It’s an overcast, breezy day out at the Celery Fields, and Owen Comora is leaning against his SUV with a set of binoculars draped around his neck.
His trunk is filled with wild birds. Well, not literally, but it contains everything from binders packed with up-close and personal photographs of birds in the wild to a camera and spotting scope for his personal birding adventures and those he leads at Myakka River State Park, where he volunteers as the senior bird naturalist. Since Comora and his wife, Betty, moved in 1998 from New Jersey to Sarasota, park visitors have come to know him as the “the bird man.”
Comora, whose backside faces several boat-tailed grackles lining the walls of the gazebo where he is seated, remembers the first bird that ever intrigued him.
“I was 13 years old and going fishing in North Bergen, N.J., where I grew up,” he says. “I saw this beautiful bird with yellow under its wings fly by my friend, Ned Boyajian, who was watching it through binoculars. It was a northern flicker, a member of the woodpecker family. I nixed fishing, and we went birding every day before junior high school.”
For Comora, birding isn’t just a passive hobby — it has become his obsession.
“You may go up a mountain to see a bird, and you may not see the bird, but (you might) freeze,” he says. “I’ve gone to Churchill on Hudson Bay, in Canada, to see the Ross’s gull, and I didn’t see it.”
Nevertheless, Comora has managed to record 645 species of birds, just 100 species behind his acquaintance, Sandy Komito, who traveled 260,000 miles on a 260-day birding trip. Owen Wilson’s character in the movie “The Big Year” is based on Komito.
Comora’s wildest adventure was a solo trip to the lower Rio Grande Valley, in Texas, where he added 80 species of birds to his list. His favorite trip was a 100-mile “chicken run” around the outskirts of Colorado with his friend and fellow Myakka bird naturalist, Bruce “Yogie” Yorgensen, during which he added six birds to his list.
Then, there was the time he traveled 12,000 feet up a snowy Colorado mountain. While hiking, he had to occasionally stop and catch his breath, but he finally got to see the white-tailed ptarmigan.
“Many of us have the obsession,” Comora says. “It’s something you can take with you — all you need is a pair of binoculars and a bird app on your phone. It’s the thrill of the hunt without killing anything.”
IF YOU GO
Volunteer bird naturalists of Friends of Myakka River will return for their 13th season at Myakka River State Park’s Birdwalk beginning Monday, Oct. 31. The program runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day through mid-April.
The birding volunteers share their spotting scopes, field guides, photographs and expertise with visitors to the Birdwalk, a boardwalk and observation platform at the park’s upper lake that offers unobstructed views of the lake, birds, alligators and other wildlife.
For information, call 361-6511.
Click here to read FIVE THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT: Owen Comora.