A Bit Of Merlin’s Backstory

Heather Wolf. Illustration by João Fazenda

Five years ago David Owen wrote a short article that fit well with the recycling and upcycling themes we frequently cover so we linked to it. Since then his writing caught my eye again on a related theme, and then earlier this year wrote one of my favorite profiles of recent years. This week I am drawn to his work again. Seth first introduced us to Merlin, after his three years working at the Lab of Ornithology. Merlin has been improving, and we have given it a few more looks since then. But today I am happy to learn more about the app’s backstory:

Meet Merlin, the Bird-Identifying App

How Heather Wolf, a part-time juggling impresario, turned her birding habit into an app that pegs species—even on the Brooklyn Bridge—using both images and birdsong.

Heather Wolf earned a degree in sociology at U.C.L.A., then spent six years playing electric bass in a travelling band. She earned a master’s degree in information science, moved to Brooklyn, and worked as a software developer for a company based in Manhattan. She founded JuggleFit, which promotes physical fitness and mindfulness through juggling, and she taught Harry Connick, Jr., on television, to juggle colored scarves. In 2006, she moved to Pensacola, earned another master’s degree, in computer science, and spent five years working on a Web site for the Navy. One day, as she was walking to the beach on a path among the dunes, she was attacked, more or less, by a bird. “It was mostly white, and it looked a little like a gull,” she said recently. “When I got home, I looked it up and learned that it was a least tern and that least terns aggressively defend their nests, which are just scrapes in the sand.” She hadn’t thought about birds very often before that moment; afterward, she thought about them all the time. In 2012, she moved back to New York and decided to document every bird species in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Four years later, she published “Birding at the Bridge,” a two-hundred-and-seventy-nine-page book that’s partly a bird guide, partly a memoir, and partly a triumph of nature photography. That same year, she was hired to do what has turned out to be her dream job (so far): Web development for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

Read the whole post here.

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