David Ascanio, an ornithologist and core leader of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, took part in Conservation International’s recent Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) survey to the Cuyuní River in Venezuela. Here, he discusses his connection to birding and conservation and science – and when he discovered the iPod.
Q: You’ve been interested in birds and conservation your whole life. What are some of your earliest memories of hearing/finding birds for yourself?
A: The very first species I identified was a barred antshrike. I was eating mangoes in my backyard at the age of eleven, and heard a whistle. I whistled back and the bird approached me (it was sitting on a branch of the mango tree).
Q: Who are your mentors and heroes in your field?
A: Without a doubt, Richard French (author of the first field guide to the birds of Trinidad and Tobago) and Steve Hilty (author of Birds of Columbia and the second edition of Birds of Venezuela).
Q: You call your technique “fishing.” Can you describe the technique so a lay audience can understand?
A: I actually should call it “trolling.” By moving across a given region playing the song, if there is a male of the species we desire to find, it may respond to defend their territory. This way we can confirm its existence when doing assessments.
Q: And you use an iPod in the field to play the birds’ songs. How did you start using the iPod?
A: As soon as the first iPod was advertised my colleague Steve Hilty started using it and brought one to Venezuela. Of course, I asked him to bring me one right away! I am now using my fifth iPod and testing the iPod touch in the field. So far so good!
Q: What is it you like about leading birding tours, and what is it you like about scientific research? Do the two overlap?
A: The two are very different. Birding is a passion. Science is about being pragmatic, non-emotional and theoretical. Both complement and benefit one another. Science benefits from the number of birders reporting species from the field, and birders benefit from the discoveries of ornithologists. There is always overlap.
READ MORE: Get the full story on how the iPod has become an important scientific tool.