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Bio Jim Gain

1. Hooked on birding:
Please describe:

a. How you became interested in bird watching. During my junior year at CSU Stanislaus as a Biology major the only upper division class I could squeeze into my schedule was Ornithology. I became fascinated by the diversity of birds as I attempted to identify as well as memorize to order and family 200 species for the in-field lab final. I really became hooked when I went on my first non-school field trip. A birder from San Joaquin County (about my same age) was leading a spring trip to Caswell State Park. As we walked along he would pause, listen intently, and comment "there's a such-and-such bird singing over here, let's see if we can get a look at it". I was amazed that someone could identify so many birds without seeing them. That field trip leader was David Yee.

b. What you did to increase your bird identification skills. I bought every field guide I could find. Eventually I met Harold Reeve and I tried to go out with him every chance I got. When I joined the Stanislaus Audubon Society I ended up volunteering to lead some field trips. I think leading the field trips made me pay closer attention to the field marks and habits of birds.

What took me to the next level, so to speak, was a simple comment my wife made to me one day at Moss Landing State Beach. I had my telescope out and was identifying a few shorebirds for her (she was a neophyte at the time) and we came across a shorebird that I couldn't identify. I commented simply, "I don't know what it is". I was happy to move on and look for something that I could identify and she stopped me and said, "Well, you've got your field guide, you have a really good look at it, shouldn't you take a few minutes and figure out what it is?" The rest is history.

c. Why you continue to enjoy bird watching. Birding allows me to be in the outdoors in some really neat habitats (especially those sewage ponds!), I can satisfy my love of photography and I just think birds are cool to look at.

2. Field of Dreams:

a. Share one of your memorable birding experiences in Stanislaus or Merced County. One morning Dave Froba and I were following up on a Lark Bunting report from Jeff Brown out on Crabtree Rd. He had reported a male in mostly breeding plumage. We pulled up to the spot and I quickly spotted "the bunting". I called out, "it's on the wire between those two fence posts". Dave commented that it certainly was a nice looking male Lark Bunting. I scratched my head as "the bird" was obviously a female with only a tiny black malar stripe. "Dave, that is obviously NOT a male!" Dave responds, "Of course it is, look at all that black on it!" It finally dawned on me that we were looking at two different birds.

b. Identify a birding location in Stanislaus or Merced County that you enjoy going to and explain why you like to bird there. In the winter I just love driving the green rolling hills along Crabtree, Warnerville and Willms Rd. Once while leading a symposium field trip out there we had both eagles; Ferruginous, Rough-legged and Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harrier, White-tailed Kite as well as American Kestrel, Merlin and Prairie Falcon all at the same stop.

c. Identify a birding spot outside of Stanislaus or Merced County that you enjoy going to and explain why you like to bird there. I am hopelessly hooked on birding the High Island/Galveston Area TX in spring. There's nothing like having Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Blackburnian Warblers and more in the same tree.

3. A Few of My Favorite Things:

a. Pick 2 or 3 Stanislaus or Merced County bird species and explain why you look forward to seeing them. My favorite birds are usually the marsh birds. I really enjoy a quiet morning sitting in some wetlands while being serenaded by Marsh Wrens, Soras, Virginia Rails and American Bitterns.

b. What bird species that you have not already seen in Stanislaus or Merced County would you would like to find next? I guess Yellow-billed Cuckoo would be number one on my list.

c. What is your favorite bird field guide that you take with you in the field (or have in your car)? I prefer the National Geographic Guide but I also have the Sibley Western Guide as well.

d. What kind of equipment (binoculars, telescopes, cameras, etc.) do you take along with you while birding? My bins are Pentax 10 x 42; I have a Swarovski scope and I almost always have my Canon camera with my 100-400 IS lens.

4. Dear Abby:

a. What advice would you give to a new bird watcher? First, find an experienced birder that's willing to have you tag along and make every effort to go with them whenever they go in the field. Second, pick a handful of new birds that are likely to be in your area for the next month and try to learn their field marks and calls. Start off with the common birds. get to know them very well before moving on to the empids and such.

b. What suggestions would you give to a parent to help them encourage their children to become bird watchers? Demonstrate to them how much enjoyment you get out of birding. Be cautious however to not drag them along with you when you are chasing something special or are on a big day or CBC. They will most likely get bored and then consider it a drag to have to tag along. Try to have resources available to them should the interest arise.