Spotlight / Author Gerry Rising

Author Gerry Rising and his book


According to Spree’s nature writer, Gerry Rising, there are eleven different types of warblers migrating through Western New York between May 1 and May 10. They include, among others, the yellow warbler, the blackburnian warbler, the cerulean warbler, and the Cape May warbler. I have never seen any of them. They are among dozens of interesting and often exotic species that come winging through the area during migration season. 


Fortunately for those of us who aren’t as up on our birds as we should be, the bird on the cover of Rising’s new book, Birds and Birdwatchers (W. R. Parks, 2016), is familiar. It’s a black-capped chickadee, a year-round resident of the area whose distinctive head and buzzing, three-note call are instantly recognizable. The bird is actually perched on Rising’s hand, lured there by a sunflower seed. Chickadees, cardinals, house sparrows, crows, European starlings, and house finches are familiar residents of Buffalo-area backyards. Walks through area parks yield glimpses of a few other species: red-winged backbirds, Baltimore orioles (in spring), and sometimes a blue jay. 


Those who long for a more varied birdwatching experience would do well to pick up this book. There are 100 short essays, all about birds, bird lore, and other bird resources; most of them appeared in Rising’s long-running “Nature Watch” column in the Buffalo News (which ended last year). The essays are conversational, accessible, and—for those of us who long to be better naturalists—thrillingly inspirational. They provide glimpses from Rising’s eighty years as an avid birdwatcher; his matter-of-fact observations are always permeated with the enthusiasm of a true nature lover, someone who thinks nothing of sitting in a preserve for hours, binoculars at the ready. Thankfully for birding newbies, the essays discuss common and uncommon species, as well as some of the ecological and political issues that affect the natural world. 


Clockwise: Yellow warbler, the blackburnian warbler, the cerulean warbler, and the Cape May warbler


Rising on cardinals:

I expect that many people like the male cardinal because of its bright red coloration. That is not what makes it so attractive to me. Its red is no match for the deep red color of the scarlet tanager’s breast nor the helmet of the red-headed woodpecker. Instead I think of it as a cary Grant among birds, its posture erect, its body light, its movements sure and swift and understated, its manners toward its consort impeccable.


On The Big Year:

The film is about three birdwatchers who seek the North American record for the number of species seen in one year. As those familiar with this kind of listing know, this involves dashing around the continent from Key West to Attu and even far out to sea on small yachts off the California and New England coasts. To give some sense of the number of species involved, my life list is just short of 450; these birders compete at over 700 in one year. So much for my puny achievement.


To those of us who are happy to glimpse a cardinal in our backyards, Rising’s achievement is far from puny. If he had spent less time chronicling his birding experiences and more time watching, he might have had bigger years, but we’d be deprived of the substantial pleasures of reading this book.


Gerry Rising's book is on



Elizabeth Licata is editor of Spree and a would-be birdwatcher.

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