Birding prodigy from Eugene writes book about penguins

Birding prodigy from Eugene writes book about penguins
Noah Strycker’s fascination for birds has taken him to the farthest reaches of the planet – Antarctica – where he spent three months on the frozen continent studying Adélie penguins.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Noah Strycker’s fascination for birds has taken him to the farthest reaches of the planet – Antarctica – where he spent three months on the frozen continent studying Adélie penguins.

The 2008 Oregon State University graduate’s observations, insights and experiences are recounted in his first book, “Among Penguins: A Bird Man in Antarctica,” which has just been published by the OSU Press.

Strycker’s interest in birds began as a fifth-grade student in Oak Hill School in Eugene when his teacher began pointing out different birds on the school grounds. He soon began building birdhouses to place around his home.

But it was on a camping trip with his father in the fall of 2000 that his fascination with birds intensified. They were visiting Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and had spotted a barred owl swooping down from a tree to grab a snake. Just seconds later, a great horned owl flew in from a nearby tree and the two owls began to clash. Since that time, he has been passionate about learning more about birds of all feathers.

Strycker is something of a prodigy in the birding world – by the time he was 19 years old, he was the associate editor of Birding magazine, a columnist for WildBird, and a book reviewer for Birder’s World. He has spent thousands of hours observing and documenting different birds, and has contributed original illustrations and photographs for numerous books and articles.

Those experiences, however, didn’t prepare him for the rigors of Antarctica, where in 2008 he and two companions were dropped off by helicopter in a remote field camp with a three-month supply of food. Their quest: to document the behavior, habitat and ecology of the region’s population of more than a quarter-million Adélie penguins.

Along the way, they encounter mummified penguin remains that might be a thousand years old; hurricane-force blizzards; and a frigid yet stunning landscape that is as dangerous as it is beautiful.

In the book, Strycker describes his first encounter with an Adélie penguin: “The bird was supremely curious. It teetered, wobbled and edged closer, then walked a slow, deliberate circle around us, inspecting the members of our sea ice safety class from every angle…With impeccable manners, the penguin did not touch anything. It carried the air of a gentleman adventurer, eager and friendly, generally reserved, and a bit reckless.”

Then, Strycker noted, the penguin settled down, stretched out, and went to sleep.

“I sat just a few feet from the sleeping penguin,” he recounted. “Such trust was incredible in a wild bird.”

Strycker visited Antarctica as part of the PenguinScience project, a collaborative research effort led by several scientists, including OSU’s Katie Dugger in the university’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

“Among Penguins” is due out in book stores in April and can be ordered online through the OSU Press. Already the book is receiving critical acclaim.

Ted Floyd, editor of Birding, described the book as “a fine offering by one of America’s rising stars in the realm of nature writing…Strycker is a gifted writer.”

PenguinScience researcher David Ainley, who also has written a book on Adélie penguins, identified with Strycker’s descriptions of Antarctica’s Cape Crozier, which he described as one of Earth’s “power spots.” Noted Ainley: “It’s refreshing to get Noah Strycker’s impressions of this place through his day-to-day experiences; he definitely had all his senses tested.”

The publication of “Among Penguins” is supported in part through the John and Shirley Byrne Fund for Books on Nature and the Environment.