As Bob Tarte puts it, he and his wife Linda live on the edge of a "shoe-sucking, mink-infested swamp" near the West Michigan village of Lowell. When they're not fending off summer mosquitoes or chipping ice out of plastic wading pools in winter, Bob writes books about his pets.” Tarte’s newest book, his fourth, is Feather Brained: My Bumbling Quest to Become a Birder and Find a Rare Bird On My Own.
Tarte’s books have earned him a measure of fame and fans with humorous but informative stories about animals: Enslaved by Ducks; Fowl Weather; and Kitty Cornered. Enslaved by Ducks is currently under consideration for a movie.
“I definitely was not an animal lover growing up,” Tarte says. “We had a couple dogs when I was growing up but I never considered them my dogs. But then in the 80's I met my wife Linda. Linda is definitely an animal person. She was expert at getting animals into the house. She gave me a dove for our first wedding anniversary. I didn’t know I wanted a dove, but apparently I did. Howard lived for 22 years.”
With reluctance and hesitation, filled with doubts, bumbling along his journeys with animals and birds, Tarte found out he was an animal person, after all. All those critters might create chaos and messes. But Tarte says he soon realized that life just didn’t feel right without them.
Tarte’s introduction to the world of birding, though, began with love, or at least fascination, at first sight.
“We were up in Linda’s cabin,” Tarte says. “I looked out the window and there was this bird that did not look like what I thought Michigan birds should look like. It was this really crisp black and white bird with a bright red triangular bib.”
It turned out to be a male rose-breasted grosbeak. Tarte wanted to see more of this and other birds, and learn more about them. The book has a string of stories about how Tarte learns to be a birder - or at least how to hang out around other birders. Sometimes he does his bird watching in beautiful parks. But more often he goes birding at the local sewage pond.
Feather Brained is a collection of often hilarious bird watching stories, but it's also a fine place where beginners can learn the tricks of the bird watching trade.
Bob Tarte also does a regular half-hour podcast about exotic pets called What Were You Thinking? He is currently at work on a novel.
Listen to WMUK's Between the Lines every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.