As hunters across Maine take to the woods this month to hunt deer, many also will look to the sky to identify raptors, late migrants or birds of the boreal forest.

There were 219,612 licensed hunters in Maine in 2016. And while it’s unknown how many birders there are in the state outside of Maine Audubon’s 10,000 members, one thing is clear: The more hunters you talk to, the more you find avid birders among their ranks.

Angus King III, son of the U.S. senator from Maine, has hunted for 15 years. But several years ago, King, 47, also learned from co-workers about the fascinating practice of identifying songbirds. It happened one day when King worked at First Wind – the former renewable energy company now part of SunEdison – and asked two biologists at the office what the little greenish-colored bird that made a “potato chip” call that King saw might be.

To his amazement his two friends immediately identified it as a female American goldfinch.

“I had always fished and spent a lot of time outside,” King said, “but it seemed a bit daunting to try to identify the hundred of bird species in Maine. But they said, ‘Sure you can. Right now you can probably name 25.’ And I could.

“The next four years I would ask Bob and Dave what I think I saw and what they thought I saw. They were very kind in helping to teach me.”

In September, King earned the distinction of identifying and alerting the Maine birding community to a rare migrant found at Maine Audubon, the fork-tailed flycatcher of South America.

Former co-workers Angus King III, left, and Bob Roy are birders and hunters, a combination where practicing one improves the other.

But King credits his skills as a woodcock and grouse hunter with making him a better birder.

“When I started hunting at 32, I became more aware of the outdoors. It completely opens your eyes,” King said. “Hunting, you become aware of how our behavior affects animals. You watch nature with a greater intensity, a greater level of discovery.”

His co-worker and birding friend, Bob Roy, agrees. Roy, 47, grew up in Leeds in a hunting family and has hunted his whole life. But when a high school biology teacher turned Roy on to birding, it also became a large part of his outdoor life.

“I consult on wildlife issues. I travel around the country and wherever I go, I plan a birding trip,” Roy said. “I work on a year list. This year I’m 12 shy of 400 (bird species).

“Hunting teaches you to be patient for a long period of time. That trains you to be a better birder. You pick up on things while waiting in the woods. It hones your senses. Every little noise, you notice.”

The shared passion is not uncommon in Maine.

Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farms in Falmouth.

Harold Brewer of Kennebunk said he has hunted most of his 73 years since growing up in the mountains of north Georgia.

Then Brewer became an avid birder when he retired 15 years ago.

In addition to hunting grouse in the woods around his camp in Rangeley, Brewer enjoys stalking birds with his camera. He said the two activities are remarkably similar.

“When you hunt you learn to notice things. You learn how animals behave,” Brewer said. “It makes you more aware of the woods and the things you want to look at. If I hadn’t had that experience, birding would be very difficult. You don’t know where to look when you start birding. Hunting teaches you to see things.”

Brewer said hunting taught him to wait in nature and expect the unexpected. As a result he’s photographed a Wilson snipe doing its mating dance, where it “drops like a rocket with four feathers ticked out to the side like an F-18 (fighter jet).”

Brewer also has photographed a bald eagle pursuing an osprey that was carrying a mullet in Florida.

“One of the things I’ve learned, some of the best conservationists are hunters,” said Brewer, who has aided efforts to save the Florida Everglades. “It’s not a theory. We really see things happening, woodlands being destroyed, the degradation of the planet, the loss of habitat. And we do what we can to prevent it.”

Dan Gardoqui of York uses a scope after participating in a class in 2015. He says birding and hunting are a natural mix.

Dan Gardoqui, the founder and executive director of the York-based White Pine Program environmental school, may be one of Maine’s most avid birders and hunters.

He teaches birders how to identify bird songs, and about what the songs mean and why birds are communicating. Gardoqui also hunts several kinds of game meat and then processes it in his family’s kitchen.

“The other day we were doing some staff training,” Gardoqui said of his White Pine Program staff. “We came in for an hour and I brought a couple of squirrels I shot. I started telling the staff about small game, and processed it and cooked it. I told them if they’re interested the could have a bite.”

Gardoqui started birding in high school in New Jersey thanks to a school teacher. He did not start hunting until after graduate school in New Hampshire.

“I wanted to find a way to get my food, to eat some local healthy wild meat,” said Gardoqui, 44. “I started with deer and moved down to goose. I also hunt squirrels a little, grouse, duck, turkey. I have ups and downs but I’m pretty consistent bringing home food.”

Bob Roy shows the page in his notebook from his trip to Iowa where he saw 78 bird species in one day out. Roy has been hunting since he was an adolescent and said he feels like hunting may have made him a better bird watcher.

Gardoqui also said hunting has made him a better birder, one who has taught college courses in ornithology at Granite State College.

“You learn more about nature looking for deer,” Gardoqui said. “Everyone thinks hunting is about killing, but that’s a small percentage of the time spent hunting. And sometimes you don’t (harvest an animal). I see birders looking for rare birds, they get so frustrated like they’re entitled to see it.”

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

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