Get to Know: Earl Johnson, Hawk Counter

Autumn at Hitchcock Nature Center brings the return of our Hitchcock HawkWatch team. This year we are welcoming back Earl Johnson as our lead HawkWatch Counter.

During the autumn months the observation tower at Hitchcock Nature Center becomes an office for an incredibly important research project. Our HawkWatch volunteer team is led by our Hawk Counter & this year we are happy to welcome Earl Johnson. Earl is a previous Hawk Counter & we are happy to welcome him back for another season at Hitchcock Nature Center. 

What is your personal and educational background?

I was born in Boulder CO and currently reside in Durham NH when not doing fieldwork elsewhere. I have a bachelors in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Colorado Boulder.

What inspired you to go into your chosen field of study?

I've always loved wildlife and being outside as much as possible. Getting started with wildlife fieldwork and being fortunate enough to be able to turn doing what I love into my profession was a natural way to maximize spending time outside.

This isn’t your first stay at Hitchcock Nature Center. How many previous seasons have you worked with the HawkWatch & what brought you back for the 2020?

I was the counter here in 2015 as well, following that I spent time counting birds in many different places and am very happy to be back! The amazing diversity of the flight here combined with how near many of the birds come to the hawkwatch tower make this a very special place to watch the migration unfold. 

Are there any migrating raptors that you are looking forward to seeing the most when you are working on the tower at HNC?

I always love seeing the different varieties of Red-tailed Hawk come through! The species has so many different plumages that can give clues to where the birds are coming from that I never tire of seeing them migrate through.  The big number Red-tailed Hawk days that usually come a little bit later in the season are always some of my favorites!

Have you worked on other field projects during your career? Which was your favorite?

I've been lucky enough to work on a number of projects in different places around the country. I'm not sure I have a favorite as they all have their challenges and rewards. Usually my favorite is the one I'm currently working on!

Sea Otter Tracking in California

Bird Surveys in the central US from Mexico to Canada

Hawkwatching in Iowa, Texas, and Arizona

Seabird work off the coast of Maine

Seabird migration counting in Maine

Small mammal research in northern Alaska

Many other short term, or fun things but the above are the big bullet points on my resume. I've been very lucky to be able to work on so many great projects!

What are the some of the biggest challenges that someone in your career field faces?

Much of the work is seasonal so it's tough to find year round positions. Work is relatively easy to find in the late spring-fall but much harder to come by in the winter.

What is the most fulfilling aspect of your work?

It's wonderful to feel like I'm contributing to a meaningful dataset or otherwise helping collect data that could improve our understanding of the natural world and how our actions impact it. 

If you could choose any superpower what would it be and why?

I'd love to be able to fly! Seeing birds soaring in the sky or over the waves looks incredibly fun!

Next Blog
"Bats of Iowa" with Lauren Darnold Coming November 12th! (10/16/2020)
by Michelle Biodrowski, Naturalist and Kate Simmons, Community Relations Coordinator

Previous Blog
September 2020 HawkWatch Report (10/8/2020)
by Earl Johnson, Hawk Counter

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