On the surface, birding and candy don’t have much in common. But if you examine them more closely, you might be over thinking it.

For Bill Wertz, they’re two of the simple pleasures of the good life.

They both possess the power to blur the line between work and play.

And personally, each appeals to his meticulous and scientific nature.

Wertz, one of three brothers who are the co-owners of the popular Wertz Candies of Lebanon, is an avid bird watcher – and that might be stating it mildly. He enjoys watching, studying and chronicling the movements of birds in much the same way that you and I enjoy caramel corn.

“When I was working at Hershey, work was work and play was play,” said Wertz, almost sounding like he was referring to a past life. “When I left Hershey and took over my father’s business, it was more like life than a job. But my life also involved birding and gardening. I guess it’s just part of life, just like birding is part of life. With birding, there are spiritual aspects of being outdoors to absorb it and recognize it and appreciate it. Spiritual nourishment doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sitting in a pew at a church.

“It’s (bird watching) part of my life,” continued Wertz. “I’m a scientist at heart. I love to garden. I love animals. I love birds. I would say for most serious birders, it’s a very big component of your life. It’s good for your health. I’m an artist as well. With birding, you can see textures and colors.”

Not unlike his knowledge of candy making, Wertz’s love for bird watching has evolved over the years.

He resides in his grandmother’s former home – complete with ten bird feeders and a handful of bird houses – located on a two-acre wooded lot in South Londonderry Township, which provides him with bountiful opportunities for viewing his subjects. But with camera in tow, what Wertz really enjoys is visiting more than 20 spots in and around Lebanon County that are conducive to observing the more than 200 species of birds which are native to Pennsylvania.

Wertz has even gone as far as incorporating bird watching as part of vacations outside the area.

“It’s kind of like gambling. You play the game and score and get 50 bucks, and you think you’re going to get more,” said Wertz. “You never know what you’re going to find. You’re not going to get anything if you don’t go out. There’s a nagging voice in the back of my head, ‘Get out, because you might be missing that bird of a lifetime.’ There are a million reasons not to go, and there’s only one reason to go.

“But I do see the deterioration of habitat as well,” Wertz continued. “There is nothing more aggravating than going to one of your favorite spots and seeing trees sawed down or grasslands dug up. That’s why a lot of birders are conservationists. They will plant trees on their properties to provide cover for birds. Climate change is another big issue. Birds get confused because the sun’s telling them one thing and the temperature is telling them another.”

Sometimes, Wertz will consult the website ebird.org to find out what species local bird watchers are seeing and where they’re seeing them. Wertz’s local outings can last over two hours, depending upon the time of day and weather conditions.

He has also compiled a book entitled ‘Birds of the Lebanon Valley’, which contains photographs of 135 different species that he has taken locally.

“I consider myself to be a novice,” said Wertz. “There are people in the area who are just superlative birders. They know their stuff. They’re super educated. You run into those people. They know who you are and you know who they are, and you’ll ask them, ‘What are you seeing?’

“I go out every day that I can,” added Wertz. “If I don’t, I get cranky. Some birds are harder to see than others. Sometimes when I go to new places, I don’t know what I’m going to find there. And some places where you go, all the species look the same. Locally, I like State Game Lands 145 in Colebrook, Memorial Lake, and Swatara State Park, mostly for the diversity.”

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An appreciation of nature was instilled into Wertz at a young age. And while it has never left him, Wertz’s passion for birth watching was stoked about ten years ago when a friend showed an interest in the pursuit.

“I started when I was a kid,” said Wertz, who possesses a college degree in biology. “My grandmother imparted a lot of knowledge about animals. We always had a feeder at home and we watched birds. All of my siblings are bird lovers.

“What happened was I had a friend, and she started getting into it,” Wertz added. “I was always interested in it. I always liked it. She said, ‘I can’t believe how much fun it is.’ Then you start noticing wildflowers. Then you start seeing butterflies. Then you start being obsessed by everything.”

Wertz, 67, is afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease. For him, bird watching is as much therapeutic as it is spiritual.

“I have Parkinson’s Disease, and one of the ways to treat it is by maintaining a positive attitude,” said Wertz. “It’s therapeutic. It’s a very spiritual experience. Nature is my higher place. If I don’t get out, I’m grumpy.

“My doctor says, ‘You’re in great shape for the shape you’re in. Keep doing what you’re doing,’” Wertz continued. “Part of my well being is maintaining a good sense of humor. Lighten up. I don’t take myself too seriously.’

In 1986, Wertz left behind the corporate world and his job at Hershey Foods to help manage the three-generation-old Wertz Candies. While he remains as one of the business’ three owners and a consultant, his current role with Wertz Candies is less hands-on.

Now, he is employed part-time by the County of Lebanon, as a door monitor/security person at the Lebanon Municipal Building.

“I learned a lot by being employed by the Hershey Foods company,” said Wertz. “I ended up being the human resources director at Reese’s. I took that knowledge and applied it to my dad’s business. Now I’m hands-off, unless I’m needed. They’re (brothers Charles and Richard) there and they know what’s going on.

“Over the years, the key to the business’ success has been quality and the fact that the candy is hand-made,” added Wertz. “It’s weathered a lot of storms. The toughest part of a small business is that the rules of business have evolved so greatly. The internet has changed a lot of things. You have to be aware of that and you have to incorporate that into your business. We’ve been out on the internet since way, way, way back. I wanted to have a candy shop online, and we have succeeded with that.”

So what do you get when you cross hand-made candy with bird watching? A sweet tweet!

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Jeff Falk is a seasoned journalist based in Lebanon, PA. He's a graduate of Cedar Crest High School, Penn State University, and a lifelong resident of Lebanon, born and raised. Currently, he is a feature writer for Engle Publishing in Lancaster, the editor of LebCoSports.com, sports director at WLBR...


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