Artist, naturalist, and tour-leader, Louise Zemaitis is well-known among young birders for her involvement in the ABA Young Birders Conferences. Louise resides in Cape May where she is coordinator of the Monarch Monitoring Project. She and her birder/artist husband, Michael O’Brien, lead tours for Victor Emmanuel Nature Tours (VENT). I thank Louise profusely for her time in answering my interview questions, I think Eyrie readers will find her insights and stories most interesting! The interview will be posted in several parts throughout March.
When you first developed an interest in birds, how old were you?
I’ve been interested in nature for as far back as I can remember. My mother claims that I was a quiet child and birds would sit with me in my playpen in the backyard. When I was in elementary school I would play in the woods and at the local creek almost every day. Birds were part of the big picture.
Who or what sparked your interest?
I believe that discovering Cape May shifted my focus to birds. I was living in the Philadelphia area at the time. My ex-husband loved the beach. We would take day trips to the shore and work our way south. Our days always ended in Cape May. It didn’t take long before Cape May Point State Park became the primary destination. One year we rented a house on Cape May Point in the off-season (one week in the end of September) and that was it. I got up early every morning and went the Hawkwatch. There I started meeting other birders. I was hooked.
Did you have any early mentors?
Frank Nicoletti, a veteran of the Cape May Hawkwatch, was the first birder to really spend a lot of time teaching me. But I started visiting Cape May in the early 80’s and have lived there since 1991. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have learned so much from so many mentors. It’s an impressive list.
Can you recall your earliest experience with nature?
Not really. I was just always out there. To tell you the truth, nature was my escape from a dysfunctional family life.