When he was about 4 years old, Tommy Quarles checked out a book about birds from the Capital Day School library.
After reading it, he was able to spot a red-winged blackbird in his backyard. Those moments led him to what he considers to be his “biggest hobby” today — birdwatching.
“That kind of sparked the interest and it’s only grown from there,” Quarles said.
Quarles, who is now a 16-year-old junior at Western Hills High School, began actively listing birds he had spotted in 2013. To date, he has found over 500 types of birds in the country and over 270 in Kentucky. According to ebird.org, a bird listing website used by birders and run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Quarles’ list is in the all-time top 20 for Kentucky birders.
Quarles, the son of J.D. and Meg Quarles, is now turning his passion into a community service project. On Sept. 21, Quarles and 50 of his fellow Beta Club members will work will members of the Kentucky Ornithological Society to find areas with birds in Franklin County. Once the group determines areas with a lack of birds, the group will meet later in the day with the Garden Club of Frankfort to put in plants, birdhouses and other items that will attract birds to the area. The goal is to encourage birds to come to the area and for young people to learn about the hobby.
The project is one component of Quarles’ application to become the next Young Birder of the Year, which is awarded by the American Birding Association. In addition to the service project, Quarles will submit photography and his bird list.
Karen Nance, president of the Garden Club of Frankfort, said the group is excited to work with Quarles and the other high school students. Gardening and birding are hobbies that go hand-in-hand and this falls in line with the club’s objectives to protect local species and encourage home gardening and civic planting, she said.
“The Garden Club is proud to support Tommy’s endeavors,” Nance said. “We are helping with purchasing plantings to help feed birds during the winter. Also, we are looking forward to spending time with our local teens.”
The garden club’s role is to help Quarles identify what plants could attract more birds. To donate items to the project or volunteer, contact the WHHS Beta Club at 502-875-8400 or the Garden Club of Frankfort at 502-229-4611.
From his own experience in the hobby, Quarles said it has benefited him in unexpected ways. He’s had some practice overcoming a fear of public speaking, as he speaks about his hobby for groups. He will be speaking at a future Kentucky Ornithological Society, of which he is a member, about going to a birdwatching camp in Arizona. He’s been to similar camps in Colorado, Maine and Delaware.
As to whether this hobby will lead to a career, Quarles has yet to decide.
“We’ll see where it takes me,” he said.