Q. Where do you live?
A.
Q. What got you interested in birding?
Q.  What's your favorite birding spot in Oklahoma?

Introducing our July 2004
Birder of the Month:

John Shackford
of Edmond, Oklahoma
HOME
Q.  What field guide do you prefer to use?
Q.  What are your 3 favorite birds? and is/are there any particular reason(s) they're your favorites??
Q.  Tell us about your BEST birding experience.... so far.
Q.  What was your WORST??
Q.  What are you most likely to say when a bird flies before you can ID it??
Q.  What was the last book you read?
Since I was 3-1/2 years old.
A.
My older brother.  When he was in second grade, his teacher would take the class on field trips and teach them about birds.  Then my brother would take me on field trips and teach me about birds he had learned on his teacher's field trips.  Thus, my mentor was my older brother and his mentor was his second grade teacher.  I'm sure the teacher never knew that she was responsible for launching a 3-1/2 year-old kid onto a lifelong love, appreciation, and obsession with birds.  (I believe this is an example of the incredible "reach" a good teacher can have; here in Oklahoma, Drs. Jack Tyler and Bill Carter are wonderful examples of such teachers.)
A.
I have loved the Black Mesa area of Cimarron County since my first trip there in 1962.  And one of my favorite spots there is about a mile north of the east end of the Black Mesa itself, where the roadway is elevated perhaps 100 feet above No. Carrizo Creek.  By stopping there and stepping a few feet eastward, one can sit on a rock ledge and have a great view of the river and several huge cottonwoods below, the prairie east of the river, and mesas even further east of that.  It's not the very best birding spot in mesa country but it's always a relaxing, refreshing, and peaceful place to sit, look out over the countryside, and absorb mesa country mystique, even if you have only 5 minutes to spare.  To boot, something ornithologically fun will usually happen.  While there recently, I saw four turkeys on the prairie 1/2-mile to the east, Mississippi Kites soaring in the middle distance, and a Bewick's Wren working the base of junipers just a few yards below my feet.  At and near this spot, I've seen several good birds including Lesser Goldfinch, Lewis's Woodpecker, lots of beautiful Bullock's Orioles, and on one occasion in one tree, TWO male grosbeaks in spring plumage---one a Rose-breasted, one a Black-headed.
A.
My 3 favorites are The Sibley Guide to Birds, National Geographic's Birds of North America, and Kaufman's Birds of North America.  The one I prefer is usually the first one I can find when I see an unfamiliar bird or have an unanswered question.  When working on very fine points of identification, etc., I do sometimes prefer the Kaufman book which has actual (enhanced) photographs of birds, because artists' renderings in other field guides, no matter how good, still tend to have at least minor inaccuracies as to color values or plumage markings.
A.
The Scarlet Tanager has been my favorite through the years.  I used to see this species in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina when I was 10 or so.  The scarlet and black beauty of the male, subtle green and black beauty of the female, the endless variety of those beautiful male migrants that are both green and scarlet, along with the black, and the beautiful forests they nest in and migrate through are all still remarkable to me.  For aesthetic appeal, I just can't think of anything this species does "wrong."  (You won't be too surprised that I also enjoy the "miniature Scarlet Tanager"---the Vermilion Flycatcher---for some of the same reasons.)

Probably my second favorite is the
Mountain Plover.  My fondness has grown out of working extensively with---and discovering new things about---the species.  Two incidents stand out.  In 1986, while researching the species in Cimarron County, I would occasionally see a bird on a cultivated field.  My assumption then was that such birds had read the bird books and therefore knew to nest only on native prairie.  I assumed that any plover I saw on a cultivated field was just feeding there and would soon return to its nesting area on native prairie.  Then one evening I was watching a plover doing courtship flights and calls in and over a cultivated field.  The sun went down, the bird kept calling; it got almost dark, and the bird was still calling.  Rather suddenly, it hit me:  this bird wasn't going anywhere else to nest, it's already home, right here on this cultivated field!  And the rest, as they say, is history.

The second incident involved finding plovers for the first time on cultivated fields in southwestern Kansas (and later in southwestern Nebraska, too), after they had been assumed extinct in the state (as a breeding species) for a few decades.  That was an exciting day! with a humorous twist:  as I was scanning some large, recently plowed fields, I was attracted to any white spots in the field, thinking each might be a plover facing me.  But several white things turned out to be only pieces of toilet paper flapping in the wind.  However, before the viewing was over, I HAD found plovers!!  And I was not the only one fooled that day, for several plovers challenged those white flags of toilet paper, apparently thinking they were territorial rivals!!  (You can buy Mountain Plover decoys by the roll! and no, I don't want to speculate as to why the toilet paper was scattered around the field at several spots in the first place!!)

I believe my third favorite bird (at least, at this moment) is the
Snowy Owl.  About 20 miles northwest of downtown Oklahoma City, I once followed an almost perfectly white male for most of a day.  It was a beautiful bird and a fascinating day.
A.
This probably goes back to my years growing up in the Appalachian Mountains, in the small mountain town of Boone, North Carolina.  The Appalachians were/are a major flyway for migrants coming from northern forests on the way to Central and South America, the West Indies, etc.  I can remember at least one day, in the fall I'm pretty sure, about 1952, when a weather front had apparently caused a major fallout of migrants in Boone.  Of course, as a 10-year-old, I didn't know this was what had happened; I was just observing.  But the best way I can think of to describe that day is to say that the trees and goldenrod patches were "dripping" with birds!  Warblers of all kinds, Scarlet Tanagers of all different color variations, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and no doubt vireos and orioles and many more species I can no longer specifically remember.  An unbelievable sight!
A.
By the time I moved to Oklahoma from North Carolina in 1958, at the age of 16, I was pretty proficient at ID-ing warblers, vireos, and many other land species to be found in North Carolina.  But I had almost never seen a wild duck.  There aren't many duck species inland back east, and I was too young to drive to lakes to look for the few that one might have found.  In Oklahoma, the great assortment of ducks and shorebirds was a pleasant and new experience for me.  About 1960, Ed and Irene Martin, having learned about my interest in birds, "adopted" me and took me on the Oklahoma City Audubon Society Thanksgiving Safari to the Texas Coast, including Aransas Pass (for Whooping Cranes), and Welder Wildlife Refuge, which is inland a little way.  A busload of us was out looking over a pond at Welder and trying to find a Cinnamon Teal.  "Here's one," I hollered.  "Where?" I was asked.  "Out near that far shore."  Someone said, "I see a Shoveler over there; where's the Teal?"  Of course, it turned out I was seeing the cinnamon side of a drake Shoveler.  But because I didn't die on the spot, I must not have realized my error until later!
A.
I once read an interesting article about bird identification and what a large percentage of the birds we see we fail to ID unequivocally.  Example:  How many (non-singing) chickadees have you seen in Oklahoma that you were careful to be sure weren't Black-capped Chickadees?  For me, maybe one chickadee in a thousand.  I probably treat these kinds of non-IDs like most everybody else:  I just play the (convenient) odds.  Chickadees I see in central Oklahoma are listed as Carolinas, but I'm really just guessing.  So I realize that I am not really positive of the ID of a lot of birds on almost every bird outing.  I would add, however, that where there is a reasonable chance of two possibilities, I am much more careful.  These are the situations where you might actually learn something.

However, what you are probably wanting to know is, what am I most likely to say when I lose a bird that had a high probability of being a remarkable find?  After you delete the @#&**%#@!, I probably don't say anything.

Editor's Note:  Actually, what we're asking is, what do you say if/when a bird flies before you know "for sure" what it is, whether or not it's a "good bird"??
A.
The last birding book I read was "The Big Year," by Mark Obmascik, given to me by a relative.  He really captures the "magic" of chasing and listing birds, a fun book and a nice history of the Big Year concept.  As far as books in general, my son Nick is a history major at OU, and he has gotten me reading, and enjoying, some excellent books on the Founding Fathers---Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Ben Franklin---and the Civil War---Lincoln, Grant, and Lee.  The last one of those I read I believe was "Gods and Generals" by Jeff Shaara, which prominently discusses Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson during the Civil War.
Q.  Who are your heroes or role models?  Whom do you admire? and if you care to comment, why are they your heroes?
A.
You might have guessed that my older brother is one of my heroes.  He got me started birding, but more importantly, he boosted the self-esteem of a shy, backward kid (me) by understanding and enjoying my brand of humor, and by enjoying my company---from fishing to birdwatching to just "being."  My other heroes also tend to love wildlife and otherwise have very generous natures---Dr. Sutton certainly is one.  Many of the remainder---thankfully---are still alive, so I'll refrain from embarrassing them here.
Q. How long have you been birding?
A.
We live on Oak Cliff Drive in Edmond, OK.  Although our mail comes from Edmond, we live outside the city limits, halfway between Edmond and Guthrie in Logan County.  We have about 3 acres with a steep wooded ravine in our backyard, where sometimes we have found Louisiana Waterthrushes and Wood Thrushes in the spring when the creek is running, which is usually about 1/3 of the year.
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