Leica Birding Team: J. Drew Lanham

J. Drew Lanham and Carolina, the now extinct Carolina Parakeet; a reminder of what we have lost in this country, and what we must prevent from happening again.

J. Drew Lanham and Carolina, the now extinct Carolina Parakeet; a reminder of what we have lost in this country, and what we must prevent from happening again.

AJ: How long birding/What got you into birding?

JDL: I’ve been birding since the second grade. I’ve always admired birds because of their ability to fly and go places I could only dream about. I think I grew up wanting to be a bird because of that and I spent lots of time trying to fly. I made wings out of cardboard and tried jumping from all sorts of places to experience the sensation of flight. Back then I was a little brown Icarus. This kind of links in to the question of people that inspired me to bird. Beyond growing up in an extremely rural area where I was surrounded by nature and my parents who were both teachers and intensely interested in nature I had a second grade teacher –Mrs. Beasley–who truly ignited my passion for birds. She passed out pictures of birds for us to color one day and instead of carelessly (or imaginatively) coloring the mockingbird she gave us in all sorts of crazy (inaccurate) colors-I used my pencil to shade in the subtle gray tones I knew to be correct. Form there it was all downhill. I began to check out field guides from the library and order bird books when I could. I was obsessed from then on.

AJ: Any time you thought about quitting, just leaving birding?

JDL: There have been periods when I was distracted from birding–in high school when my hormones took over and then in college when I was hopelessly mired in engineering–that birds were not foremost in my mind. But I’ve always found a way back to them. Birds are a part of me I guess. Leaving birding would be giving up on who it is that I am–denying my own identity.

Camo-ed up and representin' Clemson for the Christmas Bird Count!

Camo-ed up and representin’ Clemson for the Christmas Bird Count!

AJ: Anybody in particular inspire you to bird?

JDL: I mentioned my parents and Mrs. Beasley. There have been others Another schoolmate of mine, Carl Montgomery, seemed bent birdwise in much the same way I did. He in I kind of came along together and we’d exchange sightings and share the excitement that birds brought to our lives. I met Carl in the second or third grade. I have to give props to a couple of my college professors too. Jim Schindler wasn’t a birder but a world renowned limnologist who was my undergrad advisor who took me under his wing once I escaped from mechanical engineering into zoology. He was so welcoming and encouraging to me that I suddenly felt free again to pursue my passions. Not long after that I met Sid Geauthraux who most folks know as one of the pioneers of radar ornithology. Sid’s knowledge and passion were infectious and he spurred me to think in different ways about birds. Patty Gowatty, one of his post-docs hired me to do eastern bluebird research for a summer and that kindled another side of my bird obsession. That was a great time too. As I was working on my master’s there were lots of really great graduate students in Sid’s lab–Steve Wagner, Jon Plissner, Dave Aborn–and later on David Mizrahi, Jack Dumbacher and Andy Farnsworth. That’s a birder culture that rubs off. I’d like to think that a little of each of them somehow made me into the birder I became.

AJ: Spark bird or Ignition place–what species or place moved (moves) you to bird?

JDL: Sparks? Birds that fly man. I mean, I remember my first painted bunting–seeing that bird feeding in between the rails of a train track and not believing that something could be that beautiful. There aren’t many birds that don’t spark me now. Maybe chickens. I have a healthy dose of wanderlust. I love to travel to all sorts of places and I often fall in love with them. It’s like a serial landscape affair. I fall in love with forests, rivers, lakes, mountains, desserts, grasslands–I love it all!

Sea Ducks Galore! Loving life on the Ocean City, MD Jetty

Sea Ducks Galore! Loving life on the Ocean City, MD Jetty

 AJ: Bucket list birds or places?

JDL: Bucket list places? We have one in common–Brazil-I want to see the breadth of that country–but then I want to go back to Africa–both South Africa and then to East Africa to experience the birds and landscape there again. I want to spend some extended time in Alaska. My only trip there a few years ago was frustrating in some ways because I didn’t get to bird at all. And of course, I want to see birds of paradise in New Guinea!

Wondering on a waterfall

Wondering on a waterfall

AJ: Upcoming Calender

JDL: Well this year the travel schedule is relatively light for me. I’m doing a keynote of the Texas Ornithological Society in mid -April and so that might give me an opportunity to witness fallout on the Gulf Coast. In May I’ll trek back to the Black Swamp and the Biggest Week in American Birding to lead tours and do a talk or too. That place always wows and excites me because the Kaufmans get it. They are unrelenting in their work to connect birding to conservation. And there are lots of friends up there I get to see. Plus the sandwiches and pies at Blackberry Corner. Yeah that’s an annual thing for me. I might get to do a new bird festival in Yellowstone after that and then things quiet down somewhat until August when I’ll likely head to Tuscon for the festival there and then the year ends with The Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival. In between I’ll be teaching a bird-based citizen science program I started here with the South Carolina Wildlife Federation called Palmetto Pro Birders. Of course there will be local walks and talks here and there too.

Red Dot Recon: Looking for the First Signs of Spring

Red Dot Recon: Looking for the First Signs of Spring

AJ: Do you like cowbirds?

Great question! You know what, I totally get why cowbirds have to be managed in some places–but then I am a total fan of the evolutionary strategy that allows a species to pawn off the expense of rearing offspring to another. That’s so cool. So I like cowbirds evolutionarily. Ecologically they’re wreaking havoc on some species but then whose fault is that really? Certainly not theirs.

Yeah, it's a bull snake. Didn't even need my Ultravids to see it!

Yeah, it’s a bull snake. Didn’t even need my Ultravids to see it!

AJ: What do you bring to the Red Dot?

JDL: My mantra is coloring the conservation conversation. To that end I think I bring a different flavor to the conversation–Mocha Chocolate!  Really though I’m all about connecting the dots–people to nature to conversation.Birds are the perfect vehicle to make those connections in my opinion. The connections need to be more diverse though. As the country’s demographic changes then the conversation with more –and different people–needs to take place. Doing that with the Leica and RED DOT beside me gives that effort a broader and clearer vision I think.  I also bring my professional side as an ornithologist and scientist to the table. I find it odd that not many professional ornithologists associate themselves with birding. I want to break that mold–bridge the gap I suppose. And then I’m a hunter-conservationist.  A black birder hunter ornithologist. No, I don’t think that there are a whole lot of those out there. So I see my role as being a different sort of bird that’s singing some different songs. To me it’s all about connecting. I think I’m a good connector and someone who’ll be able to speak to the issues of birding conservation and diversity in birding with a voice that’s seldom heard.

Four eyes made better with Leica

Four eyes made better with Leica