This will be a new weekly blog segment, posted on Monday's, profiling Idaho's best or at least most enthusiastic (thanks Cheryl H.) birders. Part of my reason for doing this project is due to my selfishness in wanting to learn from the best. Yet, it mostly stems from my curiosity about the people behind the names reporting their fantastic birding from around the state. 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.
How and when did you get your start in birding?
Russ: Although I was always actively aware of bird species as a kid in Blackfoot, ID, I officially started birding in 1973 in Pocatello, ID.
How often do you go birding? And where do you regularly go birding?
Russ: I often do not designate a trip as a bird trip. I am just always aware and willing to stop and look-see. In the spring and winter I do make a more regular effort to follow a route around Gem County.
What Gem County birding locations can you recommend to other Idaho Birders?
Russ: In the winter I check the Seven Mile Slough along hiway 52 near Letha a lot for peeps. It is only good when irrigation water is out. The Seven Mile Slough through Letha is a great place of ducks, although the trees and willows are getting so high it is hard to see them. They quit running cattle in there and now the vegetation along the slough is really wild. I always make a loop of Little Rock Road around Thornock Lane to check for Sandhill Cranes and in the spring time a good place for Snowy, Cattle and Common egrets as there is a rookery near by.
Where is your favorite place to bird in Idaho? in the USA? in the world?
Russ: I have always enjoyed American Falls Reservoir and the Snake River below. We enjoyed birding in Texas the couple of times we have been there. And I wish I had been more into birding when I was in Vietnam, and Korea but there seemed to be other priorities.
Which branch of the military were you in and what was your role?
Russ: Air Force. I was an aircraft mechanic specialized in the fuel system maintenance
How would you describe yourself as a birder? A "watcher", a "lister", both, or something else?
Russ: I am more of a watcher than a lister although I do keep a life and yard list. I usually do not chase birds for listing. As a watcher I am always interested in what a bird is doing and why... more so that just counting it up.
How do you keep track of your bird observations?
Russ: I use an Excel spreadsheet. I list life birds and details of my initial sighting. Also use it for yard bird list; as well as more details on each species. I also make notes in my field guide
What kind of birding equipment do you use?
What is your favorite bird sighting and what is the story behind it?
Russ: We almost didn’t go to the Harris Neck Refuge in Georgia as storm clouds were threatening. So we ate at Mickey D’s and watched the storm roll by, which is did quickly in a torrent. So we drove out and the place was deserted. We knew nothing about it, layout, roads, etc. We drove around a bit avoiding mud puddles in our rented sedan. We heard a lot of noise, so we drove a bit down this muddy lane, that might have said not to, then walked some more. The racket was really growing loud. We stepped around a bend and there was a large swampy lake with the sun just breaking through the mist and with nesting Snowy & Common Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, wood storks, anhinghas, white ibis, and probably more. We were amazed and just sat and watched for quite some time. Then we saw the alligator that would cruise around each island waiting for a fall from the nest victim. Seemed like each little island or colony of birds had its own alligator on patrol.
Great story! What took you to Georgia at that time?
Russ: We were there for a conference in Savannah, then took an additional week to tour around, we really enjoyed seeing the birds and investigating the history.
Which birding publications, websites, blogs do you read and recommend?
Russ: Audubon Magazine, IBLE, SWIBA, occasionally I check BirdingOnThe.net particularly if I am going into an area and want to see what has been going on.
Which is your favorite field guide and why?
Russ: I use Sibley’s as it is a quick and fairly accurate guide for in the field.
What do you have in your home library birding reference set?
Russ: Sibley’s Field Guide, Sibley’s Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, National Geographic Birds of North America, Kaufman’s Field Guide of NA, Smithsonian Institute Guide to NA Birds
Russ: I have taken only an introductory Ornithology course in 1973.
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?
Russ: I am likely proficient on most birds in Idaho, lacking finer details in less common sparrows, warblers and peeps.
What does the future hold for your birding past-time?
Russ: Birding has become a central part of our RV snow-birding giving us good reason to get out and hike new country and explore new areas. The future holds more new Southwest birding adventures. Then Australia in another year.
Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?
Russ: Founding member of SWIBA, member of Audubon
What is your nemesis bird?
For Idaho it seems to be the Golden-crowned Sparrow.
(Check out this eBird map for some sightings of the Golden-crowned Sparrow in Idaho in the last few years)
What is/was your career?
Russ: I retired from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service with 41 years as a natural resource conservation specialist. Currently, I have a consulting business in nature resource management and as a grant specialist.
Anything about your family you’d like to share with us?
Russ: I appreciate my wife Louise becoming an active birder.
How long ago did Louise become interested in birding with you?
Russ: It has just been a couple of years. She likes it for the getting out and hiking, and seeing new things too.
Thank you so much Russ, especially for being the inaugural interview. It has been really nice to get to know you a little more.