Larry Rosche, Naturalist and Author, shares a series of stories about discovering nature as a youth, a lifetime of Birding, and how to choose a path of conservation.
Part One: A Lifetime of Bird Watching
If you want to learn something, come on some of our trips Judy Semroc and I lead, we will not disappoint. We’ve been doing this for a long time. Judy and I have been partners in the field for at least fifteen years and we are sitting here at West Creek Preserve and we were here before it was a preserve. We were part of the people that came out and did some studies and before the Metroparks picked it up. That’s the kind of things that we do for right now.
Those people that are really good bird watcher’s have a couple of books we’ve written, “Birds of the Cleveland Region” and “Dragonflies and Damselflies of Northeast Ohio”, a highly acclaimed book that got a lot of people writing regional guides. Because dragonflies, some are very widespread, but most are very, very site specific and indicators of what you can find and lots of different things in a particular nature.
We’re basically nature nuts, and we’ve been around a long time. I’ve been blessed with the bird watching stuff. I think Western Cuyahoga Audubon Society and the Kirtland Bird Club - all those things - we’ve had a great history of bird watching in this region in hundreds and hundreds years plus.
It is not just since the hand-held devices showed up, eBird, iNaturalists and all those things. There were many, many great bird watcher’s long before me. You have to go to the archives and if you go to the Kirtland Bird Club website, you can find a lot of information going back to 1905. Some of the dearest people that ever walked and gave their entire career - pencil and paper, of course! - and they knew how to write cursively, I find it interesting that people don’t write cursively anymore.
We did a lot of bird watching over the years and Lake Erie is among the biggest and best and we have to learn to protect it from a lot of outside development and things like that or everything will be gone.
Part Two: Stewards of Conservation
Larry Rosche: When we do work for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, we tell people we work at the natural areas. I can remember Ken Kaufman speaking at the Museum several years back and he made a reference to the fact that he’s been in many, many, many museums and we’re the only one that it’s a living museum and that we protect things for the future and we protect land and we have over five thousand acres, probably pushing six thousand acres by now.
We have active people: David Kriska and Keith Moran, Becky Donelson under Jim Bissell, are working to save Mentor Marsh, or return Mentor Marsh to its prior status before it became Mentor Phragmites Marsh. They spend so much time writing grants and stuff like that.
We also have all these properties that we lead trips to, different ones, there aren’t that many trails on them, there’s lots of poison ivy and we can show you some of the best deer flies you ever wanted to get a hold of. They are very, very wonderful sites and they’re all through Northeast Ohio from Huron County on over to Ashtabula County.
Anytime you want, just look up the Museum website and go to Adult Field Trips and I’m sure you’ll find something there that’ll just please you.
Other than that, I’m involved with the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America. I’m very proud, I got to work on Roger Tory Peterson’s books and do the maps for those books after Roger passed to the other side and Virginia passed to the other side. I’ve just been very, very blessed to be a part of all this.
Part Three: Leading Conservation
"You've got to be a Bird Leader." ~ Naturalist Larry Rosche, July 2016
Larry Rosche: I’ve been asked many times, how did I get involved with all this? It’s hard to say, I grew up in the fifties. We played baseball. We were outside. Our hand-held device was a Louisville Slugger. We were just outside and we noticed things.
We noticed Killdeer trying to nest on second base. And what were we going to do? Move the whole field? Little beetles running across the ground. Those are pretty cool! They’re green and they jump up and the birds, different things. We’ve watched all these birds disappear from different grassland areas and then reappear after the strip mines and come back.
It’s a hard thing to tell people, how to choose a path. You’ve got to want to do it. You’ve got to wonder, “I wonder what that is?” and you just sit there and you watch it. When a little Chipping Sparrow comes walking across the pavement in the picnic ground, I notice. I looked down there and “Oh, that’s a youngster. He’s got a little streaks on him and stuff like that.” It’s watching them.
I’ve watched bird watching change, especially since the Internet - I know, I’m really dating myself and that’s been around quite a while - but it’s become a game. I’ve got more birds than you. It’s just turned into something that no one lasts. You go out to the meetings and a lot of young people are doing stuff but they don’t join the meetings, they don’t join the groups. They all have their ways of doing something and I’m not saying there aren’t some really good bird watchers, there are some really, really hot shots out there!
I wish they’d understand that it’s their responsibility to carry on. Which is going to cost them some dollars. They’re going to have to donate, they’re going to have to be involved, volunteer, and it’s hard. With the Internet and these little different things, it’s taken a little bit from me but it’s nothing I can stop and I’m not trying to stop it.
If you’re going to do bird watching or any kind of science, we have some really good people to talk to. You can talk to Dr. Ben Winger, he was a Kirtland Bird Club Member. He used to come to the Kirtland Bird Club and his parents would bring him. Nick Barber. These people have gone on to study in South America and Nicaragua, Central America, all over the world and find new species. These are young people who are Cleveland area people.
I remember Jenny Brumfield when she was seven years old. I brought her up to the Lakefront for the first time. Wow, what a bird watcher that little kid was! And we just said, “There’s the future.” I’m so proud to see Jen working here at the Metroparks and doing the leadership role that you have to assume.
Some of us were just born to be out front and you’ve got to take it. That’s the way it goes. You have to learn to write, you have to produce, you have to keep going. The older people just can’t be the ones doing the editing, running the meetings, the young people can.
We’ve had Lukas Padegimas and he’s been great, but you know, they all grow up and want to go away and get girlfriends and you know what happens after that. It’s hard for me to advise people. Things are great here in Cleveland and I just hope it continues on.
Part Four: Choosing a Life of Conservation
Larry Rosche: I keep getting asked, “How did I get started in this?” It’s hard to say. I was a baseball player, that’s all I was. I was playing baseball all the way through college, after college. Bike riding and I met Bert Szabo. He talked to me about some things and we’d be riding bicycles and I’d tell him, “Well, there’s a green heron.” And he would scream and yell at me, “Well, you didn’t see anything!” And I’d show him that ole’ Larry could see stuff.
And we would get back together and the when you get with Bert you’d go out and you’d see the birds and the plants, because he was a botanist, and then we would meet other people who’d show us the butterflies and then the moths, those big silk moths, and then everything.
So, what I would suggest is just look at everything. If you haven’t held a beetle in your hand or if you missed out on that seventeen-year Cicada this year where you could pick them up and see that some of them have blue eyes. Some of them have this awful, awful mold - which this is the first year they’ve been able to prove that it comes out in seventeen years with the crazy locusts! And those kinds of things are still left.
Study the dragon flies, we’re still one hundred years behind in knowing what dragon flies are where. The butterflies are so susceptible to lawn chemicals. Stop the lawn chemicals. Grow dandelions. You’ll find that no one on your football team gets cancer anymore. None of you get dogs with cancer on the feet. Stop the chemicals.
There’s just so much that you need to do or just take care of and not just be a bird watcher, but to be a bird leader. I really think that that’s what this whole situation of the blog, the writing, the newsletters, it’s all about that for everybody.
And that’s all about I got to say to everybody. Thank you for your time.
Larry has been the chief avian researcher for Camp Ravenna for Ohio National Guard for 23 years. He has also performed ongoing dragonfly and damselfly (odonata) surveys at Camp Ravenna. He has researched avifauna and odonata at Camp Perry, Camp Tarlton and Camp Sherman for the Ohio National Guard. In the first Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas he inventoried and surveyed birds in numerous sites throughout eastern Ohio for the Ohio Department of Natural Areas and Preserves (1982-1987).
Larry co-authored with Judy Semroc the highly acclaimed Dragonflies and Damselflies of Northeast Ohio (2008). He has been Houghton Mifflin’s mapmaker for 21 years and his digitized renditions of range distribution occur in nearly every Peterson Field Guide Series®. In addition, Larry has reviewed all the distribution maps pertaining to Ohio birds for the Sibley’s Guide to Birds and the National Geographic Society’s Birds of North America.
Larry is an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Kirtland Bird Club, having served as Editor of the Cleveland Bird Calendar for 16 years and as a President. He updated the Birds of the Cleveland Region in 2004. Larry has also penned the 1988 and 2004 editions of the Field Book of Birds of the Cleveland Region, co-authored the chapter on Cleveland area birding for the Birder’s Guide to Metropolitan Areas of North America (2001)