By Ken Hare
Advice to new birders from anywhere: Get to know good birders, and go with them on trips into the field to see birds whenever you can. It is one of the best ways I know to learn about birds and birding.
Advice to new birders who bird (or want to bird) on the Alabama coast: Get to know Andrew Haffenden, and go with him into the field every chance you get. It is one of the best ways I know to learn about the birds of coastal Alabama, and especially Dauphin Island.
If you’ve walked on the beach at Dauphin Island, especially soon after sunrise, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Andrew: A lean, bronzed guru with close-cropped graying hair and a spotting scope on a tripod balanced across his shoulder and a camera with a zoom lens strapped to his side. Andrew is an Australian who worked as a naturalist and nature researcher there before moving to the United States more than 20 years ago. For more than six years, he has lived on Dauphin Island, and he knows the birds and birding spots on the island and elsewhere in Mobile and Baldwin counties as well as anyone. And in my opinion, he knows the many and varied species of shorebirds of Dauphin Island better than anyone else.
I met Andrew at my first meeting of the Alabama Ornithological Society. AOS meets each fall and spring on Dauphin Island, and Andrew serves as field trip chairman for the group. During a typical AOS three-day meeting, members can choose among at least four field trips, and often more; Andrew typically leads two or three of them.
Most good birders I know like to share their knowledge with novice birders, but Andrew takes that to a new level. When he is leading a field trip, it turns into a mobile classroom.
I took my first beach walk with Andrew a couple of years ago, along with about a dozen other AOS members. I’ve got a bum knee, and explained to him that I probably would fall behind and not to wait for me. But I had little problem keeping up. A typical Andrew-led trip on the beach consists of walking 75 to 100 yards, spotting interesting birds, setting up spotting scopes, and then a brief lecture using the birds in the scopes as examples of how to tell different plovers or sandpipers or terns from one another. The mini-lectures aren’t helpful to just novice birders, however. Most AOS members are experienced birders, but someone who lives in North Alabama who knows warblers and ducks like the back of their hand still may need a refresher course on plovers and terns.
Andrew has been involved with leading nature field trips for three decades, starting with guiding nature trips in North Queensland. But he started to focus on shorebirds after moving to Dauphin Island.
“I was walking on the beach when I saw a bird with bands on it, and it caught my interest,” he said. He identified the banding, and set out to find out what he could about where and when the bird was banded.
“It had been banded on Eglin AFB, and I thought that was pretty cool,” he said. He soon was identifying banding on Dauphin Island birds and reporting the sightings to researchers around the world. His work with Piping Plovers has made important contributions to the island being designated a Globally Important Bird Area, a key to protecting birds there.
But Andrew’s interest in nature field trips extends far beyond Dauphin Island. After leaving the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service in 1986, he started his own eco-tour business. That work led him to work for a large ecotourism company in the United States. In 2003, he started his own company, Nature Travel Specialists.
“We are dedicated to responsible nature travel that helps the areas we visit. We use local guides, and whenever possible locally owned accommodations,” he told me. “They have to meet the standards that our guests are accustomed to, of course, and the main thing is to be close to the areas we are visiting. But if those criteria are met then we always try to use locally owned businesses to help the economy of the area.”
Nature Travel Specialists focuses on trips to Central and South America, the Caribbean and especially Cuba, where he has become both a destination specialist and also a bird specialist, ranking #10 on eBird’s top 100 Cuban list, as well as Australia and New Zealand. While birding is part of the business, general nature tours are covered as well. “I take pride in not scheduling trips to areas I haven’t visited first,” he said. “It’s tough work, but someone has to do it.”
Andrew has posted a brief autobiography on the Nature Travel Specialists website. It’s well worth a read.
About the “Featured Photographer” Project
Every 4-8 weeks, AOS will feature a member and the member’s photographs on the organization’s website. The project is designed to foster an interest in nature photography and in birding in general. While you must be a current member of AOS to be considered, dues are modest and include many other benefits, such as access to the society’s newsletter, The Yellowhammer; to regular field trips; and to programs that involve some of the best birding experts in the nation. (for information on joining, click here.)
Featured photographers agree to allow the photographs submitted to be used on the AOS website and Facebook pages and in promotional materials.
If you would like to be considered, email Ken Hare at email@example.com for further details.
To See Other AOS Featured Photographers, Please Scroll Down:
Harry Dean has had an ongoing interest in photography for the past four decades that started as a way to pass the time when he was stationed in Thailand as a U.S. Air Force pilot. He said the base offered a good facility with everything that the do-it-yourself photography hobbyist needed — as long as it was black and white. Later he combined his interest in birdwatching with photography. With the advent of digital photography, this interest grew significantly. No longer limited to a 24- or 36-exposure roll of film, and with the aspect of instant gratification, he routinely added 200-300 images daily to his “collection”. “Shoot and delete” was his photography equivalent of the fishing technique of “catch and release”. Harry believes that there is always something interesting to photograph no matter where you are. His favorite subjects include birds, flowers, and bugs and he is always looking for that perfect reflection shot. Although currently not very accomplished at post processing, he is working on his technique. Harry’s camera system of choice is Canon. Harry served in the Air Force for 20 years, flying the C-130 and B-52 aircraft. He also worked on system safety engineering design for numerous strategic systems including the B-2. Before retirement, he continued his system safety engineering career with NASA, working on Spacelab and International Space Station payloads. Harry currently lives in Madison, and is an active member of the North Alabama Birdwatcher’s Society. Currently Harry is also serving as President of the Alabama Ornithological Society. About the
Dick Bruer was born and raised in West Tennessee, where he attended Union University and graduated from Memphis State University. He later received a master’s degree from Central Michigan University. He spent 20 years in the Air Force, where he was a crew member on the B-52 bomber. He also served as a headquarters squadron commander in the AF’s Strategic Air Command and the AF Communications Command. After his Air Force retirement, he was employed for almost 24 years by The Boeing Company where he worked on the Air Force’s B-1B Bomber Weapon System Trainer, the International Space Station and the Army’s Future Combat System’s Armed Robotic Vehicle.
Photography became an interest during assignments to California, Louisiana, Thailand, Japan, Michigan and Ohio. His early photography concentrated on people and places. His first “good” camera was the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II (AKA the GI’s camera). It was a manual camera using film with no decent long lenses. While in the AF he became an avid duck hunter. Hunting grew into carving duck decoys and other birds. That led to birdwatching with the North Alabama Birdwatchers Society starting in about 1987. He has been an avid birdwatcher ever since. He believes the best things about birdwatching is the great people you meet and good friends you make.
Dick’s favorite places to bird and photograph birds are Saint Marks NWR in Florida and Dauphin Island in Alabama. Other favorites are in North Alabama, such as Wheeler NWR, the Leighton Ponds area, Wilson Dam, Wheeler Dam, Monte Sano State Park and the Alabama A&M Winfred E Thomas Agricultural Research Station. His primary camera kit is the Nikon D500/300 mm PF lens combination augmented by a 1.4 teleconverter. He post-processes his photos using Lightroom and occasionally Photoshop.
Dick and Sally, his wife of 46 years, live in Madison. They have two children and seven grandchildren. Their first great-grandchild is due in October 2018.
Dick is an active member of the North Alabama Birdwatchers Society and the Alabama Ornithological Society.