Thursday, February 06, 2014

A bike, 1,655 miles, 200 birds, one man's 12-month adventure

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave
February 6, 2014

Josh Haas riding in Barry County (Photo by Erik Holladay

When Josh Haas sets a goal, he doesn't settle for the little stuff. In 2013, he decided to travel across Barry County, Michigan, on his bike as he spotted birds. Zinta Aistars talks to Haas about how that turned out. 

Josh Haas keeps New Year’s resolutions. That alone is worthy of applause. His resolution for the year 2013 was so unique, however, that he is now speaking all over Southwest Michigan about it--and the response has been enthusiastic.

On Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m., Josh Haas will be speaking about his year-long adventure spotting 200 birds while riding a bike over one year’s time throughout Barry County. The free presentation will include videos of his journey and take place at Binder Park Zoo, 7400 Division Drive in Battle Creek.      

"My wife Kara worked at Kalamazoo Nature Center as public programs and exhibits director, and I volunteered there once a week," says Haas. "That’s how I got interested in birds, especially raptors."

Raptors are birds of prey that hunt and feed on other animals, and Haas became so fascinated with the hawks and eagles that he began to photograph them. He is today, along with his father, Dave Haas, owner of a nature photography business called Glances at Nature.       

"I’d dabbled in photography even as a kid," Haas says, "but I got serious about it when I got into birding." One interest spawned the other, he says. Aside from his daytime job as a manager at the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center in Battle Creek, he and his father have built their photography business not only on selling their photography, but also by offering classes and workshops along with individual lessons. 

"I’m a goal-oriented person, and at the beginning of 2013, I thought about what kind of goal to set that would include fitness without using fossil fuels--and birds."

Haas is a biker, riding various types of bicycles on different types of terrain, and it seemed a logical pairing to combine riding his bike and spotting birds. He called his journey The BIGBY, an abbreviation-acronym of The Big Green Big Year.  Traveling inside the boundaries of Barry County, where he lives on 12 acres with wife and daughter, Haas planned to spot 200 birds over the year. 

"I looked at yearly records for Barry County, and I looked at other inland counties," Haas says. "Most record around 190 birds spotted in a year. Places like Allegan County, closer to the Lake, might record 240 or 250, but farther inland, the water birds fall off. Breaking 200 anywhere inland is hard to do."

It started as a one-man journey. One man and his bike, a pair of binoculars, and an iPhone in his pocket for snapping a quick photo when a bird came into view. Haas, who is also the president of Battle Creek Brigham Audubon, used a website called eBird to track and record his sightings.      

"It’s a worldwide database for birds," Haas says. "That was the first way that I found birds. You can zero in on areas where alerts of sightings have been posted. The second way was to ...


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