The third in a series of occasional profiles of birdwatchers who are from or spend a lot of time in northwestern Pennsylvania.
Family: married to Jim Franz; daughter, Tami, and 2 grandchildren, Emory, 5 and Kayleigh, 2
Lives in: Harborcreek Township
College: Bachelor of Arts in English, Mercyhurst; Master of Arts in Speech Language Pathology, Edinboro
Originally from: Erie
How I got into birding: I was primarily a backyard birder until I moved to Harborcreek and started seeing birds that were new and interesting to me. A friend of mine, Julie Leonard, introduced me to Jerry McWilliams, birding guru/mentor, and his bird identification classes and from there my interest took off.
Spark bird: Probably a male rose-breasted grosbeak, a bird that I had never seen before until one showed up at my feeder in Harborcreek. It looked so exotic with its black and white plumage and the brilliant splash of red on its breast.
Favorite bird: Oh, how often I, and every other birder, hear this question. I really don’t know. I guess I could say the bird I would miss the most if it didn’t show up at my feeder would be the black-capped chickadee. It’s so common yet so endearing.
Nemesis bird(s): As far as photography, the belted kingfisher. They fish in the creek where I live almost all year long, as long as there is open water, yet I’ve only gotten a few distant shots of them. I swear they hear me walk out my front door. As far as spotting, the Florida Scrub Jay is my nemesis. I’ve missed the last three years of searching for them in Florida in areas that people tell me “You can’t miss them.” I’m going back to Florida in March and my mission is to see this bird and shoot for a burrowing owl. I like to fit at least a little birding in to every vacation and adding a lifer, which the burrowing owl would be, is a nice bonus.
Favorite place(s) to bird in northwestern Pennsylvania: Presque Isle State Park, of course, is number one! I also like to bird along the creek where I live (Six Mile Creek), Pymatuning, McMichael Road in Crawford County where Shawn Collins showed us the Cerulean and prothonotary warblers, Roderick Wildlife Reserve and Erie Bluffs State Park.
Strangest place (or time, circumstance under which) I’ve gone birding: Well, nonbirders might think it’s strange but probably getting up at 4:00 a.m. four days in a row to photograph Common Loons in Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada.
Rarest bird I’ve seen: Probably a Kirtland’s warbler that I was fortunate enough to see in Ohio at Magee Marsh in 2010 and then here in Erie in 2012. The Kirtland’s is one of the most endangered wood warblers and breeds in a few very limited spots in Michigan and Ontario due to its unique and specific habitat requirements.
Usual birding partners: Julie Leonard, who introduced me to birding guru Jerry McWilliams and his excellent bird identification classes that really got me started into serious birding; Mary Birdsong and Mike Plyler; Toni Kelly; Carol Allen; people I usually end up meeting on the trail including Shawn Collins, Mike Weibel, Joao Tavares; friends from the Presque Isle Audubon Society.
Birding gear and equipment I take everywhere: My Nikon Monarch 8×42 bins, my Canon 7D with the 300 mm lens and 1.4 teleconverter or my 500 mm if it’s not too long a trek, my smartphone with Peterson and Audubon Field Guides; Sibley’s Field Guide in the car
Favorite birding field guide or app: Ha, see above. It’s nice to be able to refer to a number of field guides because then you have the advantage of seeing photographs and illustrations as well as a wider array of information. Next on my list of guides to purchase … Crossley’s.
What I like most about birding: It’s an enjoyable challenge that involves being outdoors with friends. It’s a hobby in which you always have something new to look forward to, like a new bird or a bird you’ve seen before in a new place or a new bird behavior that you’ve not observed in the past.
The best birdwatching day I’ve ever had: Hmmm, there are sooo many.
The worst birding day I’ve ever had: Hmmm, sooo many. Well, I shouldn’t say that, I guess. While it can be frustrating and disappointing not to see the bird that you came for, you can usually take away something positive from any birding outing.
Best birding advice you ever got: Be patient and observant, you must learn bird behavior to know when and what to look for and, above all, respect the birds
Your advice to beginning birders: See above
Should a sighting be counted if you’ve only heard an identifiable bird call but not seen the bird itself? Well, I started out saying that if it is a definitive call that cannot be mistaken for any other bird, like a Whippoorwill for instance then, YES, but now I’ve heard a few stories from birders who thought they were hearing a bird only to find out it was someone using an iPod or smartphone trying to call in a bird, so now it’s not so clear. I think if you can eliminate the chance that it was someone using technology to call in a bird then definitely, yes, it should be counted.
Do you keep a life list? How many birds have you seen? Not really. I know what I’ve seen and not seen, but don’t have an exact count. I’m sure I could tally it up using a field guide but I’m not into the competitive or quantitative aspects of birding. I like a good quality birding experience, seeing the bird in its native habitat, hopefully observing some of its unique behaviors. That’s what satisfies me.
Do you approve of the idea of competitions such as a Big Year or Big Day? Sure, I participated in my first Big Sit this year at Jamie Hill’s home in Waterford. I can’t see myself doing a Big Year for the reasons stated above and because I’m not independently wealthy. I might do one on a limited scale (Big Year for Harborcreek Township) any maybe even the county, but life is too busy for that now.
Find me online: I have a blog called Presque Isle Naturally that is hosted by GoErie. I also encourage people who are interested in birding and conservation to join the Presque Isle Audubon Society. Chapter membership is only $10 a year and you’ll receive our newsletter and information about our field trips and other events. Visit the Presque Isle Audubon Society at PresqueIsleAudubon.org and on our Facebook page for information about becoming a member and upcoming events.
Previous entries in the Birder Bio series:
No. 1: Shawn Collins
No. 2: Bonnie Ginader
Interested in participating in the Birder Bio profiles series? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for details.