From the NY Times:
On Business, but Checking out the local airborne avifauna
Jonathan Rosen, then an editor at a Jewish newspaper, The Forward, was in Boca Raton, Fla., about 10 years ago for a four-day conference about literature and the Holocaust when he and a colleague decided to play hooky for a while.
“I had never in my life seen a reddish egret before,” said Mr. Rosen, the author of “The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008) and now the editorial director of Nextbook, a Jewish book series. “I felt a little guilty,” he recalled. “But my father quoted Deuteronomy to me: ‘Choose life!’ ”
Day trips like Mr. Rosen’s — either on company time or, as is probably more usual, on weekends before or after scheduled work travel — are common among bird-watching business travelers. In fact, business travel, reviled by many forced to endure it, is frequently a boon for the nation’s 20 million birders, and their employers as well.
To begin with, bird watchers are often more eager to hit the road than their nonbirding colleagues. Cyndi Lubecke, a birder from Prospect Heights, Ill., said she had to travel 46 weeks one year for her work as a leadership training consultant. “I looked at it as an opportunity to see a lot of birds.” Some of her nonbirding co-workers, by contrast, balked.
Travel to out-of-the-way places that many nonbirders find unappealing can be especially attractive to those who pack binoculars and field guides in their carry-on luggage.
Ms. Lubecke, for instance, has frequently chosen assignments because of their proximity to birding habitats that she has wanted to visit but might not otherwise have been able to afford. “My colleagues have loved me for that,” she said, “because my choices were places like Toledo, Ohio, and Fayetteville, Ark. — places they didn’t want to go.”
Once, when required to choose between trips to New York City, Los Angeles or Birmingham, Ala., she picked Birmingham for the possibility of viewing the endangered red cockaded woodpecker, resident at nearby Talladega National Forest. “Twice I’d gone on trips on my own to find it, with no luck,” she said. But on that business trip, “I saw it!” And she was able to add the bird to her life list, a compilation of species seen that many birders maintain. (Ms. Lubecke’s list is an impressive one, in the mid-400s.)
Bird watching’s hours also mesh well with business travel. While golfers need half a day to pursue their game, and hockey fans may be forced to choose between entertaining clients in the evenings and watching an important game, birds are most easily observed in the early morning, before the work day begins. “You can get up a little early, take a walk through the park for an hour and still make it in time for your breakfast meeting,” said John Flicker, president of the National Audubon Society.
Mr. Flicker calls bird watching a great “ice breaker” for business travelers seeking to create a rapport with clients or audiences. “I go to Nebraska a fair amount, and I love going to the Platte River and watching the sandhill crane migration.” But, he said, many Nebraskans think outsiders do not know much about their state. “So if I can come from across the country and talk about why the crane migration is so cool, it creates a bond that wouldn’t exist otherwise,” he said.
And some say the practice may also help them become more proficient at what they do for a living. “It has made me more observant,” said Bob Smith, a stand-up comic and novelist from New York who describes himself as an openly gay comic but a closeted bird watcher. (“Bird watching has a real nerdy image,” he said.)
“To really see something is a great thing for an artist, and bird watching teaches you that,” Mr. Smith said. “That focus has translated into everything I do, including into writing more interesting jokes.”
As a self-employed person, Mr. Smith is careful to separate his business travel expenses from his bird-watching ones for tax purposes. But some bird watchers stretch the line between legitimate business travel and bird watching in pursuit of, say, an elusive and endangered black-necked stilt.
After Steven Servantez, a veterinarian in Janesville, Wis., and his wife, Julie, received some notoriety in the birding world for being the first to spot the tufted flycatcher in Arizona, Dr. Servantez said he “got a call from a vet I didn’t know who wanted me to come out to Hawaii to a veterinary conference with him.” The veterinarian wanted Dr. Servantez to join him “not so much to go to the conference, but to go birding.”In fact, bird watching and business travel can enrich each other, changing how travelers experience their business trips. “To have to go 5,000 miles to give a talk is one thing,” said Mr. Rosen, the author. “But to go 5,000 miles to see a painted redstart. That’s a whole different story.”