The bluebird of happiness is perched on my shoulder this morning, singing his little heart out. Why? Because today's visitor to the Authors' Tent is wildlife conservation biologist Neil Paprocki, aka Director of the soon-to-be-released documentary, Bluebird Man.
As you might expect from someone who loves his work, Neil's got lots to say about the subject. And as a newbie bluebird watcher (witness) I'm all ears! So I'm splitting this into a two-part interview. Be sure to come back tomorrow for more Q & A's–accompanied by photos!
Neil, I think most of us have heard the expression, “The bluebird of happiness.” Do you know anything about its origins? Or if not, can you hazard a guess?
I am embarrassed to admit that this is the first time I have heard the expression, “the bluebird of happiness.” While I know nothing of its origins, I would think it has something to do with the feeling of joy and happiness people get when they see a bright bluebird. I know I get this feeling every time I see a bluebird.
Female Mountain Bluebird takes flight
What inspired you to make a movie about bluebirds?
The story of one man inspired me to make this film: Alfred Larson. His singular 35-year commitment to this one group of birds shows what a powerful role they can play in shaping peoples lives. Bluebirds are indeed powerful symbols, and the evidence is in the four different states that call bluebirds their State Bird. For Idaho and Nevada it is the Mountain Bluebird, while for New York and Missouri it is the Eastern Bluebird. Maybe someone in the west can contact their state legislature and convince them to change their state bird to the Western Bluebird so we have all three species represented!
The other inspiration for making this film about bluebirds is to give hope to other wildlife conservation projects. We hear so much in the news about species declining and being on the verge of extinction, and there doesn’t seem to be much that we can do about it. Bluebird populations declined dramatically in the mid-20th century, but have since moved towards recovery thanks in large part to the role played by hundreds of citizen scientists. This is a story that other conservation projects can draw inspiration from: there is hope out there!
Alfred Larson and Bluebird Man director Neil Paprocki
What’s it like to be a Bluebird Man? (Describe your typical day in the field, including equipment and attire.)
When I head out to monitor bluebirds with 91-year old Idaho legend Alfred Larson, I make sure to bring two things: my camera and my binoculars. I might also bring some food and water, but only because my body requires it of me. I’m usually dressed in my field clothes consisting of Chaco flip-flops, nylon zip-off pants to kick aside those rough shrubs, and a t-shirt. We usually leave Boise, Idaho around 8am to make the hour and a half drive out to the remote Owyhee Mountains of southwest Idaho. Once we arrive at the first bluebird box, the day really begins.
Male Mountain Bluebird delivers food to a female inside a nest box
It is here that we being to peer in on the day-to-day life of these beautiful birds, and learn more about how they survive in the harsh mountainous conditions of the Great Basin desert. We are monitoring mainly Mountain Bluebirds that acquired their name from the rugged terrain they inhabit. Why live in the mountains where harsh weather conditions can sometimes persist for days on end? They do so to take advantage of the insect boom that occurs every June. Insects carry the precious protein and fat necessary to maintain rapidly growing nestlings that sport a voracious appetite. Our day is spent checking nest boxes for eggs, nestlings, signs of predation, and the occasional adult bluebird that we catch inside a box. The curious and sometimes aggressive adult bluebirds often perch nearby while we check their box, conveniently posing for the occasional photograph.
How can people get involved in bluebird preservation projects and activities such as yours?
You can get involved in bluebird preservation projects by contacting your local Audubon or Bluebird Society chapter. You can visit the Audubon Society and North American Bluebird Society websites for your local affiliates contact information. Go and check out another person’s bluebird project before deciding if this is something you really want to do. But I will warn you, it is very easy to get hooked and addicted to watching bluebirds! [NOTE: I can attest to that!]
Mountain Bluebird nestlings
When can we expect to see your movie in our area?
I expect to complete Bluebird Man by late December 2013. We have received a letter of support from Idaho Public Television to broadcast the half-hour film, and we are hoping for an early 2014 broadcast in Idaho. I will also be pursuing a regional Pacific Northwest and national Public Television broadcast. I’m hopeful this film will resonate with enough people that we can attract a wide audience!
Can’t wait until then to watch Bluebird Man? You can purchase a DVD before the film is broadcast on television by contributing to our film through the crowd-sourced funding website Kickstarter. This will provide myself, and fellow producer Matthew Podolsky, the funds necessary to complete the film and make it look as beautiful as possible to help inspire others to continue helping these birds that are so near-and-dear to our hearts. There are various ‘backer levels’, but if you contribute $20 or more before July 31st, you will receive a copy of the DVD when the film is completed.
Wings or fins?
Wings. I wouldn’t be much of a ‘bird guy’ if I said fins.
Snow or sun?
Snow. I have always been a cold weather person and while I enjoy summer, winter is probably my favorite season.
Chicken or the Egg?
Egg. My favorite meal of the day is breakfast and eggs are the best part of that meal.
Computer or Camera?
Wow, that is a tough one. How about a computer with a built in camera, or a camera with a built in computer! Okay, okay. Two years ago a might have said computer, but now that I have entered the photography and film world I think my answer has switched to camera.
Tweetie Bird or Road Runner?
Road Runner. This is an ode to my days of working in the desert southwest with the endangered California condor.
Want to know more about Neil Paprocki's work with WildLens, Inc.? Check out his Facebook page and follow his blog. And…if you're inspired to create your own "bluebird trail," come back for Part II of our interview tomorrow. [Update: Part II is posted here .)
All photos ©Neil Paprocki of Wild Lens, Inc. Used with permission.