Blog-erview with Kevin T. Karlson
Kevin began sharing his knowledge with me soon after I joined WildBird in 1998. In addition to running Jaeger Tours and giving presentations for clubs and festivals, he writes the Birder's I.D. department in each issue of the magazine, offers feedback as an Advisory Board member, helps with technical details beyond my ken and participated in the three Birder of the Year trips in Cape May, N.J. If I don't see Kevin during a Cape May visit, then the visit seems vaguely incomplete. (As always, click on an image for a larger version.)
Below are Kevin's very complete responses to various questions. Enjoy!
Did a specific event/species encourage you to start birding?
My friend Bob Perna took my wife, Dale, and me to Sandy Hook, N.J., to look at birds for the first time in 1978. We laughed at the silly names that he was calling out: Rufous-sided Towhee, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow-breasted Chat. We couldn’t imagine doing this on a regular basis, since the bird names sounded so comical to us.
Little did we realize that every vacation for the next 27 years would be spent looking at and photographing birds (a recent trip to southern Utah without any birding agenda broke this streak). A subsequent trip to Everglades National Park in the winter of 1978 sealed my fate. I bought my first telephoto lens soon after that and have devoted much of my life to the study and enjoyment of birds.
When did you begin photographing birds?
I started photographing birds with a small camera in 1978 at Everglades National Park and bought my first telephoto lens the next year. I have never looked back, and today’s digital revolution has brought new excitement to bird photography, with incredible action and motion photos possible due to new and improved technology, both in the camera and with digital imaging.
How do you feel about rubber ducks?
Don’t leave home without one! I never do.
Where do you like to bird most often?
The Texas Coast in spring. The migration possibilities are endless, and there is rarely a dull moment. Shorebirds, songbirds, herons and egrets, gulls and terns, and the occasional raptor help to make the upper Texas Coast in spring one of the greatest migratory locations in the world.
Which species is your nemesis, the one that repeatedly eludes you?
Swallow-tailed Kite in New Jersey. I have missed this bird numerous times (once by 20 seconds in 1989) and continue to have bad luck finding or chasing someone else’s sighting.
New Jersey is the only bird list that I keep, although I must admit that it used to mean a lot more to me than it does today. I have about 403 birds on my New Jersey list, but I don’t get upset anymore when I miss a potential new bird. I used to get totally bent out of shape when I missed a new bird in the state and would sulk about it for days. Now every bird is special (except European Starlings and grackles), and I can find joy just birding in my backyard and watching birds that are called "common" by others.
What is your favorite piece of photographic equipment at home and on the road?
My Canon 600mm lens. The image stabilization and predictive auto-focus capabilities of this lens combined with digital technology have enabled me to take numerous action and motion photos, like this Cooper's Hawk, that were only a dream in the days of slow shutter speeds and film.
Describe your dream birding trip: who, where, when, why, how long, which species.
I don’t really have any dreams about birding trips, since I have had so many wonderful opportunities traveling the world and seeing many spectacular birds and birding locations. If I had to choose a dream trip, however, it would be going to Australia for six months during our winter with Dale, renting or buying a sleep-capable vehicle and traveling all over the country. All the birds would be special, especially cockatiels and others in the parrot/parakeet family. I choose Australia because it is a friendly nation with a tremendous variety of habitats and wonderful scenery.
Who is your photographic mentor?
I didn’t have one, but I did start shooting with Arthur Morris and Robert Villani back in 1981, and we shared experiences and tips together for many years. Rob is now a doctor, but Artie and I still talk via e-mail on a regular basis, and he continues to share his knowledge with everyone, including me.
Are you a Wawa fan?
Big Time! Especially the custom hoagies when traveling on the road, and the 44-oz. Powerade drinks in brutally hot weather for $1.25.
Where do you most like to shoot?
Everywhere I go seems to offer wonderful opportunities, but Bolivar Flats and High Island in Texas and my home turf near Cape May are two of my favorites. Shorebirds, herons and egrets are the Texas specialties, while raptors and shorebirds keep me busy in Cape May.
How do you encourage the next generation of birders?
I encourage all birders, old and new, to share their enthusiasm and knowledge of birds with others, without looking for rewards or retribution. Birding is a wonderful way to enjoy nature, and birds are some of the most visible parts of our natural world.
I have been sharing an exciting approach to identifying birds called “birding by impression.” This approach allows everyone to use basic impressions of size, shape and behavior as the most important initial factors to note in the field, with common sense and keen eyes the most important elements needed.
I urge the elimination of competitiveness in birding circles, except for a lighthearted, friendly contest like the World Series of Birding every now and then. There is nothing to gain by demeaning the abilities of another birder and everything to gain by sharing your knowledge and birding tips with others.
I particularly like teaching and sharing my knowledge with beginning birders, since I get to experience again the unbridled enthusiasm and excitement that emanates from new birders who see a beautiful bird for the first time. I still get excited while birding, but it does not compare to the exuberance and anticipation of the early years.