Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I'm Not A Loner Or Anything, But I Think I Like Being Alone: A Bird Blogger Tells All.

Hello. And welcome to another fascinating installment of our birder interview series, presented by the Human Birdwatcher Project. It has always been a mission of BB&B to discover The Truth About Birdwatchers...why they do what they do, why they are largely socially crippled, and why they have such poor taste in fashion. Today we take a new direction and sit down with not only a birder, but a bird blogger. Speaking from experience, this truly takes the nerdiness to practically lethal levels, and so it is my pleasure to present someone who pulls it off with grace. Jen birds, photographs and blogs from Portland, Oregon, and is at the helm of the wildly popular I Used To Hate Birds. Please visit her site and gawk at some of her fantastic photos when you get the chance....and so without further delay, I give you the interview. All photos provided by the blogess herself.

So Jen. Just to be clear to everyone, we actually have never met, so I really don’t have any inkling about what you’re going to say. BB&B is taking a big risk here. Anyways. Who are you? What do you do for a living?
Who am I? Well... I’m a week shy of my 33rd birthday, a month shy of my 10-year Portland anniversary.  My friends and I moved here on a whim from Boston, but I’m originally from Connecticut.  I manage a doggie daycare here, where I work as few hours as possible to ensure plenty of time for doing stuff that’s way more fun.  But at the same time, my job is rad.  When I was 10 I wanted be a veterinarian or own a pet store. I think if I had known about dog daycares, I would have picked working at one over anything else.  Dogs rule.  “Dog” was actually my first word.

My first word was "Pyrrhuloxia". From the evidence I’ve been able to piece together, you are a birdwatcher. Can you admit to this? Your blog is titled "I Used To Hate Birds", which seems to be the best name for any bird blog out there, with the possible exception of "Bourbon, Bastards and Birds". I assume you actually used to hate birds to some degree, or exercised some strong indifference….why the turnabout? And how did you come to be a birder?

I’d admit to watching birds, sure.  The blog title came from a couple things.  When I was in middle school I had a parakeet I named Mr. Weatherbee (I was a big Archie comics fan. Yeah.)  He was cool.  Then I got him a lady friend, Betty.  Then she killed him.  It made me hate birds as pets.  

As for wild birds, I was always indifferent despite my mom’s attempts to point out interesting ones on the feeders.  I think a main turning point for me was buying a sweet little Canon Powershot camera when I briefly defected to Philly.  I started taking pictures of everything.  When I finally returned to Portland I started to really appreciate all the awesome parks I visited with my dog Jake.  There’s only so many photos you can take of your dog (ok, that’s a lie) and one day I saw an Osprey up in a tree.  I had no idea what it was but I took a million photos and looked it up when I got home.  I watched them all summer long and eventually started taking pictures of other birds, mostly herons and egrets and bigger stuff. Then on a whim, I visited Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, where a nice older man lent me a pair of binoculars to view some Sandhill Cranes.  They blew me away.  It was pretty much all over after that.

Since you are a relatively recent convert, you actually have access to your pre-birder memories (most birders are super old and can’t remember if they took their medication or not). Back in the bird-hating days, how do you think you would describe the average birdwatcher? How would you describe the average birder now?
I don’t even think I knew there were birdwatchers before.  I mean, I knew there were people like my mom...she had feeders and a bird bath and a Peterson’s field guide where she marked the pages of birds that would visit. I didn’t think there was much more to it.  
Now?  I don’t even know. There’s definitely a fair share of creepy older men, like the one that tried to get me to get into his car for a better view of an owl.  But there’s also plenty of perfectly nice, semi-normal people who can understand basic social cues.  
I get the impression that you don’t hang out with other birders very often. Why? Do you hate them? Or are you one of those socially inept, recluse types?
Ha.  Maybe a bit socially inept, but mostly just shy I think.  Plus I like birding by myself.  I’m not a loner or anything, but I think I like being alone more than most people.
What do your friends think of your birding/blogging habits? Are you celebrated? Persecuted? Both?
Ya know, I didn’t share my blog with any of my friends for a pretty long time.  Once in awhile I would throw a photo I liked on Facebook just to gauge their reactions and it was always pretty positive.  Now most people know about my obsession and I’ve gotten all good responses.

The only reason we are in contact at all is because of the internets. Yup, those Craigslist personals really bring people togeth….oops I’m thinking of someone else. Ahem. What we both have in common is that we are both bloggers, who are birders, who take bird pictures, which combines 3 different types of nerds into one super nerd. Can you tell us about why and how I Used To Hate Birds came about? What we can expect in the future?
I started my blog for one main reason: to share the birds I was seeing with my mom.  It seemed like the easiest way to show her stuff.  Plus I thought it would act as a good journal so I could remember when and where I saw cool birds.  That’s how I use it now.  I’m a terrible bird note taker... I have a book where I try to write down sightings, bird descriptions, etc., but it’s just so much easier to write it in the blog.  The downfall is that it might be a bit boring for other people at times.  I get that.  But the blog is for me, first and foremost.  Sorry, mom.
Have you found that having a blog helps you network and connect with people? Or do you feel depressed and isolated because you are now officially a blogger?
I definitely feel connected to a lot of people because of having my blog.  Even people who don’t comment or “follow” me will sometimes mention a post I wrote and I’ll be like, wait, what, you read that??  It’s weird putting something out there and never really knowing who is looking at it...  
You have a lot of birds to see. Any birding trips in mind? Any grail birds?
I always have tons of trips in mind... Alaska is a frontrunner.  I completely romanticize it though, and am afraid it won’t live up to my expectations.  This fall I have a vague idea of a mini southwest U.S. roadtrip, but who knows.  No grail birds...pretty much any bird I haven’t seen yet causes chronic drooling.

Have you discovered your spirit bird yet? Any candidates?
I want a spirit bird.  I’m afraid the closest thing I have is the Bald Eagle which is just so fucking cliche and lame.  But right before I REALLY got into birds I decided I needed a tattoo of an eagle catching a fish because I had only seen them a handful of times, and they always left me in awe. The day I went to get the tattoo finished it was like 20 degrees and my dog Jake begged me to go to the park.  I was freezing and cranky but while he was running around on the beach, a pair of eagles came flying over and just started swooping around in front of us and over us. As usually happens now, I just wasn’t cold anymore.  It was awesome.
What do you think makes a good soundtrack for birding? I usually don’t put on Chronic 2001 while birding by my lonesome.
Well, I’ll tell ya what.  When I was in Hawaii a few weeks ago, I was getting ready to walk from my hotel in Waikiki to the top of Diamond Head, with stops in Kapiolani Park and the beach.  It was about a four hour adventure.  I made a really good playlist for the walk; I still think of Sonic Youth when I look at my photos of the Pacific Golden-Plover. Here’s the playlist:
1. Fuego!- Murder By Death
2. Hell or High Water- William Elliott Whitmore
3. Forever Young- Alphaville (cheezy, I know, but my favorite song ever since I was 14 years old)
4. Tomorrow, Wendy- Concrete Blonde
5. Someone Like You- Adele
6. Telephone- Lady Gaga (fuck yeah, get over it)*
7. Get By-Talib Kweli
8. In The Aeroplane Over the Sea- Neutral Milk Hotel
9. Unfulfilled- Quicksand
10. Tell ‘Em- Sleigh Bells
11. Death Valley ‘69- Sonic Youth
12. Wolf Like Me- TV on the Radio
13. Break My Stride- Matthew Wilder

Portland, Oregon. Most people my ageish associate it with a television show, hipsters, strip clubs, bars, rampant drug use and someone named Mary Coolidge…not birds. I’ve birded and barred there a little bit, but…what is it like being a birder in Portland? What are the crucial spots?
Being a birder in Portland is pretty awesome.  Easy access to the Pacific Ocean, Mt Hood, the Willamette Valley, the weird high desert of central Oregon, Mt St Helens, just sooooo many different habitats.  Of course, within Portland city limits are tons of amazing parks too. My favorite is Kelley Point Park, where the Willamette River meets the Columbia. It’s where I first saw that Osprey as well as those Bald Eagles.  Plus my dogs love it.  
Any other blogs you want to give props to?
BB&B, duh.  Seriously, though, there are so many great local blogs: Nature Nut Notes, Pacific NW Backyard Birder, Slugyard, Bound To Bird, Fledgling Diaries, NW Bird Blog...there are more that I’m forgetting I’m sure.
And now for the final wisdom….if you had to predated on by a particular bird, what would it be?
This question has been keeping me up at night.  I don’t want to be pecked to death by a grackle.  I don’t want to be drowned and shaken by a bittern.  I don’t want to wrestle a heron.  I don’t want to be snatched by an eagle or an owl.  Fuck, I don’t know.  I always thought death by mountain lion would be best.  Just snap my neck and get it over with.

*The undedited video for "Telephone" is one of my favorite music videos of all time. I say that without irony. - The Editor


  1. I discovered Jen's blog a few months ago and it has been one of my favorites...great photos and she conveys the thrill of a new birder. Fun interview Steve.

  2. Ha, yeah, that video is awesome. I think I had just seen it before I went to hawaii and that's why it was on my mind.

  3. Jen, the photo of you at the top makes you instantly likeable and should help dispell the rumour that nerds are boring. The fact that you openly admit to listening to Laday Gaga, well that makes you brave. Hope you find your spirit bird. Mines an owl.

  4. Jen's blog is my favorite local blog. She always sees the best birds and gets the best photos. And she is a cool birder chick! Yah Jen!

  5. BTW sorry Jen for the formatting problems, blogger can be a bitch sometimes. You deserve better!

  6. Cool Interview (did I already say that?)

  7. Stuck at work at just read this for the first time. Great post. And Neutral Milk Hotel should be on every playlist that's ever made. Kudos!