Monday, May 17, 2010

Idaho Birder: Bruce Ackerman

Bruce Ackerman
Boise, Idaho

How and when did you get your start in birding? 

1973.  Watching turkey vultures, big beautiful birds soaring along the ridgeline, while I was hiking on the Appalachian trail in New Jersey. Then I discovered the Golden Guide birding guide which had all kinds of information about each species, test, sonograms of the bird sounds, maps with lines showing migration dates on maps (latter two not found on any modern field guides). I was hooked. Hard to believe it has been 37 years!!!

I was in Florida for 16 years, working for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, doing research on manatees (population modelling, aerial survey population estimates, analyzing data on mortality trends, helping with captures for radio-tracking.)  Also active in Audubon Society and various studies of birds, like surveys of least terns and other beach nesting birds.  Great place for birding.  I worked for National Audubon Society for 6 months between jobs, protecting nesting colonies on 100 islands with 18 species of waterbirds (herons, egrets, spoonbills, ibises, gulls, terns, black skimmers), 50,000 nests.  Also assisted with banding study of baby roseate spoonbills.

How long have you been birding in Idaho?

I lived in Idaho 1982-88 while in graduate school and back again 2004 to present, combined 11 years.

How often and where do you go birding?

I go somewhere almost every week.  Often around Boise, McCall, and Stanley.

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

Ft. Boise State Wildlife Management Area near Parma Idaho is great in the early spring. Discovery and Foote Parks, near Lucky Peak Dam east of Boise are great in May.

Great birding in Florida – So many places. I especially like Fort DeSoto County Park in St. Petersburg and Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Monument.

World --- I’ve been 3 times to central America, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica. Can’t wait to go back.

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

Discovery Park and Foote Park, near Lucky Peak Reservoir east of Boise, are not birded as much as they should be.  Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah. Just south over the border.  Fort Boise Wildlife Management Area, west of Caldwell, for 40,000 snow and white-fronted geese in March.  Market Lake Wildlife Management Area, north of Idaho Falls. Great any time in the warm months, has nesting white-faced ibis and lots of other waterbirds.

How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, both, or something else?
Watcher and Lister. Just a little bit on this side of Fanatic and Obsessed.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

Canon 10x40 image stabilized binoculars. Kowa spotting scope.  Birdjam iPod. Fuji Finepix S8000fd digital camera (18x)

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

Paper and pencil and I do it just for fun.

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

Too many to count ---

Himalayan  snowcock, Ruby Mts, Nevada, 2007, at 11,400 feet --- hiked up to the top of the ridge, higher than the mountain goats. Snowcock are like chukars on steroids, and make sounds which alternately resemble chukars, elk bugling, and horses whinnying.

Birding while climbing up on ancient Mayan temples at dawn at Tikal in eastern Guatemala.

Listening to 50,000 sandhill cranes before dawn at the Platte River in Nebraska in spring.

Spring warbler migration close up at Fort Jefferson, largest Civil War fort on small island in the Florida Keys.

Listening to aerial mating dance of woodcock and Wilson’s snipe and sometimes even seeing them.

Watching mating dances at dawn of any of the grouse species -- Greater and Gunnison sage-grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, dusky grouse, greater and lesser prairie chickens, on several trips to Colorado.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

 ABA Birding magazine
 Idaho Birders Linked Electronically (IBLE) online
 Florida birders online

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

For Beginners --- Peterson’s “Field Guide to Western Birds”. Advantages --- simple drawings for beginners, not too many age/sex/color variations, little arrows that point out the defining features for each species, simple text, simple maps. Only covers western US, not too many distant rarities. Good for beginners.

For Advanced birders –The Sibley Guide to Birds, but too heavy to carry in field.  And National Geographic Birds of North America.

I have a copy of my grandmother’s bird guide from 1918 when she was in college, so different -- drawings of only a few species, no maps, primarily consisted of long detailed text descriptions about each species’ appearance and distribution. This was before modern-style field guides were invented by Roger Tory Peterson in 1934 with pictures and later with maps.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

MS and PhD in wildlife biology, but never took a single class on birds.

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?

“Jack of all trades and master of none”, fairly knowledgeable but not an expert.

Any other thoughts on the past-time of birding?  What do your foresee in the future of birding?

Great way to introduce kids to learning about the environment and wildlife. Adults too.  New electronic gadgets are fun for gear heads to play with. They do make it easier to connect people with the sounds different birds make. But there is nothing like just going out and birding, often, to learn to identify them.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

National Audubon member since 1976.
Audubon chapter, St. Petersburg Florida, President 2000-2002, board of directors 1994-2004
Audubon chapter, Southwest Idaho, President 2005-2009, board of directors 2004-pres
Great way to meet people, volunteer, have fun, great field trips!
American Birding Association member
Southwest Idaho Birding Association

What is your nemesis bird?

Snowy owl
Small owls
Pelagic birds
Far North specialties
South Texas specialties

What is/was your career?

Wildlife biologist since 1975, still employed.
Graduate school at Utah State and University of Idaho.
Florida state government, studied manatees 1988-2004.
National Audubon Society, Florida, 2004
Idaho Dept. Fish and Game, 1982-84, study of deer, elk, and moose at phosphate strip mines near Soda Springs, 2004-present, statistician for wildlife staff, analyzing data about hunters.

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

My partner Susan Werner and I enjoy hiking, camping, backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, travelling --- all while birding. “Never Not Birding.”  One daughter, Katherine, 23, married and living in Boise, an artist.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

Seen Himalalayan Snowcock in Ruby Mts, Nevada, 2007, climbing to 11,400 feet.  Trekking in Nepal and birding, 18-day hike, highest pass almost at 18,000 feet. Backpacking trips almost every year somewhere.

Total life list?

About 530 species in North America

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

Birding to Nepal and Thailand in 1997.  Guatemala 3 times, Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize, Alaska, Puerto Rico twice.  Can’t wait to go again -- anywhere!

Your mission in life as birder? and any other parting thoughts?

I enjoy helping other birders get started – it’s a lot easier if you go and learn with someone more knowledgeable.

I've lived in: Virginia, Japan, Virginia, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Mass., Tennessee, Utah, Idaho, Florida, Idaho ---- so far.

Some Favorite Birds – roseate spoonbill, dipper, white-throated swift, broad-tailed hummingbird
Gunnison sage-grouse

Banding baby spoonbills, baby white pelicans, canada geese, ducks.

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