Monday, October 13, 2014

Count Interpreter... What's That??

The answer to the question posed as the title of this post is quite simple, but also misleading. My job as the Count Interpreter at Hawk Ridge is not to count birds, as that is the job of the counters, but to interpret them. Interpreting is an interesting piece in and of itself. What do I say about birds? What is useful to know? When can I stop talking about Sharp-shinned Hawks? 

Northern Shrike - Clinton Nienhaus
Generally, my approach is to address the bird as I see it and as the viewers up on the Ridge see it. I take the bird and break it down to what it is and why it is. Sometimes the birds are cooperative and I can call out marks A, B, and C of a Sharp-shinned Hawk or of a Red-tailed Hawk, but other times the birds are not. They  sneak out of view and I am cut-off, hoping for another flyby and nice view for the folks up on the ridge. I often consider that most of the folks I have been in contact with up on the Ridge do not have the ready access to sharpies as we do in the north woods. In the Twin Cities for example, there are no breeding sharpies, instead they are replaced by Cooper's Hawks. So for me, a bird that is dime-a-dozen may be out of the ordinary for other folks. Knowing this makes my interpreting of hundreds of sharpies a day, not monotonous, but valuable!

Birds are the main reason people come up to the Ridge, but for me, the people that come up to the Ridge are just as interesting. I hope that through conversations I can cater my interpretation of the birds overhead to their knowledge level or interest. But more frequently, I hope that there are good birds flying to give people a life bird, or a special memory of their time at Hawk Ridge.

On 10/9 we had a Golden Eagle fly over. He (or she) was very high in the sky and was in view for seemingly minutes. I did my shtick of describing the bird as it was flying, being sure to note the flight shape and characteristics versus the far more common Bald Eagle. After a while I ran out of things to say and just sat back to watch the bird soar very high in the sky and ultimately out of sight.  A couple hours passed and an older fellow, who seemed to me to be a lifelong birder, passed by me on his way out and mentioned, very wild eyed and reverent, that the golden eagle that had flown over was the first he had ever seen. I can still picture his expression of pure contentment with his experience. I know that it did not matter what I had said about that bird, for him, it was the bird itself.
Sometimes, interpretation is not saying anything. Just pointing out a bird for people to see. To enjoy. To marvel at its mastery of flight. I hope that I can point out those things and help foster that sense of appreciation and awe in birds. And, I guess if someone takes an ID point or two away that is equally as valuable.   
Clinton Nienhaus
Hawk Ridge Count Interpreter

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