Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Post #56 - Could birds and birding be in my professional future?

Many of you know at least a bit about my personal history. For those that don't, let's just suffice it to say that I built a reasonably successful career as an academic scientist before, in 2014, leaving that increasingly frustrating trajectory to ride my bike around the country and look for birds. Before I left, I had no idea how the adventure would unfold, nor what the heck I would do to pay my bills when I returned. Since that adventure ended, I have actually returned to academic science as postdoctoral fellow at USC. Part of this was due to economic necessity, part to a lack of other (i.e. biotech) options, and part to the fact that I still do enjoy some aspects of academic research, particularly mentoring undergraduates and graduate students. The problem is that there really isn't anywhere I can go from my current position. Not only did I give up any chance of real advancement when I stepped out of the pipeline the first time, but I still don't want the life that I think that pipeline would prescribe even if it was still open to me. So, at present, I find myself, a hyper-motivated individual, working a stop-gap job with no solid plan for the long-term. It is incredibly frustrating and at times equally unsatisfying.

Now for the good news. What I did not expect is that the bike trip has opened quite a few doors in the birding world, and I am starting to wonder if at some point birds and birding might be my vocation as opposed to something that I do when my vocation and my LA commute to it affords me time. Speaking at birding festivals and similarly bird-centric gatherings has proven to be incredibly enjoyable, on par with birding itself. Guiding, albeit just in the capacity of day outings at festivals, has been very rewarding, giving me the opportunity to share my love of birds with others while coincidently socializing with tour participants. I really enjoy writing about birds and birding. That's the primary reason I try to keep up this blog, simply because I enjoy it. I was recently asked to contribute an essay to the sequel to "Real Birders Don't Wear White", so at least a few people think I can write a level above that of a salamander. Hell, you too have read this far!  Who knows, maybe I can cobble together some sort of eclectic but coherent, bird-centric vocation moving forward. I am so far from being able to transition out of my current situation that I feel a bit funny even discussing this, but hey, this is what's on my mind right now and I think putting my feelings out there every once in a while might interest someone, somewhere.

As for birds, I spent an entire day out on Sunday of this past weekend. I squeezed out 128 species around Orange County. The highlight of the day was the 2 hours I spent chasing this Eurasian Wigeon around a local park pond. I have seen quite a few of these, but I have never been even remotely close enough to photograph decently. One thing I can say is that when I am working with a bird, trying to get that perfect frame, nothing else matters but the subject and my interaction with it. It could have been raining $100 bills behind me and I would never have noticed as long as this guy was in my viewfinder!

Eurasian Wigeon - Anus penelope
Canon 400mm f/5.6 on EOS 7D2
1/2500 at f/5.6, ISO 400


  1. Why not try making a living as a photographer. Or take an ornithology course, and all the other basic Wildlife courses and make a living in the Conservation field. Lots of options studying and researching exciting things outside for a smart dude like you.

  2. There seems to be a reasonable niche leading nature tours. While the pay is modest, it seems enough to make it a valid career option. The essential elements, apart from the birding aspects, imho are the ability to get along happily with a bunch of strangers, to manage the logistics and to stay flexible with events. Those are all talents you've demonstrated before.