Monday, February 15, 2010

Idaho Birder: Rich Rusnak

Richard Rusnak
Nampa, Idaho

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

The bird that did it for me was the prolific and comical deep southern personality of the Tufted Titmouse. On a spring day while sneaking thru thick Georgia bottomlands and watching deer, this little rascal landed on my head and proceeded to attempt to rip nesting material from the top of my head. He/she did not give up even after I made two attempts to grab him. He would flush to the nearest tree only to scold me and then come back for more hair.

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

Several in my early years including my Biology Prof Bill Birkhead and my dad who always had a guidebook around the house to look at while birding the backyard.

How long have you been birding in Idaho?

I remember it well, March 28th '93, while here on a job interview, I was fortunate enough to drive down to Swan Falls. In those days it was lush with native plant species and raptors abounded. (so did additions to my life list) Sadly today it is mostly cheat grass and Russian thistle.

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

I bird daily always on the look out for the neighborhood sharpies that hunt the feeders. I also spend regular time at Deer Flat NWR.

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

The remotest untrammeled reaches of the Owyhee Canyonlands seem to be my favorite place that always draws me back. As for the US, it would have to be the Mohave Desert in spring. The only worldly spots I’ve birded where the foothills of the Sierra Madre, SE of Puerto Vallarta and the jungled shores of the Nā Pali coast on the island of Kauai. Both were incredible!

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

A highly recommended spot would have to be the North Fork of the Owyhee River in spring.  Just take the road from Jordan Valley, Oregon east about 35 miles where it crosses the river and continues all the way to Grandview. The route is an official Backcountry Byway and riddled with hot birding spots all along the route.

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

Any intact sage brush steppe community where the elevation transitions into Juniper and Mahogany forest. Find water nearby with willows or the occasional Aspen grove and you’ll be amazed at what might pop out. i.e.. City of Rocks, or wilderness trail at Craters of the Moon Nat’l Park.

How would you describe yourself as a birder?

Man-o-man one cannot underestimate the advantage of good hearing. Growing up in the “jungles” of the deep south I learned time and again to be persistent and quiet so I could first hear and learn the songs/calls, often before I’d spot my lifers.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

A light weight backpackers 15-40x50 scope made by Bausch and Lomb and a worn out pair of Swift 8.5x44.

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

I keep it simple, writing the date and locale of my sightings in the various field guides right next to the drawings/paintings. I do this because I like carrying the guides as talismans of my adventures so to speak and the worn out dog eared pages become sentimental prizes across the years.

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

Many, many but the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak would have to be way up on the list. I’d never have seen it if it was not for my very observant wife. My binocs were focused in the near field on a House Finch. My wife Ann persisted “that is no finch!”, and after her scolding I refocused, when to my amazement just behind the finch was a full sun close up view of a male RBG. Red Rock Lakes NWR, MT (awesome birding by the way)

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

Cornell Lab of Ornithology works best for me.

Which is your favorite field guide?

Sibleys and Nat’l Geographics in combination.

Which books from your personal birding library would you recommend?

Living on the Wind, S. Weidensaul
Mind of the Raven, B. Heinrich
In Search of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, J. Jackson
The Big Year, M.Obmascik
A Sand County Almanac, A. Luepold
A Naturalist in Alaska, A. Murie

What future birding plans do you have?

Winter of 2011, I plan to spend time in Death Valley Nat’l Park, CA.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

Not strictly a birding organization, however I am active in the local and state level Sierra Club as an elected officer/volunteer. Our major campaign this year will be "Resilient Habitats" which strives to identify and protect wild-lands on a connected continental scale.

What is your nemesis bird?

Time and again the Great Gray Owl has eluded me, only hearing one for several nights in the backcountry of Yellowstone’s Two Ocean Plateau, which I do not count as a lifer.

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

Early on my brothers and I had many opportunities to run wild thru the woods and swampy bottomlands of Fort Benning, GA. Where I bonded with all things wild and hidden. These early days of observation and exploration were encouraged by my parents, mixed with stories of western ranch life, where my mother grew up on a large cattle ranch in the hills near Roseburg, OR.

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

Without hesitation, Corvus corax the Raven.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

I got to hear and see a Golden Eagle carrying a still rattling rattle snake.

Total life list?


Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

Sierra Madre foothills.

Your mission in life as birder?
To follow (while backpacking) Ravens to a wolf pack and prey kill site.
Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

One pitch black night while camping with my family I sneaked off to attempt a “scary” coyote howl for my mother. I stood under a large Juniper and as I loudly yelped, out from behind the limbs careened a silent attack. Narrowly missing my head on several dives was a specter of a Great Horned Owl. He showed me how to really yelp like a coyote.

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