“At8 months old” my mother wrote in my baby book, “she is fascinated with dirt.” So began my lifelong love affair with the outdoors.

 




Young American robins.

At age 4, I remember lying in a sleeping bag in my grandmother’s attic listening to the eerie calls of loons and the hooting of owls. As I grew up, my interest in birds became stronger. When I was old enough to earn an allowance, I saved my coins and my first purchase was Birds of North America. I poured over the pages committing each species to memory. Any family outing or Sunday drive became an opportunity to view some of the birds I had seen in the book.

 

In my early twenties, spring break became a road trip to some state wildlife area or national wildlife refuge in search of animals and birds. When I wasn’t out looking for birds, I read about them.

 

After exhausting all the biology classes at the local college, I participated in an Ornithology class from Cornell Lab. Following a move from western Washington to the east side, I met up with a community college professor also passionate about birds. An argument ensued about my identifying a purple finch and Cassin’s finch at the same location. Purple finches were expected to be a west-side species. 

 

The only way to settle the discussion was to set up a mist net. We caught hundreds of purple finches and Cassin’s finches. The data was published in the bird bander’s publication, and it caught the attention of the author of the species account for Cassin’s finches. He included some of the statistics I gathered from banding the finches in the Birds of North America. This was just more fuel for my bird passion. When the mist nets are up, any species is prone to be trapped; as a result I banded 1300 pine siskins, families of western tanagers, chickadees, Steller's jays, juncos, and others typical of the habitat. 

 

Another species of national interest was the red crossbills. Scientists have long argued as to way the mandible of some individuals cross to the right and others to left. After a few years of banding these birds, I collected the data and spoke with the nation’s authority on crossbills, Craig Benkman. He included my data in his research. I remember standing by the net one morning, the first bird of the day was a black-capped chickadee. I remember holding that tiny creature thinking perhaps my efforts in banding would do this species and others some good.

 

During my day job at a chamber of commerce for a mountain tourist town, I leveraged my interest and knowledge in enticing people to visit and share in the bird watching opportunities. I worked closely with the National Audubon Society to create the first Great Washington State Birding Trail located in eastern Washington.

 

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