The Luck of the Amish

From Holmes County, Ohio, Kenn writes: When I moved to Ohio about four years ago, one of the big surprises for me was to learn that the east-central part of the state has a very active community of Amish birders.

The Amish country centered on Holmes County, Ohio, attracts many tourists. This is partly because it's the most beautiful rural country you can imagine, and partly for the novelty of seeing the traditional lifestyle of the Amish people, living without electricity and traveling by horse and buggy. The lifestyle may be "simple" in some ways but there's nothing simple about the people, who are hard-working and savvy and well educated about the world. And some of them are extremely sharp birders, attuned to every callnote overhead and every flit in the thickets, aware of every bird in their surroundings. Some of Ohio's top birders happen to be Amish, and it's a pleasure and an inspiration to go birding with them.

None of their beliefs prevent the Amish from using good binoculars and telescopes. And in fact, Ohio's best-known dealer of optics for birding is an Amish gentleman named Robert Hershberger, who owns a shop called Time & Optics Ltd near Mt. Hope. Kim has known Robert for several years, and now he's a friend of mine as well. We spent the last two days birding with him: Tuesday along the Lake Erie shoreline, and yesterday in areas closer to his home base in Holmes County. Robert showed us all kinds of birds: Pileated Woodpecker in the woods near Mohican, American Kestrels in the open country, flocks of American Robins feasting on crabapples at the local arboretum, Pine Siskins everywhere in this invasion year. And in the evening, Robert and his wife Barbara welcomed us into their home to spend the evening with their family.

Robert Hershberger and Time & Optics Ltd have been big supporters of the Ohio Young Birders Club, and Robert's own kids are the most adorable tykes you could ever meet. They were shy at first, but it wasn't long before Kim was down on the floor romping with them. Robert and I were talking about details of bird distribution and migration, with Kim tossing in comments periodically from amid the heap of laughing children on the floor. Altogether it was a delightful evening, capping off a delightful two days, and we felt privileged to have been there.


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