Local bird man writes a new book on his favorite subject

June 13, 1999
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

"Birding Northern California" (Falcon Press, 1999) is the latest book from locally famous birder John Kemper of Woodland. He said it took two years to write and involved traveling 18,000 miles in Northern California to visit all the nearly 300 sites mentioned.

Fortunately, he also covers several local areas including the Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area, Lake Solano and Putah Creek, and Yolo farmlands. He says many rural areas in Northern California offer good birding on farmlands and Yolo County is no exception. One thing to note in this particular region is that many of the crops are low growing and offer attractive foraging opportunities for Swainson's Hawk, a state-listed threatened species.

He also describes good birding opportunities in the Lake Tahoe area including Fallen Leaf Lake, which he describes as "a gem." The area is home to several resident and migrant specialty birds including white-headed and hairy woodpeckers.

In the Bay Area, he describes numerous birding spots including Lake Merritt in Oakland with its resident and other key birds.

"Lake Merritt is a lake in a park in a large city; nevertheless it gets large amounts of waterfowl and sometimes gets rarities," he writes. "The birds get so accustomed to people that you can often see them at close range. Lake Merritt was the nation's very first wildlife refuge, created in 1870."

Kemper lists hazards that careful birders should be aware of at various locations across the state, usually warning of things like ticks and rattlesnakcs. He warns of hazards at Lake Merritt, too.

"As in any big city park, it is probably not best to bird alone," he says.

"I made it a policy not to write about a site unless I had been there myself," said Kemper. "It helped that I've made it almost a lifetime career to get to as many corners of California as I can, especially the remote corners," he added. "Even so, I had never been to some of the places in the book before such as Devils Garden and the Warner Mountains (both in Modoc County) until I investigated them for the book.

"I also made it a policy to get as much local input as possible and this really paid off because I learned lots of things I wouldn't have known about without local help," said Kemper.

"The book has a message that I hope comes out clearly: Northern California is a major destination for birders, on a par with other acknowledged hot birding areas, such as Texas and Arizona," he said.

There's something else readers should know, says Kemper, although he didn't feature it in his book. That is, a recent national survey of outdoor recreation activities, conducted by several federal agencies, shows that bird-watching is increasing enormously in popularity. The activities, in ranked order according to the 1995 survey, placed bird-watching at No. 8, right behind bicycling and ahead of camping (walking, sightseeing and picnicking were the Top Three recreational activities) .

But the point is that bird-watching has increased in popularity by 155 percent from 1983 to 1995, more than any other activity, during a time when fishing and hunting both decreased in popularity.

And observers in Northern California have recorded 559 species of birds, so there's a lot of birding to do. Kemper's knowledgeable book will help make it easy and fun.

Kemper generously shares his knowledge with the public by giving frequent slide lectures to various groups, leading local birding field trips, and writing birding columns for myriad newsletters and newspapers in the area.

He has lived in Northern California most of his life but has traveled to all corners of North America to see birds and has accumulated a North American life list of 718 species. In his other life he worked for many years as an engineer in the scientific instruments and computer industries, served as a professor at UC Davis and spent 14 years as the dean of the College of Engineering there.

Since retiring from the university, he served as president of the local Audubon Society, wrote a local best-seller called "Discovering Yolo County Wildlife," writes a birding column for The Davis Enterprise, and is an active volunteer at the annual California Duck Days celebration in Davis every February.

"Birding Northern California" is available at local bookstores and through the Internet.

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books at discount prices [ Click Here ]

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