Monday, January 25, 2010

Idaho Birder: Poo Wright-Pulliam

Poo Wright-Pulliam
Hailey area, Idaho

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

I used to use the “Reader’s Digest Wildlife of North America” to identify any wildlife I would see, my first successful bird I.D. was an Oregon Junco in the fresh new snow of the winter of 1989 in our yard. I didn’t become a fanatic until June of 1995 when I kept asking a friend that birded (Patty Provansha) about different birds I had seen; the final straw was when I’d seen a Loggerhead Shrike?! Patty replied “OK, here’s the deal! I’ll give you a book, you identify 100 birds, properly, and I’ll throw you a bird party!” Properly meant- write the date, location and what it was doing in the book so she could make sure my ID was right. I received that book, The Golden Guide to Birds of North America, on June 15, 1995. By the end of September I’d found my 100th bird- the Audubon’s race of the Yellow-rumped Warbler. Perfect! Soon to follow… ADDICTION!

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

I’ll be forever grateful to Patty for changing my life, she has made this challenge to many people and I have in turn made it to many. My mentors though, (I have two) would be Brian Sturges and Larry Barnes. Brian has birded here locally since the 70’s and gives so freely of his expertise; he’s also passed on many opportunities to me so I could help others learn about birds. Larry teaches for CSI and does bird outings and I try to go on as many as I can (one to Texas was a true highpoint).

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

Any time I’m at a window or in a car or outdoors I’m birding or listening for birds. I regularly bird at Silver Creek Preserve; my friends Kathleen Cameron, Jean Seymour and Dave Spaulding have been doing a monthly count there since June of 2004 for Fish and Game. Otherwise I’m just looking as I drive often taking the long way home just to see who might be out there.

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

The whole Wood River Valley including Silver Creek Preserve. I haven’t birded much outside of Idaho but Texas and Alaska are fun. Outside the US I’ve only birded on the Baja, the drive down but mainly in Loreto. At one time in December you can be looking at Blue-footed and Brown Boobies, 4 species of plovers, 10 sandpipers, 3 egrets and 4 herons right there in or near the arroyo in town!

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

As above, the whole Wood River Valley including Silver Creek Preserve. We have a lot of high altitude birds even in winter that can be seen and we have much diversity.

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

Totally addicted and fanatical! My two great-nephews call me “Hogbottom”, after a mythical character from the Spiderwick Chronicles that always yells “BIRD” when a bird flies by. I do the same but at least I don’t eat them like he does ;)

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

My main bino is a Brunton Epoch 8.5x43 but I also like my little Alpen Apex 8x32 (light and a great field of view) and my Alpen Pink 10x42 (it supports Breast Cancer Awareness), I have my original Swift 8x42s that I keep in my car for emergencies. My scope is a Bushnell Premier 45 degree angle lens (better for more people to view with).

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

My main list is in my original Golden Guide that Patty gave me but I now have a more detailed list in my Life List Book from Cornell. I also am a daily lister in my yard on my Project FeederWatch Calendar and I keep all my trip lists and field drawings in my Rite-in-the-Rain Birders Notebooks with a set of color pencils. Why? Because I just can’t help myself!

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

I had been birding for about a year and a half and was still figuring out what food to put in my feeders. Watching my new friends pick and choose soon taught me that their favorite was the black-oil sunflower seed and that woodpeckers love suet blocks. I hadn’t yet learned that millet mixes could easily be thrown on the ground because it seems to be favored by ground feeding birds like sparrows and juncos.

On December 27, 1996 I still had one feeder full of “Songbird Mix” when early one morning I looked out to see an unusual bird sitting there. I knew I had never seen it before and at first glance I thought it might be a varied thrush, it had a black eye-stripe with a buffy brow but it was too small. I had thumbed through my bird books enough to know that the beak was also too small, more like a warblers. Its back was striped like a sparrow, and I was confused! I poured over page after page of almost every bird book I had and found nothing that matched.

I called a friend on the phone and tried to describe it to her when she came up with an idea. ”You’re an artist, why don’t you draw it!” Brilliant! I quickly put pencil to paper but only got the head the first time. Fortunately this sweet little bird came back several more times and all told, the drawing was a total of about five minutes but was enough to identify it in a book I had been given on the birds of Alaska. Only one birder friend was able to make it to my house to confirm my sighting but the little guy had left. Lucky for me, after I had drawn the bird I also photographed him and everyone was waiting to see the pictures. The next morning three more birders were at my window in hopes of a sighting. The bird did not return to my yard but was found again ½ mile away in January of 97 and he stuck around for more than 1200 birders from all over the country to see him. He was Idaho’s first Siberian Accentor and that single bird thrust me into the birding world with gusto where I met so many wonderful people as they all came to see him…I knew I wanted to be a part of this group called “birders”!

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

I read WildBird and Birder’s World. Not being to computer-literate yet, I have IBLE and this website on my favorites list and I occasionally check Cornell’s website if I have questions. But I have IBIRD on my Iphone and it fun!

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

My most used guides are Nat. Geo, Sibleys and Kaufmans. I have just about every guide because I like to do a lot of cross-referencing but these three seem to be the best with Sibley’s beautiful paintings and Kaufman’s exceptional digital work so you can see more field marks, Nat. Geo is just a given.

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

Living on the Wind by Scott Weidensaul (breathtaking…let’s go moon birding!), The Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman (I could relate to the era and his passion), Bird Track and Sign by Mark Elbroch and Eleanor Marks (just adds to the fun of watching), Birds Do It, Too by Kit and George Harrison (the amazing sex life of birds) and anything written by Pete Dunn (a good sense of humor can only add to a great day of birding).

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

I took the Cornell Home Course-Seminars in Bird Biology (it has since doubled in size and I would like to take it again) and a Master Birders class directed by Kent Fothergill in 2004 (my class project was to start the count at Silver Creek Preserve that the 4 of us continue today).

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 probably know more about songbirds but really I think I just know more about local birds, I have to do a lot of homework when I travel out of the area but I’m always looking through the books at all the birds so know many by sight.

What future birding plans do you have?

Maybe someday a trip to Costa Rica but I’d like to cover Idaho on the Birding Trails too.

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

I’m in my 14th year with Project FeederWatch and a member of Cornell Lab. I also am an Audubon Member, I will join in on the fun with Golden Eagle events and Prairie Falcon functions and trips but I don’t know that I’m a real member (we don’t have a group in the Wood River Valley).

What is your nemesis bird?

The Great Gray Owl! I saw a silhouette one night in Eastern Idaho but each time we go to see the local one in the Stanley Basin it’s not there…every time they go without me, they see it.

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

I’m lucky enough to have a sister that started birding about the same time I did, we didn’t know this about each other for a while and it has since brought us much closer. We are now dragging our other sister in…slowly but surely!

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

I once took a whole bunch of pictures of a bird at my feeder that I didn’t recognize, just in case…you know. I finally figured out it was an immature robin!

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

Unusual birds like to land in my yard, I have a great yard list!

Total life list?


Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

Loreto, Baja Sur, Mexico

Your mission in life as birder?

To share my passion with everyone who will listen, they teach us so much about our world and they are just so breathtaking and uplifting.

Poo also has her own birding business website: Check out the YouTube videos and the Pink Binoculars supporting Breast Cancer Awareness.


  1. I'm new to Idaho and live in the treasure valley
    It's mostly farmland with not a large variety of birds. Outside my office just now I saw a bird i have not seen before.
    It was between the size of a sparrow and a robin.
    The breast was yellow. The back and wings were black. The wings had a thin white stripe and the head and neck were red or burnt orange.
    I thought at first it was a finch, but it was too big for one.
    Any thoughts?