Monday, December 21, 2009

Idaho Birder: Darren Clark

Darren Clark
Rexburg, Idaho

How and when did you get first get involved in birding?

In 1992 I took a field biology class at Ricks College from Ririe Godfrey. His main interest was birds. I couldn’t believe all of these exotic birds like Pelicans and Egrets lived in Idaho. I thought all of the good birds were in Florida or other far off places. I was hooked pretty quickly.

Did you or do you have a birding mentor and can you tell us about that person?

I wish I had a good birding mentor. It would have saved me some time and embarrassing misidentifications over the years.

How long have you been birding in Idaho?

Since 2000.

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

I used to bird a lot more than I do now. I casually bird nearly every day though. However, I probably “go birding” 20 times a year. I mostly bird near Rexburg, but have made extended birding trips. My most recent trip was to Southeastern Arizona this spring and it was a blast.

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

I have several places I like to bird in Idaho. In the winter I love to drive around the fields near Rexburg looking for Longspurs, Snow Buntings and the like. In the spring and fall I like looking for migrants and vagrants at Camas, Market Lake, and Mud Lake (all in Jefferson County). I also usually take a trip with a couple other Eastern Idaho birders in the winter to the Hagerman area. My favorite place overall to bird is the Gulf Coast in spring migration. I went to graduate school at LSU, In Baton Rouge Louisiana. I would spend nearly every weekend in April and early May birding the wooded lots of the gulf coast. It was fantastic.

Do you have any birding hotspots that may be yet unknown to Idaho birders that you would be willing to share with us?

There is a spring-fed waterway west of Rexburg called Texas Slough. It stays open all winter and holds interesting water birds that are often absent from the surrounding areas. The farms on the benches Southeast of Rexburg also hold interesting birds, particularly in winter.

Where in Idaho would you say is the most under-birded place that may have great untapped potential?

The cottonwood bottomlands of the South Fork of the Snake River would be one vote. I haven’t birded it much, but I think the potential for eastern vagrants (particularly warblers and the like) is great. I have birded it on occasion and have found goodies like Yellow-billed Cuckoos, a Black-and-white Warbler, and a couple of Broad-winged Hawks. I also think the potential of the Hagerman area is really good for birds. It does get birded a bit in the winter, but I’m not aware of many people birding it in the spring and fall.

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

I am all of the above. I’m not above mooching somebody else’s great find to add it to my state list, but I get the most satisfaction out of making my own discoveries.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I use Nikon Venturer 8x32 binoculars. I also use a Nikon Fieldscope 82mm ED for my spotting scope.

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

I have two.

In late June of 2001 (I think) I was walking along the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River near St. Anthony and luckily had my binoculars along. As I was entering the trail I noticed a little blue/gray, black, and yellow bird on a chain link fence. My first thought was a really late-lingering Yellow-rumped Warbler. I got my binoculars on the bird and to my astonishment it was a Yellow-throated Warbler (a bird I was very familiar with from Louisiana). I spent a bit of time confirming the identification and then drove hurriedly into St. Anthony to make a phone call (this was before I had a cell phone). Cliff Weisse was the only birder I knew who could get there before sunset. I got him on the phone and said “Hey, I’ve got a Yellow-throated Warbler in St. Anthony. Do you feel like making a drive?” He did. Anyway, I drove back to the river and relocated the bird. I managed to keep it in sight and as Cliff arrived it started singing. He got a few diagnostic photographs before it got dark. It was really fun. (to re-live the excitement of finding and photographing this Yellow-throated Warbler, check out IBLE posts from June 18t, 2001 starting at post number 2369.)

The other favorite sighting was finding the first Scarlet Tanager in Idaho. I was birding with my wife and young son. We were walking the western windrow at Market Lake. I saw a brightly colored bird in the canopy and was surprised to see that it was a molting male Scarlet Tanager. There isn’t much of a story, but it was pretty cool finding that bird. (IBLE post of Aug 21, 2001)

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

I like the Sibley guide (the big one). It seems to have the best illustrations and field maps. It does have limitations though (very light on text and not all of the vagrants are included). I like the National Geographic guide as a 2nd resource.

Which five books from your personal birding library would you recommend?

Sibley Guide to Birds, Kingbird Highway, Wild America (Peterson and Fisher), Shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest, and any of the several field guides….

Do you have any formal bird-related education background? If so, what is it?

Not really. I took a Field Ornithology Class at Utah State University and that’s about it.

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’m not really an expert on any family of birds. I’m particularly weak on gulls. However, I do feel that I’ve got a good grasp at identifying Sparrows and Warblers.

What future birding plans do you have?

I’d like to get up to Northern Idaho and fill in some gaps of my state list. I still need to see Black Swift, Vaux’s Swift, Mountain Quail (a tricky one I know), Spruce Grouse, and Boreal Chickadee for example. I also enjoy participating in the Christmas Bird Count every winter and I do a Breeding Bird Survey route each summer.

What is your nemesis bird?

Blue-headed Vireo is a bird I look for every spring and fall. I’ve seen a few maybes, but nothing that really sticks. Vaux’s Swift is probably another one I should have by now.

What is your role at BYU-Idaho?

I teach photography at BYU-Idaho. It’s a job I still can’t believe I have. I feel really fortunate to do what I do.

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

They’re great, and my wife is very patient and understanding (see the answer to the next question for an example).

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

Twice now I’ve spent my wedding anniversary at the Boise Dump with Cliff Weisse looking for Gulls.

Total life list?

I’ve lost track, but I’m somewhere around 600.

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