Monday, November 9, 2009

Idaho Birder: Cheryl Huizinga

Cheryl Huizinga
South of Caldwell, Idaho

Cheryl on right with Peggy Williams at Chiricahua National Monument, AZ

How and when did you get your start in birding?

I got my official start in birding in May of 2002 by buying “A Day of Birding” with Fred Hill that he donated to our church’s camp auction. The trip was to Leslie Gulch in the Owyhees. When he pointed out a Western Kingbird to me (and I never knew that bird even existed before) I was hooked. Fred paid for my first year in the SIBA club and the rest is history.

How often do you go birding?

Through the years I’ve gotten more and more into birding. At present I’d rather be outside birding (or even doing yard work) than indoors doing more “homemaker” things like cleaning and re-decorating. Suffice to say that I’m out there 2-3 days a week if possible. And no matter where I go or who I’m with, I’m always looking. At the end of my life, I won’t be known for how clean my house is. I go birding in Canyon Co. mostly, but will go wherever I know birds are hanging out.

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

My own back yard is my favorite place. I’ve planted for birds and have bird feeders and water for them. It’s amazing what comes along. The problem is that I spend too much time looking out my back windows!

Anywhere in Canyon Co. (the Deer Flat NWR is just a mile from my house) would be my next favorite place and Owyhee Co. after that. The Owyhees is one place I can get my hubby to go.

In US, I’m very fortunate to have a daughter that lives in the Phoenix, AZ. area and visit her and my grandkids several times a year which has given me lots of opportunity to bird there. Also very fortunate to have spent two weeks in May in ’08 and ‘09 in Portal, AZ, birding in the Chiricahua Mtns. Birding in AZ has been very special. (Southeast Arizona Birding Trail info here) Have yet to go beyond the US borders but hopefully someday!

What kids of plant have in put in to attract birds?

I plant a lot for hummingbirds – Agastache, different Salvias, Zinnias, Cannas, and Fuchsia. We also planted Mountain Ash, Washington Hawthorn, and Serviceberry trees for Waxwings, Robins and others.

Any special tips on feed and feeder types that you have found work well for you? And what are your favorite birds to see in your yard?

I buy a ground mix at Bird House & Habitat in Boise called Desert Delight. All the ground feeders love it. I have a hanging tray feeder for Black-oil Sunflowers seeds, a couple of thistle socks for finches, and suet in cages. There are 4 bird baths and three of them are heated for the winter birds. Our yard list stands at 70 species – not too bad for 1/3 acre.

I love to watch the birds change with the seasons – tracking the first sightings of the hummers in spring, the first Juncos in fall and the special surprise birds that come in once in a while. They’re all good except for the large and getting larger flock of House Sparrows that eat up everything in sight. I quit feeding this summer to hopefully get them going somewhere else, but they came back when I started feeding again. Wouldn’t mind a small flock, but this large flock (60+) is too much. But birds draw birds so I put up with them and hopefully the resident Sharpie takes a House Sparrow for its lunch once in a while.

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 have a friend who lets me bird her extensive “forest” over in the Sunnyslope area. It has all kinds of different trees – deciduous and evergreen- with a lot of bushes and undergrowth which attracts all sorts of birds. I only take people there when I call and ask permission from her first, but I go often on my own. I saw my first Varied Thrush there several years ago on a Christmas Bird Count and on another CBC, we found Bushtits.

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

I would say both. I love to watch them, and also like to list them, but don’t want to become a “ticker” about listing. I keep a yard list, a Canyon Co. list, a monthly list, an Idaho list and a year list. I like to collect things so it’s just my way of “collecting” birds.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I use 8x42 Kahles binoculars and my super special hubby bought me a Zeiss Victory Diascope Spotting Scope 20-60x85 mm with a lightweight Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod and floating head that will serve as a present for many birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas’s in the future. He’s a smart guy. I also carry an iPod that’s loaded with bird calls to help with ID in the field. When I’m in the car I listen to bird calls on CD’s instead of the radio, which has helped tremendously with ‘birding by ear' instead of just by sight. My grandsons like listening to those when they’re with me and getting good at remembering them!

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

I’m a bit “old school” and do it mostly on paper but do keep some of it on the computer. There’s just something special about coming home and taking out my Birding Journal and writing down a new bird and the story about seeing it. I like going back and adding to my observations and reading about the first time I saw that species.

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

My favorite sighting has to be the Broad-billed Hummingbird which I saw at my hummingbird feeder on my patio in May 2004. I knew it was different, looked it up in Sibley’s, called Fred Hill (my birding mentor) and he came over and agreed with my ID. I had no idea that it would generate the interest that it did. After calling a few people and posting it on IBLE, I soon had a backyard full of birders and other interested parties. Stacy Peterson, master hummingbird bander, packed up his two kids and came from Mountain Home to band it, and Harry Krueger came to add it to his Big Year list. Cliff Weisse and several other birders came from Eastern Idaho to add it to their Idaho list. Someone told me to keep a list of the people that came and I did. The hummer only stayed for 4 days, but I sure learned a lot about birders and what they will do to add a bird to their Idaho list!! It was the first recorded sighting of one in Idaho. Not sure that one has been recorded since!

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

I subscribe to several publications: Birder’s World, Wild Bird and Audubon magazines. I check with SWIBA and IBLE on a daily basis and often check into the New Mexico-Arizona list serve ( when I’m headed there and also when I want to drive myself a little nuts about what is being seen in the spots I like to visit when I go there. Some of the blogs – like yours! - and others – IBO and such are fun and informative. Really enjoying Birdfellow also.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

I started with Sibley's – a gift from one of my daughters who didn’t know what her mother was becoming – and it is tattered and beat up from hauling it everywhere, but it’s still the one I use the most. Also have the 5th edition Natl. Geographic and the latest Peterson’s field guide.

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

I’ve gotten several reference guides: Sparrows, Hawks, Hummingbirds, Shorebirds and other Bird Life books. They are slowly filling up the bookshelves. I got “The Complete Birder” by Jack Connor several years ago and re-read that occasionally. Also have several reference books on Arizona birds. The “Birds of Malheur NWR” By CD Littlefield is a special one because I got to meet him in the Peloncillo Mountains of New Mexico while visiting the Bio-research Ranch and he signed the book for me. A recent buy was “Birds of Idaho” by Thomas Burleigh that someone said I should have. Haven’t had a chance to get into yet, but that stuff never gets dated.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

Have none whatsoever unless you can call classes taken in the Valley offered by fellow birders “formal”. Only wish I would have stayed in school at C of I and eventually would have taken an ornithology class while getting a biology degree. But, alas, I fell in love and dropped out of school to get that Mrs. Degree. Not that I regret that decision!!

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?

No way! I defer to the likes of Jim Holcomb, Fred Hill, and many other experts. I'm still learning every time I go out.

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

From listening to long-time birders, I realize that I’m not going to see the species or numbers of a certain species like in the “old days”. It’s my desire to see what I can see now and help the environment so that my grandkids will some day get to see what I see now.

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

I belong to Southwestern Idaho Birders Association – SIBA – and currently hold the title of Field Trip Chairman. Also belong to the Golden Eagle Audubon Society but don’t get a chance to be involved with them as much as I like. I keep the Canyon Co. Bird List for which keeps me out there looking for more species to top the last year’s list. I will get more involved with the Deer Flat NWR as time allows.

What is your nemesis bird?

For Idaho it was the Common Poorwill but got it this past summer (eBird map). Right now, it's the Stilt Sandpiper (eBird map). I’ve had several chances to see it, but it’s stayed just out of sight for me. For Arizona, it’s the Montezuma Quail (eBird map). I keep trying and when I finally get it – it will be very much earned and collected! There are so many birds in Idaho that I have yet to see: Sharp-tailed Grouse (eBird map), Pine Grosbeaks (eBird map), Barred Owl (eBird map), Flamulated Owl (eBird map), Mountain Quail (eBird map), Harlequin Duck (eBird map)– the list goes on and on, but really can’t say they are nemesis birds, just haven’t tried that hard to get them yet.

What is/was your career?

I have a wallpapering business that kept me very busy in the 80’s and 90’s and early 00’s, but is slow now. I’ve taught Aerobic Fitness and Strength training classes at Idaho Athletic Club for over 25 years. It’s great to get paid to work out. My motto is “Keep Moving!”

Anything about your family you’d like to share with us?

Hubby Bob is a real treasure in that he lets me go off on birding trips without too much complaining. The scope acquisition just fueled that fire! My two daughters keep saying that they might have to put beaks on their kids so I pay them more attention. I’m trying to get the Gkids into birding. The two older ones – 8 and 6 – show some promise and interest, and the other two could care less at this stage. Gma will keep working on them!

Any tips on birding with children?

Keep it very simple. The first time I led a pre-school trip with my oldest grandson’s class, I wanted to tell them about every bird we saw, but they were at the Magpies, Robins and Geese level. Since then I’ve kept it very simple with lots of action. They make “binoculars” out of 2 toilet paper tubes connected with yarn and hung around their necks. Works great! I think just getting kids outside with nature and help them notice all kind of things along with the birds is good stuff.

Any funny birding stories you can share with us?

My friend and hiking buddy, Bobbi Cross, and I got into birding together and had good times hiking and watching birds. I remember once early on trying to figure out which sparrow this bird was. It sang and sang and we looked and looked and finally decided it was a Song Sparrow. Did the same thing with Nashville Warblers another time. But we never forgot them after that! We saw so many first sightings together – Varied Thrush, Bittern, Pileated Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, and on and on. Great times.

Your mission in life as birder?

I certainly can’t say I’m in the league of the expert birders you’ve already had on your blog, but I’m enthusiastic about birding and will talk to anyone about it if I see a glimmer of interest. I’ve gotten to know some very special people in the birding world and it’s added a tremendous amount of joy and fulfillment in my life just when I needed it the most. I can see myself doing it for a very long time. Remember my motto is “Keep Moving” and guess I should add “and seeing birds” to that! Also, birding has gotten me out in places in Idaho that I had never been to before, and there are so many places in Idaho I still want to see – not just for the birds but for the beautiful areas we have here. The activity of birding just gets me up and out and doing no matter I go. Can’t get much better than that!! Thanks for the opportunity to share!

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