Tom Johnson: The future of birding

Once you meet Tom it becomes clear that he is one of those birders who is destined to push forward the field of ornithology. Tom cut his teeth birding in his hometown of Hummelstown Pennsylvania, went on to graduate from Cornell University where he worked in the famed Lab of Ornithology, and continues to conduct research on birds across the US and abroad. Between his undergraduate work and his numerous field research positions since graduating in 2010 Tom has managed to both deepen and broaden his expertise of bird identification, avian ecology, and species distribution (to name just a few of his interests). For the last two years Tom has been working as a seabird biologist aboard several NOAA vessels in the Atlantic Ocean. Between voyages Tom participates in various research projects including his latest, collecting field recordings for Cornell’s Macaulay Library. With audio and video gear on loan from the library, Tom set out for St Paul Island in the Pribilofs, AK.

Tom making recordings for the Macaulay Library http://macaulaylibrary.org (© Doug Gochfeld)

Tom making recordings for the Macaulay Library http://macaulaylibrary.org (© Doug Gochfeld)

We caught up with Tom after returning from St. Paul and just before heading back out into the Atlantic, and he gave us a rundown of his quick trip to the Bering Sea:

“I had a great time birding around St. Paul Island under the expert guidance of Cameron Cox, Doug Gochfeld and Scott Schuette, the guides of St. Paul Island Tours. While we did spend some time searching for rarities like any possible migrants, or the island’s resident White-tailed Eagle, early July typically marks the rarity nadir for the warm months on St. Paul. The real highlights, and the birds that drew me to St. Paul in the first place, are the cliff-nesting seabirds. Legions of alcids and kittiwakes, and plenty of fulmars and cormorants made it hard to focus on one spot along the cliff edges – the amount of life and movement here is truly overwhelming.”

Tom taking in the auklet scene on St Paul Island (© Doug Gochfeld)

Tom taking in the auklet scene on St Paul Island (© Doug Gochfeld)

Before taking off again into the Atlantic, Tom took Travis for one more day of birding. This time they headed out to some Virginia hotspots, including the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and Kiptopeke State Park. Highlights from their last hours together included scrub-shrub specialties such as Northern Bobwhite, Yellow-breasted Chat and Blue Grosbeak, as well as a single White-winged Scoter on the beach from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. No new lifers, but some darn good looks nonetheless. Today Tom is back to wearing his 7×42 Leica Ultravid HD binocular and Travis the Traveling Trinovid heads to Colorado to rendezvous with the kids of the ABA Youth Birding camp beginning on Sunday. Check back during the next few days for a Colorado preview and some more of Travis’s adventures from the last week.

A Long-tailed Jaeger cruises over Tom Johnson (© Doug Gochfeld)

A Long-tailed Jaeger cruises over Tom as he checks his camera (© Doug Gochfeld)

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