Raymond is an awesome dude. I've tried to get together with him in New Mexico to learn about his work with Rosy Finches, but our schedules didn't mesh. I was glad to catch up with him at The Biggest Week in American Birding, and hang out with him for a little bit. Guys like Raymond add a little spice to the mixture of birders on the boardwalk. However, he's sharp as a tack and shares some valuable insights in our interview. Check it out below:
What’s your story?
Lots of mentors. The spark bird for me was a community of birds.
I was camping, about 7 years old in the pine forests in New Mexico. I was sitting there on this log in camp, I was whittling a stick and i saw this bright yellow flash out of the corner of my eye. I looked down, and on the same log I’m sitting on is a male Western Tanager. He’s perched there, kind of looks up at me, I looked down at him- a really calm exchange like it was clear i wasn’t going to hurt him. It fed along my side. It flew off and told my scoutmaster I just saw this amazing bird. He had a bird book, and he gave me his binoculars and bird book and said “have at it” I wandered off into the woods. I saw a Black-headed Grosbeak, I wandered off into the clearing and saw Western Bluebirds. I spent the afternoon hiking through this forest and having my eyes and ears opened to the world of birds.
That was the experience that just opened my eyes and made me focus on a specific type of organism. Through birds it’s allowed me to learn about the planet through travel and connection with people and with our planet.
What advice would you give to young birders or a new birder?
Get involved, and realize that even as a young birder there’s really nothing that you can’t do. You can affect change and you can really do a lot just as a young person.
When I was 13 years old i started this Rosy-Finch research study. it’s since become the largest of its kind and it’s connected people across N.M. in terms of becoming aware of birds, and conservation issues. That was all done as a young person. It was through having mentors to encourage me but also through not being limited by the fact that i was young, and being ok with exploring your passion and being who you are.
[Young birders should be] Getting out there and learning your local birds. Taking field notes. Drawing birds. Really studying individual birds I spent a lot of time when i was young sketching birds. There’s nothing like learning your local birds really really well. Understanding birds well allows you to offer so much to the birding community anywhere, really.
Birding is I think the best way to learn about the planet and learn to appreciate what we have. It gives me a focus to fight for. Because birds are everywhere. Whether you’re in the arctic or the tropical rainforest, or northwest Ohio, they are absolutely the indicator species that is easiest to study and the easiest for people to connect to. I think that is what allows us to really try to affect change, and fight for protecting what natural spaces are left on the planet, and changing the attitudes of people so that we can hopefully begin to restore what we’ve lost and restore human connection with nature through birds.