Kenn Kaufman (photo courtesy of Kenn Kaufman)
Ohio Life

Kenn Kaufman on Taking a Closer Look at Nature

The Oak Harbor resident is an expert in the birding world. We talked with him about the restorative and educational power of spending time outside.

Known internationally as an expert on migratory birds and how to spot them, Kenn Kaufman has long been considered a celebrity in the birding world. For Kaufman, author of guides to migratory birds, mammals and insects of North America and other outdoors-related books, enjoying nature is so much more than finding colorful warblers and unusual shorebirds.

It’s also noticing the brightly colored moths under the streetlights in your neighborhood. It’s seeing the differences in the trees throughout the seasons and spotting the wildflowers that pop up in unexpected places.

We talked with Kaufman, who lives in rural Oak Harbor, about the benefits of spending time outside and what he likes to discover beyond birds. 

What do you feel are the benefits of spending time in nature?
It really has restorative power. It’s not necessary to become a hardcore birder or an expert botanist or expert naturalist ... Just paying attention to nature and learning a little about it makes the world more three-dimensional and more interesting. If you go out in the backyard and you see this little yellow bird, and it looks nice, you can enjoy it without having any idea what it is. If you make the extra effort to find out what kind of bird the little yellow bird is, suddenly it opens up a whole world of interesting connections. Maybe it’s a yellow warbler and it’s just come back from Guatemala or Central America, and it’s flown thousands of miles. 

What are some ways those who don’t live near wildlife areas and forests can enjoy nature?
Nature is essentially everywhere. In any little crack in the sidewalk or vacant lot, there are going to be a wide variety of plants growing there. Some might be wildflowers. Even a very small city park, all kinds of migratory birds are going to stop through. You can see an amazing amount of variety even in a really urbanized setting.

Besides birds, what do you like to look for when you are out in nature?
I really like insects, maybe more than most people do. There’s so much variety. Butterflies are really popular, but moths are much more varied. In the warmer months, I love to look for moths at porch lights or the lighted windows of convenience stores. People may think of moths as these dingy little brown things, but once you look closely, a lot of them have beautiful patterns, really rich patterns and different colors. Every year, I’ll see new kinds of moths that I’ve never seen before. 

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