July 11, 2013
Spectacled Eider
Spectacled Eider
I was recently approached by an avid novice birder from out of state who was starting a birding blog and wanted to interview birders from different parts of the country about their shared experiences.  Interviews fascinate me because the questions often tell more about the interviewer than the answers tell about the interviewee.  Here’s an abbreviated version of our conversation—

NB—What’s the most recent book you’ve read?
JB—Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne.

NB—That doesn’t sound like a bird book.
JB---Well, I’m not obsessed.  I read other stuff.  It’s an ethnohistory of the Comanche Indians on the southern plains.  Actually I was looking for bird references in Native American folklore, but the Comanches were too busy slaughtering Texans to lay down any oral tradition.

NB---I’ve heard Texas is a great birding state.  Should I bird Texas?
JB---Only in the winter, spring, summer, and fall.

NB---How many foreign countries have you birded?
JB---Just five really, and that’s counting Texas.

NB---What’s your earliest bird or birding memory?
JB---Cedar Waxwings, five years old, my mother screaming in delight from our second story screened-in back porch in the Midwest.  Springtime.  There was a flock feeding in berry trees at eye level.  My mother didn’t get excited very often, but she loved birds.

NB---Wow! That’s a good start to a birding lifetime.
JB---Yeah, but then I got involved in youth sports and had a fifteen year birding hiatus until my wife and I started backpacking in college.

NB---What’s your fondest bird or birding memory?
JB---Finally seeing the three rare eider species up close and personal during melt week in Barrow, Alaska.  We’d been to Attu and just seen them as specks out in the gloaming over the Bering Sea.

NB---Is there anything left on your birding bucket list in North America?
JB---Oh yeah—eastern warblers in springtime Ohio with Matthew Studebaker, spring hawk migration at Brockway Mountain on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Kilauea Point lighthouse on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.  We were there years ago before I got into photography.  Laysan Albatrosses and White-tailed Tropicbirds close, at eye level.

NB---What should be on my North American birding bucket list?
JB---Bosque del Apache in New Mexico around Thanksgiving time.  For the cranes and geese.  Truly one of the world’s birding spectacles.  Take every stitch of winter clothing you own.  Spring migration along the Magee Marsh boardwalk in northwest Ohio—around Mother’s Day.  And here’s a sleeper for your list—Francis Beidler Forest in South Carolina.  It’s a boardwalk too, but it’s about quality, not quantity.  Late April, early May.  It’s the best place to see Prothonotary Warblers.  They’re everywhere in the swamp.  And Pileated Woodpeckers and Barred Owls.  It’s a slice of what the southeast was really like 300 years ago.  A dark, spooky, incredible cathedral of nature.

NB---What’s your favorite birding site in Arizona?
JB---Madera Canyon, period.

NB---That was a quick answer!
JB---Yeah, the hard core listers go to the Chiricahuas or the Huachucas, but Madera has most of the Arizona specialty birds and there’s always the chance for a great Mexican vagrant.  Trogons are can’t miss in May, the scenery is at once both intimate and macro at your feet, and vast and wide angle out over the Santa Cruz Valley. We’ve seen mama bear and cubs, we’ve seen Ringtails, Northern Goshawks and Wild Turkeys nest.  On the upper trails on a weekday you get that cathedral feeling again.

NB---Where’s the best kept birding secret in the U.S.?
JB---That’s a great question.  Here’s kind of an off the wall answer.  I’m going to say Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma.  It’s another one of those birding sites that’s about quality rather than quantity.  You won’t run up a big list, but it’s the easiest place in the country to find the endangered Black-capped Vireo, and it’s a Mississippi Kite stronghold.  There are multiple pairs on every watershed.  And if you think Oklahoma is just about oil well pumps and treeless plains, you’re not going to believe the Wichita Mountains.  Rock, water.  Lots of water, but unfortunately they’re suffering through the same long term drought we are.

NB---Where’s the best kept birding secret in Arizona?
JB---You’re kidding me, right? 

NB---You’d have to kill me right after you told me?
JB---Immediately, before you got to your blog.

NB---Give me a clue.  What part of the state?
JB---Alright, let’s say you’ve got blisters from your hiking boots and you’re in a deep canyon in the southern Huachucas looking out over northern Mexico.

NB---Fair enough.  Now complete this sentence.  Birding is . . . .
JB---An adult treasure hunt.  But it’s all about the hunt, not the treasure.  Enjoy.

Barred Owl
Barred Owl