How and when did you get first get involved in birding? What was your “Spark Bird”?
I was about 12 years old when I went to northern Idaho to stay with my grandparents for the summer. To keep me busy, my grandfather came up with the idea of paying me a dollar for every hummingbird I could catch. I really had to study the bird to come up with a way to catch him. Everything I came up with didn't work until I realized that when I stood right next to a flower and didn't move, the hummingbird didn't even know I was there. So, after the fifth hummingbird I caught with my bare hands, my grandfather said he would give me ten dollars not to do it anymore. That's how I learned how to start studying the behaviors of birds.
Did you or do you have a birding mentor and can you tell us about that person?
A lot of people have helped me through the years. My first birding mentor was Al Larson, who will forget more about birds than I'll ever know. The second was Dave Hazelton. He was the first person on field trips who asked you to explain why you thought it was the bird you thought it was, whether you were right or wrong. He taught me a lot about birding. My newest ones are Jay Carlisle and Heidi Ware. Jay is absolutely amazing. Heidi was my student, and now she is my teacher.
How often do you go birding? And where do you regularly go birding?
I bird all the time. If I'm going to the store, I'm watching the birds. I really try to get out and photograph birds twice a week. Winter a little less. I bird all over Idaho and Oregon.
Where is your favorite place to bird in Idaho? In the U.S.? in the world?
My favorite place in Idaho is Old Fort Boise WMA. In the U.S., it's Malheur Game Refuge. In the world, so far, it's Ixtapa, Mexico.
Do you have any local birding hotspots that may be yet unknown to Idaho birders that you would be willing to share with us?
One great place in spring is Shafer Butte picnic area above Bogus Basin.
Where in Idaho would you say is the most under-birded place that may have great untapped potential?
Hyatt Wetlands, west of Maple Grove Road and South of Chinden Road.
How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, a “chaser”, all of the above, or something else?
I'm definitely a watcher. I guess I'm a chaser because of my photography and trying to get pictures of certain birds. I am not a lister at all. I'm not against it, I just don"t do it.
What kind of birding equipment do you use?
I use an 8x45 Brunton and an old 10x45 Pentax. I also have a 20-60 zoom Pentax spotting scope that I just love. For my photography, I use a Nikon D300 with a 80-400 5.6 Nikon zoom lens. (Photos below from Patzcuaro, Mexico. For more of Mike's photography click here)
Crescent Chested Warbler
How do you keep track of your bird observations? And why?
I keep track of bird observations in my photo software program so that I know the specific times certain birds show up in different areas. It gives me time to plan where I'm going and what type of birds to expect.
What is your favorite bird sighting and what is the story behind it?
It was when I was around seventeen years old, and I was out in the Owyhees birding. I saw a Golden Eagle flying about 200 feet high. As I was watching him with my binoculars, I noticed two dots high above him. All of a sudden, the one dot came screaming down and hit the Eagle. The feathers flew, he dropped a long way down and finally flared out. Just as he did flare out, the second dot hit him. Then, the Eagle dropped all the way down to sagebrush level and started flying as fast as he could to get out of there. I looked up and identified the two dots as Prairie Falcons. That's when I learned the lesson: size doesn't always matter.
Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?
For websites, it's Cornell Lab of Ornithology and IBLE. For publications, it's Audubon and Birder's World.
Which is your favorite field guide and why?
iBird Pro. The reason I like it so much, it is in my iPhone, is easy to carry and I always have it with me. iBird has diagrams and two to five photo's of every bird. It also includes the song of every bird. iBird has tons of info on every bird, from how many eggs they lay to their habitat. The second is Audubon for iPhone. The one thing I like about this program is that it can have two to three different songs for the same species of bird.
Which five books from your personal birding library would you recommend?
Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman, Identify Yourself by Bill Thompson III, Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion, Handbook of Bird Biology by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior by David Allen Sibley.
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?
This is such a tricky question. All I know is that as soon as you think you are an expert, you find out you don't know anything. I believe I have a good understanding of birds. If someone has a question that I don't know, I tell them I don't know, but I know who does and try to get them an answer asap. We are very lucky to have a community of so many good birders.
What future birding plans do you have?
Birding trips to Malheur, McCall, and Kauai, Hawaii.
Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?
The Golden Eagle Audubon Society and The Southwest Idaho Birding Association. Two great organizations.
What is your nemesis bird?
I can't seem to get a great picture of the Kingfisher.
Anything about your family you’d like to share with us?
I would like to say thanks to my wife, Joan. She supports me in all my craziness as a birder. She's my rock.
Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?
I was doing a field trip for some home schoolers at Albertsons Park. Their ages ranged from seven to twelve years old. We were seeing all kinds of Robins and Ducks. I looked up at a snag and two flickers were dancing and displaying their mating ritual. I thought this would be great for them to see. I started to talk about them when I noticed that they were Yellow Shafted and not Red Shafted. With that in mind, I really got excited and said two or three times "OH MY GOSH THOSE ARE YELLOW SHAFTED FLICKERS." One ten year old boy leaned over at the other ten year old and said "shhhh I think this is a very important bird."
If you were a bird, which species would you be and why?
Prairie Falcon, because they rule and you get to be like a fighter pilot your whole life.
Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?
I'd like to brag about the diversity of our birding community. We have birders that are identifying the subspecies of geese. We have others that think a great day is going to the sanitary landfill and identifying Gulls, or the neighbor down the street who is happy to tell the difference between a Robin and a Goldfinch. We all call ourselves birders. What makes all of us special is we enjoy life all around us every day. (Amen to that!)
Total life list?
I don't have one.
Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?
Around the Patzcuaro, Mexico area.
Your mission in life as birder?
To capture and share the beauty and life of birds.