An actor reconnects with birds
This issue features the first piece we’ve ever published from a successful television personality. Ian Harding, who stars in the popular show Pretty Little Liars, which recently ended after seven seasons, has written Odd Birds, a warm and engaging memoir about how the seemingly different pursuits of birding and acting have defined his life. In the chapter “Rediscovering Birds,” excerpted on page 32, he writes about reviving his passion for birds during a break from the show.
The 30-year-old sees a connection between acting and birding. “There’s this whole thing about being in the moment,” he says. “In acting, between ‘action’ and ‘cut’ you have to get very focused, and [it’s] very much so with birding. Your eyes and ears are open, and you’re taking in everything around you, and you’re very present.”
Harding is a regular visitor to the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve in Playa Del Rey, California (Hotspot Near You No. 212). And he has his eyes on more exotic birding hotspots – from Cuba to Central America to Africa. He keeps a life list, but checking birds off his list is not his number-one priority. “Birding is different for different people,” he says. “It’s very much a meditative thing for me.”
Harding had been away from birding until recently, and he seems to be working overtime to catch up. He’s taking an online bird course through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He studies field guides, and he has befriended Kenn Kaufman, whom he calls “a true genius.” He uses the Sibley and eBird apps. And he acknowledges that he needs to brush up on his recognition of songs and calls.
No question that in Odd Birds, Harding really announced himself as a serious birder, geeking out, in his words, about seeing new birds and admitting to being star-struck by a Red-cockaded Woodpecker. He even compared rare-bird birders to paparazzi. “I wanted to make that comparison because there is almost a celebrity element,” says Harding. “I’ve never seen a Painted Bunting, but I’ve had so many close encounters. I’ve seen so many pictures and I have this image of it in my mind. You can make the argument that that is its own form of celebrity. So when you see [the bird], you’re shocked by that moment. ‘Oh my God, that’s it.’”
It’s important to Harding to not only be recognized for his writing but also accepted in the birding community. “I hope that people who are not fans of my television show but love birding will get something out of it.” So do we.
Click here to read my full interview with Harding.
Lee Mergner, publisher
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