Monday, November 16, 2009

Idaho Birder: Lew Ulrey

Lew Ulrey

Boise, Idaho

How and when did you get your start in birding?

I started about age 10, which was in the mid 1950’s.

Where did you grow up?

My childhood homes included Seattle, WA; El Paso, TX ; Nagoya, Japan, Topeka, KS; Peru, IN and Wiesbaden, Germany, all courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

How long have you been birding in Idaho?

Since 1972 off and on, more seriously starting in 2002.

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

I bird my backyard every day.

What are your top five favorite back bird sightings?

My top five favorite backyard bird sightings are Northern Parula, White-throated Sparrow, Common Grackle, Blue Jay, and Lewis’s Woodpecker. I really enjoy all the birds that come around. Those five are just the most unusual for this area.

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

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area has probably been the most productive.

The most lifers per day came when my wife and I went to the 2008 San Diego Bird Festival

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

I keep lists, but they always contain information about when and where I found the birds and how many were present. Being an avid eBirder has really conditioned me to count the birds I find. I think records of numbers of birds have more potential for yielding better understanding of birds than records without.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I use Nikon 8x42 binoculars and a Kowa TSN- 663ED 66mm scope. I also carry with me it is not practical to have my binoculars a Vortex 8x25 monocular.

You are the top checklist contributor to eBird in the State of Idaho. What do you like about eBird and why do you feel it is important?

eBird is a good way to make bird findings amount to something more than just an entry on a list on the shelf or home computer. By entering sightings on eBird a person has a chance to help professional ornithologists with their work, and to contribute the pool of data about bird occurrences that is available on eBird to be explored by anyone.

I have designed an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of birds in my yard as to species, numbers of individuals, median number of individuals per month and maximum number of individuals I also love AviSys. Some have commented that a person can get the same information for free by using eBird. That is true only to the extent that the kind of information you want is what eBird offers. AyiSys offers much more flexibility in working with the sighting data you have acculmulated. AviSys is a relational database with a field for numbers of individuals seen, and a field for putting codes that are user defined. I have codes for which feeder the bird was at, what sex was the bird, did I photograph it,did I only hear it, etc. The possibilities are almost limitless.

Any special eBird tips or instructions for us?

Last May, Charles Swift agreed to let me take over managing eBird Hot Spots in southern Idaho for eBird. Charles still does that job for northern Idaho. The job involves checking out, hopefully approving requests for new Hot Spots. It is important to that suggested spots are not private spots, such as a birder’s own yard. Suggestions that duplicate already existing Hot Spots have to be declined. Suggested Hot Spots that are not properly plotted on the map have to be corrected. The job gives me the ability to move, merge, or rename existing Hot Spots. I really think Hot Spots are another way that eBird data can have greater significance. What has been posted on Hot Spots is viewable by anyone. If a birder is coming to our area and wants to know what to expect, the existence of a Hot Spot could give him some good information. There is a misconception that an eBird Hot Spot is a great place to bird. A Hot Spot is at just a place that anyone can bird and a shared eBird location for reporting his sightings. I think putting this information out is good for people who do not know about using Hot Spots, or have wondered about how to get corrections made on what they view as problems with existing Hot Spots.

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

At the 2008 San Diego Bird Festival, the friend we stayed with wanted to take us to a certain beach to see Black Skimmers. When we got there we found about 100 skimmers. I did not see skimmers on any of the official festival trips. Looking at a range map I saw that skimmers are restricted to both coasts. The birds were there, seemingly unnoticed by the human bathers. What a commotion would arise if one of them showed up in Idaho! Location is everything!

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

IBLE, North American Birds Online, Cornell’s All About Birds website, Living Bird Magazine from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birding Magazine from ABA.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

At home I have always available Peterson Field Guide to Birds of NA and National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of NA. Having grown up with the Peterson guide it was good to see the updated edition that came out in 2008. In the field I like the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western NA. It fits nicely in my pouch.

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

Most of the popular field guides, The Idaho Bird Guide, Idaho Birding Trail, some of the specialized Peterson guides, i.e. gull, hummingbirds, hawks, advanced birding.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

In 2006 I completed the Cornell Home Study Course in Bird Biology. I can highly recommend that course. The Handbook of Bird Biology, which is the text for the course was written by professional ornithologists, who not only are masters of their subject matter, but also write very well.

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 feel proficient in identifying the common birds. Songbirds are probably where I am strongest. I really believe in the power that comes from knowing bird calls. I also believe that learning bird calls is a quest that is never over.

What future birding plans do you have?

2010 San Diego Bird Festival!

You are the Big List compiler for Ada County. How long have you been doing this? And How can Ada County birders better help you?

I have had this job since 2006. It is great when people call me or email me with additions to the list. RL Rowland and Mark Collie are especially good doing this. I can still get information without direct communication by watching postings on IBLE, eBird and the IBO Blog.

What is your nemesis bird?


What is/was your career?


By a chance discovery I found your name listed as a trumpet player for the Meridian Orchestra. What is your musical background?

I started playing trumpet at age nine. At age 50, after being laid off at work, I went to BSU and earned a Bachelor degree in Music Education. Going through music school was fine; going through student teaching, however, did not go so well. This will be my last season in the Meridian Orchestra. After that I will just play in the All Campus Concert Band at BSU.

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

My grandparents were interested birds and sparked my interest. My mother was a rock hound. When I was about 12 she took take me to an Audubon meeting. She explained to them she was interested in rocks. They replied that they preferred living things.

Your mission in life as birder?

The goal is always to get a better understanding of birds. The lists are a tool used to work toward understanding.

Thanks for the interview Lew. I will always have you in my record book as one of most amiable people I've encountered. Thanks for your work in the birding community!

1 comment:

  1. Lew has been a huge help with eBird Hot Spots and I was happy to have him take that over for southern Idaho! I'm behind in northern Idaho - will get caught up soon I hope.