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Keeping an eye on New Hampshire’s birds

Bob Quinn’s life is all about the birds.

Quinn grew up on North State Street in Concord. He was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout. When he was in high school, an older brother, an avid birder, invited Bob to accompany him on a bird watch. Bob has been bird watching ever since.

After graduation from the University of New Hampshire, he went to work for New Hampshire Audubon. He was in charge of properties at first, then became a staff ornithologist and then the organization’s first field ornithologist.

He worked for Audubon for 10 years, taking birders and would be birders on weekend walks; educating hundreds of people about the joy and importance of birds, their habitats and other wildlife; conducting field trips; writing, giving lectures and consulting. His mission is to motivate people to appreciate their natural world enough so that they may make a positive contribution to protecting and enjoying our planet.

At Audubon, Quinn was inspired by those he calls his mentors; people like Tudor Richards, an Audubon volunteer who, needing another driver for a tour he was leading, invited Quinn to go with him to the Florida Everglades. It was Quinn’s first birding tour, and he loved it. He has led many tours since then for Audubon. Eventually he founded Merlin Wildlife Tours, through which he takes groups eight or fewer on tours throughout the world.

He calls them natural history tours so as not to limit them to birds. He travels about once a month, not always, but often, out of the country and likes local birding days as well as the foreign tours.

He loves Yellowstone National Park for its geology.

“My two favorite birding locations are Bhutan and New Hampshire,” he said. “Bhutan is the most exotic place I’ve been – the closest to Shangri La you’ll ever get, as pristine as you can get in today’s world. It’s a magic place.” (Bhutan, my world atlas says, is northeast of India).

In New Hampshire, it’s return of the migrants time. You can see bald eagles, which were once nearly extinct, up and down the Merrimack River from Hooksett to Boscawen. Whippoorwills and night hawks are returning from their winter homes, the nighthawks from Columbia and Argentina, the whippoorwills from South Carolina, the Gulf states and Costa Rica.

Our earliest returnees, arriving right now, are the ducks and geese.

Then will come phoebes, robins and tree swallows. Quinn and I talked about a program through which children in our country are communicating with children in South American countries, both studying the same birds, our children studying them in the spring and summer months and the South American children studying them during our winter. It’s a lovely way of connecting with each other.

The day we met, Quinn was off to Horseshoe Pond to see what he said is a rare duck, a Gadwall, who had been sighted on the pond. My books list him as an early fall and late spring migrant.

“One fun thing about birding,” Quinn said, “is that it’s so unpredictable.”

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