Monday, March 1, 2010

Idaho Birder: Scott Tuthill

Scott Tuthill
Boise, Idaho

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

I had very casual birding in college, but when I moved to Idaho in 1981 I really got started. There was not really a "Spark Bird" per se. I remember finding a Rufous-sided Towhee* on my first birding trip to Silver City with a Golden Eagle Audubon group. As funny as it seems I also remember seeing my first Junco wandering around Veteran's Park with Al Larson.

*Later split into Eastern and Spotted Towhees.  Spotted are the most likely to be found in the West.

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

Jim and Marcia Lyons deserve the credit for getting me into birding. They moved to Idaho at the same time I did and I met Jim at work. They were long time birders and Jim had worked at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Evanston, Illinois.

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

In the last few years, not that much. My birding hobby is a bit in casual retirement as I spend more time playing golf and other hobbies. Still get out a few times a year, will chase a great bird that is reported, etc.

I have discovered golf courses to be great birding locations.  Do you ever birdwatch while on the course?

I don't bird per se when I golf but if I hear something interesting I will pause to think about it. But, I would say that most of my casual birding these days is on a golf course.  I don't carry binocs with me so it is mostly "birding by sound" which as you know -- once one gets past the beginner phase -- birding is more by ear than by eyes anyway.
One interesting sight I had last fall were 14 flickers on a fairway -- within probably a 20' by 20' area. You don't usually see flickers in a group and then on the ground for that matter. Still not sure what they were doing. The fairway was rather soft in that area and they could have been getting worms, grubs, or something like that. But, again, it was an odd sight.

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

In Idaho it is tough to beat Ann Morrision/Kathryn Alberston park. In the US, High Island, Texas in migration is amazing as is SE Arizona in the summer when the hummingbirds are thick. In the world it is either Gambell Island, Alaska with thousands of seabirds flying by constantly or Hato Pinero in Venezuela which is an amazingly peaceful birding retreat.

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

Walking the base of the bench alongside the south end of Ann Morrison park, especially in the spring, is always full of surprises.

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

I would say the Boise foothills --- I think there are surprising distributions of birds that get passed over as people head to points farther beyond. I have seen Grasshopper Sparrows up there, two species of grouse, and in the spring I have had flybys of Curlew's that has always made me wonder if there are a nesting pair or two of Curlews within the Ada county limits.

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

I used to be a chaser and lister. I would say I am more of a watcher now. My life list is not meticulously maintained any more. But, if a lifer shows up nearby there is a chance I will go track it down.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

Zeiss 10X40's. I bought in the early 1980's. At the time I could barely afford them but I knew I would be making a purchase to last a lifetime -- and they have so far.

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

I have an old ABA checklist in a three ring binder that is where I started my bird listing. I would record my daylist on an Idaho checklist and I have all of those still filed away somewhere. I have created an Excel version of my checklist. I don't really keep any notes beyond sightings, date, etc.

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

It's hard to pick out one in particular. I always seem to get satisfaction out of seeing a bird I have climbed up a big hill to see. There was the Himalayan Snowcock after climbing up the Ruby Mountains down in Nevada, a White-bellied Seedsnipe after climbing up ski runs in the only sea level ski area in the world in Ushuaia, Argentina, a Boreal Owl in the central Idaho mountains after a day of scrambling up and down hills, and a Spotted Owl down in Arizona after walking several miles up a trail. I am sure there are more but these come into mind.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Sibley -- good mix of text, maps, and drawings. It is just a bit too big though.

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

I have a library of several hundred bird books. I actively built this library in the late 80's and early 90's. A couple books I use and enjoy beyond the standard field guides are: "American Bird Names" by Choate, "Gulls and ID guide" by Grant, "Shorebirds" by Hayman, et al, and "Hawks in Flight" by Dunne, et al.

What future birding plans do you have?

We might go to Nicaragua this year to see my son, and if so, will take my Binoc's along.

What is your nemesis bird?

In the US it is the Limpkin -- I have spent more hours tracking this bird down and had more "It was there a minute ago" situations than any other.

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

I sometimes can get my wife, Ann, to head out with me. I did get her some binocs and she likes to get out and walk around.

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

An Arctic Tern -- not sure why. They have amazing perseverance to migrate as far as they do.

Total life list?

Not sure -- 1,500 or so? I don't know if I have ever added it up. ABA area is somewhere close to 600.

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

I have been to Alaska (places like Gambell and the Pribilofs), Venezuela, Argentina, and Singapore.

Your mission in life as birder?

Using birding as a reason to visit interesting places in the world and to see all that Nature has to offer.

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