Kaufman cover


Renowned naturalist Kenn Kaufman's new book A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Bird Migration (Houghton Mifflin, 2019) is a joyous celebration of the beauty and wonder of birds that can be found right here in Ohio.

Starting in January and spanning a calendar year, A Season on the Wind describes the detailed life of birds as they move through the area of Ohio once known as the Great Black Swamp.

Now reduced to a fraction of what it was 200 years ago, this area on the southern shore of Lake Erie is a critical habitat for native and migratory birds. Kaufman describes how the unique features of this area of Ohio make it such an important stopover for migratory birds—and also recounts the remarkable story of how the wetlands around Lake Erie have escaped development for hundreds of years.

This book couldn't be a more timely undertaking. Research published last month in the journal Science made headline news around the world: it indicated that bird populations in North America have seriously declined since 1970—an estimated loss of about 3 billion birds.

Kenn Kaufman and his wife Kimberly, Executive Director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, are both committed to spreading the word about how important Ohio's wetlands, parks, and preserves are to migrating birds and how we can help protect these areas.

Kaufman is a walking encyclopedia of bird knowledge and he is eager to share the awe and wonder that he has for birds. He most certainly hopes his book will turn you into a bird lover, but you don't have to be a bird expert to enjoy reading A Season on the Wind.

His talent is his eye for details and how he puts those details together. His stories about birding include, for example, contemplating the huge numbers of blue jays that are seen moving east to west along the coast of Lake Erie in the spring. What's that about? Kaufman's insight is that blue jays don't fly over the lake, they get to the edge, can't go any further north, and head west until they can get around the lake and continue north.

His description of a stealthy visit at dusk in the middle of winter to a secret bald eagle roost will make you feel like you've been part of something magical and when he describes the details  of a novice birder's first day on the Magee Marsh boardwalk in May, with hundreds of brightly-colored warblers flitting just a few feet away, you feel the wonder and excitement too.

Kenn Kaufman's life has been one amazing birding adventure. At age seven, thanks to a book he found at his library in Indiana, he first learned how to tell the difference between starlings and grackles. At age ten, he bought his first binoculars and at age 16, he dropped out of school to hitchhike all over the country to see birds. In 1973, at age 19, he set the North American record for a Big Year, seeing 671 species. Nearly fifty years later, he is an author, an illustrator, and one of the world's authorities on birds. His list of publications is impressive: A Field Guide to Advanced Birding, Lives of North American Birds, five books in the Kaufman Field Guides series, two biographical works, Kingbird Highway and Flights Against the Sunset, and his latest work, A Season on the Wind.

From childhood, Kenn was awed and fascinated by the distances that some birds migrate. That fascination with bird migration has not waned over the past fifty years and is one of the reasons he moved to Ohio ten years ago. (You'll have to read the book to find out the other one.)

How amazing it is that some tiny warblers migrate all the way from from Alaska to Brasil and Arctic terns migrate from the North Pole to Antactica! When you think of all the hazards in their path: bad weather, predators, wind turbines, tall buildings with glass windows, it is a miracle that they survive. Kenn reminds us, "We are surrounded by miracles on all sides, every day, if only we open our eyes and notice them."


Published in The Daily Record (Wooster) on October 20, 2019

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