I met Danielle Brigida (pronounced like London BRIDGE-i-da, as she’d tell you) three or four years ago when she taught a social media course I was taking at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. At the time she was in charge of social media for the National Wildlife Federation. We instantly clicked over a shared love of birds and running. I’m not sure that I’ve ever met someone with such an unabashedly enthusiastic sense of wonder about virtually every aspect of the natural world. (When you read on to find out what she does for a living, it’ll be clear that she is uniquely suited to her work).
That first time I met her, Danielle and I went out owling one evening after class. I tried to impress my new friend by whistling my best saw-whet imitation to call in some owls. But owls just weren’t that into me that evening. My best efforts were met with silence. We ended up seeing a skunk, although I don’t think my whistling had anything to do with it. The skunk was a bit smelly, but still neat.
Fast forward four years and we found ourselves back in the same spot, except this time we were both students in a science communications course and now we both worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We went birding one evening after class, ending up by a small pond at dusk. I wet my lips and began to whistle my trusty saw-whet imitation. A minute later our friend Alicia called out, “There’s an owl!” A pair of Barred Owls flew in, serenaded us with their hoots, and flew around in the nearby trees. I was redeemed.
Where are you from and where do you currently live?
I grew up in Northern Virginia in the middle of a quiet suburb. I spent a lot of time exploring my nearby creek, flipping over rocks, searching for turtles after rainstorms and watching the birds from my tree fort. I now live a bit closer to the city, but still manage to hear the birds and see the stars.
What do you do for a living?
I get to make friends for a living! I’m the National Social Media Manager for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. My job is to understand and harness the capability of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, and other social platforms to discuss important wildlife issues, share beautiful and inspiring stories and meet others who are passionate about protecting wildlife and have a stake in conservation (so: everyone). As a public servant, it’s my job to make sure the priorities of the community are heard and the major projects and opportunities identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are communicated in a transparent way. I love blending my love for exploring the outdoors with my love for exploring online to find and uncover useful ways to help wildlife.
How long have you been a birder?
I’ve only been a birder for a few years, but I feel like I’ve been watching them my whole life. In the summer of 2011, I took a birding class at Audubon Naturalist Society. After that, I was completely hooked on the adventure and excitement of noticing birds! After attending a few classes, I met incredible friends who enjoyed birding like I did. There’s now a small group of us that like to go in search of birds and explore. The only trick is that sometimes we’re too loud from all the laughter! Birding has brought me closer to the birds, but also to people I really care about.
What Leica optics do you own? Why did you decide on Leica?
I have a Leica APO-Televid 65mm Angled Spotting Scope with a 25-50x eyepiece. I had been eyeing (pun intended) these scopes but eventually settled on Leica because I got a trusted recommendation from a friend*–who really knows quality and birding equipment when she sees it! There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not grateful to own my scope.
What are a few of the most memorable birds or experiences you’ve seen through your Leicas?
The first bird I spotted through my Leica scope was a beautiful Red-tailed Hawk at Huntley Meadows. I remember how amazed I was at the detail of the feathers and noticing vivid color on the bird without having to cause it stress by being too close. Most of my favorite experiences in nature happen when I’m quiet and I listen to what’s around me. My scope instantly brought me to a place where that adjustment period of settling down and letting the birds relax didn’t need to happen. Since then, I’ve seen everything from beavers to eagle chicks and I’ve loved spotting them all. From Wilson’s Snipe to Eastern Towhees, I always am thrilled to look through a scope. It brings me right to the animal and let’s me observe them without interrupting them in any way.
What are some things you are looking forward to seeing through your Leicas this year?
I’ll be taking my scope with me to Utah, where I hope to bird during the last bit of spring migration. I’m incredibly excited. But mostly, I’m thrilled to have this scope to take to all the places that I regularly visit (like my annual trip to the beach) so I can see things I’ve seen for years and years, but with a new appreciation, while having access to witness birds way off the coast. I’m grateful for this ability to see so much, both in the new places I explore and the places I visit time and time again.
Danielle tweets at @USFWSHQ and @starfocus. Read more of her writing on her blog, The Net Naturalist: a field guide to social media.