KENNEBUNKPORT — Josh Fecteau, 31, grew up in Biddeford noticing bald eagles and spotted turtles, but was not a child drawn to the woods or waters of Maine.
Then, while attending Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, a writing class turned him on to nature writing and the wonders of the natural world.
Today Fecteau is the librarian at York County Community College. He does not make a living from teaching about edible plants, raptors or wood frogs. But from the online journal and blog he writes in his free time, titled “New England Natural History and Wildcrafting,” Fecteau has made a name for himself as a bonafide naturalist. He now guides for the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust and for Maine Audubon.
What led to your fascination of nature and exploration of it?
It started when I was at Stonehill College. I took a class in college that was basically a nature-writing class. We’d walk different sections of campus and the professor encouraged us to observe what we saw. He showed us a tear thumb plant that had spines and could tear your thumb. I thought, ‘Whoa, this is cool.’ But I was just a kid. Then in one class of about six or seven we were in a pine grove. I remember it being a special moment. I looked up and there was this hawk. And I started listening. It seems silly now but everything changed. Now I hear cat birds and I can’t stop hearing them. Now I hear downy woodpeckers and I can’t stop.
I wasn’t a naturalist growing up. Biddeford might as well be a whole new landscape to me. There were very few plants I knew as a kid. Now I notice ferns behind my parents’ house. Then my only real experience foraging was picking blueberries with my parents. Now I see and taste plants and it’s like a different world. A lot of my senses are awake now.
When did you start your blog?
I blogged years ago but then I took a break from it. I returned to it in recent years because it became a reason to go outside. It’s not about the blog, it’s about the experience. The blog is just a tool. The blog keeps me honest. The nice side benefit is it helps other people. It started out as a selfish thing but it’s nice others are interested in it.
A few months before (starting the blog) a raven got my attention. The raven kept flying over where I lived around sunrise. By the third day I was like, ‘I’m going to get up and see if this happens like clockwork.’ Right on schedule the raven came and I followed it down the street, and watched it eat an animal in the road. I was like, OK, I get it. It was like the raven was telling me to get outside. Like it was saying, ‘Get outside, dude. You’re missing it.’ Really, since then I’ve had a strong curiosity in nature. Birds have been my focus but in the past few years that’s changed to plants.
How do you know it was a raven and not a crow?
Oh, the sound. You can identify it by shape, the tail is distinctly different. But the throaty cracking sound of a raven is different from a crow, which sounds more like “caw-caw.” It’s throatier. Ravens are notorious for making a variety of sounds; they mimic other birds. But the common call is that throaty call.
How did your blog evolve?
At first I took this program called Kamana, a home-study naturalist program. And I used field guides. The first few stages of Kamana that I took online force you to get a broad-based education on nature, to learn the basics of birds, trees.
A lot of the practice involves you to spend a lot of time in one place.
When did you start guiding for outdoor organizations in Maine?
When I lived in Massachusetts I led quite a few nature walks. I just put it in the newspaper and people showed up. Mostly those were bird walks. They were mostly small groups of 10. I realized I was motivated to share and pass on some of what I learned about nature. So many helped pass it on to me. When I moved up here, it just seemed natural to find ways to do that here. Public speaking is not my thing. I’m usually the guy who’s in a field by myself. But the walks are a good break for me from being an introvert. It gives me a nudge to be a little bit more of an extrovert. Even if I’m nervous, once I start, if I’m leading a bird walk, then I’m not so stressed. When I’m listening to the birds, I’m paying attention to them.