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Bill Haley is pictured at the Tennessee Aquarium. The former education outreach coordinator retired from the Aquarium in July and is leading a rich life pursuing outdoor hobbies. Photo contributed by The Tennessee Aquarium. / Photo by Casey Phillips/Tennessee Aquarium

What's the secret to a happy retirement?

Hobbies, lots of hobbies, said Bill Haley, a 67-year-old Soddy-Daisy retiree.

Haley counts hawks several hours a day, catalogs bugs in his backyard, weaves baskets, cultivates wildflowers and leads a club for people living in the southeastern United States who collect glass insulators (the kind that used to be found on electric power poles).

"I've known people who retire and have no interests outside of work," said Haley, who, until July, was an education outreach coordinator at the Tennessee Aquarium. "They retire and they are lost. I don't have that problem."

It's not that Haley didn't have a stimulating job at the Tennessee Aquarium. He did. As a traveling ambassador for the aquarium for 27 years, Haley often visited schools to exhibit animals — a task that put him in the middle of a vortex of giggles.

But Haley said he has always been drawn to outdoor pursuits and has looked forward to retirement as a time when he could immerse himself in the blue-sky hobbies he loves.

Here is a list of some of Haley's favorite hobbies, and how he uses them to build a rich, post-retirement life.

* Bird watching. Most days you'll find Haley sitting near Jones Gap Road on Flattop Mountain with his face tilted to the sky. For decades, Haley has been scanning the sky for hawks.

He spends up to seven hours a day with binoculars in his hands as a census taker for the Hawk Migration Association of North America. So far this year he has identified about 4,500 hawks from his perch on Flattop Mountain.

"Hawk counting is like fishing," he said. "Sometimes you catch a lot and sometimes not so much."

Haley looks for sharp-shinned hawks, broad-winged hawks and peregrine falcons, among others. Years ago it was rare to spot a peregrine or a bald eagle in the the Tennessee Valley, he said, but now it's common — a testament to conservation efforts.

* Planting wildflowers. Always an avid gardener, Haley expanded this hobby when he moved from North Chattanooga to a piece of ancestral property in Soddy-Daisy last year.

Both his former North Chattanooga home and his new home place in Soddy-Daisy were registered National Wildlife Federation backyard habitats.

"It means you are doing good things to help wildlife —providing plants, water, food and shelter for animals," he said.

Haley has set aside a 50-by-50-foot wildflower meadow on his Soddy-Daisy property where he cultivates wildflowers such as asters, purple cone flowers and blazing stars. He cycles some of the wildflowers through a plant give-away sponsored by his church.

* Counting butterflies. Haley is a regional leader for a yearly, six-month butterfly count sponsored by the American Butterfly Association. He compiles the work of butterfly counters throughout the Appalachian region and assigns territories for volunteers involved in area counts.

* Naturalist notebook. Haley has begun an ambitious plan to log all the living things — both plants and animals — on his 3.3-acre Soddy-Daisy property. This may sound simple but he is already up to 1,050 entries, and there are still more plants and creatures to count.

Interestingly, more than half the entries in his "naturalist notebook"— about 500 — are different types of moths. He uses a black light to draw out the moths, a camera to photograph them and a phone app called iNaturalist (think facial recognition software for insects) to identify them.

* Dixie Jewels Insulator Club. In the 1960s, some people started collecting the glass insulators that were standard issue on electric poles throughout America.

Haley began collecting discarded insulators when he was a teenager growing up in Soddy-Daisy.

"We'd find insulators and bust them on rocks," he remembers. Later he began to see them as cherished possessions.

Nowadays, thousands of people buy, sell and trade insulators at swap meets across America. Haley is president of the Dixie Jewels Insulator Club, which has about 100 members.

Some of the rare insulators can be worth thousands of dollars, Haley said, but he only collects affordable samples.

"I just think old glass is beautiful," he said. "Look closely and you'll see bubbles and swirls. There is a lot of character in old glass."

Just like there's lots of character in seniors such as Haley, who pour as much into their retirement hobbies as they did into their careers.

To suggest a human interest story contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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Mark Kennedy / Staff file photo
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