Monday, April 12, 2010

Idaho Birder: Steve Butterworth

Steve Butterworth
Idaho Falls, Idaho

What is your current home town? 

Idaho Falls.  I also grew up here and have worked at the Idaho National Laboratory for the past twenty-nine years involved in some capacity of Construction or Project Management.   I did spend a couple of years in my early twenties living in Arizona during the winter, but I only fished and golfed there.  I am married and have five children.  Three of them live in Logan, Utah attending Utah State so I get a chance to bird in Cache County quite often.

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

Like many of us who grow up in one area of the country we develop blinders for our surroundings, meaning that I thought the only birds around Idaho Falls were either gulls, sparrows, starlings, magpies, and robins. I did realize and look forward to springtime for behind our house in the crab-apple tree Cedar Waxwings would appear.  Even though I have always been active in outdoor activities such as fishing, camping or hiking I never paid attention to any other birds.  My interest in birding began very slowly and it started when a flock of birds landed in on my unfinished deck one fall.  They were the strangest things I had ever seen.  They were larger than a Robin with a gray head and a large sturdy bill, had big black spots on the belly with a black rounded triangle looking patch on it's chest.  I had never seen anything like it and I asked a few people I worked with and found one who told me that it was a Northern Flicker.  He went on to tell me that they were not that unusual here in East Idaho although a large flock like I described was a little more unusual.  I told him that I had lived here all my life and had never seen anything like it before.  He told me to open my eyes which I did and much to my surprise I soon found one and then another and then another.  I started wondering just what other birds are in this area  that I had missed.   I starting driving to Camas National Wildlife Area where there were always reports of unusual birds on the old hotline that Chuck Trost used to run when he was at ISU.  This hotline preceded IBLE of course.  It is because of this experience that I know exactly what my “spark bird” was.

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

Over a period of time I ran into several individuals at Camas who helped guide me to some great birds with a pretty poor excuse of binoculars at that time (some small 8 X 21 mini-compact Bushnell).  They resembled closely to opera glasses when I look at them now.  I was pretty content with them at the time but I didn't realize all that I was missing.  Cliff Weisse, Darren Clark, Marty Collar, Chuck Trost, and Dale Miller were some of the people I met there that I spent a lot of time walking around with picking their brains and getting to see the birds that they always found.  They provided me with a lot of good information and good birds to look at.

How long have you been birding in Idaho? 

I started rather slow and most of the birding I did was around Camas in May and this started around 1998.   I probably didn't get serious at all until at least 2004 which is about when I bought a new pair of binoculars (the 8.5 X 44 Roof Prism Swift Audubon).  I missed a lot of good birds in that earlier time period because I wasn't serious enough.

How often do you go birding? And where do you regularly go birding?
I am probably always birding if I am outdoors but I very rarely miss a weekend without birding for an hour or two.  Most of my birding still rotates around Bonneville, Madison and Jefferson Counties depending on the time of year which has expanded from 1 month a year to 12.

Where is your favorite place to bird in Idaho? In the U.S.? in the world?
Because I really started birding at Camas it is still my favorite although Market Lake and American Falls are great too.  I also love to bird in Florida at Merritt Island and in Southeastern Arizona especially at Madera Canyon and around Sierra Vista.

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

Cub River between Preston and Franklin Idaho is a beautiful little valley that is fun to bird and the scenery is great during the summer.

Where in Idaho would you say is the most under-birded place that may have great untapped potential?
I think that everything south of the Snake River in Idaho is under birded whether it is the Owhyee's to the West, the South Hills-City of Rocks in the Central, to Curlew National Grasslands, Preston and Bear Lake in the East.

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

I definitely started as a watcher who declined an invitation to see the Ross's Gull at Sportsman's Park many years ago now because American Falls was to far to go and see a bird.  I drive to American Falls anytime I can now.   I am not sure any place in Idaho is safe anymore so I think I probably qualify as a “chaser “ now days. 

What kind of birding equipment do you use? 

I have a Zeiss 85mm T8 FL Spotting Scope, a pair of Swift Audubon 8.5 X 44 Roof Prism Binoculars which I recently delegated to my truck as I added a pair of Swarovski 8.5 X 42 EL Swarovision HD Binoculars that I am having a blast with. 

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

Depends on the list, but I put all of my life birds on Thayer's software and someday I may re-enter them on eBird as I do love the tracking capability of it.  I use it because I bought it and have kept it up to date.

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

Splitting up with Darren Clark at the Salome/Baseline Thrasher site in Arizona and finding the Crissal Thrasher we were looking for after finding numerous Le Conte's.  Darren had disappeared from view so I called him on his cell phone and only got his voice mail  (he had left his phone in the car).  I got great looks at the thrasher which was right in front of me singing 10 feet away.  I finally see Darren in the distance and I try calling again leaving him another message.  Finally I got his attention and as he got over to me the bird flew off.  I am glad I had left messages on his phone for some proof as I rarely get the best of Darren. 

Which is your favorite field guide and why? 

I like and have them all, but like most of the previous spotlights responders I refer to Sibley's and National Geographic for information, but in the field I use Kaufman's as it fits in my back pocket.

What future birding plans do you have? 

One of these days getting to the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, Southeastern Arizona during the Monsoon season and the Dry Tortugus of Florida. Maybe they are just dreams for now.

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

I belong to ABA and the local Audubon Society.

What is your nemesis bird?
RED BIRDS, for Idaho any of the unusual red birds-Summer and Scarlet Tanager, Red-throated Loon, Red-Shouldered Hawk and like the rest of Idaho birders a Northern Cardinal For Arizona again red is the color in as in a Red-faced Warbler.  (You can also include Red-headed, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Red-breasted Sapsucker to my list for that matter in Idaho).

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

I learned in Florida while vacationing and watching a local birding show in the Hotel room late at night that my wife is an SOB -”Spouse of a Birder”.   They tolerate my bad humor and my birding habits.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

When the Little Blue Heron was spotted below Minadoka Dam a few years Darren Clark and I were both headed to find it in separate vehicles.  Darren got there first and found the Heron.  He called me and told me I had better hurry.  I had just arrived in Rupert (on my way to Logan,Utah from Idaho Falls) and he is giving me directions over the cell phone but I miss the turn and end up by the spillway of the Dam.  Darren keeps calling me back for updates on my position as the heron has now started up river to roost somewhere.  I start down the river and Darren is headed up river following the Heron from the road.  I see him coming and he sees me.  I slow down and he speeds up and we stop and both jump out of the car.  Darren quickly spots the Heron coming up river in our direction and points to it.  I find it follow it with my binoculars, lock on it as as it flies on by and out of sight.  I almost missed it by this---much!  It just shows you my transformation from a casual birder who wouldn't drive from Idaho Falls to American  Falls for a Ross's Gull to a chaser that was thrilled with a 20 second glimpse of a bird in Idaho that I had seen many, many times in Florida.

Total life list?

460 which is why I need to go to the Rio Grande.  Idaho is at 325.

Your mission in life as birder?

Having good times with good friends finding good birds.  I would also clarify this as there are really are no bad birds.

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