Sunday, January 17, 2010

Idaho Birder: Danette Henderson

Danette scoping great birds at Malheur NWR

Danette Henderson
Boise, Idaho

How and when did you get your start in birding?

I just started birding a little over a year ago. My sister was talking often about the birds she would see in her yard and she bought me a bird feeder. I started to pay more attention to the birds in my yard. Then a couple of specific instances really sparked my interest. I walk my dogs almost daily in the foothills north of Boise. About this time last year I kept noticing a black and white bird perched on a tree. I had no idea what the bird was, but daily it would be in the same spot. I took a pair of nearly non-functioning binoculars to try and get a better look at the bird. I tried to figure it out with a very basic guidebook and looking on the internet. About this time my 8-year-old daughter was very interested in memorizing bird sounds from a book she had recently received. She was obviously quite “taken” with this challenge so I thought it would be great to check out our local Audubon chapter. We went to an evening meeting where I finally figured out the foothills bird was a Northern Shrike, got a field trip schedule and was hooked.

I would also add that the people we encountered on our first bird outings played a significant role in our start into the “birding world”. All of the people on the outings or folks we would run into at birding locales were incredibly generous with their enthusiasm and knowledge! I really appreciate the experienced birders taking the time to foster the education of “newbies” like me.

And finally, we watched the BBC series hosted by David Attenborough “The Life of Birds”, I must have said “that is amazing”, “no way, that is crazy” and “can you believe it” a thousand times.

I bought a pair of decent binoculars and really started paying attention to birds in October of 2008.

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

I feel like I am always looking out for birds. In my backyard, driving around town, and whenever I am walking or running in the foothills. In the past year we have spent many weekends exploring different areas in the “Idaho Birding Trail” guide. Some of my favorites have been Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, the Boise Foothills, CJ Strike, Ted Trueblood, and my backyard. Last spring our family went to Malheur Oregon three times in the spring, it was a wonderful place!

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

I haven’t really been doing this long enough to pick a favorite spot in Idaho. We spent 2 weeks in Cape May, NJ to witness fall migration, it was an amazing experience. We were also in Baja Mexico early this summer and the birds were spectacular. I am looking forward to visiting more of Idaho next year – I have yet to bird in Northern or Eastern Idaho.

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

I don’t know if it would be considered a “hotspot” but it is a great place. On Bogus Basin Rd., 12-Mile Rd. (just past the 12 mile marker on the East side) there is a dirt road. It is a super place to walk and watch and listen for birds.

How would you describe yourself as a birder?

An observer and student. I love “birding” for a variety of reasons. Although I have always spent a considerable amount of time in nature, I have never observed it on this level. Not knowing what you might see or learn every time you head out the door is a very exciting prospect. Then to come home and read about some new species you have seen or behavior you have observed is just thrilling.

I do list what I see, for several reasons. I think it is a great way to improve your understanding of bird behavior/patterns, it will be fun to see changes over time, and it serves as a reminder of what I have experienced over the year. I have always wanted to collect something – I feel like a bird list is a collection of my encounters with amazing creatures (and it doesn’t take up space or need dusted).

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

My husband just surprised me with Swarovski 10 x 42 binoculars about two weeks ago (that was first time I have ever cried over a gift!) and a group of family members went in together on a spotting scope recently.

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

I use an Excel spreadsheet for Idaho species for the year (because Jay and Heidi had created it for their competition – thanks!) and I write down what I see if we are birding for the day. I post to IBLE because I think it is a great way to share information. I also just started using eBird because I think it is a wonderful way to individually contribute to large-scale data collection.

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

That is a tough question; this week it was the Northern Goshawk I saw in the Boise foothills. Overall for the year it was probably from a trip my 9-year-old daughter and I took to several National Parks this fall. We were resting on top of a challenging hike in Zion National Park when a man stated, “look at that bird behind you” – we were so excited to see perched 30 feet behind us was a California Condor. We were hoping to see them later in the week in the Grand Canyon. It was a beautiful (ok, Condors aren’t exactly beautiful, maybe amazing is more like it) sight. He was marked #99 and we later researched and found out he had been fostered by Condor parents in Idaho at the World Center for Birds of Prey.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

I read IBLE posts daily. It is a wonderful way for a new birder to hear about great places to visit, learn about species, ask questions, see pictures, etc. I also look at info on, Cornell University sites, ABA publications and website. I should also mention the Idaho Birding Trail guide put out by Fish and Game, we used that all of last year to learn about new and great places to visit.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Sibleys, I have others that I carry around in the car with me but I always pull out the Sibleys first.

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

Sibleys, National Geographic and Petersons field guides. I have recently added a few specific guides – sparrows, shorebirds, warblers to try and supplement. After my visit at the landfill today it looks like I might need to invest in a gull guide – whew! They can be confusing.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

No, but I am just starting a home-study course from Cornell.

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! But I do like when my “non-birder” friends ask me what bird they saw or what birds are flying around us while we are out trail running in the foothills. I like to be able to put a name with the bird they are curious about.

What future birding plans do you have?

To get out as often as possible, learn more about the birds I am seeing, and occasionally take a trip to bird somewhere new.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

The Golden Eagle Audubon and Southwestern Idaho Birders Association have so many wonderful, knowledgeable members. The field trips we attended and participation in the Christmas Bird Count last year really helped get us even more excited about birds. I also belong to Cornell Lab of Ornithology and participate in their Project Feeder Watch and use their curriculum for science activities with my daughter. I also belong to the American Birding Association.

What is your nemesis bird?

I don’t really think I can have a nemesis after birding for only a year, but the Green-tailed Towhee doesn’t seem to want me to see it! (eBird map of recent sightings)

What is/was your career?

I am a Registered Dietitian but haven’t worked in the field for several years. I have spent the past few years part time teaching in an elementary school. This year I am home schooling my daughter – and loving it.

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

I have a really super husband, one sweet 9-year-old daughter and two frisky dogs (who are usually not invited to go birding!). This Christmas we added Little Lulu, Peanut and Winnie – the Dwarf Hamsters.

Iris at Cape May, NJ

Over the past year or two my sister, sister-in-law and her family and my in-laws all got excited about birding. Over the past year we have spent many weekends piling into the car to go look for birds together. We even spent three weekends all together in Malheur. This past fall we spent two weeks together in Cape May, NJ witnessing fall migration. I love that birding is an activity we are all so excited about and it has us spending much more time together.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

I can’t think of anything that would translate well on paper, but we spend a great deal of time laughing while birding.  I do find several things amusing about this new-found passion. Before birding I would never have:

Said to the family “Hey, how about a family vacation in New Jersey!”

Been able to use "Gonydeal" in a sentence.

Found myself at the Boise Landfill for hours in the middle of winter.

Or, taken my daughter out of school so we could go to a cemetery to see Crossbills!

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