Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Blog-erview with Noah Strycker

My first awareness of Noah Strycker came in 2002 from an unsolicited manuscript about postage stamps bearing avian images. The well-written and entertaining article impressed me, and when I learned the writer's age -- 16 -- I was floored.

Fast-forward three years, when I wanted to add a column to WildBird. Noah immediately came to mind because of his enthusiasm for and knowledge of birding, artistic abilities, writing skill, age and professionalism. He's an excellent ambassador for the younger generation of birders.

Now a college senior, Noah remains a valuable contributor to the magazine, always sending the "Birdboy" columns early and complete. He'll become even more of an asset to the birding community after he finishes school. Keep your eye on this fellow.

Did a specific event/species encourage you to start birding?
I credit a fifth-grade teacher as my spark; she’d stop teaching every time a new bird showed up on our classroom window-mounted bird feeder. I’ve always paid attention to the birds around our family’s 20-acre country home, put up birdhouses and identified yard birds. It’s been a gradual addiction.

What’s your most unusual experience while doing field research?
I ate a Baird’s Trogon, Three-wattled Bellbird and Mealy Amazon (Parrot) while doing field work in central Panama. A collecting expedition in the area was skinning bird specimens and just throwing away the meat. Of the three, the parrot was quite palatable, followed by the trogon—a deliciously threatened species—and lastly the bellbird, which had to be gagged down.

Do you have a nemesis bird, and if so, which species?
Yes. LeConte’s Thrasher. Enough said.

How many taxidermy mounts have you completed?
Three: a ragged female California Quail and two European Starlings. After completing a workshop with noted bird taxidermist Stefan Savides last fall, I’ve got the process down. I need more practice, though, and some specialized tools to do it at home: a fleshing wheel and a skin-drying tumbler, for starters (I’ve already got a washing machine, which can dry soggy birds on “spin” cycle).

I have a good stock of European Starlings in my freezer to practice on, since they don’t require any special permits. Just be careful what you grab if you’re looking for dinner.

What is your most hilarious incident as a birder?
Turkey Vultures are incredibly secretive despite their abundance. I once decided to bait them to my backyard photography blind. After a couple months of searching, I discovered a road-killed deer several miles from home.

It was the height of summer and the body had been baking on the pavement for some time; yellowjackets and flies buzzed around the rotting meat, unmentionable juices oozed, semis whizzed by, and gases escaped from every opening as I shifted the bloated corpse into a Hefty bag in my trunk. I nearly fainted as I gagged all the way home, my head out the driver’s window.

After hauling the deer out to a field, I set up my blind next to it and spent the next two days waiting for the birds. I can still smell that stench: rotten to us, a feast for vultures.

Are you pursuing a career related to birding?
Yep, I plan to graduate from Oregon State University in June 2008, then we’ll see where life takes me. There are so many places I want to see; I plan to spend some time traveling and working different field jobs.

I have two continents left to visit (Antarctica and Africa). Graduate school; magazine and publishing work; interpreting birds on a general scale, especially bridging the gap between science and a broader audience; anything is possible!

How do you feel about rubber ducks?
I have a tennis-playing rubber duckie on the bathtub rim. It is quite photogenic.

Who do you consider your birding mentors?
Local birders of the Eugene, Ore., Southern Willamette Ornithological Club showed me birding beyond my back yard. It really helped to have others take an interest in me as a younger birder. High-profile birders write the field guides, but someone else has to interpret them on a personal level to grow the sport.

Tell me about your dream birding trip: where, what species, when, who, how long…
I’d get together a band of fanatical young birders and attack one of Earth’s birdiest regions: the Neotropics, southeast Asia, central Africa. With a group of 25-year-olds sleeping four hours a night, moving every day, unafraid of brutal conditions and terrain, birding with the latest technology and information, pooling resources and talking up the locals, the target birds wouldn’t stand a chance. Nothing could slow us down.

How do you encourage the next generation of birders?
Maybe birding will never be “cool,” but at least I want to help give it some respect. On a personal level, I can be a normal college student and a birder at the same time, even if sometimes those are two separate lives; when they cross, birding benefits.

I hope that through my writing, such as the “Birdboy” column in WildBird, I convey the adventure, energy and excitement of birding to the next generation of birders. In the field, even a few words and honest attention to a young birder does wonders. They’re kind of a rare species.

When will you change from Birdboy to Birdman?
If the Beach Boys and Spice Girls can stay young forever, so can Birdboy.

Describe your worst birding experience.
I’m not bothered by much in the forest, but insects annoy me. My standards were reset, though, when I hit a “tick bomb” in a lowland Central American rainforest.

Hundreds, or maybe thousands, of tiny ticks gathered on a single strand of grass, and I stepped through it. It took me the rest of the afternoon with sections of duct tape to remove them from pants and shirt by the dozen, and another week to stop inspecting every itchy spot. I renamed my tweezers the “tick pick” and vowed never to complain about mosquitoes again.

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