Never Too Old

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I’ve written before about hearing impaired birding. It’s a challenge and I speak from personal experience. Unlike birds whose cochlear hair cells in the ear, which transmit sound to the brain, grow back, ours never do. As we age our hair cells die and our hearing diminishes. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy birding. I recently received an email from John Wolaver, a senior citizen with a hearing impairment who lives in near Vero Beach, Florida. I don’t know how old he is but he and his wife just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. And he just took up birding five years ago.

Florida Scrub Jay – John Wlaver

A study of participants in the annual Breeding Birds Survey discovered that older (over 40) individuals were less able to identify birds than those under 40. Most of this is due to hearing, but it could also be to vision and reaction time. Interestingly, the pitch of the bird song didn’t seem to make any difference; across the board bird sounds were missed. The older the participants were, the less proficient they were at detecting birds simply because all of their faculties had declined. But these days, there are lots of helpful apps as I mentioned in my hearing-impaired birding blog. A hearing impairment doesn’t even preclude one from becoming an ornithologist as a researcherat UC Berkeley has proven.

A hearing deficit, even profound deafness, does not preclude the enjoyment of birds in other ways. I have met several birders who are physically or sensorily challenged who have become serious photographers. Same with John Wolaver who has become an avid bird photographer.

John doesn’t say whether he enjoys birding or photography more. I took out a group of photographers for three days one time and showed them various birding spots and birds. They enjoyed the challenge but had little interest in the birds themselves. It actually surprised me that taking pictures, for them, was much more interesting than the birds. You would think you could do both. And you can. But it also seems that birders and photographers don’t always get along, unfortunately. Read this article from Audubon.

Green Heron – John Wolaver

The photographers I led around asked me why I didn’t take up photography. Easy answer – photographers schlep around too much gear. Binoculars and a bird book and occasionally a spotting scope are enough for me. Those of you who are interested in bird photography, good for you. I think it’s difficult and I admire good bird shots like the ones on this page that John took.

John asked me to pass on his request that he’d like to be in contact with other bird photographers to discuss equipment, techniques and exchange photos. If you are interested, contact John at

From John: A refurbished Canon 80D with a 200-400 was my starter outfit. I tried the Tamron 150-600 with it too. Most of my birding is done with a D500 and a Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6.


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