Dr. Richard Williams, a.k.a Mouser, is a new member of the PEEC Board of Directors. He coordinates the Los Alamos Breeding Bird Atlas, a five-year data collection effort running between 2017 and 2021 where local birders are working on a new revision of the 1992 Atlas of Breeding Birds of Los Alamos County. Mouser also organizes the annual Christmas Bird Count, a program that Los Alamos participates in with the National Audubon Society. The program hosts a count circle that encompasses most of Los Alamos County and Bandelier National Monument. Luckily for PEEC, Mouser is a talented avian photographer and shares his photos with PEEC for exhibits and helps with various volunteer projects. We hope you enjoy reading about this bird-loving board member.
PEEC: Where are you from and how did you end up in Los Alamos?
M.W.: I grew up in St. Paul, MN. Managed to find my way into college in Cedar Rapids, IA, and graduate school in Boston, MA. I was very much a big-city, flat land kid until a research assistantship during grad school landed me a summer student position at LANL. The sudden exposure to mountains, canyons, caves, and good weather turned me into an outdoors enthusiast practically overnight. I took every opportunity to return to Los Alamos during grad school until 2002, when I was done with classwork and I was able to move here permanently to pursue the remaining research required for my degree. Due to a severe clerical error, I was offered a full-time staff position at LANL in 2005 and I’ve lived here ever since.
PEEC: Tell me about your family.
M.W.: My wife Nina is a rock star of science. When she’s not working on the Mars Science Laboratory rover mission, she can sometimes be found prospecting for meteorites in Antarctica or as a talking head on the Discovery Channel. We have a four-month-old son, Tycho, named after the early Mars observer, Tycho Brahe. We will force him to dress up as Brahe for Halloween every year until he’s old enough to pick his own costumes, so we’re stocking up on humorous fake mustaches and baby-sized ruffs.
PEEC: Tell me about your work.
M.W.: I work in A Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory as an electrical engineer. I specialize in embedded system design and vulnerability assessment. Note that this is why, at parties, everyone wants to talk to Nina about her job (see previous question).
PEEC: How did you get involved with PEEC?
M.W.: When I was first getting involved in birding, some of the local experts pointed me in the direction of (a then fledgling) PEEC as a resource for learning more about the local avian world. I went on every bird walk offered and eventually got to the point where I could start leading birding events myself.
PEEC: What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
M.W.: I tend to go a bit non-linear with my hobbies and I just like sharing my enthusiasm for them with others. With regards to birding, having more people out looking for interesting birds increases my odds of getting to see strange vagrants that pass through Los Alamos, so I suppose there is some ulterior motive there as well. When everyone in town is obsessed with birding, my work here will be done.
PEEC: What are your jobs at PEEC, what do you do?
M.W.: Bird nerd, occasional Photoshop ninja, mailing list administrator, and newest member of The Board. I answer bird-related questions from the community, organize birding events, and give presentations about birding in the planetarium. I occasionally offer my meager Photoshop skills to assist with exhibits. Most recently, I did all of the bird silhouette cutouts now seen on the ceiling of the main exhibit hall.
M.W.: Getting children engaged with nature and fostering an interest in the outdoors at a young age. This results in a community with a life-long respect and admiration for the natural world.
PEEC: What outdoor hobbies do you enjoy?
M.W.: Mountaineering, backpacking, camping, caving, snowboarding, orienteering, high-powered rocketry, wildlife photography, astrophotography, finding and identifying birds, odonates, and Lepidoptera.
PEEC: Best outdoor experience in LA/WR area??
M.W.: Coming face to face with a large black bear at close range on Caballo. It took one look at me and ran. I like to think this is because I am hugely intimidating.
PEEC: What do you love about the Pajarito plateau?
M.W.: The diversity of outdoor environments contained in our vertical mile, none of which are more than a short drive away. I never run out of things to do outside here.
PEEC: What is on your wish list for PEEC for the next 10 years?
M.W.: Find a way to get a new generation of young people interested in birding.
PEEC: Best or funny memory working at PEEC?
M.W.: In 2015 we re-started the long-dormant Los Alamos Christmas Bird Count program, but we had to prove to the National Audubon Society that there was sufficient interest in the community to keep the count going as an annual event. They wanted to see that we could attract at least ten people. We had fifty, all residents of Los Alamos County. During our first official CBC since 1953, we had more participants than any other count in New Mexico outside of Albuquerque. Discovering that there was a widespread interest in the bird count was a really special moment for me.
PEEC: What is your favorite local bird? Why?
M.W.: It’s hard to top the Common Raven. They’re among the smartest of birds. They fashion custom tools out of twigs and use them to procure food. They are so good at finding food that they have time to goof off, sledding down snowy slopes on bits of trash and doing barrel rolls while flying. They just seem like they’re constantly having a good time.
PEEC: If you could be a local animal, which would you pick and why?
M.W.: I’ve been reasonably pleased with my turn as a human.
-If you are interested in learning more about the PEEC volunteer program and the Los Alamos Nature Center at 2600 Canyon Road visit peecnture.org.
Article by Christa Tyson, PEEC Visitor Services Manager