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Tucson Weekly Nom De Plumage

A Bird-Watcher Comes Of Age

By Gregory McNamee

SEPTEMBER 15, 1997:  THERE'S A CERTAIN kind of birdwatcher who'll make an occasional adventure of going to, say, the Buenos Aires Preserve or the Willcox Playa and hunker down for a weekend of crane-spotting and warbler counting. There's another kind, more serious, who'll head out the door on a moment's notice to travel halfway across the country--or the world--at the prospect of adding a new species to his or her list.

And then there's Kenn Kaufman, a Tucsonan who's cultivated his obsession with birds into an art form.

As Kaufman recounts in his lively memoir Kingbird Highway, he's managed to do what few other birders have: take a year and do nothing but chase flying critters from one end of the country to another. The year in question was 1973, when Kaufman was 19 years old and a few dollars and an outstretched thumb could go a long way. Armed with binoculars, notebook, and the blessing of birder patron-saint Roger Tory Peterson, Kaufman set out to capture the record for most species spotted in a single year. He came close, closing with 666 species sighted from Alaska to Florida and back again. More importantly, he racked up a lifetime's worth of gentle coming-of-age adventures on the road, and these form the heart of his book--a narrative in which spotted redshanks, white-eared hummingbirds, marbled murrelets, and black-capped gnatcatchers are among the chief supporting players.

Kaufman gives a free public talk, "The Adventure of Learning About Birds," at 7 p.m. on Monday, September 15, in the PCC Proscenium Theatre, 2202 W. Anklam Road. He'll sign copies of Kingbird Highway and his other books immediately following.


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