Passions: Vernon LaVia, Bird Watcher
To call him avid would be an understatement. In the bird-watching world, where bragging rights belong to those with the longest lists of birds spotted and identified, Vernon LaVia has joined the league of "superlisters," having spied more than 3,300 species, around a third of the total on the planet. His avian quest led him to his latest business, Defibrillators, Inc. USA, which sells hand-held devices that can deliver a shock to someone in cardiac arrest. But the story that links birding to defibrillating is a sad one. In 2000, LaVia's father went into cardiac arrest and died on a birding trip on Alaska's Attu island. LaVia, 45, believes he could have saved his father had he been carrying the portable defibrillator his company sells. Now, LaVia thinks of his father whenever he goes birding, usually three or four times per week. He is pictured in the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in northwest Indiana, where hundreds of sandhill cranes take a break from their migration each fall.
Spotting average: LaVia has seen 740, or 81 percent, of the 914 known bird species in the U.S. and Canada.
Most common North American bird: The American robin, all 320 million of them
The "bible of birds": National Geographic's Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Fifth Edition
Most memorable sighting: LaVia spotted a corn bunting while traveling by boat with his brother and father from Newfoundland to Greenland. The bird is common in Europe but almost never seen in North America.
More popular than you think: A U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey found that 19.9 million people took bird-watching trips in 2006.