Here is my interview with 2012’s Katahdin Award winner Phillip Hoose. Phillip’s new book, Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, will be released on July 17th, 2012.
How did you decide to write a book about B95?
My friend Charles Duncan told me of a Red Knot that had been banded in Argentina as an adult bird in 1995, and who was still alive in 2009, when we had the conversation. Identified primarily by an orange band bearing the inscription B95 around his upper left leg, he was rapidly becoming famous. They gave him the nickname “Moonbird,” because he (and he is a he) had migrated during the course of his lifetime a distance farther than that between the earth and the moon. It struck me that by following and learning everything I could about a single charismatic individual, I could put a face to a worldwide loss of shorebirds, which is a great crisis.
What makes B95 different from the rest of his species?
He has some inexplicable combination of toughness, judgment and luck. Some scientists think he has a ‘gift for the middle.’ That means he stays in the middle of the flock, an advantage, say, when a Peregrine falcon flies above you and tries to harry a single individual from your flock. Other scientists think he is more adaptable than others: when one beach is covered by the incoming tide, perhaps he can find the next beach where food is still available faster than other birds. Or maybe it’s good genes. Or great luck. Or all of the above and more. Speaking of genes, who wouldn’t want The Moonbird’s genes? And the good news there is that he’s been a father many times over. At this moment, as I write, he has probably just reached the Arctic, where is staking out a breeding territory. He’s probably very busy right now.
Humans play a part in the disruption of these birds’ food supply. What are some small things we can do to help the situation?
First, learn your birds. Go outside and notice the differences between a robin and a jay. Who gets up first? Where do they nest? What are the markings and behaviors that identify them? Find people in your community who know about birds and go out birding with them. Learn all you can. Get a bird app for your smart phone–there are some great ones that produce bird songs. Go to the beach and learn your shorebirds. Help with efforts not to disturb shorebirds during nesting season. Keep dogs away. Join Friends of the Red Knot, a youth-led program whose goals are to get red knots listed under Endangered Species Act protection, and to ensure that horseshoe crabs–a main knot food source–are not overfished in Delaware Bay. Link is firstname.lastname@example.org
What are some of the challenges you face while researching a non-fiction book?
Different challenges for different books. For example, with Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, a major problem was finding photographs of her. Her family had no camera. Photos others had taken of her had been destroyed or lost. With We Were There Too: Young People in US History, a major problem was finding stories, and then verifying their veracity. And my own stamina was tested–the project took six years and wore me to a nub. With Moonbird, the main problems have been about keeping up with the science that biologists use to find, capture, band, track, and assess the health of shorebirds. Geolocators changed everything. They are these miniature sextants that you can fit on a birds leg. The devices record a longitudinal and latitudinal reading every day. So if you can recapture the bird and remove the device, you can plug it into a computer and ascertain the birds’ day by day journey. It is a revolutionary tool, because now we really know where they go on these unimaginably arduous flights.
What was your first thought when you found out that B95 had been spotted in New Jersey?
It was just so cool!! I was elated. The discovery happened on May 28, which the most frequent day of departure for knots from Delaware Bay to the Arctic. So Patricia Gonzales may well have found him on the last possible day. Had she not spotted and photographed him, we would have had to wait until late summer or early fall to see him again. I mean, can you believe that any creature could be so strong? And I have held many knots in my hands. They seem delicate but they’re not. The Moonbird must be one of the toughest creatures alive.
Thank you, Phillip!
To learn more about Moonbird, click here to check out Phillip Hoose’s blog.
- Moonbird sighting in New Jersey (thelupinelibrarian.me)