Q. How long have you been birding?
A.
Q. What got you interested in birding?
Q.  What's your favorite birding spot in Oklahoma?

Introducing our December 2003
Birder of the Month:

TIM O'CONNELL
of Stillwater, OK
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 a kid in New York, so I guess at least (gulp!) 30 years!
A.
We lived on a small horse farm in New York, surrounded by dairy farms and forests of hemlock and maple.  I spent most of my time in the woods, fields, and creeks collecting fossils, catching snakes, and tracking any wildlife I could.  My parents bought an encyclopedia set that I used to read all the time, and I was fascinated by the illustrations in book "B" for birds.  I noticed that several of the species pictured were birds I knew from the farm (Red-winged Blackbird, Blue Jay, etc.), and I set out trying to see how many from the book I could recognize on our land.  Eventually, I reached a point where I was seeing many more species than were illustrated in the book, and I felt compelled to identify every bird I saw and to ascribe every call I heard to one of those birds.  It just kind of snowballed, even though at the time I felt like the only birdwatcher in the world.  I didn't really meet anyone else who shared my interest in birds 'til I went to college.
A.
Sounds corny, but it's the whole state, really.  Ever here in Stillwater where the resident birds are very similar to what you might find in Atlanta, Washington, or Philadelphia, I have so much to learn about migration patterns and relative abundance of species that it's all still quite new.  I'm not getting a lot of lifebirds around here but it's fun to go out and really be surprised by what I'm turning up.

That being said, I can't wait to bird Red Slough, Black Mesa, and the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.
A.
All of 'em.  When it comes to field guides and investment porfolios, diversification is key.  So whenever a good new guide comes out, I let Santa know that it might be a good gift and he usually comes through.

The point is that no one illustration (whether it's a photo or a painting) can really convey all the different body postures, plumages, lighting conditions, etc., under which you might see a particular bird.  So I study them all and form a mental picture that might be based on 10-20 different renderings of a species.

(My "stranded-on-a-desert-isle-in-North-America" guide, however, is Sibley's.  I might recommend for a beginner a combination of a Peterson guide and the Sibley guide.)
A.
In no particular order 'cause they change all the time:  Louisiana Waterthrush, Loggerhead Shrike, and probably Black-capped Chickadee in a three-way tie with Bobolink and Black Skimmer.

I've now studied waterthrushes in Pennsylvania for several years, and I am continually amazed by their life history, behavioral interactions, etc.  They truly live like "feathered trout," except for that whole migration thing.

I became obsessed with shrikes in VA, where one of the last vestiges of the declining northeastern population is hanging by a thread.  I think I felt cheated as a kid because shrikes were already long gone from my area when I started birding, even though we had an abundance of good-looking habitat for them.  Shrikes became something like a "holy grail" for me as I grew older.  A songbird that lives like a raptor?  How cool is that?!!

Chickadee?  I've never NOT been cheered up by a chickadee, and the big, fluffy black-caps are my favorite.

Bobolink?  Singing bobolinks probably did more to get me into birding as a kid than any other species.

Black Skimmer?  If you've ever seen a skimmer skim on a sultry summer night when the water is smooth as glass, then you know what I mean.
A.
Oh, I could never pin down a "best," but there are many great ones.  I've birded Newfoundland to Florida, Texas, California, Nevada, OKLAHOMA, New Mexico, and in other lands, Ireland and Bermuda.  It's always a kick to go someplace new and tick off new species faster than you can write them down.  That's just plain fun, even if it feels like you haven't really "earned" all those lifers.  Here are two quick ones that are right at the top:

Last summer, I hiked 5 hours to the summit of "Old Speck" Mountain in western Maine with my good buddy Randy "The Ran-Man" Harrison.  That day the temperature reached 105 degrees in Bangor, ME and we both came back skinnier than we left.  It felt so good to work so hard for a few boreal species that were lifers for me:  Bicknell's Thrush, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Spruce Grouse, and Gray Jay.  Truly gratifying.

A couple of years ago, I took a walk at the Tifft Nature Reserve in Buffalo, NY on a cold January day that was windy, but sunny.  I took out an apple as I was walking along, took a bite, and kept walking.  Next thing I know, a Black-capped Chickadee lands on my apple and starts helping itself.  For the next hour, I felt like St. Francis of Assisi with birds all around me, sharing my lunch and warming me to the core.
A.
Some are better than others but I've never had a truly bad time birding.  I "dip out" on birds all the time, but I don't think that counts 'cause finding a rarity is risky by definition.
A.
Depends on who I'm with.  It could range from expletives that would make a prison guard blush to something like, "Oooooh, I bet that was something cool."  Usually, I'm saying something like, "are you gonna finish that brownie?"
A.
Mountains of the Heart, by Scott Weidensaul.  I had the privilege of getting to know Scott in Pennsylvania through Partners in Flight channels, but I resisted reading this book at first because so many people were raving about it.  They were right to rave; Scott deserves every bit of hype given his books.  He's my generation's "Aldo Leopold," in my humble opinion.  Check him out on Amazon.com for the naturalist on your holiday gift list.

(Of course, if you had asked this question about a month ago, I would have had to answer something lame like "Us Weekly" magazine.)
Q.  Who are your heroes or role models?  Whom do you admire? and if you care to comment, why are they your heroes?
A.
Oh, the regulars, of course:  my parents, my wife and kids, Jesus, Bob Marley, Winston Churchill, etc.  Everybody has a story of tribulation or a wide-eyed innocence that can inspire you for the better if you're receptive to learn from them.  As a birding role model, though, I'm gonna go with an old friend from Virginia whom I met when I was a grad and he an undergrad at William & Mary:  Steve Rottenborn.

Steve was a lifelong birder like me, but he was "adopted" by a local bird club at age 7 and really taught how to be a good birder.  He was light years ahead of me when we started birding together on the Virginia coast and I became a much better birder thanks to his influence.  A few years later, I met up with him in California and he guided me to about 60 lifebirds I wouldn't have seen otherwise.  He imparted to me a mantra that I share with anyone who needs to get inspired to take their birding to the next level:

"Any bird.  Any where.  Any time."
Tim wrote that this picture
was taken several years ago
in Canaan Valley, WV.
Q. Where do you live?
A.
Since August, about a mile north of OSU in Stillwater.  For the nine years prior, it was State College (home of Penn State), PA.  (Working back from there, five years in Virginia, and I grew up in central New York.
FIELD NOTES
TULSA BIRDS
OKIE-BIRDERS
EOER