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The Hipster Birders Talk About Their Love of Birds and Ways You Can Become a Birder

The sheer amount of birding blogs on the web makes it impossible to regularly keep up with every site. While pretty much every birding blog is quite interesting, I can only frequent a few blogs. Needless to say, the Hipster Birders blog is one of them.

The site, which is run by two amazingly kind and interesting people (Maureen and Nick), features great personal posts on their interactions with birds and nature in general. So I reached out to them to learn more about their backstory, how the blog came about and ways to encourage more young people to bird. Here’s our interview.

First tell us a little bit about yourselves (where you live, what you do for a living, etc.).

Nick is originally from upstate New York, and Maureen is from around Houston, TX. This yankee and southern girl met in South Florida, which is where we attended graduate school. We currently live in Savannah, GA after moving about a year ago after Nick got a full-time job here, and now we both have staff jobs in higher education at local colleges. We both have a strong interest in the sciences, especially the natural sciences. Whenever we’re out birding in the field, we try to learn more about the other things we see, such as trees, plants, insects, and even fungus! We love trying new things, traveling, watching old movies, and learning about Savannah’s local history. Maureen loves to cook, and Nick loves being the well-fed guinea pig. Oh, and did I mention we got engaged just this October?! =)

You two have been birding since 2008. How did your interest in birds come about?

Nick: It came about indirectly, after a more general attempt to get some familiarity of what was around us. South Florida is a special place, and even for two people who had spent most of their lives not really paying attention to local ecology, we were struck by some of the amazing things we were seeing. Mostly because we’d been snorkeling and wanted to identify some of the tropical-looking fish in the area, we bought a general-use Audubon field guide covering everything from fish to insects to plants, and everything in between. We didn’t use it systematically at first, but would use it to look up whatever caught our eyes. That all changed with one fateful trip to take out the trash.

Tricolored Heron. Photo by Maureen Leong-Kee
Tricolored Heron. Photo by Maureen Leong-Kee

Our apartment was in a complex with lots of manmade ponds, and one day I happened to notice a Great Blue Heron sitting along the shore of one right outside from us. I grabbed the guide and started identifying all of the other wading birds around the pond: Great Egret, Green Heron, Little Blue Heron. I thought it was incredible that these birds were all herons, yet different, and all right THERE! Maureen had just gotten her first DSLR camera around that time, and for my birthday, which was right around the corner, Maureen got me my first pair of binoculars and a dedicated birding field guide. I suppose that was when we first became birders, and once you turn on that part of your brain there’s just no turning it off.

Some people reading this love birds, but haven’t taken the leap to becoming full-fledged birders. Based on your experiences immersing yourself in birding, what’s a good jumping point for people who want to become more involved in the birding community?

Maureen: I think it’s really about just getting out there! You don’t need a lot of money to be a birder. You can make do with hardly spending any money. You can start off with just a decent pair of binoculars and a good field guide, and you’re set! No matter where you live, there’s bound to be a park, pond, or even just a patch of trees to explore and try to figure out what’s around you. That’s really how Nick and I started, and we slowly started investing more in our equipment and books.

Photography also is a great way to get into birding. I was fortunate to have a digital SLR camera which helped us take pictures of birds and then identify them. With technology improving all the time, you can get a pretty good camera with great zoom for a reasonable amount, or just use what you have or even your smartphone to start taking pics. It can really become a fun game of chasing (without being overly invasive) birds and trying to figure out what they are. As for getting in touch with the birding community, most likely there is an Audubon Society chapter near you that you can contact and get on their email list so you know about field trips (which are mostly free). This is where you can meet a lot of great birders or new ones who are also wanting to learn more. Birders are overall extremely nice people who are not only always willing to share information, but who actually give it out openly without being asked because they assume you’re just as interested in and excited about that great bird they just saw.

Florida Scrub Jay. Photo by Maureen Leong-Kee
Florida Scrub Jay. Photo by Maureen Leong-Kee

I imagine having another person who was just embarking on a love for birds really helped in that transition in learning about birds. Do you recommend finding a birding buddy?

Nick: It was hugely important early on, and became more so as we’ve developed as birders. Firstly, a second pair of eyes is no small thing when you’re scanning the whole wide woods for a tiny feathered object. But more than that, we’ve motivated each other to learn more, to get up before sunrise on the weekends, and to incorporate birds and birding into more and more aspects of our lives. It also allows for specialization, such that Maureen is stronger with birdsong, where I might have a slight edge in field marks – together we’re the perfect birder!

Birding has become such a huge part of who we are as individuals and as a couple that I can’t imagine not having Maureen to share these incredible experiences with. It seems that all of our vacations over the past several years have been planned around birds, and more recently we’ve been looking for the perfect honeymoon destination… and by perfect I mean birdiest. Plus, a great bird is always cause for a high-five now and a celebratory beer later on. There’s no one I’d rather share those with than Maureen.

In what ways have you two personally integrated yourselves into the world of birds? For example, I know Maureen work(ed?) as a Naturalist at a state park and Wild Birds Unlimited.

Maureen: When Nick and I first moved to Savannah, I quit my job and took my time looking for another full-time job. But I was fortunate to work as a part-time naturalist at a local state park this past summer. It was an incredibly fun job and I really enjoyed it, but financially it wasn’t something that would sustain us. But as a naturalist, I was forced (in a good way) to learn about the local area, its natural and political history, and the flora and fauna. I was able to incorporate my love of birds and birding by creating and leading programs for the public, such as bird watches at the nature center’s bird feeders and guided bird walks. I was especially proud of the birding-based programs I made for kids for our summer camp. They seemed to really enjoy it, and I like to think that they learned a little and maybe even took that with them and continued to take notice of the birds around them.

Eastern Meadowlark. Photo by Maureen Leong-Kee
Eastern Meadowlark. Photo by Maureen Leong-Kee

To supplement my naturalist income, I also worked part-time at our local Wild Birds Unlimited store. There, I got to interact with other bird lovers. Surprisingly, a lot of them weren’t full-on birders, but they did love looking at their pretty birds at their feeders, and they especially loved watching a mating pair raise their young ones in a bird house they provided. I was so tickled to see people come in tirelessly week after week during nesting season buying bags and bags of fresh mealworms to help mama and papa birds feed their little ones.

Nick and I have also been able to integrate our lives with the world of birds by being leaders on numerous field trips, both voluntarily for our local Audubon Society as well as paid for a local eco-tourism company. We used to volunteer regularly at a nature center back in Florida, and from time to time we have helped out with ones in the Savannah area. As you may have been able to tell thus far, Nick and I really incorporate birding in just about everything we do. It’s really a part of us now, and we try to share it as much as we can with anyone who is willing to listen and learn more.

What was the motivation behind starting your really great blog, Hipster Birders?

Maureen: I used to share pictures a lot on flickr. Nick and I would be so excited about our sightings that we just wanted to share it with the birding community – around the country, and even around the world. But we had so many fun stories to go along with our pictures we felt blogging would be the best way to express our excitement and adventures. It can be a lonely world as birders if you just keep to yourself, but blogging has allowed us to reach out to a wide audience and has allowed us to connect with a number of others who are just as enthusiastic about birding. I can’t ever stress enough how great the birding community is. It almost feels like we’re this secret, underground society, except that everyone is welcome and encouraged to join, it just takes that first step of curiosity and willingness to come to the bird side 😉

Wood Stork
Wood Stork. Photo by Maureen Leong-Kee

Birding tends to be pigeonholed by many as a hobby for—how should I say this—people of advanced age. What are some obstacles birding must overcome to attract more young people?

Nick: That particular stereotype has more than a grain of truth to it, although there are myriad exceptions, particularly in the blogosphere. On the one hand, it’s a self-perpetuating problem, because young people who turn up to Audubon meetings could lose their initial interest unless there are other young birders to help bring them into the fold (although finding someone more experienced to mentor you is invaluable, and I would encourage older birders to engage the younger ones whenever they have the chance).

My advice to young birders is, don’t keep your birding to yourselves: point birds out when you see them. When we’re with friends, camping, picnicking, or even just walking down the street, we’ll note some of the more charismatic species and stop to admire them. It might not set off any alarm bells for them, but looking back on our pre-birding days it’s hard to believe how easy it was for us to NOT SEE birds, even though they’re literally all around. If you can get someone to notice something that they otherwise would have missed, I think you’ve taken a stride in the right direction.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that you think is important?

We’d just like to thank you for the opportunity to introduce ourselves to your readers, and thank our old readers for sticking with us! Our blogging may have fallen off a bit since we’ve both started working full-time, but the passion is still there, and we remain as keen as ever to share our experiences and connect with people who care as deeply for birds as we do!

For more great stories and writing from Nick and Maureen, check out the Hipster Birders.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

1 Comment

  1. I watch birds on my prairie walks and also live on a lake. This year we had an event. Thousands of geese had a late migration and stayed in front of our house for two weeks and through our first blizzard. I too lots of pics on Wonder Wanderings fb or blog and have a film on fb–Shorewood Castle–of how loud they were. Incredible. I’ll enjoy keeping up with the fantastic bird friends your document.

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