certified organic since before I was born. I am very lucky to have diverse habitat around my house—woods, sloughs, grasslands, and an alkaline lake all within a five to ten minute walking distance, which makes for great birding.

I have always loved animals, on and off the farm, and in addition to helping look after our cattle and chickens (I sell eggs once a week in town), I have two horses and four rabbits. I’ve been an avid birder for about four years. I blog at Prairie Birder and recently started the Alberta Birds Facebook group.

When and how did you first become interested in birding?

I had always liked birds and I did know some of the common species around our part of Alberta, including Western Meadowlarks and Bald Eagles, but until about five years ago didn’t pay that much attention to them. I became more interested when lots of American Goldfinches visited our yard in the spring 2009, after my mother decided to put some nyjer feeders around the garden. The goldfinches were such fun to watch.

Later that summer, for my birthday, my parents gave me the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. The more I read about the different bird species, the more interested I became. And when I went to visit my grandparents in New York that fall, my grandfather gave me my first pair of binoculars, Nikon Monarchs, and I went on a birding walk through Central Park, which was lots of fun. The binoculars are great and I still use them all the time, and they help me think of my grandfather, who died two years ago.

A Blue-winged Warbler at the Long Point Bird Observatory, Ontario, August 2012. (photo by Charlotte Wasylik)

There are so many different species that the variety is endlessly amazing—so many different behaviors, songs, and plumage. And birds are always very entertaining. I find birds’ songs especially fascinating, maybe because I like to sing so much myself. I’m trying to learn most of the bird songs/calls in North America. After the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop, I have a new interest in birds’ plumage, and it’s so neat that you can sometimes tell the age and sex of a bird by their its patterns, wing length, and wear of its feathers.

I’ve learned a lot of interesting things from your blog, which is amazingly educational. What inspired you to create

In 2010, after my grandfather died, my family spent two and a half months on the small island of Nevis in the Caribbean, helping my grandmother sort through and fix up their retirement house. While we were there I was able to add many new species to my life list. I wrote down my sightings in a notebook but wanted a more permanent place for my observations and also a place to display my photos. My mom suggested I start a blog, and I thought that was a great idea! I try to post regularly with interesting content and about happenings in birding.

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Bird artist Chris Lodge intertwines his love of art and birds

by Chris Lodge

There’s something inherently beautiful about birds, whether it’s their colors, shapes, behaviors or all of the above. That’s why it’s not surprising that many artists try to capture and interpret their beauty through paintings, drawing and photography—including John James Audubon. I recently stumbled upon a British artist Chris Lodge whose oil paintings .

I reached out to Chris, who runs a Facebook page and website where he showcases and sells his work, to find out more about his love for art and birds. Here’s a Q&A with Chris.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, such as where you’re from, what you do for a living, etc.

I was born and grew up in Essex, UK. After I left school I began working for the RSPB, assisting with research projects into threatened birds throughout the UK. I have therefore been lucky enough to live and work in some beautiful and wild locations in Britain such as the Scottish Islands and the Lake District. I have also travelled more widely in recent years – my passion for birding taking me to every continent on the planet during the last decade. I have also lived for two years in Massachusetts, enjoying the fine birds to be found in that state!

Firstly, I’d like to just say your artwork is absolutely stunning. When did you first become interested in creating art?

I have always enjoyed art. As a boy this was mainly expressed in drawings of natural objects such as insects, birds and even animal skulls! I developed artistically during my teenage years, experimenting with different painting mediums and subjects.

Kestrel in Autumn Birch by Chris Lodge

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Two passionate high school birders create helpful birding site Two Birders and Binoculars

Acorn Woodpecker by John Mark Simmons

Sam Brunson and John Mark Simmons aren’t your average high school students.

While some teens might waste away their time, the two young birders have translated their passion for birding into a productive hobby that now includes managing a website they created called Two Birders and Binoculars.

Sam, a 16-years-old from Savannah, Ga., and John Mark, 15-year-old from Watkinsville, Ga., are cousins who have been birding for years. They have each participated on first place teams in the Georgia Youth Birding Competition.

I recently caught up with Sam and John Mark to ask them about how they became interested in birding, the vision of their website and why getting young people involved in birding is important.

Q&A with Sam and John Mark

When did you two first become interested in birding?

Sam: A few years ago, during the summer, my mom took myself and John Mark to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge and some other popular birding spots in Savannah. Ever since then, we have been avid birders and have done competitions, big days and led bird walks.

John Mark Simmons

In what ways have you fostered your love of birds and birding (painting, photography, traveling, etc.)?

Sam: Definitely through art. I have enjoyed painting and drawing birds for a long time. I have also recently been getting into photography.

John Mark: I have traveled to various places in the USA as well as out of the country to Costa Rica to bird, and I find it highly enjoyable and a great way to foster my love of birding.

I read that you two participated in the Youth Birding Competition. Describe how competitive birding is different than casual birding.

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Birding on a Budget: Birders Renee and Michael embark on a frugal Big Year

Renee and Michael. Photo by Allan Delesantro

For most people, the thought of traveling around the country to see as many birds as possible seems like an unfeasible and expensive feat best reserved for people with a lot of money and time. However, two passionate birders named Renee and Michael have turned that idea on its head.

Renee Rubin and Michael Delesantro, a retired couple who have been married 35 years, are currently doing a Big Year, but they’re doing it without spending the big bucks.

They’ve set themselves up with a reasonable budget of $10,000 (which includes gas, lodgings and fees for two). This budget is comparable to birder Kenn Kaufman’s frugal $1,000 budget for one person back in 1973.

The two had an interest in nature and birdwatching early in their relationship, but kids and work put all of that on hold. After they realized they hadn’t been to some of their favorite birding spots and couldn’t even remember seeing some of the birds on their life lists, they decided to embark on a Big Year.

Many hardcore birders with a lot of time and money plan for years in advance and can spend upwards of $60,000 for a single person. Because they didn’t have an excessive amount of money to spend and wanted to make this reasonable to everyday birders, they decided to go on a tight budget.

I contacted Renee and Michael, who run the blog Birding on a Budget about their adventures, via email because they’re busy traveling around the country to hear more about their story.

Here is a Q&A with them about the things they’ve learned, the most difficult part of a Big Year and advice for birders trying to do their own budgeted Big Year.

Q&A With Renee and Michael

You’ve already seen or heard nearly 600 birds this year, did you set any goals to how many birds you’d like to count?

Evening Grosbeak. Photo by Renee and Michael.

We decided to try to see at least 600 species, a number we consider to be a typical Life List goal for the “average” birder. Also, we stated that we would like to see “90% of the birds seen on a typical Big Year on only 20% of the cost.”

What’s one of the major things you’ve learned so far halfway through the year?

We have learned that there is so much more to learn! Michael was a more experienced birder and Renee more of a novice when we started but it didn’t take long for us to realize how much we didn’t know. We have increased our knowledge of birds and birding a great deal during the year. But we are still just scratching the surface of what there is to know!

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Punk rock birder Paul Riss tries to bust misconceptions of birdwatchers

Image by Derek Shapton

It is clear from the way he talks about the first time a black-capped chickadee landed on his hand or the way he recalls his trip to Point Pelee during the peak of migration that Paul Riss is a diehard birder. The only problem is you would never guess his love of birds from the way he looks.

His arms are covered in tattoos, his fashion carries a punk rock sensibility and he occasionally dons a mohawk. He is the opposite of what most people would consider the typical birder, and that’s something Riss embraces.

In fact, last year Riss set out to shatter the misconceptions about birders and make birding more accessible to young people by embarking on something he called the Punk Rock Big Year.

“My goal was to change the stereotype of what a birder is thought of—an old person with blue hair, a field vest and a tilley hat,” Riss said. “In the process, the reason I wanted to change the perception of birdwatchers evolved.”

Once he started thinking about the purpose of changing the stereotype, he began to think of his project as a way to encourage young people to get involved in birding by giving them someone they can relate to. It’s easier for young people to proudly proclaim themselves birdwatchers when someone like Riss is prominent in the community.

To be clear, Riss is not disparaging older birders who might fit some of the common stereotypes, but teenagers or children might have a harder time identifying with that image.

“Some of my mentors and great birder friends are that older lady with the tilley hat, and it’s not a bad thing,” he said. “But, if we want to make ourselves interesting to younger generations, we need to have that other side.”

To add some edge and intrigue to his effort, he decided to do a Big Year, which is an attempt to spot as many bird species as possible in one year, with a twist. Aside from going birding with a mohawk and really delving deep into the hobby, he decided he would also get the scientific name of every bird he saw tattooed on his body.

The final count was 234 species. Needless to say, the expensive endeavor will take some time and planning to complete.

“I have 15 of them on me now, so I have an idea of how much of my body this is going to take, and it’s a lot,” he said.

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Hand-feeding wild birds: Q&A with Jeff Jones

Jeff Jones hand-feeding a titmouse.

If feeding birds from a feeder is calming and relaxing, then feeding wild birds from your hand is zen.

For those who have experienced that sensation of a little bird landing on your arm and literally eating out of the palm of your hand, the feeling of being at one with birds and nature is at its highest.

However, the common assumption about hand-feeding wild birds is that it is difficult and takes far too long to achieve.

So, to learn more about it, I sought out someone who’s had success in hand-feeding birds: Jeff Jones. Jeff runs the great birding blog BirdOculars and wrote a post about how to hand feed wild birds quickly a while back.

Basically, you take down all your feeders, get some hulled peanuts, sit very still outside each day for about a half hour while sitting closer to the main feeder station every day. Eventually, a curious bird will become used to you and eat from your hand. For more details about how to do it, head to Jeff’s post or check out Hugh Wiberg’s book Hand-Feeding Backyard Birds: A Step-By-Step Guide.

Here’s my Q&A with Jeff Jones from BirdOculars.

What inspired you to learn how to hand-feed wild birds?

I’ve studied the behaviors of all of my backyard birds and enjoy their individual as well as species-level personalities. I just wanted to see if I could share something special with them.

Following the instructions you laid out on your site, how long did it take to get the first bird in your hand?

The first time I hand fed a bird I was working directly with the Wiberg method, which uses a little progress each weekend during the winter. It took me about a month before my first chickadee landed and took a seed.

Did you come up with the expedited method yourself or was it straight from Hugh Wiberg’s book?

The method I used for that post was my adaptation of methods including Wiberg’s. I just didn’t believe it had to take that long and I was correct. I give full credit to Hugh Wiberg for teaching me a framework to experiment with.

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Birding in Cities: Why urban dwellers shouldn’t be discouraged

Flowers under Brooklyn Bridge

Here's a picture I took proving there's nature in New York City.

Tucked away in the greenery of one of the busiest cities in the world, a small group of birders sets their sights on warblers, vireos, orioles, Monk parakeets and many other unique species.

Led by nature and bird enthusiast Rob Jett, these birders of New York City—home to about eight million people and the country’s tallest skyscrapers—see many species that birders in rural areas only dream about.

While some people assume birding in the city is not possible, they are completely wrong.

“Birds and animals can live in extraordinarily diverse environments,” said Rob Jett, who leads tours in New York City and runs the fantastic City Birder blog. “You can see them pretty much anywhere. You see them in the arctic, in city parks, in the desert.”

Under current estimates, about 250 million people live in or around cities in the U.S., which is around 80 percent of all Americans. This means more and more birders are finding themselves surrounded by concrete. But, where there is space, there are birds.

Organizations like the Los Angeles Audubon Society, Audubon Society of Portland, Dallas Birding Society and other local birding groups in cities help educate, build interest and guide birders in the city to prime spots. It’s also possible for youngsters to learn and foster an interest in birding while in cities.

New York birder Jett grew up in the city and developed an interest in nature early on. He said he recalled going hiking with his dad, looking closely at birds, getting binoculars and following hawks around. His passion eventually led him to make birding friends, join the Brooklyn Bird Club and lead tours around Greenwood Cemetery and other New York destinations.

Black Phoebe on Power Line

Here's a Black Phoebe I spotted on a power line in Los Angeles.

What makes birding so unique in cities is that each city has its own hotspots and purpose for birds. For example, New York is located on the Atlantic Flyway where many species travel north and south during migration. You also get some interesting birds in Seattle, Chicago, Houston and Phoenix.

Even though birding in cities is possible, it can be different than birding in rural areas.

Sometimes, Jett said, you have to work harder to find birds in urban centers whereas birding in places like South America is more effortless. By having to work a little harder to find prime birding locations and different species, you learn to appreciate them more.

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Birding blogger Laurence Butler shares his experiences and tips for beginners

When your interest in birds reaches that exciting next level, the only thing you probably want to do is go birding whenever you can. However, when you’re beginning to bird for the first time, it can be pretty overwhelming if you don’t know what to do or how to get started.

So, I recently reached out to burgeoning birder Laurence Butler, who runs a truly amazing blog called Butlers Birds and Things, to find out more about how he became involved in birding and what tips he has for beginning birders. Here’s our exchange, which consists of fantastic stories, helpful advice and great pictures by Laurence. Also, don’t forget to check out his blog after you’re done!

1. Before we delve into things, first start off by telling me a little about yourself.

I’ve been birding off and on for about 10 years now, but have become increasingly attached to the pastime since 2010. I got married last June and am very lucky to enjoy the support and encouragement of my wife. Unfortunately, I often have to spend my non-birding and/or non-being-with-my-wife time working. Fortunately I like my job pretty well. I grew up in Phoenix and went to college in Texas, but now I am back and teaching 4th grade. Only in the last couple of years have I realized what a gem Arizona is for birders. With so many different habitats and migrations routes intersecting, it really is a wonderful place to be as a bird enthusiast.

2. How did you first become interested in birding?

It wasn’t exactly my choice to become interested in birding. Or at least, I had more than a passing push in that direction. My dad has been a birder for a long time. Working as a pilot for Southwest Airlines, he had lots of great opportunities to see birds all across the country. When we’d go on vacations, he was always looking for birds, and I often tried to help. When I was much younger, I was more preoccupied with finding bugs and reptiles—things you could chase and grab and keep in a terrarium at home—but over time my appreciation for birds grew. When I was living in Texas, another great state for birds, it became a very calming, peaceful way to break from the pressures of school. My wife got me a camera for an engagement present, and that has doomed me to follow the birds ever since. I only started keeping a list of my sightings and recording them online more recently, but all of that only increases the enjoyment and attachment to the simple and incredibly rewarding world of birding.

3. Once you knew you wanted to get more involved in birding, where did you start (i.e. just going outdoors, reading about birds, meeting other people, etc.)?

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