Obsessive Birders

DSC_2752 aGila Woodpecker, male

As I’ve mentioned, it’s hot in Phoenix so I have not been birding as much as I would like. But, in June and July, I’ve been reading about birders and the ones who have books written about or by themselves seem to be a very obsessive bunch.

I’m on my third such book and I think that the books all could appeal to a more general audience because they’re not about the actual birds as much as about the choices these birders made in their lives. So here are a couple of mini-reviews:

Life List: A Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds by Olivia Gentile is about Phoebe Snetsinger, a birder famous for having seen over 8,398 species (there are about 10,000 identified species in the world now) by the time of her death in 1999 (while she was birding in Madagascar). She still remains as one of the top Big Listers. She estimated that she spent about $2 million dollars in her pursuit. This book is far more than a book about birding, however. It’s about a woman’s desire to have her own accomplishments and rewards, it’s about balancing family life and personal interests, it’s about what do you owe others when their needs and wants might overshadow your own? How do you choose? Phoebe’s life may cause you to question your own choices.

DSC_3063_edited-1Anna’s Hummingbird, male

I then read Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder by Kenn Kaufman. I thought Phoebe Snetsinger was obsessed but she was able to do her birding (albeit hers was throughout the world and Kenn’s was in North America) with plenty of money to back her travels. Kenn was only 16 when he hit the road to pursue his passion, with his parents’ blessings. At the age of 19, when he embarked on his winning Big Year, he was able to spend only $1,000 for the whole 12 months of crisscrossing the continent for 69,000 miles, much of it hitchhiking, and rolling out his sleeping bag any place he could find. Now one of the world’s top bird experts and bird artists, it paid off for him and he has given up listing for the joy of truly learning about birds.

As a birder myself on a far less grand scale, I loved hearing about the birds but I was mostly fascinated by how he lived during those early years. I’m about the same age as Kenn so I understand what the culture was like when he was following his dream and it was also a very exciting time for birding. Kenn (as did Phoebe) knew all the “famous” birders and ornithologists and many had a part in his successes.

Mock at CL'sNorthern Mockingbird

I’m now about 2/3 through To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, a Son, and a Lifelong Obsession by Dan Koeppel about his father. Dr. Richard Koeppel (who died in 2012) was also a Big Lister who saw over 7,000 species of birds, a number achieved by fewer than a dozen others at that time. It focuses on Dan Koeppel’s attempts to understand the obsession that ruled his father’s life, ruined his marriage, and strained his relationships with his sons. It also examines the culture of highly competitive birders who travel the world making lists of their sightings, and discusses the history and rules of listing. It also reveals the creative ways Dr. Koeppel made a living as a medical doctor to fund his extensive travels. All three books mention many other well-known birders, ornithologists, bird tour leaders, etc., and discuss their obsessions, too.

Mock 7.10.15

I won’t go into why I probably won’t be reading Harper Lee’s prequel/sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird. It just seems to negate the original book too much and I’m not interested in the presumably racist content.

Mock Casa 7.2.15

Verdin 2.14.15_edited-1Verdin

Bees, Birds, Butterflies, & More

Bee Purp

Bee Yellow_edited-1

These photos were all taken at the Franciscan Renewal Center’s (The Casa) Healing Garden. It’s on my route to work and I sometimes stop on my way home and usually get a few good shots. It’s a magical, peaceful place.




Kale. They have many vegetables and herbs growing in the garden.




Ladder-Backed Woodpecker

Gila in Palm

Gila Woodpecker


Great-Tailed Grackle, female


European Starling



Their slogan: “Paz y Bien/Peace and Good.”

More than Honey

If you’re interested in how bees affect our ultimate survival, check out this fascinating film, More than Honey (on Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, etc.) One of the featured beekeepers is Fred Terry, one of Tony’s good friends for many years, the “Singing Beekeeper” of Oracle, AZ. We’ve seen Fred’s hives in Oracle before. The film was the 2013 winner for Best Documentary at the Santa Barbara Film Fest 2013, German Film Award 2013, and Swiss Film Award 2013. It’s compelling, troubling, informative, beautifully photographed…and Fred looks great (he’s been stung 100-250 thousand times!!!!!!).

Park Pals


Gilded Flicker, male

I go to several urban parks on a regular basis. Weekly I head over to Granada Park, the closest to my house, but I also visit several others. Here are a few friends I met over the last month, mostly at Granada but also 4 other parks.


Gambel’s Quail, female


Green Heron




Rosy-Faced Lovebird, juvenile


Curve-Billed Thrasher

Verdin 2




Sandpiper 3.31.15_edited-1


Spotted Sandpipers


Black Phoebe, chowing down


Gila Woodpecker, female

Cowbird Girl

Brown-Headed Cowbird, female

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Finch Yellow

House  Finch, yellow variety


Neotropic Cormorant

Matching Ducks

I guess these guys, above, must be Mallard hybrids (or domestic ducks), but they’re funny, always swimming together and looking similar but different. Must be related.

And another little buddy that I see at the park often, Georgie, a water dog:


Georgie Wet


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Jacked About Lifers


Once you start getting into birding, it’s pretty hard to not keep a list of who you see and it’s pretty exciting to get a lifer (a bird when it is first seen and positively identified by a birder. To qualify as a lifer, birds must be observed in the wild and under appropriate conditions to be added to a life list).

So, I’ve had an exciting week where I’ve seen and photographed FOUR lifers! They’ve all been in Phoenix, in 3 different locations, and none are overly common.

Western Wood Peewee

Western Wood-Peewee Front

Western Wood-Peewee 2

Western Wood-Pewee, above


Warbling Vireo

I only got one shot of that little guy but he’s (she’s?) awfully cute.

And I got 2 lifers today at the park I go to once every weekend, Granada Park, and where I see quite a few birds but haven’t seen any lifers lately.

Lesser Nighthawk 2

Lesser Nighthawk

Nighthawks are those birds you often see flying around at night at brightly lit stadiums or close to freeway lights, hunting insects. But, in the daytime, they lay low and are usually camouflaged. I was very surprised to see this guy just standing on the trail, posing for me. He did take off and fly into some brush after a few shots.

Swallow 2

Swallow 3

Swallow 1

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

There was a small flock of these in a tree I passed by. I had heard they were in this park but I had never come across them in my frequent visits there.

Swallow and Fledgling

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow, fledgling with adult

I hope my luck continues and I keep cranking out these lifers so that I can have a Big Year!

Where Birds Go By…



Northern Mockingbird


Great-Tailed Grackle, female


Sparrow 4.17.15

House Sparrow, male

Verdin 4.17.15



Great-Tailed Grackle, male


European Starling

Orchid Tree


Finch 1_edited-1

House Finch, male

Lovebird 2

Rosy-Faced Lovebird



Curve-Billed Thrasher

Sometimes in the open you look up
where birds go by, or just nothing,
and wait. A dim feeling comes
you were like this once, there was air,
and quiet; it was by a lake, or
maybe a river you were alert
as an otter and were suddenly born
like the evening star into wide
still worlds like this one you have found
again, for a moment, in the open.

Something is being told in the woods: aisles of
shadow lead away; a branch waves;
a pencil of sunlight slowly travels its
path. A withheld presence almost
speaks, but then retreats, rustles
a patch of brush. You can feel
the centuries ripple generations
of wandering, discovering, being lost
and found, eating, dying, being born.
A walk through the forest strokes your fur,
the fur you no longer have. And your gaze
down a forest aisle is a strange, long
plunge, dark eyes looking for home.
For delicious minutes you can feel your whiskers
wider than your mind, away out over everything.

Atavism, William Stafford

My current favorite poem.