The birds around us
Chico couple’s book highlights the birds of Bidwell Park
Flip a couple of pages into Roger Lederer’s new book, and the reader will find a dedication to Annie Bidwell. It’s a fitting tribute to Chico’s “founding mother,” who after all made her own dedication to the community more than 100 years ago by gifting the city the land comprising a majority of Bidwell Park.
Since Bidwell’s donation back in 1905, the property, originally about 2,500 acres, has since gained hundreds of acres through city purchases and has grown into a 3,600-acre municipal park stretching for 11 miles.
The Birds of Bidwell Park is Lederer’s fifth book on birds, and during a recent walk near One-Mile Recreation Area, the retired Chico State biology professor explained what sets it apart from his other projects.
“This one’s special because the park is special,” he said matter-of-factly.
And really, what Lederer has accomplished with the book is to help others appreciate those special qualities.
Bidwell Park is a complex habitat. In flat Lower Park, for example, visitors will find an abundance of low-lying shrubs and other vegetation that rise upward to a canopy of trees, many of which are vine-laden, Lederer pointed out. Up in the foothills of Upper Park, the terrain ranges from dense forest to grasslands to savannah.
He noted that Lower Park’s location smack dab in the middle of town is significant. “A five-minute walk from a shopping center, and you can do some pretty good birding,” he said. “You can’t do that in very many places.”
The entire region provides a home to an impressive array of birds—species that Lederer is an ace at identifying because of his specialty as an ornithologist. Standing just east of Annie’s Glen, for instance, he identified a tiny bird from a great distance, impressing this reporter, who had to walk close to its perch of an oak tree to see that, sure enough, it indeed was a white-breasted nuthatch.
When asked how he could distinguish the bird from others at such a distance, Lederer talked about size, movement, and his experience with the region and its inhabitants. “I can pick them out when people aren’t seeing them,” he acknowledged. “It’s because I know what I’m looking for.”
That experience has developed over decades studying avian life. Lederer’s first book on birds, Pacific Coast Bird Finder, was published in 1978 and still sells. Today, he runs the website ornithology.com, which has led to requests for other books, as well as speaking engagements, and queries for expertise from the likes of National Geographic, NPR and Vanity Fair magazine.
Lederer notes that his 84-page book, which was released in May, is not intended for serious birders. It’s geared specifically to what is likely to be seen in Bidwell Park. It highlights 86 species, thus helping readers, and especially beginning birders, to identify them.
In the book, the descriptions of the birds include little interesting tidbits about each species, plus tips for identification, including illustrations of the season and region indicating where each is likely to be found. Readers will learn that, in addition to eating insects, lizards, mammals, birds, nuts, seeds and acorns, the Western scrub jay is also known to occasionally sneak to the under side of another bird’s nest to peck through to the eggs.
“This is more to give the birds personality,” he said.
Lederer and his wife, Carol Burr, worked on the self-published book together for about a year. He came up with the written content, and she, a retired Chico State English professor, edited his work. At the same time, Burr, an amateur artist, worked with pen and colored pencils to create the accompanying excellent illustrations.
Burr honed her artistic talent over the course of the project. Lederer said that Burr’s drawings improved greatly as the two got further into the process. In fact, he was so impressed that he asked her to go back and redo several of her earliest illustrations.
Lederer, who had spent the previous day at the park with his granddaughter, called the park the jewel of Chico. He said that the only way it will stay that way is to appreciate it. The book, he added, was his and Burr’s way of appreciating it.
“If we break even, we’d be happy,” he said.
“Even if we don’t break even, we’re happy,” he continued. “It’s something we did for the community.”