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Leica Birding Team: Doug Gochfeld

By Bill Schmoker

The Leica Birding Team is privileged to count Brooklyn’s Doug Gochfeld among its ranks. Doug was born into the life, growing up in a family of birders. Seeing Steller’s Jays on a trip to the Pacific Northwest when he was 7 years old catalyzed his interest in birds along with the tutelage and support of his birding father. Even if the flame waned a bit in his teens in favor of baseball and other pursuits that being a teenager entails, it never quite went out. Instead, the flame was renewed on a family trip through the Southwest and soon strengthened into the blowtorch of birding prowess exemplified by Doug’s rapidly growing personal and professional highlight reels.


One theme is ever-present through Doug’s birding career- a keen interest in migration and vagrancy. In 2009 and 2010 he served as swing counter at Cape May, where each week’s duties entailed two days on the hawk watch, two days on the sea watch, and one day on the Higbee Dike for the songbird morning flight count. It takes a special breed of birder to competently switch between such demanding disciplines, each with challenges difficult enough for full-time counters at each station, and Doug fit the bill.

Even among the impressive list of rarities Doug is responsible for finding across the country and beyond, a pair of epic migration events rise to the top of his favorite birding recollections. One was a two-day fall migration event that began on the night of 28 October 2010. Nearly a week of adverse weather had bottled up migrants across the eastern half of the continent, when an intense low pressure system passed east through the country, and the winds swung to the northwest, the floodgates opened, and the people in Cape May were treated to one of the best nocturnal migrations and diurnal fallouts in the history of this already legendary birding locale. That same fall, Doug was awed to watch roughly half a million Monarch Butterflies staging on the southbound migration, and then take advantage of a slight wind shift to launch themselves across the mouth of the Delaware Bay in one dense, gigantic cloud that entirely enveloped one of the ferries transiting between Cape May and Lewes, Delaware.

Doug has been involved in several other monitoring and breeding ecology projects, spanning from New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the mangroves of coastal South America and the deserts and sky islands of southeast Arizona. Some of Doug’s favorite projects have involved tracking international migration routes, including outfitting Hudsonian Godwits with geolocators on their nesting grounds north of Alaska’s Cook Inlet and re-capturing the birds for analysis of their yearly travels. Recently Doug has worked in northern South America on behalf of New Jersey Audubon Society, working with shorebirds (Semipalmated Sandpipers for the most part), on their wintering grounds in Suriname and Brazil, which included equipping them with geolocators this year. In 2011, 2012, and 2013 Doug worked as a guide in the Bering Sea’s Pribilof Islands for St. Paul Island Tours, drawing the envy of many ABA-area birders (and appreciation from his clients) with his consistent ability to find Asiatic strays and multitudes of Bering Sea specialties.


Doug’s writing and photographs have appeared in a number of publications. He is a member of the New York State Avian Records Committee, and part of the eBird review team in Downstate New York, and he also always has his B.S. in Economics to fall back on if this birding thing doesn’t work out.

Doug’s favorite types of birding are scouring migrant/vagrant traps, birding places where nobody else regularly birds (and then eBirding it!), shorebirding, and seabirding (whether from land or from a boat). He’ll have ample chance to combine all three of these in the upcoming spring of 2014 when he will guide for Zugunruhe Birding Tours as they traverse the Aleutian Islands from Adak to the legendary, almost mythical, Attu. Folks on tours and research teams including Doug should count themselves lucky, as I do to be associated with him on the Leica Birding Team.

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