Loren Smith is executive director of Buffalo Audubon Society, but birds weren’t always his business.
As a child he recalled digging for fossils along the banks of Eighteen Mile Creek. The experience, Smith said, was a big reason the Amherst native became a paleontologist. After attending Calasanctius School, Smith studied geology at the University of Chicago and spent five years on the West Coast teaching at the University of Southern California.
Today Smith, 44, works out of the Beaver Meadow Audubon Center in North Java, a rustic facility full of natural science exhibits. He lives in Snyder with his family.
People Talk: Describe your personality.
Loren Smith: An introvert that has to be an extrovert for my job. I like to read. I like solo pursuits like cooking, volunteering at the Darwin Martin House where I wash windows. And I like to engage with the volunteers here.
PT: What is the last book you read?
LS: I’m in the middle of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lincoln biography “Team of Rivals.” I have a stack of books, old favorites that I return to all the time. So I read John Le Carre’s “Smiley’s People” probably 100 times. Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson biography has been fabulous.
PT: And you cook, too?
LS: I’m working on paella right now and risotto. I don’t know why because I hated rice as a kid.
PT: How do you let loose?
LS: I have two teenage daughters. We’ll be empty-nesters this month. My oldest is at NYU, my youngest is starting Niagara University in the fall. I’m pretty straight-laced.
PT: What have you learned from wildlife?
LS: Among other things, the hairs on the feet of geckos are what allow them to climb up windows.
PT: Why do birds run into windows?
LS: Because their eyes and brains don’t recognize what their reflection on the window actually is. They think it’s another bird that they want to attack.
PT: What sparked the formation of the Buffalo Audubon Society?
LS: A whole series of chapters were formed back in the early 1900s because people were capturing birds to collect their tail feathers to make hats and other clothes. We were formed out of a movement to keep that from happening. We’re one of the oldest conservation organizations in Western New York.
PT: Why is the Audubon Center called Beaver Meadow?
LS: Beavers have been here on and off probably since the glaciers left 11,000 years ago. When a beaver creates a dam, it creates a pond behind it. The pond fills up, but when the water level eventually goes down grasses grow to make a beaver meadow. When I started five years ago, the beavers were not here. They came back two years ago and built a dam. It’s a natural cycle of beaver occurrences.
PT: You must see a lot of water fowl at Beaver Meadow.
LS: Western New York is along the Atlantic Flyway which is essentially a superhighway in the sky that birds follow to go from their resting grounds in South and Central America to their nesting and breeding grounds in North America. Our larger pond is attracting more ducks, geese, shorebirds and other water fowl. We have observed 19 species. Wood ducks are my favorite.
PT: What are wood ducks?
LS: They’re an amazing brilliantly colored charismatic duck that nests in a tree hollow 50 or 60 feet up. When their young hatch they essentially float down on their little wings, hopefully land on a soft place and make a run for the pond. The males are extremely protective of the females and their young. They’ll strut around the pond, very dramatic. They’re sort of the drum majors of the bird world.
PT: How has birding kept up with technology?
LS: eBird, a citizen science website that allows you to keep a life list but it also lets scientists from around the world to study your discoveries.
PT: Tell me your personal favorite family hiking trail.
LS: The Whirlpool Rapids Trail. We’ve been doing it since the kids were toddlers. Just last month for Fourth of July my younger daughter suggested we do it again.
PT: Were you a Boy Scout?
LS: No, I never scouted, but I always felt comfortable being outside. At Calasanctius for gym class we could get credit for going camping. That was great. You didn’t have to do pushups and organized sports.
PT: What bird would you travel miles to spot?
LS: I’ve driven miles in Western New York to see Snowy Owls which you can see in Niagara County every once in a while. In fact one was seen on the water intake, the circular building with the red cone roof, in Lake Erie last winter.
PT: Tell me about a bird in decline locally.
LS: The Golden Winged Warbler is a species in severe decline. We are working to restore habitat that should attract this species, but I’ve never seen the bird despite having had a few opportunities in the past few years.
PT: Do you have any bear encounter stories?
LS: I’ve never encountered a bear, but here at Beaver Meadow this spring someone reported bear scat. Then some Boy Scouts spotted a small black bear on the end of the pond. Adolescent bears are like adolescent teenagers. They range far and wide until they find a territory to settle down in.