Tim Avery Birding.com
Who am I and why are you at this website. I have had this website for more than 10 years now, and it has seen 8 major revisions. Below is a little history about me, my birding, photography, and the site!
Climbing over downfalls just inside the forest on the edge of the lake I stalked the yellow bird zipping from tree to tree. A warbler of some sort. A zip of blue streaked through my peripheral and landed on a nearby tree. That one was a bluebird. A tiny woodpecker rattled away on a nearby tree, and a bigger woodpecker, with red underwings flew overhead. These are my earliest memories of birding. I wasn't a birder, but a kid with a sling-shot looking for trouble in the woods. I was maybe 7 years old and the extent of my knowledge of birds was what the Golden Guide to Birds in my dads truck told me. Mostly when we saw something interesting it was to name it to family. I knew kingfishers, herons, egrets, ducks, and hawks. I knew the bluebird, the warbler, and the jay. But I didn't know what species--it was as much as this 7 year old cared.
Over those days when my younger self was learning about birds, the majority of what I learned was with my dad in the marsh hunting ducks, or strolling through the woods on some deer or elk hunt. By the time I was 11 and old enough to hunt waterfowl, I learned all the ducks in a matter of days. I had a field guide of illustrated waterfowl and it was a great way to learn. I enjoyed the hunts I went on--it was nice to get away from the noise of the city, and the people. This was where I learned to be a birder. Spotting a duck flying 100 yards away without optics and knowing the species based off size, flight style, and shape interested me. I started to notice other birds more, like the Marsh Wrens that scolded me as I sat in the reeds. The Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier) that hovered over the roads. The Snipe I flushed from the thick grass. There was so much more in the marsh than just the ducks.
When I was 13 I met another kid who had a strange interest in birds. He was way more into it than me, and kept a field guide in his backpack at school. I brought my duck book with me and one day we started talking about birds. He told me what he had seen, and I shared what I had shot. Colby Neuman was the first birder I had ever met, and one of the driving forces behind my greater interest in birds. A month after we met, my dad bought me my first field guide to birds--and Audubon photographic guide. And I dove right in to learning the birds.
After the initial dive into the wide world of birds, things moved fast. I upgraded to a Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. In the first year of serious birding I saw a bird that would fascinate me for life--the Western Tanager. The first one I saw was 60' up a conifer in the Uinta Mountains--the vibrant orange and yellow bird still sticks out in my mind. And everyone I've seen since still brings joy like that first one. I remember my first Yellow-breasted Chat at Causey Reservoir in Cache County. I remember my first Gray Catbird and my Great Uncles farm in Wyoming. There were Burrowing Owls at Pawnee Grasslands in Colorado, and BLack-throated Sparrows at Lake Powell in southeast Utah. Short-eared Owl at Bear River MBR, Common Nighthawk, Grace's Warbler, and Barn Owl at Cedar View Reservoir near Roosevelt. My first Black Phoebe in Snow Canyon State Park in southern Utah was my 250th species of bird--all of which were from Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. I was 15 years old and obsessed.
In the summer of 1998 my dad and I went to southeast Arizona. We went to a couple baseball games at Bank One Ball Park in Phoenix, and my non-birding dad shuttled me around from place to place to see things I wanted to see. Looking back a lot of credit is due for his patience and giving me the opportunity to do the things I've done. In Arizona the life birds added up quick--Greater Roadrunner, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Vermillion Flycatcher, and Cactus Wren. Hummingbirds, hummingbirds, and more hummingbirds. My 300th lifer was a Magnificent Hummingbird.
I saw Elegant Trogon, Mexican Chickadee, and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers. The Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Painted Redstart, and Acorn Woodpecker all stand out from the trip. These were the birds that turned an obsession into a passion. I would never be the same as a birder after I left Arizona. Back in Utah I finished out my high school years--birds were the focus of every hunt, hike, camping trip, and vacation I went on. Endless hours were spent wandering the woods looking for birds. I only remember finding one truly rare bird during these years when I found a Cape May Warbler in August on its southward migration. It was the 1st report ever in the state of Utah. The powers that be at the time told me that there was no way I could've seen the bird I described--as Cape May Warblers didn't have a chestnut cheek patch that time of year. I didn't despair though--I knew what I had seen. When I was in the city, my focus was on friends, baseball, and girls. I likely missed out on a lot of bird-related things in these years--but took full advantage of the typical life of a teen. Since Arizona I hardly added a new bird to my life list--there just weren't that many more to get near home…
In 2001 I packed up and moved 1,500 miles east to Beloit, Wisconsin for college. I should've been thinking, about all the birds I would see--the lifers, the warblers, the migration!!! But Wisconsin wasn't where I wanted to go--it was the school that offered the best scholarships and financial aid for me to continue playing baseball. So I went and I birded a little bit the first couple years. One memory that sticks out the most however was in the first couple weeks I was there in August 2001--I wandered along the Rock River where migrant Cape May Warblers seemed to be everywhere--and the majority of the birds showed a stunning chestnut cheek patch. I smiled when I realized the "expert" back home had no idea what he was talking about--I doubted he had ever seen migrant Cape May Warblers before. And so it goes--after my sophomore year I was done with baseball--however the birding had just gotten started. The first 2 years in Wisconsin I wasted the fall and spring migration. I had seen some birds, but should've easily cracked 100 lifers.
My biggest change in birding happened in the spring of 2003 when I interviewed for a field tech position with Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. They were in their 2nd year of a program called Monitoring Wyoming Birds, and needed individuals to complete 30-45 surveys during the summer. I got the job and in May headed to Wyoming for a brief training and the start of the field season. It was the dream job for a college kid who liked birds. I spent 3-5 hours every morning basically birding (completing a survey). After which I would make my way to the next survey location--birding along the way--and scout the next survey location the night before--again, birding all the while. It afforded me the opportunity to spend weeks in the field honing my skills--mostly learning audibles that I had mostly overlooked in my previous years of birding. Shortly after the start of my first field season I ticked off my 400th life bird--a migrant Black-throated Gray Warbler at Seedskadee Wildlife Refuge in southwest Wyoming. I worked on the art of digiscoping through my binoculars and scope. The first shots were awful--but in many cases diagnostic for rare ID's. By mid-July the field season was over and I was hooked--this was the kind of work I could really get into.
I had my first mega-rarity in New Hampshire during the fall that year--a Little Stint on Rye Beach. It wasn't as thrilling as some of the megas I've had since, but it was the first really rare bird I had ever seen--a new addiction--could I find something this rare? I certainly had looked, and found rarer birds, but never anything this substantial--only handfuls of records in North America. Soon I was back in Wisconsin, free of my baseball lock down and with a vehicle for the first time on campus free to explore outside of the few blocks I had birded frequently the previous two years. I ventured further and further and added lifers here and there. By the spring of 2004 I was ready to head back to Wyoming for a 2nd field season even more gung ho than the previous year. The training kicked off at Chico Basin Ranch in Colorado where I met a number of other birders my age, and saw my first Flammulated Owl--a migrant miles for the mountains on the Great Plains--only the 2nd ever recorded on the plains. That summer flew by almost too quickly--as the field season came to a close I wasn't ready to be done--so I ventured to Oregon for 10 days birding the coast by myself. Life birds poured in: Tufted Puffin, Rhinoceros Auklet, Surfbird, Black Turnstone, Wandering Tattler, and scores of other seabirds and coastal specialties. I had picked up my first digital SLR before the trip and was busy breaking it in, taking 100's of photos of birds. I was shocked at the quality of the pictures and wanted to see what I could capture.
Back in Wisconsin for my final year of college I knew I had a lot to make up for from my earlier years. I made a list of every expected bird I could get that I hadn't and set out to nail them down before I left the following spring. The fall didn't produce a ton of great or new birds, but back in Utah for Christmas a Rufous-backed Robin showed up in Springdale, Utah. I hadn't seen a mega rarity in Utah and I had never chased anything further than 50 miles away before--Colby called me up and asked if I wanted to try for it--so I said yes, and the next day we were in a car early in the morning headed to St. George. We made it just after sunrise and saw the robin with a small group of other birders. We would be the last to see the bird in Utah. A few hours later we saw a Red-headed Woodpecker, another mega for Utah. The 2 rarest birds I had seen in the state. After the new year it was back to the cold--where I made a lot of special trips to see things in my remaining months. I spent a couple days in Duluth, MN at the Sax-Zim Bog in January 2005 during what was the biggest eruption of Great Gray and Northern Hawk Owls recorded. It was the single most memorable birding experience in the U.S. I've ever had. I saw somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 owls during my time there, and took photographs that I never imagined possible. And on the way back to school I got a $200 speeding ticket. One of the recurring themes of my life as a birder was getting pulled over, and this was just the 2nd of many to come…
My last spring migration in Wisconsin produce a heaping of lifers. I visited a banding station, walked river ways, backwoods, and traps in search of the remaining elusive birds I needed. My family gave me my first professional quality camera lens as a graduation gift--a Canon 100-400m IS lens. I felt like this was what I needed to take my photography to another level. After graduation I headed back to Wyoming for my final field season. I took 1,000's of photos. I was in awe of what I was able to do with a good lens. At the end of the field season I joined a crew of RMBO techs and volunteers as we descended upon (or rather ascended up into) the Snowy range in southern Wyoming--our goal was to find a nesting Flammulated Owl which would be a Wyoming first, as well as check out only the 2nd known nesting location of Purple Martins in the state. Both quests were successful, and with it my college days and field tech summers came to a close..
The 90's 2006
After college finding a job was hard. I couldn't even get an interview in the design field--I had a degree in studio art with a focus on graphic design
and photography. But my lack of real world skills and experience kept me from putting what I could do to use. I also tried to reach out to magazines,
and other publications about my photography--I quickly learned that breaking into the wildlife photography market was also not going to happen--there were
too many photographers, and most magazines were very loyal to their base. So I gave up, and took a job in retail, selling sporting optics at Sportsman's
Warehouse. My $100K education had me making $8/hour selling $2000 binoculars to guys who never went to college.
It was a tough pill to swallow. After a few months I took my mind off it by starting a Utah Big Year in 2006. But it was short lived--the first job opportunity that presented itself was as a consultant for a software company. I would be implementing a help system on a government website--in Indiana. I was headed back to the midwest.
So I packed up again and headed east to Indianapolis. It wasn't where I wanted to be, but I knew I just needed the experience in the industry to get back to Salt Lake. So I put in the time and made the best of it, racking up life birds, and photos of species I had only had glimpses of in the past. The birding was outstanding. In the fall I spent almost every weekend driving up to Lake Michigan and birding the south shore with Ken Brock, and his crew of northern Indiana birders. It was a hell of an experience. I gained my first taste of lake watching--spotting jaegers, terns, gulls, grebes and other waterbirds as they sped past the southern most point on the lake. In less than a months time I had all 3 species of Jaeger--by the end of season I had seen a King Eider, several Little Gulls, and seen over 200 species in my 8 month stint in Indiana. I spent my Thanksgiving at Jasper-Pulaski State Park witnessing 1,000's of Sandhill Cranes and a couple Whooping Cranes--a spectacle and major highlight of my time in Indiana. At Christmas I returned to Utah and lined up several job interviews. After my 2nd interview I had a good feeling and skipped the rest--the next day I was offered a job in Orem at a design agency--I was coming home again.
I was a couple days after Christmas and I was ecstatic about coming back to Utah. I was going to stay this time and knew that now was the time to do my big year again. I was young, would have plenty of money to be able to go birding--and would have time with my job so that I could get away when I needed to chase things. So on January 1, 2007 I set out for the day with a goal in mind--I was going to set a new Utah Big Year Record. I told people I had hoped to get 333 species, but I wrote a number down in my notebook and circled it--my real goal was 351 species--a number that seemed nearly impossible at the time...
The first couple months I kept the pace I had the previous year--and a similar pace to that of record holder Dennis Shirley. I worked, birded, and birded some more. I chased each rarity as it popped up. Missing a few along the way, while managing to get each of my targets for specific trips I was birding according to plan. Until the plan changed. I got a phone call about an immediate need for a field tech with the department of natural resources. They needed someone to do riparian bird surveys over the next 2 months followed by habitat surveys for the remainder of the summer. It was a pay cut, and it was the opposite direction of what I planned career wise--but it gave me a chance to spend every day birding for the next 4 months. I quit my design job--thankful for the additional experience and set off for the field.
The summer of 2007 set fire to my big year. I was in places I wouldn't have otherwise been, at times I wouldn't have been. And the birds that popped up were the kinds you need in a big year. Dickcissel, Philadelphia Vireo, Black-billed Cuckoo, and Northern Parula. Spotted Owl, Eastern Meadowlark, Indigo Bunting, and Pacific Loon. As the field season neared an end I got a call to get back to Salt Lake ASAP, there was a Painted Bunting at Fish Springs. I drove 200 miles from south central Utah and picked up Colby Neuman. We headed 150 miles west into the desert arriving just before dark and picking up my 313th year bird. The season came to an end 10 days later and I added 11 more species in August. I hit September and fall migration full force, picking up 8 new year birds in 14 days. I had tied the previous big year record at 332. The next day I saw a Gray Partridge, on what was my 3rd attempt during the year--333 species.
I rode out October, November and December on money I made during the summer. I was birding 5-7 days a week and chasing down every single rarity that was reported. In October I found my 4th state first record in a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. A month later I found my 5th Utah first with a Pine Warbler with Rick Fridell at Lytle Ranch. The warbler was significant for me, but I didn't tell anyone why until now--it was #351, the number I scratched in my notebook 11 months earlier. I had reached my goal with a month to go. Some people might have taken it easy but I kept chasing down each rarity, and trying to pick up the lingering misses. Right after Christmas I ventured to St. George for one last time--I had made 16 visits (about) during the year to try and find Vermillion Flycatcher and missed on every trip. It was a Christmas gift I suppose, #353, followed by a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and a Rusty Blackbird to end the year at 355 species. A record that is still standing as I write this.
It was a hectic year and afterwards I slowed down a little bit. I had traveled 40,400 miles in cars, walked almost 400 miles by foot, and spent 1843 hours birding. At the tail end of the year I went on a date with a cute girl I had met a couple years earlier while working at Sportsman's Warehouse. Her name was Sam.
In 2008 I had to make a decision--did I want to try to pursue a career in design--what I had gone to school for and knew I could make a steady living at, or did I want to keep on trying to do field work. In February I had an opportunity to choose one path or the other with offers in both fields. My heart said take the bird job--but my gut told me to take the design job and that's what I did. I was done with field work for good. But birding as a business was still on the back of my mind. I had guided a few folks the summer before to see Flammulated Owls, and guided a few more in the upcoming months. The ABA Conference was being held at Snowbird in June and I was helping guide tours during the event. So I launched my own guiding business on the side, Mountain West Birding Company. I had thought about being a guide for a living, but knew it wasn't feasible for me at the time, so doing so on the side seemed like a good option.
The next few years were heavily focused on my career, I spent 30 months at Overstock.com helping bring them into the 21st century in terms of code, design, and front end coding standards. I started on their email team, and worked my way up through every design position, to the point of managing 3 teams over my final 18 months at the company. The work I did there caught the attention of a small software company in Provo called Property Solutions which built software for the apartment community (multi-family housing) industry. In the spring of 2011 I headed to Provo and began work as a Sr. User Experience Designer for PSI, where I have been ever since. Making iOs and Android apps, designing mobile user interfaces, and creating state of the art software in an industry that is just now going paper-free.
But birding is still a big part of my life...
2007 The 2010's
In June 2011 I married Sam and we took our honeymoon in Costa Rica. At the time my life list sat at 545 species of birds--all seen in the lower 48 states. By the time we got back form our 10 days in the tropics I had traversed to 751 species...and magical #750 was a stunner in the gorgeous Golden-browed Chlorophonia. I left Costa Rica mesmerized with the tropics and world birding...
We have since done a little globetrotting, going to Mexico, Panama, Peru, France, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. In the past 3 years I have seen more species of birds than I saw in the first 16 combined. My eyes have been opened to a world of birds beyond the boundaries of Utah and the United States. In February 2013 I saw my 1000th species--a Belding's Yellowthroat in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico.
A little more than a year later in March 2014, I ticked off #1500, a Crimson-crested Woodpecker in Panama. I passed 1100, 1200, and 1300 in Africa the summer before. Every bird a milestone and a memory that I feel very fortunate to have experienced. I don't know where my next adventure will take me--but I know that at 1500 species I have barely scratched the surface of what the world has to offer. That's 15% of the estimated number of species on planet Earth right now. This week I wrote another number down in a notebook--of how many of those I want to see before I die... Sorry, you'll have to wait till I get there before I let you know.
In March of 2004 I bought a domain name--timaverybirding.com. I had only ever made a couple of rudimentary websites--the code was atrocious, the design was basic, and I really didn't know what I was doing. Little did I know that the website I was building would lead me down a career path I had never even imagined. The first version was simple--a black screen with a binocular view of a bird in the center. Above the bird was the name of the site, and on either side a couple of links. I had a cheap 2 megapixel digital camera, and a basic 20x50mm spotting scope. With the two I took some pretty bad digiscoped photos. I put them on the web to share with others--it was a slow beginning.
A little over a year later I was out of college and redesigned the site for the first time. The black went to an olive-green and white. I added a quiz, and had pages worth of photos split out by family and species. I had gotten my first DSLR the previous summer and a couple of lenses including a 100-400mm Canon lens. I was taking lots of pictures, and putting them on the site as fast I could, but it wasn't fast enough. I updated the header of the page to include my favorite bird the Western Tanager a few months later. It was a gaudy website.
In 2006 I got my first design job--having to move to Indiana to start my career. It was more of a coding job, and during my down time I set out to build my site out a little more professionally looking. The first update got rid of the awful color scheme and laid everything out in a clean format. Then slowly I added some color, style, and design elements that really gave it a look and feel of its own. It was the first professional looking website I built, and in December of 2006 it led to me being able to come back to Utah--it was the only website in my portfolio, but it had come a long way from its beginnings 2 years prior.
For the majority of 2007 I was busy at work on my big year, doing fieldwork, and design for others. I didn't make an update to the site till November when I again updated the look and feel to a black and yellow color scheme with a new fluid layout. I also moved my site from its basic html framework to a basic PHP framework and installed a photo gallery called coppermine. It would allow me to upload my photos in bulk and organize and sort them easily. Overnight my site went from hosting a couple hundred photos to several 1,000. I added my first photo of the month at the same time.
During early 2008 I chopped the site design up again, bringing it an even more modern look and feel. Each phase of design the site became cleaner and cleaner. The content stayed about the same, but the focus on photography grew as did the gallery size. A new gray, white, and red color scheme and grunge look fit right in with the times--but it wasn't quite right yet.
The site remained the same for much of the following year with only a slight change in color scheme--the reds transformed back to the green-yellows of previous versions, but the layout stayed the same. I was learning more and more code every day and starting to get a feel for what the next version of the site would be.
In August of 2014 my life will change a little--my wife Sam and I are expecting our 1st child and given the focus on family, work, and as always--birds, I know I won't have the time to make another update, or do a redesign for a few years at least. So I sat down in July and worked out a new responsive layout for the site. It would look good on any device and in any browser. A clean, vibrant, and content focused layout would provide the user with the best experience for using my site--and a fully integrated photo search would make traversing some 14,000 photos much easier than previously. One keyword, one click and results abound. The biggest change was making the photo gallery useful on a mobile device. Previously it was hard to use--it wasn't made for mobile. But in version 8.0 that all changed. I don't know when my next update will happen, but I do know that if its another 5 years the site will work and last at least that long.