Saturday, July 21, 2007


Rob of Birdchaser tagged me for the Eight Random Facts Meme. The rules:
- Players write a post with eight random facts about themselves.
- They then “tag” eight bloggers to write similar posts, including the rules.
- The players then leave comments on the blogs they've tagged to tell them about the meme.

Friends are constantly forwarding me the same old questionnaires, sharing personal tidbits and asking me to reply in kind. The first couple were fun, but after a dozen or so, all pretty much identical, I went into ignore mode and started hitting the delete button. This meme is a little different, so I'll play along - except for the part about tagging eight other bloggers. Like Rob's blog, mine is about birding in a general way, so I'll keep the facts more or less on topic.

1) My "First Bird"
As a kid I was obsessed with herps, mammals, and arachnids. Kept all kinds of critters in bottles, tanks, and cages. Had a Havahart trap and used it to catch everything from rats to Gray Foxes. Then one day I noticed a bird at our barn door that appeared to be wearing a black tux. I was curious enough that the next time I went to the library I thumbed through the field guides (this was back in the 1970s, and they weren't nearly as good as the ones we have now) until I found a match - Black Phoebe. That started me looking at other birds, and soon I had my own books, decent bins, and was keeping lists...

2) My Earliest Birding Experiences
In my teens I didn't know any other birders. As far as I knew I was unique in my freakishness. Nondescript species like Brown Towhee - as it was then known - completely baffled me. If there had been someone around to share their birding wisdom with me it would have really helped. Hell, I didn't even know how to use my bins properly! Back then all my identifications were tinged with uncertainty. I birded alone, and since I couldn't drive yet I used my bike to get around. I remember riding my bicycle all the way from our home in south San Jose to Alviso and back just to see wetland birds - in retrospect an astonishingly long solo trip for such a young kid. Another time, while visiting Woodside with my parents, I wandered off on my own and got lost in the hills. Hours later my parents found me along the highway looking at my first Acorn Woodpeckers. It wasn't until I started college in the early 1980s that I met other people with similar interests.

3) My First Rare Bird Chase
It was January of 1982, and I had just returned from my first out-of-state birding trip (to Texas of all places) when I somehow found out that a male Smew was wintering at Leo J. Ryan Memorial Park in Foster City. This was my first real rarity chase, complicated by the fact that I didn’t even know what I was looking for! The bird was so rare that it wasn’t pictured in any of my field guides. Luckily there were some other birders present when I arrived, and they were able to describe the bird to me. There really isn’t anything else that looks much like a male Smew, so when I finally saw it I knew it had to be something new...something Smew.

4) Places I've Birded
I've lived most of my life in California (Santa Clara and Siskiyou Counties), and have travelled all over the Golden State in search of birds. I would probably still be there if it wasn't so damn expensive. In 2003 I moved to Southeast Texas and started this blog. In the early 1990s I spent two summers working in Maine (Acadia National Park), and I've been in every state in the U.S. except Vermont, Kentucky, and South Carolina. Outside the U.S. I've birded Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Trinidad & Tobago. Odd factoid: I've never set foot on Europe or Asia, but I have seen the coast of Russia from the shore of St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Strait.

5) Things I Used To Do
I used to live in San Jose, CA, where I taught birding classes and was compiler of the Calero-Morgan Hill Christmas Bird Count for a few years. Also I occasionally led field trips for Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. In the past I chased rarities more than I do now. I've done a few big days, and back in 1985 I attempted a California big year and got 430 species (the total would be higher now with all the splits since then). These days I'm focused on caring for my home and babies. I keep a yard list and go birding when I can.

6) My Most Wanted Bird
Bare-necked Umbrellabird. It's the freak factor. The male looks like it might have been designed by Dr. Seuss. I've been to Costa Rica three times, and have yet to see one. This past spring I was planning to go back and look for it again, but fate intervened and I had to cancel. Someday, someday...

7) Close, But No Cigar
I've had my share of misses, but this one was probably the worst. In the fall of 1991 I was making a cross-country trip from Maine back to California when I learned that a pair of Eared Quetzals (then called Eared Trogons) were nesting above Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains of Southeastern Arizona. I decided to make a long detour to see them - since there was a nest staked out it would be a sure thing, right? But I arrived a day too late. A winter storm had settled in and caused the birds to abandon their nest. I waited near the nest site, shivering in the cold, but they never returned. I think I heard one of them chuckling demonically as I hiked out in defeat.

Another time – coincidentally, also in Southeastern Arizona - I missed an Aztec Thrush by mere seconds. I was searching for a Rufous-capped Warbler at the time (which I later did see), and had climbed a rocky hillside, leaving a small group of birders below. While I was away from the group the thrush made its brief appearance. As I hurried back down the hill I heard someone say “Aztec Thrush!” But by the time I rejoined the group the bird was gone.

8) Birding Mishaps
I once fell asleep at the wheel and hit a fence while driving back from the Los Banos Christmas Bird Count – no serious injuries and the car survived. Dinged up another car in New Zealand, again no injuries (did you know they drive on the other side of the road there?). One time I had an irate Barred Owl grab a hat right off my head in a palm hammock down in Florida. I managed to get the hat back after the owl spitefully dropped it into the swamp. If not for that hat I might have become a regular customer of the Hair Club For Men.


At 2:23 PM, Blogger birdchaser said...

Spectacular. Thanks for sharing. I'm also only missing 3 US states, but its been that way for a decade and not sure when I'll be able to hit AK, HI, and SD. And if I were prone to envy, I'd be envious of your Smew. That bird didn't show up in Oregon until after I'd moved away (just like Falcated Duck, Streak-backed Oriole, and a host of other birds I dreamed about seeing in Oregon as a kid). There's always one more bird to see!


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