(Photo, Dan Branch)
I first met Bob Armstrong on a sodden day in May. My dog and I were thirty miles north of Downtown Juneau on a tidal meadow that borders Eagle River. Low clouds obscured the surrounding mountains. The buds of early blooming wildflowers were clamped shut. Even the resident Canada geese were absent.
The only drama on the meadow was provided by a clump of blueberry bushes that were weighed down with blossoms. My miniature poodle-mix reached the clump first, barking like she does when approaching another dog. Inside the tangle of blueberry brush she found a man wrapped in storm-strength rain gear while sitting in a folding chair.
After wiping rain drops from my glasses I noticed that he held a good quality digital camera in his hand. He looked enough like the author’s picture of my favorite bird book to ask if he was Bob Armstrong. Rather than curse me and my noisy little dog for blowing his cover, Mr. Armstrong smiled and said, “Yes.” After suffering through my apology for disturbing him, he told me that he was waiting to photograph a queen bumble bee feeding on the blueberry blossoms. Armstrong said that only queen bumblebees survive the winter. All her royal subjects perish in the cold.
I wore out my first copy of Armstrong’s Guide to the Birds of Alaska, which was originally published in 1981. After reading about the upgrades Armstrong made to the 6th Edition of the book, I intend to buy a copy of it. Published in 2015, the 6th Edition provides many new photographs to aid identification of the 300 bird species that regularly occur in the state. Additional information and photographs help the reader identify the 202 species of casuals and accidentals that have been spotted in Alaska. Half of all royalties from the sale of the 6th Edition go to Alaska Audubon.
Library Journal described the 6th Edition of Guide to The Birds of Alaska as a “very attractive, authoritative work [that] should appeal to birders at all levels.” The Canadian Field-Naturalist wrote that any “birder worth his [or her] salt should buy it.” The Daily Sitka Sentinel found Armstrong’s book “a fun and convenient way to pique or enhance you interest in Alaskan birds.”
In addition to being an excellent wildlife photographer, Mr. Armstrong and his co-authors convey excitement for birds, bugs, and other critters that he photographs. The summer before meeting Armstrong in the blueberry blind, I had read his work about rain forest amphibians. Then I searched every forest pond I could find for a rough-skinned newt. After I confessed this to Armstrong that day on the Eagle River tidal meadow, he told me the best place on the Juneau road system to find one. In a community where people rarely share their best birding, fishing, or blueberry spots, this was a very generous and trusting act.
During a recent phone conversation, Armstrong told me that he enjoys sharing his knowledge of nature with others. In this spirit, he has made PDF versions of his following works available for free on his website, https://www.naturebob.com:
Aquatic Insects of Alaska, written with John Hudson and Kathy Hocker
Beavers by the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska, written with Mary Wilson
Photographing Nature in Alaska
The Mendenhall Wetlands; A Globally Recognized Important Bird Area
Lichens Around Mendenhall Glacier, written with Chiska Derr
Southeast Alaska’s Natural World, written with Marge Hermans
Dragons in the Ponds, a children’s book written with John Hudson and Marge Hermans
Dragonflies of Alaska, written with John Hudson
Life Around the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska, written with Marge Hermans
Along the Mt. Roberts Trail in Juneau, Alaska, written with Marge Hermans
Whistlers on the Mountains, a children’s book written with Marge Hermans
Natural Connections in Alaska, written with Mary Wilson
Using Remote Cameras to Capture Animal Behavior
(Photo, Dan Branch)
Bob’s books, Guide to Birds of Alaska, 6th Edition and The Nature of Southeast Alaska, 3rd Edition (written with Richard Carstensen in consultation with Rita O’Clair) are available for sale in Alaska bookstores. Guide to Birds of Alaska, 6th Edition may also be ordered directly from Todd Communications (611 E. 12th Ave., Anchorage, Alaska 99501 (email@example.com).