DULUTH, Minn. -- Richard Hoeg remembers growing up in his family's Woodland neighborhood home in Duluth that was filled with small owl statues that his father collected. So maybe that's where it all started.
"My dad grew up on a farm in west-central Iowa and I think he was fascinated with owls out on the farm," Hoeg said as we walked in the woods near his Duluth home, looking for owls. "He had little owl statues all around in the house. We'd go for drives and look for owls ..."
Hoeg is definitely keeping up the family tradition. A self-proclaimed amateur naturalist, birder, author and accomplished outdoor photographer, Hoeg just released his second children's book about owls (self-published by his 365 Days of Birds Press.) He also took photographs for two more beginning reading books for kids featuring, you guessed it, owls.
"They captivate me," Hoeg said. So much so that his grandchildren know him as "the owl guy."
Hoeg's latest book, entitled "Do You Hoot? The Story of the Amity Owls" was inspired by a family of great horned owls that Hoeg has been able to follow over the last nine months. Very few people are able to get this close to owls this often, let alone capture so much owl action and interaction.
The book is available now, absolutely free, to download. Hoeg is also taking orders for a paperback printed version that will be out around Labor Day. He's charging $12 per copy now, just enough to cover the printing costs.
Susan Larson Kidd, a Duluth special education teacher who collaborated on the two children's early reading books with Hoeg -- she did the writing, he took the photos -- said Hoeg's bird photos are perfect for children because they are simple yet beautiful.
"What amazes me about Rich is that his photos show exactly what kids need to see. They can focus on the specific subject and not a lot else," she said. "They're specific and clear and distinct."
Larson Kidd said Hoeg's photos "capture the essence of the creature." When she saw Hoeg's photos in the office lobby at their mutual dentist, she said she knew she wanted his photos for her books.
"And he's so gracious that he lets anyone use his photos for free... so we both ended up giving away our work in the books," she said, noting the books are available online to download for free. "He just wants to reach people and share what he knows, and I love that ... He takes the photos because of how much he loves nature and how much he wants to share that love with others."