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Duluth News Tribune, Published September 15 2010

Hawk Ridge regular shares love of birding

DULUTH, Minn. — There he is, sitting on the elevated hawk-counting platform at Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. He wears his Swarovski 10-by-42 EL binoculars, but he is not an official counter. He's on nobody's payroll. He wears no name tag, bears no official title.

But Andrew Longtin has become an integral part of this nationally recognized raptor observation outpost in Duluth.

"We can't figure out whether he has adopted us or we've adopted him," says Julie O'Connor, volunteer coordinator at Hawk Ridge.

A computer network engineer from Corcoran, Longtin spends most of his five weeks of vacation each year volunteering at Hawk Ridge.

Three autumns ago, he began donating $1,000 per year to Hawk Ridge so that kids would be able to "adopt" hawks that are banded there. (He had to skip last fall, though, when he was between jobs and without income.)

Hawk adoption starts at $20 for raptors such as sharp-shinned hawks, so his donations can reach up to 50 kids each fall. Each child who adopts a hawk also gets to release it so it can continue its migration.

"Nothing's going to get a kid interested in something better than, 'Here — here's a real live bird,'" Longtin says.

Beth Miller, a Hawk Ridge naturalist and elementary school teacher who has brought her fifth-graders to the site, has seen the results of Longtin's generosity.

"To put a live bird in the hand of a 10-year-old kid can be a life-altering experience for some of them," Miller says. "They talk about it all year."

Beyond that, Longtin, 46, has adopted 48 raptors, four owls and 20 songbirds in his own name at Hawk Ridge. He also puts up about $700 each fall to sponsor events during the Hawk Weekend celebration.

An excellent birder with a broad knowledge of raptors, he has become a trusted observer who assists official counter Karl Bardon with the count most days.

Longtin credits former counter Frank Nicoletti, along with Dave Carman and Ryan Brady, all of Hawk Ridge, for refining his knowledge of raptors since he first came to Hawk Ridge in the late 1990s.

"Frank was a key person for me," Longtin says. "I wouldn't bother him if it was busy. When it was slow, that's when I'd ask my questions."

He remembers one day, when his identification skills were becoming solid, seeing a Swainson's hawk at a long distance. Swainson's hawks are rare at Hawk Ridge.

"I said, 'Hey, Frank, I think that's a Swainson's,'" Longtin recalls. "Frank checked it and said, 'Good pick.' When Frank gives you a 'good pick,' that's something.'"

Growing up in White Bear Lake, Longtin's curiosity about birds was fueled by his dad, an "outdoors guy," who knew the names of plants and birds. Longtin became serious about birding in 1991, when he bought his own home and festooned his yard with bird feeders and bird houses.

The Internet led him to birding groups and birders who told him about Hawk Ridge. He's been helping almost from that first visit.

"He's the kind of guy who, when he sees a need, he meets it," O'Connor says, "whether with the right tool or dollars or food. When he saw we continuously had a low tire on our trailer, he gave us an air compressor. When he saw me standing on a rock trying to clip brush, he brought us a pole saw."

His website — www.birderguy.com — includes a page devoted to Hawk Ridge and galleries of photos he has taken there. Another page is devoted to his raptor adoptions. He wears Hawk Ridge clothing everywhere he goes, O'Connor says. He volunteers in the owl-banding program at the ridge.

"He's one of the kindest, most generous people I've ever met," Miller says.

Longtin is fascinated by birds of all kinds, he says, and he wants to pass that passion on to as many others as he can.

He watches a sharp-shinned hawk passing over the counting corral on Monday. It catches a gust of east wind and hurtles south as if fired out of a slingshot.

"It's that dream — boy, it would be nice to be able to fly," Longtin says. "If there's such a thing as reincarnation, I'd like to come back as a bird."


Online:

http://www.birderguy.com

http://www.hawkridge.org.


Information from: Duluth News Tribune, http://www.duluthsuperior.com

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.