Shannon Modla started birding in Delaware in 2009 with her partner, Megan Kasprzak. She works at the University of Delaware as a transmission electron microscopist. When she is not in a dark room, hunched over her microscope looking at tiny stuff all day, she can often be found out in nature, lugging around her giant camera to photograph birds, flowers, and other wildlife. Shannon has been nominated to serve as Secretary on the upcoming DOS Council ballot and we are looking forward to the enthusiasm she will bring to this role!
How long have you been a DOS member?
I actually have no idea! It has probably been 6-8 years.
What is the best thing about being a part of DOS?
One of the best things about DOS has been their conservation efforts and fundraising through the Delaware Bird-A-Thon to secure land that will protect important bird habitat. This effort has not only helped the birds, but it also gives nature lovers like me more areas to explore. For example, I often visit Ashton Tract in the Augustine Wildlife Area, which was one of the areas the Bird-A-Thon established as a conservation area.
What is your favorite bird and why?
My favorite bird is the Black Skimmer. For graduate school, I attended the University of North Carolina Wilmington, which is a short drive to Wrightsville Beach. I spent many hours on Johnnie Mercerâ€™s Fishing Pier while I was getting my masterâ€™s degree, catching bluefish, pinfish, lizardfish, flounder, and anything else that would bite. Although I was an absolute nature-lover while in graduate school, I wasnâ€™t the enthusiastic birder that I am today, and I didnâ€™t truly appreciate the birds in and near Wrightsville Beach until visiting the area years later with my partner. On one of these visits, we discovered a nesting colony of Black Skimmers on the south side of the island. Walking from the parking area to the shoreline, we could hear the raucous calls of the skimmers as they constantly chattered. The skimmers zipped effortlessly through the dunes and engaged in acrobatic, aerial battles with each other. The skimmers would often fly right past us as they headed out to the shoreline to skim for prey and then would return to the nesting area to deliver fish to their nestlingsâ€™ hungry mouths. I could sit there and watch them for hours. It is such a magical place, and the Black Skimmers left an indelible impression on me.
What is your favorite bird song?
My favorite bird song is the Black-throated Green Warbler. The explanation will be a bit embarrassingâ€¦. Megan and I like to invent our own mnemonics to help us remember bird songs. The more absurd and funnier they sound, the easier it is for us to recall the bird when we hear it in the field. For the Black-throated Green Warbler, our mnemonic is â€œJazzy likes to eat some poo!â€ Jazzy was Meganâ€™s family dog who passed away suddenly in 2017 from liver cancer. Jazzy would occasionally eat their other dogâ€™s poop, which always grossed us out. Now whenever we hear the Black-throated green warbler calling in the springtime, we always think of Jazzy, that sweet and adorable, yet gross, pup. If you are curious to know some of our other homemade mnemonics, here are a few:
- Canada Warbler: â€œHow long does it take to do that?â€ (Must be said with a valley-girl way of speaking for full effect)
- Mourning Warbler: â€œFrankie, fungal, feline, fur.â€ (Reminds us of when our kitten Frankie had ringworm)
- Hooded Warbler: â€œI donâ€™t want to go to school!â€
- White-crowned sparrow: â€œStinky kitty butt.â€
Do you have a favorite birding patch?
Ashland Nature Center is one of my top birding patches. It is close to my house so I can get there within 15-20 minutes, there are a variety of habitats including meadow, marsh, creek, deciduous and coniferous woods, and the trees arenâ€™t as towering as in White Clay so there are more opportunities to photograph and see birds at eye level. You can also see a lot of other interesting wildlife including frogs, toads, snakes, turtles, raccoons lounging in trees, the occasional beaver and muskrat, and much more.
Do you create bird-related art?
Yes! I have used white and black charcoal, pencil, ink, and, most recently, colored pencils as media to create bird art. I also enjoy woodworking and have created wood intarsia of various species including Pileated Woodpecker, Wood Duck, Carolina Chickadee, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I have many hobbies!
Share a favorite bird fact.
I recently learned that some birds use their blood as a central heating system in winter. A study done at Lund University in Sweden compared the red blood cells in species of tits that were collected in early fall to those collected in late winter. Unlike mammals, red blood cells of birds contain mitochondria, the â€œpowerhousesâ€ of the cell that produce energy for cellular metabolism. The researchers discovered that winter birds had more mitochondria in their red blood cells than those from early fall birds, and the mitochondria in the late winter birds were working on overdrive to produce heat. Pretty neat!
How have birds changed your life?
Birds have had an impact on multiple aspects of my life. Both of my parents have terminal health conditions: my mom with multiple sclerosis and dementia, and my dad with Parkinsonâ€™s disease. It is a great source of stress, anxiety, and depression in my life seeing their health decline over time. Several years ago, my anxiety got so terrible that I had a difficult time functioning normally. It was at this darkest point that Megan and I decided to do a big year in Delaware. It got me out of my comfort zones by visiting new birding sites throughout the state, and having a regular connection with nature helped to improve my mental health. Although I still deal with anxiety, birding is a definite restorative outlet, and for whatever reason being outside watching those flitty, feather-clad creatures make me happy.
Another way birds have impacted my life is they have served as a gateway drug to my native plant obsession. Since I love birds so much, I want them everywhere, including my yard. I have transformed my yard into a native plant oasis, and as a result, we have seen an increase in the diversity of bird species visiting it. I am nowhere near as knowledgeable about plant identification as bird identification, but I am working on it!