A Q&A About Birds ft. Mr. de Grys


This past spring/summer was an eventful one on a larger scale, but locally, I was pretty bored. To alleviate this, I decided to take up a new hobby: bird photography.

I started going out walking every so often back in March. I quickly got more invested, feeling my way around the camera and researching good birding spots in Washington (then later realizing I was either too late in the season, or I set my ISO to a bajillion).

Of course, I’m certainly no expert on the topic, but I knew of a faculty member who is. Here’s a Q&A with the one and only Mr. de Grys!


Q: When and how did you start birdwatching? Is there a concrete time you started?


A: When my wife and I got married, we were looking for a hobby to do together, and she suggested that we try out birdwatching. And the very first  day we went out, we went out to Juanita Bay Park, after about half an hour of wandering around we found this huge long-eared owl. I was just transfixed.


Q: Do you have any top/favorite experiences?


A: So many. During migration there’s lots and lots of birds that travel north to the United States and Canada in the springtime. My wife and I were in Florida one spring, in Key West, and there was a huge thunderstorm. About halfway through., we went to this little park, and there were thousands and thousands and thousands of birds everywhere. The whole island was totally covered. That was pretty amazing.

And going to Kruger Park in South Africa was pretty amazing, just because not only were these exotic birds, but there were. all those charismatic megafauna.

Birding Alaska was pretty great too, just because it’s so far removed from the civilized world. Just seeing things up in the Arctic Circle was pretty awesome.


What do you think is getting better for birds, and what is getting better on both a local and national scale?


I think there are some things that are getting better. Birding and birdwatching used to be a niche thing where only a few people were interested in it, mostly white upper class/middle-class folks. What’s inspiring is to see people from all walks of life really get into it. 

The backdrop is, there are some worrying things. Climate change is continuing, and a lot of birds and habitats are really having a hard time with it. There’s a lot of habitat degradation and the extreme weather events that are tied to climate change. All of that is worrying. I’m an optimist by nature, so I’m worried about those concerning things, but I have hope that people will find a way to make a difference.


Q: Do you have any advice for novice birders?


A: Just get out and enjoy the natural world and stay curious. If you see a cool bird, check it out! If you can get a hold on some binoculars, use your binoculars! If you know some people who are interested in birds, see if they wouldn’t mind if you tagged along on a walk! Check out the Seattle Audubon Society, when the pandemic is over I’m sure they’ll open up their nature shop. You can get a bird feeder. and see what birds come up to your yard. All sorts of things! Maybe you’ll get interested in native plants, what you can do to help restore habitats, maybe pull out some English ivy at your local park. See what you can learn!


Q: What can we do to help birds on any scale?


A: I would say, share your love of them. I used to not advertise the fact that I was into birds. and I just got over that, and I have started sharing my love with my colleagues and my students, and it’s been great seeing them start to develop their interest in nature. If you love birds, or you love nature, show that to other people!


(This interview was shortened for brevity. Check out the full (very long) version on the website!)