HOLDEN – Bernd Heinrich astounds on many fronts. A biologist renowned for his research on bumblebees and ravens, he is a gifted illustrator and an award-winning nature writer.
His books, which include “Bumblebee Economics,” “Ravens in Winter” and “Winter World,” are lauded for making rigorous science both accessible and artful. At its best, his writing sparks imaginative awe for the natural world, reminding us we’ve never left the Garden of Eden.
Heinrich will give a free talk at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 23, at Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden. His topic will be “The Natural History of Hot- and Cold-Blooded Insects.” Copies of his new book and his other books will be available. Refreshments and a book signing follow.
His latest book, “The Snoring Bird,” chronicles the adventures of his larger-than-life German-born father Gerd Heinrich, an old-style, old-world naturalist who traveled the globe collecting museum specimens. That is, when he wasn’t piloting Junker planes in WWI or fleeing the Red Army in WWII.
In the jungles and swamps of exotic places, Gerd Heinrich went to Herculean lengths to capture new and rare species, including the “snoring bird,” a rare flightless rail. He spent much of his life collecting and mounting parasitic wasps, eventually describing 1,479 new species. Recounting his adventures as bedtime stories, the father instilled in his son a passion for studying the natural world and a gift for storytelling.
“The Snoring Bird” also recounts Heinrich’s childhood, first as a young boy in the enchanted forest of Hahnheide, Germany, where he and his family lived for several years as “semi-hunter-gathers” in the aftermath of WWII.
Heinrich helped his father trap mice and other small mammals for eating and also helped him hunt for his beloved wasps – learning to distinguish the subtle differences among them. This “real-life Robinson Crusoe existence” lasted until 1951, when the family emigrated to the United States.
They landed in western Maine, where Heinrich became enthralled with the farms and woods around Wilton. The abundance of birds – song sparrows, bluebirds, bobolinks, kestrels and hummingbirds -awed him. With local boys, he rambled around hunting, fishing and lining honeybees, a method of tracking the wild bees back to their honey-filled hives in hollow trees.
As a boarder and student at Goodwill Hinckley Homes in Hinckley, where his parents deposited him so they could continue their collecting expeditions, he developed the work ethic and determination to become an expert naturalist.
He studied zoology at the University of Maine and later earned a doctorate at UCLA, where he unraveled the mystery of how sphinx moths regulate their body temperatures. He taught at Berkeley before relocating to the University of Vermont so he could be nearer to the Maine woods, the locus of much of his research on birds and bees.
Bernd Heinrich’s life and works are a testament to the power of imagination and hard work. Locating the miraculous in nature, he grounds it firmly in science and the Maine woods.
Heinrich also will speak about the life and work of his father at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 23, at the L.C. Bates Museum in Hinckley, in conjunction with the museum’s exhibit, “Gerd Heinrich: 20th Century Biologist and Museum Collector.”
For information about his appearance at the Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591. For more information about the exhibit or his talk at L.C. Bates Museum, call 238-4250.