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Avid Birders Bring Hobby to West Campus

For most, lunchtime on West Campus is simply a scheduled meal break. But for Susan Hochgraf and Lynn Jones, it is an opportunity to explore the outdoors. As longtime bird enthusiasts, Susan and Lynn have been “birding” on West Campus for over a year. But they aren’t just birdwatchers – they’re birders. “For me a birdwatcher is anyone who actively watches birds… There becomes a point though when you start to identify the birds, learn their habits, and try to find them outside of casual observation, when a birdwatcher converts to a birder,” explains Lynn, adding that she encourages others to become any level of birdwatcher.

Museum Assistants at the Peabody collection on Yale’s West Campus, Sue (left in picture*) and Lynn were first exposed to birding in different ways, but both consider it a personal passion. For Sue, birding is a family tradition inherited from her grandmother and father, and is therefore a lifelong pastime. Meanwhile, Lynn cultivated a passion for nature as a student of OBIRDERSrnithologist Noble Proctor at Southern Connecticut State University. For the past ten years, her bird-watching hobby remained dormant, until she reignited her enthusiasm for birding after relocating to West Campus. Initially, Sue and Lynn would go birding as a duo to enjoy the outdoors, but in September of 2009, they decided to go public and invited other interested employees to join them.

At the annual West Campus Town Hall, where attendees can make announcements about special events and projects, Sue and Lynn announced their birding activities and welcomed new participants. For several months, they regularly advertised “Wednesday Walks,” open to any West Campus employee. At the time, employees were transitioning to the new facilities, and Sue and Lynn found birding to be a great way to encourage inter-building interaction. They launched a blog as a way of announcing meeting places for the bird walks and documenting findings, and continue to post content today.

According to the two avid birders, West Campus is a prime location, due to its 136 acres and abundance of greenery, which provide biologically diverse habitat for wildlife. “There really is [an impressive biodiversity], when you consider that we’re in the center of West Haven. We have a list of one hundred species, and maybe we’ve worked hard to find them, but it’s there to be noticed,” explained Sue.

 “First and foremost it’s for pleasure,” stressed Sue, who considers birding a social but also very personal activity. However, she acknowledges that as biologists, she and Lynn are always aware of bird conservation issues. Last week, Sue and Lynn presented their birding activities at a brown-bag luncheon event on West Campus. They described their birding observations over the past year, highlighted the bird conservation efforts of the Bayer employees who previously occupied the West Campus property, and discussed the possibility of setting up nest boxes for Kestrels, a type of small falcon, and purchasing a Purple Martin gourd tree to encourage nesting by Purple Martins, the largest swallow in Connecticut.  “People also seemed interested in the concept that we could encourage additional species to the property by adding nesting places and creating bird-friendly habitats,” said Lynn.

Although they no longer advertise their bird walks, Sue and Lynn continue birding everyday, and always welcome fellow employees who are interested in birds, or who simply wish to chat about their observations.  As Lynn pointed out, it is an ideal way to enjoy the campus and the outdoors, while measuring the impact we have on the feathered cohabitants of West Campus. Visit their blog at: http://www.birdingwestcampus.blogspot.com/.

*Birds in picture are (left to right): Barred Owl, Red-tailed Hawk,  Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, and Purple Martin.

--Melissa Hou, Class of 2013