Fairfield Now - Spring 2007
Class of M.S.'91 profile
Gina (Beebe) Nichol: Worldwide bird guide
By Meredith Guinness
Gina Nichol, M.S.'91, stops mid-sentence and searches the horizon over Milford's Silver Sands beach. "If it seems like I'm not paying attention, it's just because I'm focused on what I can hear," she says, bringing powerful binoculars to her eyes in time to catch a long-tailed Cooper's Hawk flying low over the brush.
Listening is a big part of Nichol's job these days. After 12 years teaching science at Greenwich Academy, she decided to live out her dream and, in October 2005, opened Sunrise Birding LLC. The burgeoning company has her leading group discussions and peaceful bird walks along the Connecticut coast and longer tours to far-flung birding meccas from the Costa Rican rain forest to India's wildlife-rich countryside.
"I always loved nature and travel and I was doing trips all over the world in the summer," says Nichol, who lives with her husband in Guilford, Conn. "I grew up outdoors. I just have a passion for it."
Nichol, who holds a bachelor's degree in environmental education from Cornell University, and a master's in educational technology from Fairfield's Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, now takes six to eight trips a year, between tours and the intensive scouting ventures that precede them. Each new country brings a host of new birds. On a recent trip to Ecuador, she and her team saw 52 kinds of hummingbirds alone. In a two-week stretch in Kenya, Nichol added about 600 new species to her lifetime list that hovers around 3,000. "That was a mind-blowing trip," she says. As the tour leader, Nichol must know where to find interesting, native species and be able to tell a little about their typical habits, even though she's found birds often have minds of their own.
"You always read the books, but then the bird will do something that's not in there," she says, laughing. "I always say, 'Well, the birds don't read the books.'"
Nichol also makes sure she never guarantees sightings. On the sunset walk in Milford, for instance, she hoped to show a new birder one of the short-eared owls sometimes seen there.
The group spotted some Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, and about a dozen other species, but not one owl. "Nature is so unpredictable - You just have to go with it."
Though she's been all over the world, Nichol still lists a few hot spots on her to-do list. "Hawaii. I'd love to go to Hawaii," she says. "They're losing species at an alarming rate and I want to get there before they're all gone."
But part of the joy of travel is returning to Connecticut, she says. "There are a lot of places to go, aren't there? They're beautiful, but you come back to a beautiful place, too."
Nichol's upcoming natural history and birding tours include Texas' bird-rich Big Bend region, the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador, Brazil, and Antarctica. For more information, visit www.sunrisebirding.com.