Wednesday, June 18, 2014

14 Years

Fourteen years ago today I started birding.  The date was June 18th, 2000 at Goldwater Lake in Prescott.  I was looking for mammals and couldn't find any.  As a result of boredom, I took out a cheap bird guide that I bought for five dollars.  That book was the Peterson First Guide to Birds.  This book features 188 common and conspicuous birds around North America.  Goldwater Lake had 10 of those common birds, and my very first birdwatch and list resulted in 10 species.  From then on, my interest in birds took off quickly.  After going back-and-fourth between mammals and birds for another month-and-a-half, I completely took up birding.  In early August of 2000, I went on a family trip to Greer, Arizona with my family.  It was my first birding trip, and I recorded nearly 60 species in 5 days in Greer.  From then on, I became obsessed with birding.  I was quite the geek back then too.  Tall, skinny, big glasses, obvious big ears, long necklace for very small and lightweight binoculars, etc.  I was a geek.  And you all have permission to laugh.

During my first days and year as a birder, I commonly got lifers and those beginning days were very awesome.  Birding was one of my many interests from 2001-2008 until it became my main and very favorite hobby in 2009.  Ever since 2009, I've taken up birding and have given it a lot of my efforts and time.  It is my favorite thing to do.  I've come along way since 2000 and my first year of birding.  I have learned an awful lot.  Despite the fact I have learned a lot, I still have a lot more to learn yet.  The fun thing about this hobby is that the potential is endless.  And that includes learning more, seeing more, discovering new locations and records, and studying these awesome and variable creatures that God crafted.  Today, my life list is 456 species after recording about 115 in my first year.  I've become an addict in listing in my home county of Maricopa, and my list for Maricopa is 363.  For Arizona to date, my list is at 422.  I don't chase a whole lot outside of Maricopa unless there is something really rare to see.  Arizona is a state I am blessed to live in and I love to explore different locations throughout the state.  Although I have seen most of the regularly occurring birds in Arizona, there are still some that I have yet to see.  I have traveled around to many locations in pursuit of Arizona's awesome birds.  And here I am recently, last year actually.  I'm not as geeky as I was when I started this whole thing, but some of it may still be there!  And when I started, I didn't ever think I would be able to get in a picture with a Spotted Owl!  

Or an Elegant Trogon!

These two birds that I have gotten photographs with aren't in the Peterson First Guide.  It took me a few months, but I did graduate from the Peterson First Guide to Birds all the way up to the Peterson Guide to Birds of Western North America.  But I still have my first bird guide, and I'm actually quite proud of this book.  It did start this whole thing, didn't it?  It started off as a little "side book" with that was in the pile of my other books on wildlife, nature, and outdoor life.

After graduating as a First Guide "student" to birding, the giant Western Peterson showed me a whole new world of birds.  And I quickly found a favorite bird from the start.  The Northern Goshawk.  And today, that bird is still my favorite.  By far!

Since my early years and once moving into becoming a full time birder in 2009, I have seen a lot of cool things.  I have also attempted two Maricopa County Big Years and have written an online guide on my website to Birding In Maricopa County.  I've even found a few rarities of my own too for Arizona.  

While most of the birds I have seen have been in Arizona (422 out of 456), I have taken a few trips elsewhere, which is very rarely.  Me being outside of Arizona birding is equivalent to there being an ABA code 5 bird somewhere.  In other words, I don't get out of the state often.  A recent trip to California gave me 21 life birds to represent such outside of Arizona.  Hanging out with Black Skimmers along the Coast was very fun!

So, long story short, this marks me birding for another year.  What an amazing 14 year of fun it has been so far.  Hopefully there is still much more to come with this hobby and fun of mine!

And on another note, the Osprey may be the bird to thank for me getting into birding.  We watched this bird continuously while on family vacations.  Before I was a birder, I did watch the Osprey a lot.  Because the Osprey was my first bird I ever watched with sheer interest, I think it may have been the reason for the Peterson.  And the Peterson helped get my interest going.  The big thanks goes out to the Osprey, one of North America's most skillful hunters.  And a very cool bird at that!


  1. Man Tommy,

    14 great years, and so many more ahead! You'll be at 700 by 40!
    This post cracked me up, it was a great read with great accompanying photos.

    You're certainly one of the premiers birders in Arizona, both in terms of field skills and knowledge of sites. I'm very lucky to have you as a friend and birding mentor.


  2. Thanks Laurence!

    Glad you enjoyed the post! Thanks for the many compliments.

    Glad to be your friend and birding mentor! Likewise, I'm lucky to have you as a friend as well. I can brag and say that I bird with the author of Butler's Birds!

  3. It's always fun to hear how people get into this crazy, addictive game/hobby. And there is no hobby quite like it! This was a fun read. Also, I've never seen people take their picture with a bird before - that's a pretty fun, unique idea!

    Here's a crazy story related to this post - you have a picture of a Wood Stork. When I read this post this morning I honestly didn't know what that bird was. I didn't even bother to look it up. Then, today, Minnesota's second only record of a Wood Stork showed up. Long story short is that I just got back from the 7-hour round trip to go see it. Eventually I'll have the long story on my blog.

    1. Thanks Josh!

      There really isn't a hobby like it, your 100% right on that! You'll probably get some good chances to get your picture with birds. Being in Minnesota, I would think you could get in a photo with a Great Gray Owl, their pretty tame acting too. Or a Spruce Grouse!

      Wow that is a crazy story! It's funny how ironic things happen like that with birding stories. Congrats on seeing Minnesota's second ever Wood Stork, that is quite the mega rarity in MN and AZ!

      Your blog is awesome, cool how your son is into birding like he is!

    2. Hey, thanks for the compliment on the blog. My son is actually the one who got me into birding rather than the other way around.

      I'm impressed that you know the personalities of some of our boreal birds. I was pretty close to many Great Grays this past winter. Next winter I'm going to try it.

      By the way, if I read your post correctly, you made the Wood Stork discovery. Wow! I've had a couple of county firsts, but yours is truly an amazing find.

    3. Thanks Josh,

      I did find the Wood Stork, and it was the first good rarity I ever found. Many birders came to see it, and it stuck around at Gilbert Water Ranch for over three weeks. I think I went and saw it 4 other times after I found it I was very happy with it! A Purple Gallinule showed up too after I found the Stork, so birders were coming in crowds for both.

      I study birds all the time outside of Arizona to prepare for vagrants or for the future when I can go out of state once in a rare while. I saw an article too about a birder who spent hours following a Spruce Grouse around, I believe it was in Birder's World magazine.

      Very cool your son got you into birding! It's a great father/son thing to enjoy.

  4. Congrats! Glad you found life 14 years ago. Pretty exciting stuff these birds! For me, it was the same way. As a kid, we went camping often. Now I wasn't a birder then but I did enjoy being outdoors. Hope you get to venture out down the road. The world is an amazing place, but so is Arizona:)

  5. Thanks, Tommy, for providing such a great "back story" to your current legendary birding skills!