Monday, February 8, 2010

Idaho Birder: Brian Cooper

Brian Cooper
Nampa, Idaho

How and when did you get first get involved in birding? What was your “Spark Bird”?

My grandfather used to take me for walks when I was 5 years old in Steamboat Rock, Iowa. The first bird I remember was a male Indigo Bunting. I have watched birds ever since that time.

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

I had a college professor in California who channeled my passion. Since I have been in Idaho, Dr. Leon Powers, who recently retired from NNU. I think that he is one of the best teachers I have come across.

How long have you been birding in Idaho?

Since 1977

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

I am always looking! I live across the street from Deer Flat NWR, so I bird there a lot.  I go to Malheur and the Oregon Coast every year.

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

In Idaho it would Deer Flat NWR, since I bird there almost every day.

In the US, it would a hard choice, because there are many great places that I have been; The Dry Tortugas, SE Arizona, Texas and Ohio to name a few.

I have spent a lot of time in Mexico, and love the Yucatan and San Blas. My wife was born in Holland, so we go to Europe every 3-4 years. My favorite place there is in Spain.

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

The Tio Lane access to Deer Flat NWR in Nampa. There have been a lot of rarities found in this area over the years.

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

Owyhee County.

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

All of the above.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

Nikon and Bausch and Lomb 10x40 binoculars and a Swarovski spotting scope.

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

I keep a year list, a state list and Life list in notebooks. I have kept these in notebooks since I was 8 years old.

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

When I was in college I spent three weeks doing bird studies on Angel de la Guardia Island in Baja Calif., Mexico.  I was photographing a pair on American Oystercatchers on their nest when a Peregrine Falcon dove on them and knocked one to the ground. This has always stuck in my mind.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

Birdwatcher's Digest, Birding and Birder's World. I visit IBLE every day and many others.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

I still like the NGS Guide and use Sibley’s as well. The NGS is easier to carry.

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

I like to read and have over 250 bird books. I especially like to read about big years. So it would be: Feather Quest, Kingbird Highway, Wild America, The Big Year, and A Supremely Bad Idea.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

College Zoology at Palomar College in San Marcos, California.  Hated classwork, loved the fieldwork.  I have also led the birding part of whale-watching trips in Mexico for a few years during breaks.

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 can’t hear bird songs, so I would not expert on the tough songbirds, so I have spent a lot of time on Pelagics.

What future birding plans do you have?

To see 700 species in ABA area.

Total life list?


What is your nemesis bird?

Whip-poor-will  (eBird map of North American sightings from 2000-2010)

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

My wife Helen goes with me birding, she listens and points and I help her identify birds.  I used to pay our four boys to go birding on family vacations. So much per new bird they found for me, based on rarity. SE Arizona cost me $ 35.00 in “guide” fees. 

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

One that comes to mind was in Mexico. I stepped over a rattlesnake hidden in a bush. Just as my wife stepped over the bush, it rattled. She did a standing 5’ broad jump and landed on my back and kept climbing. I had to carry her that way for a good ways until she decided it was safe to come down.

If you were a bird, which species would you be and why?

How cool is a Peregrine!

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?


Your mission in life as birder?

Help others enjoy it.

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