Monday, October 19, 2009

Idaho Birder: Mike Munts

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.

Mike Munts
Arco, Idaho

Mike Munts birding at Iron Bog Lake, on the Challis National Forest

How and when did you get your start in birding?

I started out college in a pre-veterinary program. I was in interested in doing zoo medicine and started hanging out folks in wildlife biology. I started working with a professor who was not only an excellent ornithologist but an avocational birder. Next thing I knew I was studying Great Gray Owls and chasing birds all around SW Idaho. Then the change to wildlife biology.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

I have an MS in Wildlife Biology with an emphasis in Avian Biology.

Where did you do your undergrad and graduate schooling?

BS in Biology at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa. MS in Wildlife Biology at University of Montana.

What is your career?

I do wildlife biology with the National Park Service. If you watch PBS, we're the folks Ken Burns just spent 12 hours on.

How long have you been birding in Idaho?

Since college which for me was mid 1980's.

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

I only occasionaly go birding. I will go almost anywhere and see birds. Anytime I am outside I am always on the lookout for wildlife, especially birds. So where do I do regular birding: everywhere I go. I live in Arco which is the interface of the Rocky Mountains and the ecological Great Basin. As many readers will know I work in national parks, so I am able to do some birding almost daily at work even if only from my office window.

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

In Idaho that's tough question. I have birded all 44 counties in the last several years and they are so many great places. Craters of the Moon where I work is simply an amazing place for birds although is virtually unknown. I also have a fondness for the panhandle where I grew up. Pend Oreille Lake and Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge and other sites on the Selkirk Birding Loop are certainly among my north Idaho favorites.

In the US: the Chiricahuas in SE Arizona, Redwood and Olympic National Parks on the coast, the Yukon stretch of the Alaska highway and my favorite areas. Yes I know the Yukon is in Canada, but it is on the way to Alaska.

The world: for birding and other wildlife watching Mount Field and Port Alberni National Parks in Tasmania.

You are certainly well traveled. Is the travel due to your role in the National Park Service or personal travel?

Both. Besides Craters I have worked at Olympic National Park in Washington and I have short assignments at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, Pinnacles National Monument (Condor country) and Klondike Goldrush National Historical Park in Alaska. I have also traveled extensively throughout the Western US and southwestern Canada. Mostly for fun.

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?

Craters of the Moon and City of Rocks are both impressive birding sites that are virtually unknown. For example Craters was recently designated and Important Bird Area of global significance.

Where are the best places at Craters of the Moon to see birds? I stopped there in April or May when the loop had just barely opened for the season. I had my wife and kids, so birding was not my primary focus, but I don't recall seeing many birds. I didn't actually drive the full loop either, so I figure I missed the best spots.

Depends what time of year what one wants to see and how much time one has. Waterfowl can be found at the Lava Lake overlook on the highway. The Carey Springs marsh is good for wetland birds like rails, Marsh Wrens, and Yellowthroats. The Loop Road has the densest concentrations of Mountain Bluebirds in Idaho and possibly in the world! Areas like the Sunset Flow have high concentrations of sage brush obligates with the highest counts of birds like Brewer's Sparrows and Sage Thrashers in Idaho. Trails like Broken Top, Tree Molds and Devil's Orchard have high numbers of migrants in season. Devil's Orchard has several dozen Common Nighthawks that roost next to the trail with excellent views. For shear diversity the Little Cottonwood Creek day use area is superb in spring and summer. Most of the park is wilderness and one is willing to backpack many jewels can be found in the back country.
Craters of the Moon - Loop Rd Map

Do you ever organize guided bird tours at the National Parks?

Because I am on the science side of the National Parks, that wouldn't be a normal part of my job. However, I do organize the Craters CBC
and International Migratory Bird Day program. I have also done walks with the local Audubon chapters on my own time.

How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, both, or something else?
Since I am trained in ornithology and behavior I do a lot watching. On the other hand I know exactly what my life list count is and what the last lifer was. So a fair amount of both.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

Vortex binos and Nikon fieldscope, Ford Ranger 4x4 (you have to get where the birds are)

Good point about the 4x4. There are many places in Idaho I wouldn't be able to bird without mine.

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

I use a software package called Birder's Diary. For me it is far away the best commercial product out there. The reason I prefer this one is that it can use almost any type of taxonomic list out there. I currently use it to record observations of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, dragonflies, trees, cacti, mushrooms, trees, wildflowers, and fish. Yes I have a life list of wild cactus.

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

Only one, I'm not sure I can narrow it down. My first Great Gray Owl, my first Spotted Owl, Wonga Pigeon (lifer # 500) all come to mind. I think I will go with my first drake Harlequin Duck. I was in college and we were on field trip to the Oregon coast. First the camaraderie of the class then the amazing color of the bird that was when I was hooked.

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

Too many to list. Ible, the Bird Guide websites. David Sibley's web site is fantastic for ID information. Cornell Laboratory Of Ornithology's web site is incredible. Birder's World is a great little magazine which is not as popular as several better known titles but is great resource. On the more technical side journals like the Journal of Field Ornithology, Western Birds, Northwest Naturalist are some of my favorites.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Sibley's North American Guide is the one I carry. David's paintings are amazing and is book is one of the most well researched. For a digital guide, I use Thayer’s Birds of North America. It’s great software package. It has a quiz feature and the song features are great. When I need to practice or study for survey work this is what I use.

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

Too many to list. (Mike wasn't kidding. He did later send me a list and it is about a page and half long. I'm jealous.) A quick count of my bookshelf has at almost 50 bird titles. Some favorites would have to be National Geographic and Kaufman's field guides. The specialty guides in the Peterson series including Hawks, Warblers, and Advanced Birding. The new all of North America Peterson's Guide, Paulson's Shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest, Hawks in Flight by Dunne and Sibley, A rather unknown book I use is A guide to Nest, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds by Baicich and Harrison which is great book.

I also have a pretty good collection of technical and “gray literature”. Many readers may not familiar with the term gray literature. This refers to very large body of primarily agency publications. While frequently free and available online as pdf documents, most are not widely circulated.

Journals on my shelf include the Auk, Journal of Field Ornithology, the Condor, The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, Northwest Naturalist, Western North American Naturalist, The Journal of Wildlife Management.

Did I mention I read a lot?

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 have dabbled in a number of things but much of my experience is with owls and coniferous forest passerines and woodpeckers.

Any other thoughts on the past-time of birding? What do your foresee in the future of birding?

It's a great past-time and a great excuse to get out of the house and into nature. Even if you live in large city like Boise or Salt Lake there are city parks, greenbelts, and even your own backyard. Birding has a bright future and unlike many hobbies has the ability to contribute to our collective knowledge of the world through citizen science programs like the CBC, BBS, Cornell's Ebird and many others. These programs can and do make a difference every day.

What is your nemesis bird?

Boreal Owl. I have spent years surveying forest owls. I have gone to known active breeding territories, I have accompanied Forest Service staff on survey to known sites. If I'm there it will be the only night all season they won't get them. (eBird map of rarely reported Boreal Owl sightings)

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

Of course, but then the other victims might never speak to me again. Let alone find me that Boreal Owl.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

When I was seasonal employee at Olympic National Park we had Northern Spotted Owls nesting in the back yard and Harlequin Ducks in the front. It's dirty job but somebody had to do it.

Thanks Mike! Keep up those IBLE posts about all the great birds in your neck of the woods.

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