Q. Where do you live?
A.
Q. What got you interested in birding?
Q.  What's your favorite birding spot in Oklahoma?
Introducing our April 2004
Birder of the Month:

STEVE SCHAFER
of Athens, Ohio
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?
Athens, Ohio, on the western edge of Appalachia.
A.
I'm not really into favorites or the "best" or "worst" of anything because there are always so many orthogonal scales on which to measure those kinds of characteristics.  Some of the places in Oklahoma where I've enjoyed birding are the northeastern forests for warblers and other songbirds, the Wichita Mountains and the Altus/El Dorado area for the southwestern specialties, and Black Mesa for the Rocky Mountain birds.  And anyplace with thousands of gulls or shorebirds to scan.
A.
For all-around general purpose use, I find the National Geographic guide the best, but I always have a copy of Sibley on hand for additional reference, and we keep a copy of Kenn Kaufman's guide in the car since photographs sometimes do a better job of giving the general feel of a bird to beginners.  The Kaufman guide also has better maps.

If we extend our reach beyond North America, I would have to say that
A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and North Central America is my overall favorite because of Steve Howell's extremely well-document species accounts (although I don't always agree with his taxonomic decisions) as well as Sophie Webb's superb illustrations, which are the best compromise between realism and field guide stylization that I've ever seen.
A.
There you go with that "favorite" word again.  For sheer elegance, I'd have to say the Golden-browed Warbler (a Middle America species) ranks at or near the top.  I've yet to see a painting or even a photograph that really does the bird justice.  For ostentation, Orange-breasted Bunting (Mexico) comes to mind.  Think of a male Painted Bunting as a bird with the color knobs set to 6.  Now crank all the knobs up to 10 and you've got an Orange-breasted Bunting.  The various blue cotingas (Turquoise Cotinga, Blue Cotinga, Plum-throated Cotinga, etc.) deserve an honorable mention in the ostentation category for their blinding coloration.  If it's majestic you want, then a Bald Eagle perched atop a tall conifer is hard to beat.  And that same Bald Eagle, waddling along the ground to feed on the desiccated carcass of a salmon, provides plenty of comic relief.  But for general hilarity, both in appearance and in "song," the Toucan Barbet (Ecuador and Colombia) is your bird.
A.
There are too many to count.  Every new bird, and every new birding locale, ranks with the best.
A.
In terms of overall misery, several pelagic trips come to mind, largely because I tend to get intensely seasick.  Perhaps the worst was a January trip out of Virginia Beach.  It was extremely windy and so cold that the spray coming over the bow froze on contact, and within an hour of our departure, the entire front third of the boat was covered with several inches of ice.  And on top of all that, there were very few birds all day.

Then there was the time we arrived at a birding spot along the Pedro Vicente Maldonado Road in Ecuador, only to find a bulldozer clearing the forest for yet another oil palm plantation.  We watched as it felled one large tree that just two weeks prior had held several lifebirds for us.

And there was the time I was crossing what I thought was a narrow strip of land between two small slop ponds, only to discover (the hard way) that I was actually walking on top of a hardened crust across the middle of a somewhat larger slop pond.  I managed to save the scope.
A.
That depends on what the bird might have been.  If it was either a Lincoln's Sparrow or Song Sparrow, for instance, I probably wouldn't say anything.  But if it was the probable first record of Long-toed Stint for California that flew just as I was focusing the scope on it, I might jump up-and-down and say, "Damn! Damn! Damn!!" especially when it might have happened only a few minutes after the infamous Slop Pond Incident.
A.
Well, the very last book I read was Building a Shed, by Joseph Truni, but I don't know if that really counts.  Prior to that, I read Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart, by Mark Eberhart.  In the on-deck circle is Boojums All the Way Through: Communicating Science In a Prosaic Age, by David Mermin.  I actually read many more technical papers than books; I'm currently working through Abstraction and Performance from Explicit Monadic Reflection, by Jonathan Sobel et al. You can find it on the Internet at http://www.cs.indiana.edu/~jsobel/Parsing/explicit.html.
Q.  Who are your heroes or role models?  Whom do you admire? and if you care to comment, why are they your heroes?
A.
Being something of an iconoclast, I don't really have any heroes or role models.  One person I do admire, however, is Richard Feynman, the physicist best known for his role in the investigation of the accident that destroyed the space shuttle Challenger.  He had a truly amazing ability to explain complicated ideas in a way that just about anyone could understand, something I've always aspired to do.  (I can't say that I have anything remotely close to his ability, however.)  One of my biggest regrets is not taking advantage of the opportunity I had as an undergraduate at Caltech to interact with him more than the very limited amount that I did.  It wasn't until I had read some of his books (after his death in 1988) that I realized how gifted a teacher he was.
Q. How long have you been birding?
A.
When Janet and I were graduate students at Princeton University, we lived in a small apartment with no air-conditioning, located next to a small wildlife reserve.  During the spring and summer, the incessant singing of all the birds would wake us up at a ridiculously early hour.  Even though we couldn't recognize any of the songs, we could tell that there were many different species involved.  We had had a casual interest in nature prior to that and could recognize a few common birds, but that was about it.  There were several ornithology grad students in Janet's department, including many who would go on to become quite well known (Charles Brown, Charlie Munn, Scott Robinson, Terry Root, Dave Wilcove), and they sometimes mentioned the excellent birding in the refuge, so we decided to investigate.  I can clearly remember one particular bird that I saw that day, the one that turned me into a birder.  It was a male Common Yellowthroat, and I caught just a glimpse of it as it hopped around in a bush.  I had no idea what it was but I knew I had seen a picture of it before while browsing through our old Golden guide, so when I got back to the apartment, I was able to look it up right away.  At that point, I realized that it really was possible to identify all these little creatures zipping around in the trees and shrubs.  (I had yet to encounter Empidonax flycatchers, of course.)

The synergetic effect of having two marginally obsessive-compulsive people in the same household, both taking an interest in the same subject at the same time, was overwhelming, and very quickly we were totally out of control.  We took our first drive down to Cape May that fall, and on our first rain-soaked day there, we managed to log 99 species even though we had utterly no idea what we were doing.

Since then, our range of interests has spread well beyond birds.  While Janet tends to stick to animals (insects, mammals, etc.), I've branched out into plants as well.  (How many people do you know who own a guide to the lichens of North America?).  Janet recently gave me an out-of-print copy of
The Fishes of Ohio, by Milton Trautman.  (So far, the only resident fish I've been able to identify in the streams on our property is the Southern Redbelly Dace, Phoxinus erythrogaster.)
About this picture, Steve says,

"One of the lesser known hazards
of birding in the tropics is that
your rental car may turn out to be
smaller than you!"
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