Monday, March 15, 2010

Idaho Birder: Al Larson

Al Larson
Daggett Creek, Idaho

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

If getting involved with birding means my first sightings I’ll have to go back to about 1927 or ‘28. I was about 5 or 6 years old and living in the Magic Valley. I remember looking up into the sky and seeing skeins of ducks flying over during migration. I thought they were flying backwards! Later at 12 years old I became interested in a Brewer’s Blackbird nesting in sagebrush near our cabin in the Jordan Valley area. Also at this time I remember the “canary” in the trees out by the well. Yellow birds were canaries. Many years later I learned that these yellow birds were Bullock’s Orioles.

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

I imagine that as a kid living in both deserts and forested lands alternatively I was exposed to all wild things. My curiosity probably was my mentor.

How long have you been birding in Idaho?

Four score plus (80+) years.

How did you get involved with Bluebird monitoring and banding?

Finding an active Western Bluebird nest in a dead pine snag cavity and a desire to photograph it sparked my interest in the late 1970s. Also an article in Parade Magazine by the North American Bluebird Society and another article in National Geographic teased me into starting a “bluebird trail.” My first year, with 25 nest boxes, yielded several pairs of bluebirds, chickadees and nuthatches. I saw that this was a good thing and added more boxes and included other areas until I eventually had about 350 nest boxes in five southwest Idaho counties. After the second year of success I enlisted the services of a Master Bander to band some of the nestlings. The following year I applied for and received a sub-permit to band under Dr. Leon Powers’ master permit. I now could band all of the nestlings. Later I received a Master permit and over the years I have banded close to 24,000 bluebird nestlings. I might add that about 1936 while riding fence on the ridge south of Parsnip Peak near Jordan Valley I sighted a male Mountain Bluebird in flight. This was my very first bluebird sighting.

Can more Idaho birders help you in any way with the bluebird project?

I will soon be 88 years old and some of those years are creeping into my bones. I am not looking forward to retiring but it is inevitable. I would appreciate very much if an individual or group of individuals would prepare themselves to take over my trails when I have to retire.

Can you tell us about your role in starting up the Golden Eagle Audubon Society?

On a cold winter day in 1971 while participating in a Christmas Bird Count I remarked to my companion, Liven Peterson, that it would be nice if we could have an organization of birders to share sightings and fieldtrips. A short time later “Pete” announced that there would be a meeting of birders from Ada and Canyon counties to explore the feasibility of creating a chapter in the National Audubon Society. As a charter member I have seen the chapter grow through good times and bad. I’ve held positions as president, board member, committee chair, newsletter editor (100 issues), seed sale fund raiser, 17 years as CBC compiler, field trip leader, lobbyist and more. I presently hold the position of Honorary Board Member.

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

You might say that I am always birding. Whenever or wherever I go I always have my binoculars close at hand. I enjoy meeting the birds whenever our paths cross. I used to seize every opportunity to locate a reported species but I seldom go out of my way to find them anymore. I’m content just to know they are there. I don’t keep a television list but I find myself noticing and identifying the birds that flash across the screen.

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

Idaho: My backyard!
United States:  The Texas gulf coast, lower Rio Grande river and southeast Arizona.
World: I think a birding trip to Australia would be great.

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

Riparian areas in Owyhee county.

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

A watcher, however I used to keep lists and I’ve been known to chase a few species.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

Binoculars, spotting scope and camera.

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

I used to faithfully record my observations after every encounter. They were kept in the popular dBase program of the time. Alas, dBase has gone out of style. Occasionally I now jot down my sightings on a piece of paper which eventually gets lost in the “pile”. The why doesn’t mean much to me anymore.

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

My favorite sightings are many. Most of them are seeing a family of newly fledged birds. A new brood is introduced to the world. The perils of being confined to a nest are past. Although many of these birds will fall to predators others will live to reproduce and otherwise brighten my life.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

Audubon magazine, North American Bluebird Society journal, Birds and Blooms, GEAS newsletter and SIBA newsletter. SWIBA and IBLE sites regularly.  Check out Al's blog with great photography.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Golden Guide to the Birds of North America. The illustrations are superb and true to color. I might add that when Sibley came out picking the species apart I lost my drive to add birds to my list. I’m into birding for pleasure, not competition or one-upsmanship.

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

Audubon Encyclopedia Birds of North America, A Field Guide to the Nests Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds, The Birders Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Bent’s Life Histories of North American ………(birds).

Do you have any formal bird-related education background? If so, what is it?

No. But if I were to be so bold I might add MOBL, WEBL after my name. J
(if you didn't get this at first, like me, look it up here)

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?

Bluebirds comes to mind.

What future birding plans do you have?

Continue working with cavity nesting birds.

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

Yes. North American Bluebird Society, National Audubon Society, Southwestern Idaho Birders Association, and Golden Eagle Audubon Society.

What is your nemesis bird?

I’ve given up on any one species of bird but I still look forward to any “lifer.”

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

My wife Hilda is an avid birder and is quite adept in identifying birds by ear. Our children, both hers and mine, enjoy the great outdoors but still haven’t been bitten by the birding bug. Hilda is an artist in oils and acrylic. She has volumes of pencil and ink sketches as well.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

This is not funny but amusing perhaps: Picture, if you will, a flock of wild turkeys teetering at the top of a 15 foot high hawthorn bush swaying and flapping their wings trying to keep their balance as they attempt to glean fruit from the limber branches.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

I started providing nest boxes for bluebirds in 1978 so this will be my 33rd year as bluebird landlord. I have kept fairly accurate records of eggs, nestlings and fledglings. At the close of the 2009 season my tally was close to 23,320 fledgling bluebirds reared in the boxes I monitored. I visit each bluebird trail about 10 times each year which calculates into about 6,000 miles per year traveled by car. During peak banding period I may spend 16 hours a day traveling, banding and inspecting nests. This is a work of love. I wouldn’t willfully trade this hobby for anything in the world.

Total life list?

Somewhere over 400. I stopped keeping score quite a few years ago. In 1983 Hilda and I vacationed on the Texas gulf coast. On that entire trip I listed 91 lifers bringing year count up to 381 birds sighted.

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

There are several places in Florida that rank high, probably because there are so many species there that we don’t have here in Idaho.

Your mission in life as birder?

Enjoy our fine feathered friends. They have so much to offer!

1 comment:

  1. We saw the first bluebird os the season in our yard this morning! We live on S. Five Mile Rd., south of the New York Canal.