Monday, January 4, 2010

Idaho Birder: Kas Dumroese

Dumroese Family - Deb, Niklass, and Kas taken in Summer of '09 in Kuopio, Finland.

Kas Dumroese
Moscow, Idaho

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

I grew up in Freeport, Illinois. My father had an interest in bird watching, and kept a Purple Martin house on the garage. Watching the martins was probably my start. During high school, I worked for the Freeport Park District at their nature center in a splendid oak woodland south of town. Once of my tasks was taking care of the bird feeders during winter. The nature center had an excellent viewing area (with one-way glass) that allowed an up-close and personal experience, and that really got me hooked.

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

My father was a casual bird watcher. More important, however, is that he really encouraged me to appreciate nature. He got me started collecting butterflies and moths, and allowed me to convert a section of the garage into an area where I could grow caterpillars into “perfect specimens” for my collection. For years he and I would go out at night and check the security lights behind the nearby shopping center for moths. Those experiences are probably the basis for my love of nature and my habit of “collecting”.

How long have you been birding in Idaho?

As long as I’ve lived in Idaho, 25 years.

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

Not often enough. It’s been really difficult the past 10 years to get out and bird. I began work with the USDA Forest Service and have national responsibilities. My wife also works for the Forest Service, and we have a lot of travel. And, we have a 16-year-old who has been, and still is, active in band, soccer, church, and other activities and we spend as much time with him as we can, while we can. I also had to contend with cancer. Having said all that, however, I do birdwatch every morning to see what is at my feeders. And, one of the things I love about bird watching is that you can do it anywhere you are. So, recently, I had to go to Kalispell, and I birded the whole drive over.

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

Idaho? Wow, that’s a hard one for me. Idaho has a lot of great places to bird. I love Camas NWR, Snake River Birds of Prey, Mann Lake, the Clark Fork area in spring, the eastern end of my property when the Clay-colored Sparrows are buzzing.

In the US? Well, birding rare endemics in the mysterious old-growth koa forests of Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge in Hawaii is special. I really enjoyed birding southern Florida.

In the world? Costa Rica tops my list. I loved the diversity and the opportunity to see a tremendous number of species in a really short time.

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

I wonder about the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River during migrations. This area is a wonderful riparian corridor.

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

I’ll say that I put a lot of observations into a database, which can then be used to generate every conceivable list, but I wouldn’t say that makes me a hard-core lister. It is fun to occasionally crank out some lists to see what I’ve seen where, and what I haven’t seen yet. It helps me focus on species or habitats that I might not be paying much attention to. A couple of years ago I did that for Latah County and was surprised to see a few common species that I had not taken the time to either see, or had forgotten to record, within the county. The only list I’m pretty intense with is my yard list. I know exactly what that number is and what species I’ve seen. As for chasing, I’ll chase if it’s convenient, or can be piggy-backed onto something else fun for the family. For example, I chased the Eurasian Dotterel that was on the Washington Coast 10 years ago, and then as family we spent a few days vacationing on the coast.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I use a pair of 8 x 42 Regal by Celestron. I like them because they have large exit pupils for my glasses, close focusing, and they are fairly lightweight. I’ve been really happy with them. I also have an old Bushnell Spacemaster. The two of us have been through a lot.

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

I use AviSys. I’ve found that, over the years, my birding observations have become a de facto diary, particularly for travel. “When did we visit your cousins in Missouri? I don’t know, but I’ll search my Missouri bird sightings.”

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

Oh my. Every “lifer” is a favorite sighting and has a story behind it, but I have three “uber favorites.” The first is going to see Whooping Cranes on their wintering grounds with my father in 1991. We took a boat ride and saw many birds besides the cranes; it was a great trip. The second is seeing Idaho’s first Brambling in my yard in 1999. I was sitting at the dinner table, my wife was facing the window. After a bit, she remarked, “There’s been a weird towhee under the feeder.” I jumped up and looked out the window and immediately saw the Brambling; I screamed “Brambling!” and ran for the video camera. I was back in 15 seconds but the bird was gone. “How long did you look at that bird?” I asked. “Oh, it was out there about 10 minutes.” Ack! After scouring the yard to see if I could locate it again, and coming up empty, I called Dan Svingen. “Hey Dan, guess what I just saw in my yard?” His answer? “Brambling.” That was a bit spooky.

My second favorite sighting, at least in Idaho, is the Siberian Accentor. Because US 95 was closed due to a land slide, the Svingens and I had to drive through Oregon to get to Sun Valley. Besides seeing the accentor, that trip produced great looks at my lifer Black Rosy-Finch, lifer Tufted Duck, and my Idaho Great-tailed Grackle. We saw all the falcons that could be seen in Idaho: Peregrine, Prairie, Gyr, and American Kestrel. I also got to meet a lot of Idaho birders that had written chapters for the bird guide, and I otherwise only knew from reports.

Which birding publications and websites recommend?

I struggle to keep up with American Birding, and I try to stay current with IBLE, Inland-NW-Birders, and Tweeters (the original, not that new fangled one).

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Dumb question! The Svingen and Dumroese “Birders Guide to Idaho”! For ID, I usually carry the National Geographic guide to the field; I had Kinkos cut off the binding and put a spiral binder on it. That great hint came from Charles Swift. I also use Sibley’s, Peterson’s, and the National Audubon guides because they all have features that excel, depending on the species.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?


What future birding plans do you have?

My immediate plans are to do the Moscow/Pullman and Lewiston/Clarkston Christmas Bird Counts.

What is your nemesis bird?

In Idaho, it’s Three-toed Woodpecker, partially because it has nemesis qualities, and partially because I probably just need to spend more time in the Selkirk Mountains searching for it. I’m also fairly convinced that Red-breasted Sapsuckers do not exist.

What is your career field?

I am the National Nursery Specialist for the USDA Forest Service. Each year about a billion tree and shrub seedlings are grown for conservation, restoration, and reforestation in the US. My job is to help nursery managers improve the efficiency of their nurseries and improve the quality of plants before they are shipped to the field.

Can you share with us some behind the scenes of putting your Idaho Bird Guide book together? What was your motivating for doing that project? Feedback from Idaho and other birders about it?

I met Dan Svingen while looking for my lifer Swamp Sparrow at the Plummer Creek Marsh on the south end of Lake Coeur d’Alene. I was on one side playing a tape and he was on the other doing the same thing. We sorta found each other, but no Swamp Sparrow, that way. From that start, we did a lot of birding together while he lived in Idaho. One afternoon we were sitting on my patio looking up at Paradise Ridge, talking about Burleigh’s “Birds of Idaho” and how that would be a good project to update. Conversation then drifted to about where to bird, and we realized that we really didn’t have a good idea of where to bird in southern Idaho. We then thought that a “birder’s guide” might be an easier undertaking and have more immediate usefulness than a redo of Burleigh’s. As we talked some more, however, we quickly realized that because we didn’t have the state-wide expertise to write it ourselves, we’d need our fellow Idaho birders to write chapters. It was a huge project, and Dan did most of the heavy lifting. My biggest contribution was in word-smithing, editing, organization, and obtaining consistency across the chapters. The American Birding Association folks, Bob Berman and Cindy Lippincott, were simply outstanding, especially in creation of the maps. Dan and I massacred a lot of DeLorme atlas pages and Forest Service maps so that the ABA folks could understand what we had in mind. When it was finally published, ABA sent us about 300 copies to sign for special ABA use. That was a lot of signatures to scribble one afternoon.

Sure, lots of birders have commented about how they like the guide; I still occasionally autograph copies. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that just after the book came out there was a huge jump in the number of new species identified in Idaho. I think the Idaho list went from 330 or so to about 375 in the 3 to 5 years after the guide came out, and I’d like to believe that getting birders into all those highlighted hotspots was part of the reason why.

Retirement plans?

2023 or so. Just because I’m bald and gray doesn’t mean I’m that old. 

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

My wife Debbie brews her own beer; my job is putting the caps on the bottles. She’s a research soil scientist for the Forest Service. We’ve been married 26 years and are blessed to have a great, 16-year-old son, Niklaas. He does a lot of community service work and that makes us quite proud.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

I was the voice of the Northern Idaho / Eastern Washington Rare Bird Alert for about 12 years. I don’t think people realized how much effort had to go into preparing each report, particularly if you tried to provide great instructions for locating the birds. Eventually, IBLE and Inland-NW-Birders, and the subsequent rapid, nearly instantaneous transfer of information about rare birds, made my bird reports become more of a summary, rather than novel information.

My wife and I were fortunate to purchase 50 acres on Paradise Ridge south of Moscow. We are now stewards of some of the last remaining Palouse Prairie on the planet and have planted more than 3000 trees and shrubs (not on the prairie!) to improve habitat for birds.

Total life list?

World: 895. US: 555. Idaho: 316. Latah County: 230. Yard: 134. I recently added Tundra Swan, flying over the house.

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

Because of my work, and my wife’s work, I’ve had opportunity to bird in 10 foreign countries and across a lot of the US, unfortunately, for some of these, it was just windshield birding. Although birding in old-growth, native forest on the Big Island of Hawaii is pretty exotic, the most exotic place I’ve birded is Costa Rica.

Your mission in life as birder?

Enjoy each bird I see. And, to help out those birds, live simply; reduce, reuse, recycle; plant more trees and cut less grass.


  1. Great interview. Thanks for all you do for birdwatchers everywhere.

  2. Just discovered your website. What a great way to learning about area birds. Thanks! (You may remember me from church years ago:) Would love to see an update.