Monday, October 12, 2009

Idaho Birder: Cliff Weisse

This is a weekly blog segment, posted on Monday's, profiling Idaho's best or at least most enthusiastic birders. I hope you enjoy learning about your fellow Idaho Birders as much as I do. If you have recommendations for Idaho Birders that I should interview for future features or even more stimulating questions to pose, please e-mail me by clicking on "Ask the Avimor Bird Guy" in the right column of this blog page.

This week's guest...
Cliff Weisse and Jay Carlisle, photo by Heidi Ware

Cliff Weisse
Island Park, ID

How and when did you get your start in birding?

I started casually looking at birds around the house in Island Park in winter of 1992-93. I can remember seeing some Pink-sided Juncos under my truck picking at the bare gravel in the driveway. They looked pretty drab but the cinnamon flanks were a real surprise when I looked through binoculars. A Red-naped Sapsucker just outside the window in April really piqued my interest. In May I went on a ten day trip to Missouri and caught warbler migration there. Those brightly colored spring birds were amazing. That's what really hooked me.

How often do you go birding? And where do you regularly go birding?

I visit Island Park Reservoir more than any other location. I also try to visit Camas NWR during migration and, to a lesser extent, Market Lake WMA. I spend a lot of time outside and I'm always paying attention to the birds around me so I guess you could say I bird almost every day year round.

Where is your favorite place to bird in Idaho? In the U.S.? in the world?

Camas NWR during spring migration. I also enjoy birding New Jersey on annual trips to visit family in late winter or spring.

Do you have any secret birding hotspots that may be yet unknown to Idaho birders that you would finally be willing to share with us?

I don't really know any secret places. Island Park Reservoir is really underbirded and not well known but has produced excellent concentrations of waterfowl and shorebirds. While it doesn't get the huge numbers of birds seen at American Falls Reservoir it has hosted Red-throated and Yellow-billed Loons, Glossy Ibis, Mew, Glaucous-winged, Little and Sabine's Gulls, Long-tailed, Parasitic, and Pomarine Jaegers, Whimbrel, Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. There's also a place near St. Anthony on the Henry's Fork of the Snake River that attracts good numbers of migrant songbirds in fall but it rarely gets birded. It's a fisherman's access locally known as "Seeley's". It's at the end of Fremont County 2950E. The last 1/4 mile of the road is along the river and there are thickets and large Cottonwoods that seem to hold migrants that are moving down the river. Profuse mayfly hatches on the river help too. I don't get there as often as I'd like but I've seen Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Chestnut-sided and Magnolia Warbler, and Indigo Bunting among the regular migrants there.

How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, both, or something else?

Both. I enjoy picking through warblers, gulls and shorebirds hoping to find something rare and I'll drive just about anywhere in the state to add a rarity to my Idaho list if time permits. But I also enjoy watching the feeders and just being out looking and listening to our regularly occurring birds. I often stand in one place for long periods of time when I'm out on walks or cross-country skiing and just soak in what's going on around me.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

Nikon Premier LX 10 x 42 binoculars and Swarovski 80mm HD scope with 20-60x eyepiece. I use a Bogen tripod with Manfrotto fluid head. I also have an old Olympus digital camera that I shoot photos with, mostly for documentation purposes and often through the spotting scope.

How do you keep track of your bird observations? And why?

I use Thayer Birder's Diary for keeping track of sightings and I upload the data to eBird. I started keeping track of sightings just so I knew what I'd seen. Now I include nesting/breeding notes and other details about sightings. When I began birding seriously there were huge gaps in what was known about bird distribution/occurrence in the area where I live (Island Park/Latilong 16). I began adding more details to my sightings when I got interested in documenting bird distribution in my home area.

I too am a big advocate of eBird - Can you share with other Idaho Birders why you think eBird is important?

As simply as I can, eBird compiles millions of observations from birders around the world into a database that can be viewed by anybody. You don't have to be an expert or professional, anyone can enter data. As an individual, eBird provides a way for an amateur birder like myself to contribute my personal observations to the larger picture. It would be difficult to overstate the value of the eBird database.

What is your favorite bird sighting and what is the story behind it?

Finding a male Hermit Warbler at Camas NWR. I'd been talking with friends about the possibilities at Camas and we all realized it was a good migrant trap that hadn't been thoroughly birded before. I was walking along and spotted Greg Rice so I went over to say hello. He pointed out that a Townsend's Warbler was singing high in a Cottonwood tree so I tried to find the bird with him. When I saw one move that looked right, I put up the binocs and saw a Hermit Warbler. I said something like "That's not a Townsend's, it's a &*!$@^* Hermit Warbler." Just then a bunch of birds blew out of the tree and we couldn't locate the bird, which Greg hadn't seen. I made some phone calls and Chuck Trost and Marty Collar showed up to help look for it. Hours later the bird was relocated close by and it stayed in a small area all day so many birders got to see it. I'd never found a first state record bird before and it was very exciting. Ironically, I'd made a prediction a few months before; "All the vagrant warblers on the accidental list for Malhuer NWR would eventually be recorded at Camas NWR, except for Hermit". The next really rare bird recorded at Camas was Hermit Warbler and Greg never let me forget that prediction.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

The thing I find most satisfying is my contribution to the Idaho Latilong database for my home area. I've submitted somewhere around 150 status changes for species in Latilong 16. While a few of those have been for rare birds most were for regularly occurring species that had never been documented before. I feel like I've filled in one of the many gaps in our knowledge of bird distribution in Idaho.

Which birding publications, websites, blogs do you read and recommend?

I belong to American Birding Association and Western Field Ornithologists. Both have good publications that contain a lot of interesting and valuable information. I also use the latilong database on the web site on a regular basis and I highly recommend checking it out and making contributions when possible. It has graphic maps that illustrate statewide status for each species. I also visit all the time to check the email lists of other states/regions to keep track of what's being seen in neighboring states.

What areas of Idaho could use more contributions from Idaho Birders for the Latilong Database?

All areas of Idaho could use more coverage. A good rule of thumb is the less populated and more remote an area is, the less it gets birded. If you read the IBLE and Inland NW Birders email lists you get a pretty good idea which areas are being birded and which aren't. Or you could peruse the maps in the Latilong database to see if you can make a contribution for your latilong.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Big Sibley. I just find myself going to it more and more. Between the illustrations and limited amount of text it manages to give you the information you need to identify even difficult birds. I still use other field guides but I always grab my Sibley first.

What do you have in your home library birding reference set?

-Hawks in Flight, by David Sibley, Pete Dunn, and Clay Sutton
-Raptors of Western North America, by Brian K. Wheeler
-Hawks From Every Angle, by Jerry Ligouri
-Gulls (2nd Edition), by P.J. Grant
-Gulls of North America, Europe and Asia, by Klaus Malling Olsen and Hans Larsson
-Peterson's Gulls of The Americas, by Steve N. G. Howell and Jon Dunn
-Skuas and Jaegers, by Klaus Malling Olsen and Hans Larsson
-Shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest, by Dennis Paulson
-Shorebirds of North America, by Dennis Paulson
-The Shorebird Guide, by Michael O'Brien, Richard Crossley, and Kevin Karlson
-Warblers, by Jon Dunn and Kimball Garrett
-Hummingbirds of North America (Peterson), by Sheri L. Williamson
-Hummingbirds of North America, The Photographic Guide, by Steve N. G. Howell
-Guide to the Identification and Natural History of the Sparrows of the United States and Canada, by James D. Rising and David Beadle
-Bird Song Identification Made Easy, by Ernie Jardine
-Birding Basics, by David Sibley
-Identification Guide to North American Birds, Part 1, by Peter Pyle (part 2 will be my next purchase)
-Advanced Birding (Peterson), by Kenn Kaufman
-Birds of Idaho, by Thomas D. Burleigh
-The Sibley Guide to Birds, by David Sibley
-National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2nd and 3rd editions
-Peterson Western Birds
-Peterson Eastern Birds
-Golden Field Guide
-Life Histories of North American Birds of Prey (parts 1 and 2), by Arthur Cleveland Bent

That is some library! Can you leave it to me in your will?!

If a fellow birder had a question about a bird, do you consider yourself an expert (or at least proficient) on any specific family of birds?

I don't consider myself an expert on any family of birds. I've studied gull identification more than any other family and I feel that I have a reasonably good handle on identification of North American species and hybrids.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations? If so, which ones?

I've been a member of the Idaho Bird Records Committee since 2006. I also review reports for eBird.

What is your nemesis bird?

What is your career?

I'm a flyfishing guide in summer and I tie flies (for fishing) all winter.

Along with birding and fly-fishing, do you have any other interests or hobbies that fill your time?

I enjoy cross-country skiing, hunting, gardening, and picking mushrooms. But I'm always birding when I'm outside regardless of what else I'm doing.

Keep up the great work Cliff and thanks for allowing us to learn a bit more about you!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing! It is always fun to hear about birding information and knowledge.