Monday, November 30, 2009

Idaho Birder: Tom McCabe

Tom McCabe
Boise, Idaho

How and when did you get your start in birding?

I was in the Army in Oklahoma, 1970, just back from Vietnam, and I looked out my apartment window one day and saw 2 birds I had never seen before, so I went out and bought a bird book, which happened to be Peterson’s (Eastern). The birds were a Western Kingbird and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. I soon learned that I was on the 100th Meridian, so I had to buy Peterson’s Western guide as well. When the birds stopped landing outside my window, I went to every pawn shop in town (there were a lot) until I found a great pair of 10x50’s for $16. I still have them, but they are retired.

Where did you grow up and what was your role in the Army?

I grew up on the east coast.

I went to Vietnam as a Second Lieutenant /Forward Observer. By the time I got out of the Army I was a Captain/Battery Commander.

How long have you been birding in Idaho?

I came to Idaho to drive snow cats at Sun Valley in 1974. I’ve always kept my binoculars handy, but I didn’t get “serious” about birding until I joined IBLE and realized how many birding opportunities there were in Idaho. Prior to that, I thought I had to go to Malheur or some such place to get interesting birds.

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

My wife and I bike the Boise River Greenbelt every day, weather permitting. We each carry a small pair of Nikons and it’s rare that we don’t see something interesting. In addition, I try to get out to Indian Creek on a regular basis because it’s been so good in the last year. Prior to that I used to go to Hubbard Reservoir, Black’s Creek, Ted Trueblood or anywhere interesting birds have been reported.

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

Hulls Gulch is one of my favorites, since my wife and I contributed some money that helped save the area from development. Other than that, I’d have to say it’s wherever the birds are.

My favorite in the U.S. is probably still Malheur NWR, but now that I’m not working any more, we keep adding birding locations.

My favorite in the world is San Blas, a small town on the west coast of Mexico, north of Puerto Vallarta. But my favorite will probably change as we do more traveling.

How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, a “chaser”, all of the above, or something else?

I keep a life list, and “life” birds are always special. But I don’t keep track of every bird I ever see, unless my first sighting was not a great view or the 2d or 3d, etc. was special for some reason. But when I go out with someone and get a lot of species in one day then I usually enter the day list in AviSys.

If you haven’t already mentioned it, do you have birding mentor? Birding buddies that your regularly go birding with?

I’ve birded with lots of people in the Boise area, some more experienced than me and some less. Harry Krueger has taught me a lot about birds and birding locations, as has Jay Carlisle. My main criterion is whether I have fun with a person when we go birding.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I now use a pair of Nikon 10x36 binoculars and I love them. When I started trying to see shore birds, I bought a Nikon spotting scope, 20x60. It’s not the best scope, but it was the best one I could afford at the time, and I’m still learning how to use a scope.

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

I used to keep a little note book, and for a while I checked off birds in my Peterson’s Field Guide, but now I use AviSys. It’s a very simple program that lets you be as detailed as you want, and it allows you to print out all sorts of reports.

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

There’s usually a story behind almost every one of my sightings, although the story may only be interesting to me. It’s what I love about birding. There’s almost always a moment on every bird trip where something “magical” happens. Sometimes I’ll keep birding because nothing “magical” has happened yet. The other day Harry Krueger and I were walking along a narrow trail above CJ Strike reservoir, trying to see around the bend and into the “narrows” of the Bruneau Arm. I saw a small bird fly up slope and paused to try to identify it. As I looked up slope, I saw 2 beautiful Golden Eagles riding the thermals above us. It was “magical.” An eagle sighting can always “make my day.”

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

I read IBLE daily (hourly?), as well as Inland NW Birders. I also like, and I look on OBOL if I’m going over to the coast. I read Audubon Magazine, and I’ve started reading Wildlife Magazine because they have a lot about birds.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

I like Sibley if I’m near home, because it gives me a lot more detail on each bird. But if I travel, I like to have the national coverage in the National Geo guide. Because birds from all over the US migrate to and through Mexico, we took it to Mexico and used it in conjunction with Peterson’s Birds of Mexico and a huge book on Mexico that was too big to carry in the field.

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

Because I’ve been birding so long, my friends and family have humored my addiction by buying me lots of books over the years. My keyboarding skills are not good enough to list them all. It’s like when I got into oriental rugs. I ended up with almost as many books on rugs as rugs themselves.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

None, zero, zip.

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 consider myself a student who will probably never graduate. I’m ahead of some of the students and behind a lot of others.

What future birding plans do you have?

My plan is to chase every “life” bird that comes within reasonable driving distance, to go to lots of new and interesting places looking for new and interesting birds, and to generally have fun observing the incredible diversity of birds.

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

I’m a member of the National Audubon Society, but I’m not active in it or the local organization. Because I got started as a “lone” birder in Oklahoma, birding has often been a solitary activity. That changed somewhat after I met my wife, but she’s not as addicted as I am. She’s more of an “enabler.” So birding is more about the birds for me and less about joining an organization.

What is your nemesis bird?

It changes, but right now it’s a White-throated Sparrow. (eBird map of Idaho sightings) I’ve chased several and have yet to see one. What I love is when you finally catch up with a nemesis bird and then you start seeing them every 5 minutes. Then you start on a new nemesis.

In what field is/was your career?

I practiced criminal defense in Boise for over 25 years, until I was diagnosed with lymphoma. I’m now 3 years post-chemo and apparently cancer free (but you’re not allowed to say you’re “cured” until 5 years). I now teach legal education seminars, do some consulting and I work as an adjunct professor at the U of I College of Law when the state budget allows. I also bike and bird and ski whenever I want.

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

We’re happy.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

Yes, but most are best told in person over a beer. (I think this is an open invitation folks.)

I'll try one "humorous" story: We took our kids to Malheur and got them up before dawn to see Sage Grouse on a lek. We were able to get quite close to the grouse and we could clearly hear the "boink" the males made with their air sacs. My daughter was in 7th or 8th grade at the time. As a particularly puffed up male strutted by our car, I told my daughter "Jess, you'll never look at boys in the schoolyard the same ever again." And she hasn't. And now she's a high school art teacher.

Your mission in life as birder?

I just think birding is fun and that’s what it’s really all about. At the same time if more people were birders they would be more aware of the environment and would make good decisions that would be beneficial for both birds and humans. I wish I could take our state and national leaders birding and show them how important birds are to our well-being and how we do things that harm birds and the environment without even realizing we’re doing it.

No comments:

Post a Comment