Meet the Loon Expert
My family spent a lot of time camping during the summer in northwestern Lower Michigan near Lake Michigan, so my childhood memories are filled with days of wandering beaches looking for petoskey stones, running up and down the dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and hiking in the forests of the Leelanau Peninsula. As I got older, these trips became Boy Scout camp outs in spring and fall plus summer camp AND family trips.
When I turned 14, I started working for our Boy Scout Summer camp in northern Michigan, which I continued doing for five seasons. Probably because of this early exposure, I have always been outdoor oriented, and I have never had an indoor job during the summer. Beginning my Master's thesis research in 1992 provided my first experience with Lake Superior, and I have been captivated by her ever since.
2) Any person, role model or leading authority that greatly influenced you? (a parent, 6th grade teacher, scientist etc...)
I have always been encouraged by my parents to follow my heart and do what I felt strongest about. I have been influenced by a few people since I've started working in this field, but I think much of my motivation has come from wanting to experience what I've read about in books by Sigurd Olson, John Muir, and others like them.
3) Your background:(job title, profession, education/training etc...)
BS in Biology from Central Michigan University (1992), MS in Conservation Biology from CMU (1995). My Master's thesis was about behavioral research I did with loons on the Lake Superior shoreline of Isle Royale National Park, Michigan. I have also been a Field Assistant for a bird research project in north-central Maine, and been responsible for bird surveys and other resource management projects as a Biological Technician for the National Park Service at Isle Royale National Park and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin. I am currently the LoonWatch Coordinator for the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin.
My favorite work experience was being able to band loons on Isle Royale. My primary job was to be the driver of the boat, and we would leave the dock at around 10 PM. After arriving at the place where we knew loons were, we would shut the boats off and sit in the dark, floating on the calm waters of Lake Superior in some secluded bay or cove. Islands rose from the lake along the darkened horizon, and spruce trees reached to the stars. We would play a tape of a loon call in order to locate the birds and then again sit quietly and wait for the real birds to answer. When that answer came, it was something of a religious experience, and when our spotlight found the family floating off in the distance, the excitement was intense.
One time, while we were sitting in the boat in the dark and listening, I looked out past the rocky point that marked the end of the bay, and the lights of a freighter came into view as it passed the island in the dark. We would often be out all night, and more than once I brought the boat back up to the dock as the sun was rising in the east. It's hard to explain what it feels like to be out in a boat in the middle of the night on the largest lake in the world, but the experience is one I will always cherish and is what I think about when I find myself embroiled in the rush of "mainland life."
5) What advice can you provide to a student who might be interested in working in your occupation some day?
Study hard, but also be sure to take advantage of work opportunities related to your interests because those will be the best learning experiences. Be patient. It will probably take some time to get to where you want to be, but it does come around. Be flexible and willing to be away from home for 5-6 months. Do some volunteer work and keep in contact with those people who you are most interested in working for.
I am the oldest of four boys. I am married (my wife's name is Michelle), and we have two cats (Ceara and Darwin) and a dog named Blue.
7) Favorite book(s), Favorite food(s), Any hobbies?
Hard to pick a favorite book, but favorite authors include Sigurd Olson, John McPhee, and Garrison Keillor. I love canoeing and anything else that lets me be on or near water. I also enjoy walking, camping, and bird watching and winter activites like cross-country skiing and ice skating. I love bookstores and reading, and I am trying to be a part-time writer.
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