Birdman Bob follows his passion both near and far

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2009 - 6:35 PM

Bob Holtz has followed his passion for birds worldwide -- and all over Anoka County.

Bob Holtz, 76, has been a bird enthusiast since he was 6. He has been to six continents and seen nearly 500 species of birds. The retired Concordia College professor is the star of "Birding With Bob" -- a series of podcasts that examines birds in Anoka County. Here, Bob was out in the field at Wargo Nature Center, checking bluebird boxes, keeping an eye out for winged creatures, and examining this vacant nest used by house wrens that had taken up inside one of the bluebird nesting boxes.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Bob Holtz is a bird of a different feather. To Holtz, the rare, tropical Hoatzin (or stinkbird) that he saw in Peru is no more fascinating than the wood duck he spotted in a tree in Carver County when he was 6.

"They're all interesting," said the man who has spotted 209 species of birds in Anoka County alone -- many of them in the Carlos Avery Reserve Area, where he says he's seen 182 species.

"There's no one bird that does it for me," said Holtz, 76, an adult education specialist and naturalist for Anoka County. "The next one I find will be the most interesting -- until the one after that."

Holtz, a Roseville resident who taught biology for 36 years at Concordia College, describes himself as a typical collector -- a "chaser who loves the hunt and the chance to see what I can find."

In Kenya, his group found 510 species of birds in less than two weeks. In Anoka County, he's recently seen trumpeter swans and American white pelicans and has checked for bluebird nests.

Where should you look or listen for birds in the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park or the Wargo Nature Center? What is it about the Rum River Regional Park that fascinates Holtz? Answers lie in Holtz's recently completed series of "Birdwatching with Bob" podcasts, which can be seen on the Anoka County website (www.co.anoka.mn.us) and in which he shares the passion that has taken him all over the planet, to every continent but Antarctica.

He recently visited Peru with 19 friends and family members. He'd hoped to see 19 "lifers" -- birds he'd never seen before that he could add to his "life list," which was approaching 2,000. In 13 days, he saw 292 different species, 179 of them "lifers."

He's spotted 236 species in Ramsey County but knows someone who claims to have spotted 330 species in St. Louis County, along the Lake Superior north shore.

He is now in the midst of what is one of the most exciting seasons for birders -- fall, which, he said, started in early August and runs through November.

"The seasons are different for birders," he explained. "Migration spans from August through November. Some of the shore birds from the tundra leave in July. Watch for warblers which have nested farther north than this -- in northern Minnesota and Canada. They zip through here in a couple of days, so you have to be prepared."

A good pair of binoculars is essential. You don't have to spend a couple of thousand dollars, he says.

"In the last decade, the quality of binoculars has greatly improved," he said. "But it helps if you know what you're looking for and where to find it.

"I look for the same things that have always fascinated me: the colors, the grace, the unusual movements of the various species," he said. "If I sound excited after all these years, that's what it's about. It's fun to be passionate about something."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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