Jesse Rubenstein is the owner of New World Birding, a guided birding tour company. When Jesse isn’t busy running his company or working on his Environmental Science graduate degree at RIT he also teaches at Rochester Brainery! We had a chance to sit down and get to know all about his experience with birding and how he got to where he is today.
Tell us about yourself and how you got to where you are today.
Jesse: My father was a photography professor at RIT. His interests involved shooting jungle landscapes, and he was always traveling to Central and South America when I was a kid. When I was 16 he took me to Peru into to the Amazon Rainforest. I saw all this super exotic wild life, all this Jurassic Park like scenery. That was the first time I had been to the rain forest. This sparked my interest in working in the jungle.
Growing up, we always had a frog and lizard living in terrariums in our house. We kept them in my room, and when I would go to sleep I could hear crickets, which we fed them, making noise. It was kind of like sleeping outside. Those kinds of memories always kept me interested in biology, and eventually I got my biology undergrad degree.
Although I had seen exotic birds in the jungle as a teenager, I didn't officially start bird watching until 2009, when I was living in Portland. My friend Sean was a bird watcher, and he slowly got me into it. I started memorizing all the birds in the Sibley Field Guide, and eventually started going bird watching all the time, and it just went from there. I can probably name ninety percent of the birds in North America by sight alone, minus some shore birds and pelagic birds. I am a social person and I like teaching, so leading guided birding tours made sense to me. Additionally, I do field biology work. I just got back from Utah and Colorado, where I was working in the National Parks for three months doing point counts. Basically, I was getting paid to bird watch and do something I love.
What is the most interesting thing about yourself?
Jesse: I’m an eclectic person. I’ve been DJ’ing since I was 20 and I have a large vinyl collection that I have been building since that time, which includes my prized collection of Studio One reggae 45s. I started practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu when I was 18 and since then, I’ve taught mixed martial arts classes. Aside from also having an undergraduate degree in Biology, I also have a B.A. in music management from the Hartt School of Music (University of Hartford). I probably watch at least two movies per week, and I love foreign and independent films. Overall, I am a pretty diverse person and I can't say I have met any bird watchers that share all my interests.
If you had to describe to someone what birding is, what would you tell them?
Jesse: It’s a really fun and easy way to get more involved in the outdoors. It helps you pay more attention to your surroundings as well. When I am driving down the highway going 65 miles per hour, everything moves in slow motion and I can pick out a hawk on a lamppost while driving by. Another nice thing is that you can do it in your backyard; you don’t have to go to South America or South Africa, you can just put a feeder up in your backyard. I would say it’s inexpensive, since you can really explore locally. I mean you’re looking at beautiful birds, so ascetically it's pleasing, like going to an art exhibit. You get to see places you wouldn’t normally see in your own city. I’ve been able to explore a lot of parts of Rochester that I would never have known about.
Have you been anywhere else outside of the country to bird watch?
Jesse: Yeah, I’ve been bird watching in three continents and to name some of the countries: Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Canada.
Which one was your favorite?
Jesse: The trip to Costa Rica last year because I went with my dad and my brother. Aside from the amazing birds there, this was my favorite because I got to share the experience with my family.
What was the craziest thing you experienced while birding and what was your favorite thing you experienced?
Jesse: Aside from crossing paths with venomous snakes, I worked a field job where I was doing bird point counts in the mountains of central Nevada—this would have been three summers ago. I worked with one other person, and often we’d have to split up and I would be camping by myself in arguably the most remote part of the country. I remember being alone and waking up at four in the morning to about five or six coyotes howling very close to my tent. Eventually they made their way directly outside my tent where I could hear them circling, breathing heavily, and making canine noises. I quickly grabbed my giant fixed blade knife, ready to attack. After less than a minute they moved on. That was the longest minute of my life.
My favorite part of birding is exploring the world and seeing new places. Oh yea, and getting lifers. We have this term in birding called “lifers" which is when you see a bird you’ve never seen in your life before. You know what that bird looks like from guide books but you have never seen it, so it’s like seeing a celebrity. You know what Prince looks like but you’ve never seen him before. So when you see him walking around Minneapolis it’s like, “Holy shit it’s Prince!”
What is your favorite bird and why?
Jesse: I honestly love all birds, but some of my favorites are the New World Warbler’s here in the states. It’s a group of about 50 species of birds that evolved here in the Americas. They are quite small, really diverse, and stunning. They winter in South and Central America and come to the U.S. and Canada to breed in the summer. If you’re interested in learning more about birding, join Jesse on October 5th, from10:00 am - 12:00pm for his birding class!