Friday, January 8, 2010

An Interview with James J. Dinsmore

How long have you been studying and enjoying wildlife? What other plants or animals are you especially interested in?
Nearly all of my life. I have a set of bird “drawings” that I did when I was about 5 or 6 years old, so my interest goes back a long way. Fortunately, my parents were understanding and helped nurture my interests, taking me to interesting places where I could see birds and other wildlife. Although I have always favored birds, I also enjoy opportunities to see mammals and reptiles and to just get outdoors in interesting areas.

What has changed in the outdoor world since your first days of fieldwork? What’s better, what’s worse?
Obviously the major change has been the steady loss of habitat for so many species. Over the last 40 years or so, many small, isolated pockets of habitat—small woodlots, hedge rows, small shrubby areas, etc.—have been converted to other uses. Likewise, pastures and hayfields, which once supported a variety of wildlife, have also been reduced in extent.

Despite those losses, there have been some amazing positive changes for wildlife in Iowa. When A Country So Full of Game was published in 1994, sandhill cranes had just started nesting in Iowa after being absent for almost a century, and only a few bald eagle nests were known in the state. Sandhill cranes now nest in most counties in northeastern Iowa, and more than 200 bald eagle nesting pairs are active in the state. On a recent visit to Iowa, I saw 4 groups of sandhill cranes, 3 of them probably family groups that bred locally. Even a few mountain lions have been found recently in Iowa. All of these changes were unimaginable 20 years ago.

What advice would you give to beginning naturalists and birders?
My advice would be to try to find someone who is experienced in the field and ask if you can tag along with that person. And conversely, this means that older people need to be willing to help beginners. I believe that mentoring is one of the best ways for a person to get real experience and to learn rapidly. There are lots of great natural areas to visit, but with an experienced set of eyes and ears, your visit can be much more interesting and you can learn more rapidly.

What are your favorite natural areas in Iowa and the Midwest? What areas do you return to constantly, and what’s your favorite newly visited area?
When I was an undergraduate at Iowa State years ago, I visited two places that have remained favorites to this day. One, Ledges State Park near Boone, with its steep wooded canyons and a stunning overlook of the Des Moines River valley, is a great place to find a variety of migrant and nesting birds. The other, Little Wall and Anderson lakes in Hamilton County, is a wonderful place to visit in spring to view the arrival of migrating waterfowl. To me there is something special about seeing those migrants arrive after a long winter.

More recently, I have learned to enjoy Saylorville Reservoir near Des Moines. In late August and September, the area near Jester Park is filled with an array of migrant songbirds, shorebirds, hawks, and various waterbirds. In particular, I love to watch the midafternoon skies for the arrival of southbound American white pelicans. The birds fly high and at first look like tiny white snowflakes high overhead. Those snowflakes gradually morph into huge birds as the pelicans, with their eight-foot wingspan, drop rapidly and eventually rest on the water or mudflats. It’s a marvelous sight.

James J. Dinsmore, author, A Country So Full of Game: The Story of Wildlife in Iowa

No comments:

Post a Comment