Valentine's Day is Not Just for the Birds

People who take up birding have gained a great deal, such as a deeper knowledge and appreciation of nature, a chance to do conservation work, more time spent out of doors, wonderful new friendships and, in some cases, romance. We asked a few couples who met through birding to share their stories and they graciously agreed.

If you're inspired by their examples, join an Audubon Chapter or visit an Audubon Center in your neck of the woods. Who knows, perhaps we can add your story over the next few years!

 

   

 


 

MICHAEL BOCHNIK & KELLI JEWELL

How did you meet?
We met at the Hawk watch held at the Lenoir Nature Preserve in Yonkers. He was one of the leaders and I'd go there every Saturday starting in September to the end of October to watch for migrating Hawks. I probably started going to the hawk watches in the late 90's. Through the Hawk Watch, I joined Hudson River Audubon and went on field trips, plus I did the Christmas Bird Count which was led by Michael. Eventually Michael took me birding by ourselves and it blossomed from there.

Was the proposal or wedding in a birding area?
Michael proposed at Ferd's Bog in Inlet NY-Adirondecks on 7/3/06. It was funny because that morning we woke early-probably about 5 AM and he asked if I wanted to sleep a little longer and of course I said Yes! He than said "big mistake", but didn't realize he said it out loud and I just thought he meant, we should get up right then and not sleep alittle longer. So, we go to Ferd's Bog and walk out to the boardwalk. I don't know if you've ever been there-- it's a boardwalk that goes out in the middle of a bog (like you're in the middle of nowhere). Well, there were a few ladies out there also-birding so Michael and I take a side trail to look for woodpeckers (we did see a Three-toed Woodpecker fly past to the other side of the boardwalk). We decide to go back to the boardwalk in search of this woodpecker. Michael notices the ladies are gone so he asks if I want to walk back out to the end of the boardwalk and I say yes-since I love it there. We were there for awhile-looking for the woodpecker-just enjoying the quiet and the beauty of the place. I was watching some butterflies when Michael says "are you having fun?" and I remember thinking "what a weird question-maybe he's going to ask me". I turn around to him and he's looking thru his pouch and pulls out a box and gets down on his knee and says "Kelli, will you marry me?". I say Yes! and he shows me the ring and I'm like "it's pretty, can I try it on?" and he puts it on my finger and I start to cry and No One is around to share my news. Eventually another couple walks up and I tell them what just happened and they congratulate us and took our picture and then a biking group comes up and I tell them and everyone is congratulating us. I didn't get to share with my family until we went home a few days later. Although we will be married in a church, I do want our pictures taken at the Lenoir Nature Preserve, since that's where we "began".

Do you have a favorite birding area?
I'd have to say our favorite birding area is the Adirondacks and especially Ferd's Bog in Inlet NY.

Do you have a favorite bird?
As for favorite bird-he has his favs and I have mine. The bird that got him interested in birding was the Turkey Vulture and White Breasted Nuthatch. The bird that got me interested was the Great Blue Heron (still my fav).

Michael Bochnik is a research chemist who has been very active in local chapter work and the state council for Audubon over the past 24 years. He is currently the co-president of Hudson River Audubon Society and had been President on and off for many years. He is also the field trip leader for the chapter. Kelli Jewell works for a non profit organization in the donor relations department. Also an Audubon chapter activist, she is on the hospitality committee for HRAS.

 


DAVE & JILL RUSSELL

How did you meet?
We were both in graduate school in the zoology department, but on different floors of the building, and doing completely different research. Dave and his then office-mate (a spider guy) challenged two ornithology grad students to a birding competition. The team to see the most species of birds between January 1 - May 15th would get a free lunch, compliments of the losing team. It was a furious competition, with primary advisors often wondering where their grad students were. These guys were all over the states! Long story short, Dave and his office-mate beat the ornithology students! What an upset! The following year, Dave's office-mate graduated and left Dave with no birding partner, so the ornithology grad students came up with a plan. They would find the most naive person to be Dave's new birding partner, and then he would lose for sure! That new birding partner was me. I agreed, under protest, because I really didn't know one bird from another, and thought all this birding stuff was silly. So, when we would be out birding and Dave would say "That's a Yellow-rumped Warbler" and all I saw was a black spec I would not believe him. Then he would patiently get out a field guide, show me the picture, describe the habitat and behaviors of the species, and then put it in a scope for me. Dave Russell was the most phenomenal birder I had ever met. I think I was smitten very early on. We won the Skyline Chili Challenge Birding Competition that year, and have birding partners ever since!

Was the proposal or wedding in a birding area?
Dave even proposed to me 3 years later at his favorite birding spot at Hueston Woods State Park. Now we operate 2 bird banding stations and participate in the Skyline Chili Challenge Birding Competition every year.

Do you have a favorite birding spot?
Well, I'd have to say that Hueston Woods State Park is our favorite birding spot, because that is where Dave proposed to me. We birded the Park for years as Chili Challenge partners, so it seemed appropriate that he propose while we were out birding. Anyway, we got married here, but spent 2 weeks birding in Anchorage, Kodiak, Seward and Nome, Alaska. I could so live there....

Do you have a favorite bird?
I'd have to say that our favorite bird is the Tufted Puffin. We honeymooned in Alaska and saw thousands of puffins. Even after the 2001st Puffin, I was still grabbing Dave excitedly and saying, "Look, its a puffin!!!".

Dr. Dave Russell and Dr. Jill Russell are professors of zoology at Miami University in Ohio. They created the Avian Research and Education Institute (AREI), which is dedicated to the protection and conservation of avian populations. Dave and Jill run two bird stations: the Hueston Woods Biological Station (HWBS) located in Hueston Woods State Park in Butler/Preble Counties, Ohio and at the Miami University Bird Observatory (MUBO) located in Pfeffer Woods, Oxford, OH.

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DON & LILLIAN STOKES

How did you meet?
I was hooked on birds and had become an avid hawkwatcher before I met Don, and I was also interested in bird behavior. I wanted to become an ornithologist. Don was writing a Guide To Bird Behavior I and teaching a course on bird behavior at Mass. Audubon Society. I signed up for his course, which started on my birthday, as a birthday present to myself. At the course we fell madly in love with each other and started dating after the course was through and the rest is history. Birds brought us together and we have made our passion for birds our life's work.

Was the wedding in a birding or nature area?
Our wedding was in a forest clearing on our land. We were standing in a bed of ferns and there were birds singing all around us.

Do you have a favorite birding area?
Our favorite birding area is our home, "Bobolink Farm" our 45 acre Eden in southern NH. We manage it extensively to attract birds and wildlife and have a wide variety of habitats: fields, pond, river, woodlands, mountainridge view and extensive bird gardens. We keep a daily journal and have recorded 174 bird species there.

Do you have a favorite bird?
We have lots of favorite birds, but Bobolinks are what we named our property after. They nest in the fields we purchased and saved from development. Since grasslands are becoming a more rare habitat in New England, we have been happy to save the fields and provide for the Bobolink's continued success at our home.

Known as "America's First Family of Birding," Don and Lillian Stokes created and hosted the PBS series "Stokes Birds at Home". Their newest series, "Bird Watching Workshop with Don and Lillian Stokes", is currently airing on the DIY (Do It Yourself) cable and satellite network. The Stokes have published 32 colorful, informative, user-friendly Stokes Field Guides and books, including Stokes Field Guide To Birds.

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KENN & KIM KAUFMAN

How did you meet?
Kim was attending the Texas Tropics Nature Festival in McAllen, Texas. Kenn was the keynote speaker, and at the last minute, was asked to lead one of the many field trips. Kim was on that field trip. Kenn and Kim definitely noticed each other, and there were definitely sparks...but nothing really happened until Kenn agreed to speak at the annual banquet of Kim's organization, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, in February 2003. The banquet took place on a Saturday evening in Columbus, Ohio, and on Sunday morning, Kenn led a field trip for Observatory members. He was captivated by Kim but in this large group it wasn't appropriate for him to focus on just one person...until Kim hit him right in the back with a perfectly aimed snowball. At that point Kim and Kenn became totally focused on each other for several minutes of intense snowball action while the other birders stood back aghast or jumped in to take part in the mayhem. After that there was no turning back.

Was the proposal or wedding in a birding area?
The actual proposal took place in a big old farmhouse in rural Ohio, but Kenn presented Kim with a beautiful engagement ring on the Wildlife Beach at Magee Marsh. For our wedding, we went back to McAllen, Texas, and we were birding all morning before having an outdoor ceremony in the afternoon.

Do you have a favorite bird?
Well, right now there is a lovely Downy Woodpecker outside our window...and yesterday we were in Florida watching Roseate Spoonbills....and the day before that we fell in love all over again with great looks at a female Snail Kite. The week before we were in Madera Canyon, in Arizona, falling in love with a pair of Arizona Woodpeckers. Oh yeah...and Bald Eagles, aren't they spectacular?! And what about Olive Sparrows? What cool birds! (get the picture?....)

Do you have a favorite birding area?
That depends on which one of us you ask...Kim would say Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in northwest Ohio. But Kenn would probably also say Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. During spring migration there is no place like Magee for dazzling looks at warblers.

Kenn Kaufman is a field editor for Audubon magazine and the author of nine books on birds and nature, including the Kaufman Field Guides to North American birds, butterflies, mammals, and insects. Kimberly Kaufman is Education Director for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Oak Harbor, Ohio, and lead singer for the rock & roll band Four Thorn Rose.

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RENE EBERSOLE & MIKE NEWHOUSE

How did you meet?
Two friends and I went for hike at the Audubon Center in Greenwich, Connecticut. We arrived at the hawk watch, just as a public presentation about raptors was getting underway. The rehabilitated falcons, hawks, owls, and eagles that the presenter bobbed about on his arm that afternoon were undeniably cute. But I was distracted by someone I found even cuter: the resident "hawk expert." He was oblivious to my staring at him, being too busy counting the dark specs that were the wild raptors streaming over our heads. I found myself volunteering to come back to the Center later in the week to help out with his research on migrating Saw-whet Owls. The following Friday when I was scheduled to help out at the Audubon Center, it rained. Owls don't migrate in rainstorms; the clouds are thought to impair their nocturnal navigation skills. I didn't have Mike's phone number to confirm that our plans must be off. So rather than leaving him waiting at the station in Greenwich for a passenger who never boarded, I went to Grand Central and bought a ticket for the train that we had agreed upon when we last talked. When my train pulled into Greenwich, there he was, smiling. "Are we going to be able to look for owls?" I asked, dubiously. Sidestepping the question, he returned with, "Have you eaten?" And so began our first date.

Was the proposal or wedding in a birding area?
Both. Three years after we met, Mike repeated our first date-dinner, a movie, and a walk after-hours walk at the Greenwich Audubon Center. We circled the lake, shining our flashlight up at the treetops as we searched for flying squirrels and listening for owls. When we reached the crest of the hill, he bent down on one knee and proposed. We were then married a year after we met, at a Finger Lakes vineyard on the shores of New York's Seneca Lake. We honeymooned in South Africa, where we added nearly 200 species of new birds to Mike's life list. Many of our adventures together still revolve around birds. In fact, just last weekend we went searching for bald eagles and owls on the shores of the Hudson River, where we now have a home.

Do you have a favorite bird
It would be tough to choose just one, but we do have a fondness for raptors and owls. When I was a little girl, a barn owl landed on my parents' clothesline a few nights after my mother's best friend (who had an affinity for owls) passed away. Mike's father, the former president of the Braddock Bay Raptor Research, in Rochester, New York, was the person who first introduced him to raptors when he was a freshman in college.

Rene Ebersole is a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. Her first book, Gorilla Mountain, is part of a children's series of biographies of women scientists. Michael Newhouse is a research biologist at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY. His most recent research has focused on the spread of Lyme disease in small mammal populations.

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