When we reached Richard Hoeg ’78 on his cell phone, he was standing in a half-foot of fresh snow, watching a rare Northern Hawk Owl in a pine tree about 10 miles from his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota. The day before, he woke at 3 a.m. to see the northern lights dance over a remote wilderness before hiking to ice caves on frozen Lake Superior.
For Hoeg, those were not unusual days. He was on day 426 of a now-extended project that started January 23, 2013, to get a photo of a bird every day for a year. He accomplished his goal—as noted in “Day by day, a year of birds” by the Star Tribune—but he’s still having daily adventures and documenting them in his blog, 365daysofbirds.
In 2013 Hoeg retired from the multinational technology company Honeywell after a 29-year career “as a software techie” with increasing responsibility. (At one point, he says, he had five servers in his office.) He enjoyed the work at Honeywell, but armed with a pension, he decided to retire. “I got out early,” he says. “I turn 59 in a couple weeks, and I’m loving every minute of it.”
Part of what Hoeg loves is the challenge of finding and photographing birds. Based on the quality of his photos, it’s surprising that he uses fairly basic equipment—a Canon SX60 with a zoom lens (about a $500 camera). Because of this, he has to get even closer to his quarry. One of the rarest birds he’s seen was an endangered Piping Plover, and some of his favorite shots include an attacking Rough-Legged Hawk, baby Common Loons, and the Northern Hawk Owl at left, which took him more than four hours to capture.
A political science major at Dartmouth, and a four-year member of the crew team, Hoeg’s interests these days are as varied as you might expect from a Dartmouth graduate. In addition to conducting his solitary expeditions, he’s an avid biker and contributor to crazyguyonabike.com; he’s a member of the Frozen Photographers and the Great Lake Aurora Hunters; and he’s on the board of the Minnesota Nordic Ski Association.
At the same time, Hoeg is helping Jim Sippola, the retired chaplain of the National Guard, build a web resource for returning veterans dealing with combat trauma.
“These vets were looking for one of the hardest races in the world to promote awareness of issues combat veterans encounter upon return home,” he says. “Very few of them cross-country ski, let alone ski 135 miles unsupported through the northern Minnesota wilderness in late January.”
As for Hoeg, he doesn’t dismiss the notion of a more relaxed retirement of golfing, or sleeping late—he just doesn’t know if he’ll get to it. “I have a set of golf clubs,” he says. “But between photography, biking, Nordic skiing, birding, and some free software work, it keeps me pretty busy.”
All photos by Richard Hoeg ’78