Staff Spotlight: Ryan Watson

Ryan Watson, our new naturalist, introduces himself.

Tell us a bit about your background - where are you from and where did you study?

I've lived in South Carolina almost my entire life. I studied Biology at the College of Charleston.

Blue Butterwort is an odd shaped flower with many large flat petals and a fuzzy center.
Blue Butterwort Photo: Ryan Watson

How about any hobbies or favorite things to do?

Obviously I love birding and I'm still learning more every time I go out. I also really enjoy hunting down rare plants to photograph. It's always a rewarding feeling to find a particular plant that only grows in a specific habitat. I've been using iNaturalist to post my species records for plants, animals, and fungi for almost ten years now.

Orange-fringed Orchids in a cluster of long stalks that end with flat, round pads, and below them cluster hair-like stamens.
Orange-fringed Orchid Photo: Ryan Watson

What got you interested in birds (this can be plants, wildlife, etc.)?

In a way, the discoveries about dinosaurs in the last couple decades has made me become more interested in birds. As scientists have discovered that dinosaurs were more and more bird-like in both appearance and behavior than previously thought, it's made me see birds for the little dinosaurs that they are.

Rising from the grass are pitcher plants, thinner at the base than at the top, the top part of the plant curling over to create a roof that insects cannot escape from.
Hooded Pitcher Plant Photo: Ryan Watson

Do you have a spark bird story?

I think the bird that really started my bird mania was a Gray Kingbird I spotted in 2022 at Fort Johnson on James Island. I assumed it was just an Eastern Kingbird when I spotted it. It wasn't until I got home and was reviewing my photos did I realize there was something off about it. When another birder helped me ID it and it turned out to be something unexpected is when I realized just how much being someplace at the right time really ties into birding.

An Eastern Kingbird sits on a powerline and looks to the right.
Eastern Kingbird Photo: Ryan Watson

Do you have a funny or interesting bird story?

In 2022 I worked on the SCDNR research vessels for their fish studies. I was on the Lady Lisa helping set lines when a Great Shearwater got its wing caught on a hook on one of the lines. We brought it onboard and it was given to me to get the hook out. That's when it started biting my hands with that sharp, hooked beak. After much yowling from me, we got the hook out with the help of some bolt cutters. I set it loose and it took off, no longer interested in the bait we were putting out, leaving me with tattered nitrile gloves.

A Great Shearwater sits on the ocean water and looks to the right.
Great Shearwater Photo: Ryan Watson

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