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Erik Bruhnke has always loved birds and nature from his earliest years while growing up in southeastern Wisconsin. Alongside his siblings, he helped out with chores around the house; his favorite was filling up the backyard birdfeeders. He then volunteered to be the caretaker of the feeders. Spark moments with the birds happened more and more regularly as he learned about the diverse bird life that visited his backyard. A pair of “coffee table” binoculars connected him with these birds, while the Golden Guide to Birds and an early edition of the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America were nearby. The ever-tame Black-capped Chickadees and American Robins (Wisconsin’s state bird) captivated him, and these two birds are still among his most cherished birds today. Visits to the local library for bird books helped fuel this passion for birds.

He got his first job in high school working at the local Wild Birds Unlimited, a birdfeeding specialty store. The old saying, “the best way to learn is by teaching” applied to this job, as he taught many people about attracting birds to their backyards, and found himself gaining a deeper connection with the backyard birds. While working at Wild Birds Unlimited, he met several people who are now lifelong friends, one of whom conducted breeding bird transects with him during their college years. Following high school he attended Northland College, an environmental liberal arts college in Ashland, Wisconsin, earning a BA in Natural Resources, with a minor in Biology. This part of Wisconsin is home to spectacular birdwatching, where meadows, wetlands, rivers, and forests all converge near the scenic shores of Lake Superior. Passionate professors highlighted this “sense of place” throughout many of the courses he took. Upon moving into his first dorm room, he promptly attached a tube feeder and tray feeder to his window, where a kaleidoscope of birds would be visiting in the semesters to come. A dry erase board on his door was regularly updated to let students passing by know which birds were being seen. A frequently opened door welcomed people to enjoy views of these birds up close, later sparking birdfeeding interest in others around campus.

Erik caught the contagious hawkwatching “bug” during his freshman year of college, when the campus bird club took a daylong field trip to Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth, Minnesota. After connecting with several staff members at Hawk Ridge, Erik found himself volunteering there throughout upcoming fall semesters in college. The world of hawkwatching is thrilling and unique, and little did he know that his first visit to Hawk Ridge would not only connect him with some of the legendary hawkwatchers of our time, but also reinforce a lifelong passion of hawkwatching from that day forward.

Between his time in college and shortly after graduating, Erik taught field ornithology at Northland College for three semesters. Between 2009 and 2014, Erik honed his birding skills throughout an array of field work. He spent a summer conducting field research focused on breeding bird transects in Upper Michigan and conducted point counts for a breeding bird atlas in Minnesota and Wisconsin’s Northwoods. Later, he spent several years pursuing breeding bird transects and vegetation surveys throughout wind farms in North Dakota’s prairie potholes and cavity-nesting surveys in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.

Outside of these bird surveying positions he found himself returning to Hawk Ridge year after year. He worked as an interpreter for six seasons at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory. Following this time in the boreal forest, he counted migrating raptors at the Corpus Christi HawkWatch in Texas in 2015, and was the 2016, 2017, and 2018 hawk counter at the Cape May Hawkwatch in New Jersey. Erik loves all birds, and thoroughly savors each birding adventure and ecosystem to the fullest. Among these experiences, Erik has found his Zen when he is surrounded by migrating raptors.

Erik’s wildlife photography has won national awards, and he has written for the American Birding Association’s Birder’s GuideBirdWatching magazine, and Bird Watcher’s Digest. In addition to these writings, his photos have been included in the Raptor ID app, through HawkWatch International and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, and in the recently published Bird Families of North America by Pete Dunne and Kevin Karlson.

Throughout the year, when not leading VENT tours, Erik enjoys leading field trips and giving presentations for birding festivals. He also enjoys hiking, kayaking, trying new microbrews, and being out in the snow. In his free time, he loves to cook and bake, often following recipes from his Omas and Opas.

Erik joined the VENT team during the Spring of 2014. He is thrilled to lead birding tours throughout the Americas for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours.