With well over 100 hundred years of providing the world with the best optical equipment it’s probably safe to assume that Leica also takes care to hire only the best of the best to represent the company in the global marketplace; birding is serious business after all. Last year when the great David La Puma accepted his new position as Director of Cape May Bird Observatory we were challenged with finding a replacement birder worthy of the title „Birding Product Specialist“ and „Leica Birding Team Lead“. So began the grueling, six month process of interviewing birders from all over the country for the position. Yes, just in case you were wondering, we DID ask the interviewees questions like, “Are you able to separate a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher from the Western Flycatcher complex by looking at the spacing between the tips of the longest primary feathers?“ If their answer was “no” we politely thanked them and moved on to the next person in line. Okay not really. But seriously, you know what we mean.
Six months, many, many interviews later, and upon receiving recommendations from such birding icons as Kim and Kenn Kaufman, Liz and Jeff Gordon, Jon Dunn, Jennie Duberstein, Dr. J. Drew Lanham, and even David La Puma himself we’ve managed to make our selection.
On this 23rd day of March, in the year 2015, Leica Birding is proud to introduce you to:
Raymond “The Rockstar Birder” VanBuskirk.
Raymond has been birding since he was knee-high to a Bushtit. He attributes his lifelong love affair with the natural world to his upbringing. Since before he can remember his mother always encouraged him to “go outside and play”.
Well play he did, and in doing so he discovered what would become his greatest passion as well as the driving force behind his life’s work – BIRDS.
“Birds are the answer to all our problems”, says Raymond. “They tell us everything we need to know about life on Earth. They tell us about the health of our planet, about the seasons, about the weather, you name it. Now if only we would learn to listen to what they are saying. I feel like one of the reasons I’m here is to help decode the messages they’re telling us, to share those messages with others, and to help others hear it for themselves. As individuals, birds seem to take only what they need to survive. Nothing more. Nothing less. We would all fair well to be a little more like birds.”
Having started birding at the ripe old age of seven, Raymond has always been in the birding spotlight. It’s for this reason that we dubbed him “The Rockstar Birder”, although his often outrageous hairdos, oddly un-birder-like birding attire, and side-hobby as a semiprofessional dancer certainly help make the nickname believable
At age ten he became involved with Rio Grande Bird Research Inc. (RGBR), a non-profit bird research organization in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “That’s really where it all started”, says Raymond. “Besides my wonderful family, and my own childhood curiosity, I owe so much of my success in the birding community to the volunteers of RGBR. Especially to Steve and Nancy Cox, who have not only taught me to band birds safely and correctly, but who have taught me – through example – about being a genuinely good person. Steve is like a father to me.”
After a few years of banding under the auspices of Steve Cox and RGBR, Raymond (at age 13 mind you), alongside his best friend Ryan, started what is now known as the Sandia Rosy-Finch Project, a bird banding project that has greatly expanded what we know about Rosy-Finches and their winter ecology. This banding effort also has implications for climate change and has received recognition in the National Audubon Magazine article „Band of Brothers“, Birder World Magazine, and with birders all over the nation. Upon the release of National Audubon’s Climate Report in 2014, Raymond became a National Audubon spokesman for birds and climate change in New Mexico and was featured in newspapers, TV morning shows and even on a national radio show.
Now a 25 year old, he has an impressive resume including conducting bird research all over the western United States, including: stints with the USFWS in the Arctic Ocean, and USGS in desert-grasslands of Arizona; guiding all over the world from Alaska to Ecuador with his ecotourism company Birding Research And Nature Tours (BRANT); serving as the youngest National Audubon Society chapter President in history; and being one of the most interesting and charming individuals you’ll ever meet. Besides his intensity, creativity, birding talent, and passion for nature, one of Raymond’s key strengths is his uncanny ability to make every person he meets feel like a rock star!
Although hardly a NEW face to birding, or to Leica for that matter, given that he received his first pair of Leicas from his great grandmother when he was 13 years old, we’d like to extended a warm, feathered welcome to Raymond. You’ll be seeing him around. We can guarantee it.
Scan down for some more fun photos of Raymond doing birdy things and check out his Flickr site to view photos from his many Leica and BRANT Adventures…