Friday, August 19, 2011

Birder Profile: Connie Toops

Connie Toops
Marshall, North Carolina, 
In her own backyard
where she enjoys 
planting for wildlife
How did you get into birding?

My father was a serviceman for an electric utility in Ohio. He enjoyed birds, but had no formal education about them. One day he brought home a male Kestrel that had been electrocuted when it landed wrong on a power pole. In hand, it was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen! Another time he found a Common Loon that had mistaken a rain-soaked country road for a river and landed there during a storm. It couldn’t take off again, so Dad brought it home, and we kept it overnight. Then we delivered it to an Audubon sanctuary with a small lake, where it was released unharmed. Seeing the loon close-up, with its intricate feather patterns, awesome bill, and the fire of wildness in its eyes was like opening the door to a magic place within me.

How long have you been birding? 

Watching birds since second grade. “Professional” interest in birds since early 1970s.

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

I watch birds every day at my home in western NC, with an interest in behaviors, seasonal changes, and unusual sightings.

Where is your favorite place to bird in North Carolina?

In NC, my home in rural Madison County, which is similar habitat to the Great Smoky Mountains.

In the U.S.?

Too hard to choose one place! Top three include: Florida Everglades, Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico, Klamath Basin NWR in northern CA-southern OR.

In the world? 

Galapagos Islands and Midway Atoll NWR in the North Pacific Ocean.

Laysan albatrosses nesting at Midway Atoll NWR, photo by Connie Toops, used with permission.
Male great frigatebird, Midway Atoll NWR, photo by Connie Toops, used with permission
Do you have any local birding hotspots that may be yet unknown to other birders that you would be willing to share with us? 

This is not “unknown”, but the Blue Ridge Parkway in the area from Asheville, NC, north to Craggy Gardens and on to the Linville Falls area, is a wonderful place to go birding, especially for Neotropical migrants, during spring and early summer.

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

(This is just across the NC state line in SC.) Congaree Swamp National Monument, near Gadsden, SC.

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

A watcher and one who savors bird behavioral observations.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

Leica binoculars, Nikon digital SLR camera

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

I tallied a life list for more than a quarter-century, but stopped. Now I keep trip journals. I note dates, places, and species seen in the appropriate birding guides.

Any good backyard birding stories or amazing backyard bird sightings you can share? 

Years ago in northern Mississippi, my husband and I watched a Red-bellied Woodpecker pounce on a house sparrow that had just died. It flew off gripping the sparrow with its feet, as a raptor would carry prey. After it landed in a nearby tree, it pecked into the sparrow’s skull and ate the brains. Who knew?!

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend? 

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of NA - Recently updated, great layout with maps, text, sounds, excellent bird ID art, easy-to use format.

Which three books from your personal birding library would you recommend to other birders?

Peterson guide (above), Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman (Houghton Mifflin, 1996), Peterson Backyard Bird Guide: Hummingbirds and Butterflies by Bill Thompson III and Connie Toops (Houghton Mifflin, 2011)

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

BS in Natural Resources, Ohio State University.

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?

Proficient: bluebirds, hummingbirds

What future birding plans do you have?

Hope to return to Midway Atoll in May 2012, also maybe next year, a return to Trinidad.

Outside of birding, what are your other interests or hobbies?

Gardening for wildlife and growing a big food garden.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

It’s a bit long to repeat here, but I wrote a humorous essay in Good Birders Don’t Wear White: 50 Tip from North America’s Top Birders (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) that recalls the prominent role a rose-breasted grosbeak played on my first date with my now-husband Pat.

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

Laysan albatross. I like their lifestyle.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

During a freelance nature writing/photography career that began in 1978, I’ve written and been the principal photographer of the following bird-related books: Hummingbirds: Jewels In Flight, Bluebirds Forever, The Enchanting Owl, and Birds of South Florida. I’m currently writing Midway: A Guide to the Atoll and its Inhabitants.

Your mission in life as birder? 

Continue to advocate on behalf of birds and the Earth.

You can meet Connie Toops in person and attend her presentation along with Bill Thompson III at the Midwest Birding Symposium on Sept 15th-18th in Lakeside, Ohio.  Won't  you join me there!

Birder Profile is a weekly blog segment at "Birding is Fun!" spotlighting a fellow birder.  If you would be interested in sharing a little about yourself and your birding experiences, please send me an email.  Is there a birder you'd like to see featured?  Please nominate that person by sending me an e-mail too.  Enthusiasm for birding is the only prerequisite!

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