Words on Words: An interview with a birder

6 mins read

 Today we are featuring an interview with author Allison Wells. First though I want to let everyone know about a fabulous new Maine Memory Network online exhibit, We Use to Be “Normal” A History of Farmington State Normal School. This exhibit was produced by UMF’s Mantor Library and is filled with fascinating information and period photo albums. One particular worth noting is Liz: A Normal Girl, 1917-1918 features 32 remarkable photos from an album discovered in the University archives. No one knows Liz’s last name. The charming quotes accompanying the photos are the actual captions written by Liz. That’s her with her aunt Prudy to the right. Her caption reads “Aunt Prudy came up 3 weeks before graduation & we tried to have her enjoy herself.” Delightful!

All right then. Allison and Jeffrey Wells, authors of Maine’s Favorite Birds, will be coming to Farmington on June 9 to lead a birding walk (9:00 from the West Farmington Trail Head of The Whistle Stop Trail ) followed by a presentation and signing at the book store. We caught up with Allison and demanded that she answer some hard hitting questions about birding for us!

Kenny: Suppose Maine’s State Bird, the Chickadee, was involved in some kind of lurid scandal. Which avian species would you choose as the new State Bird?

Allison: Common Loon would be a good contender – a bird everyone knows and loves, and making them the state bird would let people know that these much-loved birds aren’t just fair-weather friends that here for the summer; they’re tough enough to stay in the winter, too. Look for them along the coast in their winter duds, which we describe in the book.

Kenny: What are the three most important qualities a birder possesses?

Allison: Patience, passion, and pun-ability.

Patience, because it can take a lot of it when you’re looking for a particular species, or to pick thoroughly through a flock of warblers flitting about high in a leafed-out tree. Passion, because without it, it can be hard to have patience. Pun-ability, because, unexplainably, this seems to go with the territory. Most of our birding friends love a good birding pun, and if we can get a riff going, all the better. And I don’t mean just bird-related puns. Our friend and “modern-day Roger Tory Peterson” Kenn Kaufman randomly posted to his Facebook wall not long ago, “If members of a music group are all gaining weight, could you say they are expanding their bandwidth?” He promptly received 65 “Likes” and 33 comments, including some great puns, like one about “heavy metal” bands and another about the “big band era.” I guess we find it a good way to entertain ourselves if we’re doing anything less exciting than birding, which is anything but birding.

Kenny: Do birders think hikers are shallow?

Allison: Well, I know you’re a hiker, so let me ask you this: If a bird sings in a forest but no birders, only hikers, are there to hear it, does it really sing?

Kenny: Absolutely! Hmmn I hope I haven’t given away the answer ot that old “If a tree falls” question. Okay, so what is the most awkward or humorous personal birding anecdote you are willing to share with us.

Allison: Wow. I could go on and on here. One of my favorites is one Jeff tells about how when he was a youngster he want out birding with the local Audubon group. Eager to impress this experienced bunch, he excitedly pointed out an owl with its ear tufts silhouetted against the evening sky on a little hill. The owl turned out to be a cat. So much for the young hotshot birder!

Then there’s the one from our honeymoon. We went to Monhegan Island and on the way out, there was a big, slow-rolling sea. About halfway across, we started spotting shearwaters and other pelagic birds. I was excitedly calling them out and yammering to Jeff for I don’t know how long before I realized he was bent over the rail “chumming” a blueberry muffin he’d had for breakfast.

Kenny: What are your all time favorite birding books?

Allison: Quickly, top-of-mind:

Peterson’s original eastern field guide – to this day, an outstanding resource among many superb guides.

Kenn Kaufman’s “Kingbird Highway” – edge-of-your-seat adventure of the birding kind.

“The Big Year” – we read this long before it became a major motion picture. Read it and you won’t have to ask what drew Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black to want to star in the movie version.

“The Verb to Bird” – a quirky read that I like to call the “Tristram Shandy” of bird books

Wild America, by Peterson and Fisher – the first and original Big Year

Kenny: Thanks Allison we’re looking forward to seeing you on the 9th!

Allison: Thanks for having us – we’re looking forward to it, too!

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