Michigan Graduate Using Camera to Raise Funds for Hawaiian Bird Extinction Crisis

Great Horned Owl by David Pavlik
Great Horned Owl by David Pavlik

(Washington, D.C., February 28, 2013) To bird-watchers, a “Big Year” is a year in which you try to see as many different bird species as possible. To biologist David Pavlik it is that, but it is also something more. Pavlik, an accomplished photographer and birdwatcher from Michigan, hopes to raise money to conserve rare birds by finding sponsors who will donate between $0.05 and $5 for every bird species he spots – and photographs – in 2013.

Pavlik, a 24-year old zoology graduate of Northern Michigan University plans to donate every cent he raises in his “Photographic Big Year” to American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a leading US bird conservation group. At Pavlik's request, ABC will spend this money on programs designed to save rare Hawaiian birds from extinction. He says he chose Hawaii after learning of the very serious bird conservation crisis in that state – one that has given Hawaii the regrettable distinction of being the “bird extinction capital of the world.”

He expects to do a lot of travelling, and take a lot of pictures. “Last year was a truly exceptional year in which I saw over 600 different bird species. Photographing those species, however, is much more of a challenge. By the end of this year, I hope to photograph 500 species or more,” Pavlik said. He developed a website detailing the adventure and providing the means for conservation-minded people to sponsor or donate to the cause.

He said he has plans to travel throughout the United States, either for work or studies this coming year in the hopes of meeting his objective. Likely stops include Michigan, Minnesota, Florida, Nevada, California, Arizona and Texas, among others. From now until May he expects to be working at a private conservation research facility in Tallahassee, Florida. Then it's back to Michigan for a few weeks before potentially starting a University of Minnesota master's degree program. His research would take place in the Great Basin area of Nevada and California. He says he hopes to get to SE Arizona and Texas, although he's not sure exactly when that will happen. He was in Michigan and Minnesota earlier in the year.

While Hawaii is a place that normally conjures up images of lush vegetation, sun, beaches and a refreshing tropical climate, ABC says there is no place else on Earth that has witnessed the levels of bird extinctions that Hawaii has experienced.  Since the arrival of Europeans to the Hawaiian Islands, 71 endemic bird species have become extinct out of a total of 113 that existed just prior to human colonization. Of the remaining 42, 32 are federally listed, and ten of those have not even been seen for up to 40 years.

David in the field

Pavlik says he was inspired by ABC's new 30-minute film titled Endangered Hawai'i, narrated by actor Richard Chamberlain, which describes the nature of the crisis, its causes, and current efforts to implement solutions for species remaining on the brink.

“The money has been slow coming in but anything I can do to help that situation, whether it's only a few dollars or hundreds or perhaps even thousands, is money well spent,” he said.

So far, he has photographed about 220 bird species and has posted them on his flickr page to help chronicle this photographic adventure.

“I got a few terrific shots and a few surprises in Florida — La Sagra's Flycatcher and Western Spindalis — and some nice winter birds in Michigan including a Northern Hawk Owl, Snowy Owl and Hoary Redpoll. I bought a digiscoping camera and that has really helped get better photos of distant birds,” he said.

In order for a bird to "count", it will need to be identifiable from the picture, he explained. The picture does not need to be good, but the bird must be identifiable. Some species of birds are extremely difficult to identify without hearing them call or knowing the location where the photo was taken. He says he will post the location that each photograph was taken if it helps resolve those pesky identifications. He may also try to take video of birds that can only be identified by voice.

Pavlik is currently a contract biologist, accepting temporary/seasonal positions with bird research groups and institutions. He graduated from Northern Michigan University in 2010.

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