About Terry

Welcome
Brief Biographical Sketch
Background
Mentors and Acquaintances
Summary of Experiences, Adventures and Expeditions
Lucky Feathers: Adventures and Experiences of a Yellowstone Ornithologist
Terry's Retirement Letter

Welcome

Again welcome! or “Cead mhile failte” as they say in Ireland (a Gaelic phrase meaning “100,000 welcomes”), to our one-of-a-kind ravenidiot website. Your guide holds the unique distinction as being the first full-time ornithologist in the history of Yellowstone ornithology, and retired staff ornithologist of Yellowstone National Park. Even though he is affectionately and appropriately called “the Yellowstone Birdman”, the name McEneaney is not necessarily cute or coincidental but translated in Gaelic literally means Mc “son of” and Eneaney “birdman”. The rare McEneaney surname can be traced back 600 plus years to an abbey in Ireland where they were once believed to be game keepers or wildlife wardens. So therefore Mr. McEneaney is a dual citizen of both the United States and the Republic of Ireland. Terry has spent more time studying and observing Yellowstone birds than any other individual in the history of Yellowstone National Park. No one comes close to the breadth and depth of individual field knowledge and experience, and it shows when you accompany Terry and his passion for the field and field biology. Few have a better grasp of Yellowstone avian and mammalian ecology (identification, habitat, distribution, populations, and conservation) and conservation than someone who has spent a large portion of their life in the field. And his depth of knowledge is not restricted to the roads or frontcountry like other general guides in the area, he also has traveled extensively in the Yellowstone roadless backcountry and has a vast amount of experience censusing wildlife in Yellowstone and throughout Montana via ground reconnaissance and aerial surveys. There isn’t a guide, tour company, teacher, student, interpreter or biologist in the Greater Yellowstone that hasn’t benefited from Terry’s vast knowledge and skills. As one navigates this ravenidiot website, one will soon realize they are dealing with one of the best bird guide adventure services in North America. Now all that awaits, is finding time to make personal discoveries, hence the slogan “see you in the field”.

Brief Biographical Sketch

Terry McEneaney worked three and a half decades for the federal government, primarily in Yellowstone National Park as a park ranger in the capacity as staff field ornithologist. He is honored to hold the distinguished title Ornithologist Emeritus Yellowstone National Park. He continues to live in Montana (with field offices In Gardiner and Missoula), and daily sees Golden Eagles, Common Ravens, and many other interesting birds and mammals out the windows of his home. Unlike most government employees, he is not afraid to speak out on passionate issues. In other words you are not going to get the company line from Terry. He was also a wildlife biologist at the prestigious and beautiful Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, in addition to conducting research for the USFWS throughout the American West.

He has 45 years experience in the Greater Yellowstone area and throughout Montana, has authored three books (Birds of Yellowstone, Birding Montana, and The Uncommon Loon), and has been a member of both the Montana and Wyoming Bird Records Committees. He has also written numerous scientific and popular articles, maintains a birding column in Montana Best Times, and has appeared or has had articles in National Geographic, Birding, North American Birds, Living Bird Quarterly, Yellowstone Science and Smithsonian magazines, not to mention being an author of scientific journals. He has been a field consultant for Nature, BBC's David Attenborough's Life of Birds series, National Geographic, CNN and National Audubon. In his spare time and throughout most of his career he has taught ornithology related courses for many educational organizations including the Institute for Field Ornithology, Flathead Lake Biological Station, and the list goes on. He prides himself on his original lectures and unique style of teaching different aspects of field ornithology and bird and mammal identification.

His Yellowstone years are some of his most memorable moments in field ornithology. His legacy is in his extensive collection of extremely detailed long-term field data. Because of bird budget constraints, and the narrow-minded mentality that the study of birds in a mega mammal-mecca like Yellowstone National Park was a joke, very few people cared about birds at the time. He took advantage of the opportunity and collected a mountain of ecological and long-term field data regarding a plethora of Yellowstone birds. This extensive data can be found in his personal field notes and in several federal, state, and university data depositories in Wyoming and Montana. A list of over four decades of detailed field data and how to access this mountain of information, can be found by contacting him personally.

Terry has guided ornithologists/birdwatchers/wildlife viewers from all over the world, and his field knowledge of the birdlife coupled with mammals in this area is unparalled. He has recently been honored and humbled by appearing in the book Fifty Places to Go Birding Before You Die, which showcases unique places and experiences in the wildlife world. He is working on a new book entitled Lucky Feathers about his experiences with wildlife in Yellowstone.

Background

The family name "McEneaney" is of gaelic derivation and has several interpretations including "son of the dean" and "dean of the hounds." But the most astonishing and appropriate translation is Mc "son of," Eneach "bird," ney "man," in essence "son of the birdman." Our family roots go back to 1368 in Ireland. My father was born in the United States but lived in Ireland as a child, and my mother was first generation Irish in the United States. Tracing our roots, we believe we are descendents of gamekeepers from a specific abbey in Ireland.

I grew up in coastal New Hampshire (the "live free or die" state), and spent most of my time outdoors. The area was this beautiful collage of white pine hardwood forests interspersed with dairy farms and covered bridges. I had a paper route as a child, and would run the entire town rural route and deliver papers for an hour, so it wouldn't take up too much of my outdoor time. Every day after school or on my days off, I went out watching birds or hunting. Rain or shine, I was out there. My father had a lot of experience bird hunting and fly fishing and, naturally, it rubbed off on us kids. My mother was also a wonderful influence, and with her zest to have fun and enjoy life, would drive me around watching birds in her car. Later, I couldn't get enough of the Wentworth Museum in Dover, where I would visit every chance I got after school, to dream of far away birds in far away places. And one of the greatest bird taxidermy collections in all of New England was located, not just in my hometown, but in my neighborhood. The collection was vast, numbering well over 800 live mounts of the birds of North America, including the likes of Passenger Pigeons, Carolina Parakeets and Heath Hens. The home where the birds were housed looked like something out of Alfred Hithcock's "Psycho," it was scary to enter but the memories and experience of viewing and touching extinct birds was mysterious and priceless. Most of the time, it was just a friend or a cousin who would join me to view these wonderful pieces of feathered art.

I recall camping with our family in New Hampshire, when camping wasn't yet popular, and climbing my first mountain (Mt.Chichorua) when I was nine years old. I recall shooting a pheasant from our doorstep of our home on opening day of hunting season. Our house was three miles from the Maine border, and in between was a child's outdoor paradise, with a coastal river that went straight to the Atlantic Ocean. I had only a few prized possessions that I remember vividly as a child, but the experiences and exposure I had could not be bought. I guess you might say, I was always meant for the outdoors and birds were meant to be a big part of my life.

In my teens, I continued to relish the outdoors. I learned a lot about animals by working on a local dairy farm. A bicycle allowed me to expand my horizons, I was now venturing into Maine and much more of New Hampshire. I later purchased a used boat and motor, and later a kayak, and ventured onto the Atlantic Ocean. I learned to maneuver the dangerous waters through experience. I once took my mother on a road trip of New Hampshire, and she couldn't believe how much I knew about every nook and cranny of the state. In high school, mountaineering became a big part of my life. Mount Washington and the White Mountains became my playground, having climbed it dozens of times. Running up and down mountains was a fun past time…anywhere there was a mountain, I had to climb it. The higher I got, the more horizon I could see, and I knew more areas needed to be explored. But birds were always on my mind.

Attending a regional high school allowed me to meet students from a three state area, which also expanded my horizons and contacts. But surprisingly few students were into birds. When I graduated from high school, I was the only student in the history of this school with an interest in pursuing ornithology as a career. Guidance counselors couldn't do me much good. So I attended the University of New Hampshire, majoring in plant science / forestry. I soon realized forestry wasn't wildlife, but I didn't have many options. In stepped my well-traveled brother, who had been to every state in the union.

He had just returned from a trip to the west, and advised if I liked wildlife biology I might want to consider going to school out west. Not having any experience there, I asked him if he could recommend the name of a state and a school. He mentioned Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana for starters, and before I knew it I was attending college at the University of Montana in Missoula. I chose Missoula over others because it was the right fit for me -- it had a luge run nearby in Lolo (maybe I could get on the luge team), lots of mountains to climb, an abundance of wildlife, John Craighead was a professor there and the name Montana always fascinated me. In 1968, it took me 48 hours by airplane to get from Dover, New Hampshire to Missoula, Montana. I made it to Great Falls in 14 hours, but weather and a bus trip allowed me the opportunity to see the "old Montana" with no interstate highways, just winding highways, trestle bridges, teeming wildlife and the famed snow-covered peaks coined by Lewis and Clark as "the shining mountains." I knew I had struck it rich and was on my own "corps of discovery." I still remember vividly seeing hundreds of pronghorn and bald eagles with snow-covered peaks in the background during that September 1968 bus drive. And as fond as I was of New Hampshire, I realized that over time a place like this could grow on you. The big question remained -- would I meet some fun and interesting people?

Mentors and Acquaintances

The world is full of people, but how many truly have had much of an impact on your life. In Montana, I happened to fall on my "lucky charms." Unfortunately not everyone can be mentioned and I apologize for that, but those who had a major influence on my career, such as a mentors or close associates, are mentioned below.

John and Frank Craighead (and the entire Craighead family), who I read so much about in National Geographic magazine, became some of my best friends. We had so much in common, and birds and adventure were high on our list. They opened up whole new world for me, for which I am deeply indebted. The breadth of their knowledge, their willingness to share that knowledge with others and their hospitality have always been an inspiration. I never learned more about birds and the natural world than from these two wonderful friends and mentors. I never have forgotten John's famous line, the bottom line is "adventure with purpose." Adventure has always been high on my list and so have the Craighead's.

I first heard a Frank Bellrose lecture on "waterfowl migration corridors" at the University of Montana in the late 1960's. At the time, he was a guru in wildlife biology. Later on, to my surprise, who showed up in the 1980's in the field at Red Rock Lakes unannounced but Frank Bellrose and Jess Lowe. I recognized him and he asked me a series of great questions about waterfowl, lead poisoning and my fieldwork. From that point on, Frank Bellrose and I became good friends and formed a mutual admiration society. Frank Bellrose's influence allowed me the opportunity to push the USFWS to ban lead in waterfowl hunting and the eventual banning of lead in sinkers in national parks in the United States and Canada. Frank turned out to be a major influence on my career. He, like the Craighead's, taught me never to give up and to stand by my convictions, especially with good data.

Joe Hickey was a side-kick of Roger Tory Peterson, having come from the Bronx, New York area. Both ended up being prominent ornithologists. Hickey went on to get an advanced degree under Aldo Leopold at the University of Wisconsin, and later taught ornithology there. Hickey became one of the most respected ornithologists in the country after he organized the remarkable Madison Peregrine Conference in 1965 detailing the role of pesticides (DDT) in the decline of the peregrine falcon. Hickey and his birding buddy Bill Foster ended up visiting a graduate student in eastern Montana in the 1970's, and came across me in the field. They asked me a number of questions about birds and I provided them with a lot of new information. Over time, all three of us became friends, since we had so much in common. It was through Joe Hickey that I got to stay the night by the Leopold cabin near Baraboo, Wisconsin and meet the daughter of Aldo (Luna Leopold) and also George Archibald, the world's foremost authority on cranes. Joe Hickey was a fun person to be around; he was loaded with stories and knowledge, and remains to this day quite an inspiration.

Phil Wright grew up in New Hampshire and moved to Montana in the 1940's. He ended up being one of the country's leading professor's of mammalogy and ornithology. Phil took me under his wing and our conversation often reverted back to experiences and places and birds in New Hampshire and Montana. Phil hired me as the curator of the University of Montana bird and mammal museum while I was a work-study student at the university. The experience and exposure was priceless. We were also part of a mutual admiration society. Later as my career progressed, Phil took me aside and expressed to me how proud he was of what I had accomplished. Anyone who came in contact with Dr. Phil Wright will be indebted to be the lucky reciprient of his generosity and knowledge.

Following the retirement of John Craighead as the leader of the Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, Bart O'Gara took the reins as the next co-op czar. Bart was another one of those "old school" people who was an expert in his own right because he earned it. He knew a lot about predation and we both were infatuated with raptors, particularly golden eagles. One day I walked by the co-op office and Bart yelled and called me inside. He said he knew I was into climbing and birds and wanted to pass some information along. He told me about an outstanding job climbing and finding bird nests on the one million acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Montana, and felt I was a perfect fit. So in 1971, he called the refuge manager and got my foot in the door as a field ornithologist for the federal government on one of the biggest expanses of unexplored land at the time in the state of Montana.

One spring day (circa 1973) I got a call from a Bob Phillips of the USFWS. He was looking for someone who knew birds, could climb into raptor nests and was independent and adventurous who could help him establish a field station on the energy (coal) lands in eastern Montana and northern Wyoming. My job was to find the right place for a field office, right smack in the middle of everything so we could showboat our accomplishments. So I took the job and camped all over Montana and Wyoming, and finally called him back and recommended changing his proposed field station at Miles City, Montana to Sheridan, Wyoming. He took my advice and set up a program of specialty biologists studying everything from raptors, game birds, and songbirds to bobcats, badgers, pronghorn, and prairie dogs. Later this experience, coupled with my climbing skills, landed me two trips to Mexico studying peregrines and parrots, and one trip to Greenland studying peregrines and gyrfalcons. Bob has always been there for me throughout my career. He taught me the meaning about being realistic about wildlife biology and predation. It was through Bob that I landed my first full-time job in ornithology.

In 1979,I met Ian Newton by way of a letter. I had written to the world's foremost authority on raptors (and many other birds for that matter), and mentioned I was traveling to Scotland to go climbing, study Golden Eagles and acquire information. He asked me to stop by his home in Edinburgh. I lucked out spending a day in the field with Ian. It was quite a treat visiting his sparrowhawk study area. But that night he invited me to supper at his home with his wonderful family and group of friends and students. We became instant friends and his family has always been my family. I have reciprocated by showing him and his family around Montana and Wyoming on a few occasions, particularly Yellowstone and the nooks and crannies I discovered on my own. I honed my public speaking skills and got better at understanding and educating the public about science by being around the likes of Ian Newton. He also taught me the importance of understanding the ecology of birds from a global perspective. He is a close mentor and friend and a joy to be with in the field.

Other People Who Deserve Recognition
There are many people who have been an important part of developing either my career as an ornithologist or instilling my passion for mountaineering. It is impossible to name everyone, but here area few names that come to mind: Al Brown, Chuck Carlson, Scott Fischer, Al Day, Bill Lawrence, Tim McDonough, Dave Skaar, Sonny Sheehy, Andy Stolzenberg, Gene Stroops, Gray Thompson, Larry Thompson, Bob Twist, Bill Wieland, Winton Weydemeyer, and Werner Wuthrich. It is important to know our roots and who helped us along the way. You can't get anywhere without someone helping you along the way.

Summary of Experiences, Adventures and Expeditions

1957: Climbed Mt.Chichorua (N.H.) Terry's first mountain at 9 years old

1960: Navigated a small motor boat to the Isles of Shoals (18 miles off coast N.H.)

1968: Migrated to Montana - to go to school - just getting there was an experience

1968-present: Climbed every mountain range in Montana

1968-1973: Worked as Museum Curator -- University of Montana Bird and Mammal Museum (Missoula, MT)

1970: Studied Greater Sage-Grouse and songbirds in central Montana (Winnet, MT) MFWP

1971: Studied raptors, songbirds, and prairie dogs Charles M. Russell NWR (Lewistown, Slippery Ann, Ft. Peck, MT) USFWS

1973: Conducted bird surveys in eastern Montana (Jordan, Miles City, Decker, MT) USFWS

1973-1995: Climbed the most difficult peak Mt. St. Nicholas in Glacier NP (five times)

1974: Presided as "caretaker of a ghost town," Garnet Ghost Town (Garnet, MT) population 1 BLM

1975-1982: Conducted bird surveys throughout Montana and Wyoming USFWS

1977: Climbed all the major mountains in the Alps (Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and Lichtenstein), 16 peaks in a month

1978: Searched and studied peregrines in the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California), Mexico USFWS

1979: Climbed and studied birds in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland

1980: Surveyed and climbed peregrine and gyrfalcon eyries in the remote backcountry of Greenland USFWS

1981: Radio-tracked a Bald Eagle named "Athabasca" from Utah to the North West Territories USFWS

1981: Climbed the third of the four grand slam peaks in Switzerland (Piz Bernina)

1981: Studied birds mainly in Montana, but also Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado USFWS

1982: Searched for peregrines and parrots -- Sierra Madre Oriental and Occidental (Mexico) USFWS

1982: X-country skied 125 miles in 8 days across Yellowstone NP

1982-1986: Started new job as biologist of premier Red Rock Lakes NWR (Lakeview, MT, population 13)

1982-1996: Worked as part-time Assistant Field Trip Coodinator for the American Birding Assoctiation conferences and conventions throughout the North American continent

1986: Began new position as first full-time ornithologist of Yellowstone NP (Mammoth, WY)

1986-2007: Explored and inventoried the Yellowstone backcountry for birds as the staff ornithologist

1990: Hiked the seemingly inpenetrable Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone -- from Chittenden Bridge to Tower 1993: Moved out of Yellowstone NP from government to private residence in Gardiner, MT

2000: Birded a life-long dream -- Attu Island, Alaska (last island in the Aleutians and climbed its magnificient peaks) for Eurasian migrant birds

2001: Climbed the tallest peak in YNP, Eagle Peak 11,358', and conducted the first bird survey ever on its summit

2003: Navigated a small car to the bottom of the Copper Canyon (Mexico), camped and watched birds out of our little 1986 Subaru

2007: 23 Nov. officially retired as a park ranger after 34 years of public service, and retain title Ornithologist Emeritus Yellowstone National Park 2007 - present: Nov. 24, began 2nd career as international guide, lecturer, instructor.

2009: recovered from a major life-threatening event.

2011: went to Patagonia (Chile and Argentina) to see the great mountains and glaciers of South America and to study one of the greatest flying birds of them all the Andean Condor.

Map Showing Locations of Places Your Guide Has Lived in Montana

Lucky Feathers

The Unique Stories and Experiences of a Yellowstone Ornithologist

Terry's Retirement Letter

A Farewell to the NPS and The Road Not Taken

September 21, 2007

In Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken he wrote "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that made all the difference."

Remaining as an ornithologist in the field has always been a career goal of mine, and I have been extremely fortunate to have managed to do this for my entire 33 year professional ornithological career. I chose the "road less traveled" (and less publicized) and that made all the difference in the world to me. The road I chose allowed me to express my true talents and field skills: I realize a career like mine is rare in today's world. My fondest professional experiences have always centered on field work. But the times are a changing, and I sense a full-time field ornithologist is not on the horizon for Yellowstone National Park. The time has come to hang up the uniform hat and enjoy life to the fullest. My last working day will be October 5, 2007. However, with remaining leave, I will actually retire on November 23, 2007.

My career as a Yellowstone ornithologist can be summed up with four simple words: "My glass is full." It has been a humbling and gratifying experience, and Yellowstone ornithology has been and will continue to be my life's work. I am not leaving Yellowstone or Yellowstone birds. I am simply retiring from the National Park Service, and hanging up the green and gray uniform to explore new adventures and experiences -- many opportunities await. It is time to pass the baton and the passion I feel for Yellowstone and for bird conservation to the next generation of Yellowstone biologists. It is my sincere hope that they look beyond their careers to the challenges Yellowstone faces in the 21st century.

I started watching birds here 39 years ago. After 22 years in the field as a Yellowstone ornithologist, I'm proud of my contributions toward our understanding of Yellowstone birds. I am leaving Yellowstone National Park a bird program light years beyond where I found it.

Although my career nearly ended abruptly in 1988 with a plane crash in Yellowstone, I have managed to establish ornithological credibility and integrity to Yellowstone National Park and have built one of the finest bird programs in the NPS system on a shoestring budget. A sample of some personal ornithological highlights include:

  • The collection of 26 years of trumpeter swan field data by one individual and the synthesis 77 years of data (one of the most outstanding data sets in existence in wildlife biology today).
  • Establishing monitoring protocols and collecting long-term data sets (in excess of 20 years) for dozens of key bird species. These long-term data sets will be extremely valuable in the years to come: they are the key to understanding populations.
  • The publication of The Birds of Yellowstone, which I wrote prior to employment by the NPS, and which generated a mountain of new information on Yellowstone birds.
  • The production of two important bird conservation videos Fishing with a Conscience and Save the Yellowstone Trumpeter Swan.
  • Surveying, monitoring and recovery of two Yellowstone Endangered Bird Species: the Peregrine Falcon and the Bald Eagle.
  • The production of the annual Yellowstone Bird Report to track bird population changes. This involved an amazing amount of work, completed each year with a limited budget and staff.
  • The elimination of the mute swan, and the establishment of a new swan flock in the Paradise Valley, to counter drastic management actions to the west of the Park that threatened the future of Yellowstone swans.
  • The design of a Trumpeter Swan floating nest platform to counter flooding throughout North America as well as a personal campaign to eliminate lead poisoning in bird life.
  • Managing the mountain of information, and the quality of the bird data and information that was gained from and released to the public.
  • Training and educating thousands of tour guides, interpreters, students and the public about Yellowstone birds and their conservation.
  • Advancing bird watching in Yellowstone, with a conservation theme that goes beyond birding and competitive ticking.
  • Assisting thousands of birdwatchers in their quest to find, identify, understand and enjoy birds.
  • Not giving away the farm, in other words, not giving away sensitive information such as nest sites, super sensitive species, etc., which are vulnerable due to lack of protection from humans.
  • Not yielding to the temptation of money offered for access to rare or sensitive resource information.
  • Allowing visitors opportunities to watch birds without disturbing them.
  • The establishment of closed areas for bird life to ensure bird protection for perpetuity to counter high human impacts. In addition, I was instrumental in designating Yellowstone as an Important Bird Area.
  • The opportunity to witness these main events: the experience of the 1988 Yellowstone wildfires; dramatic ecological changes on Yellowstone Lake; the insidious change in Yellowstone climate; the effects of the re-introduction of the wolf; the demise of the Greater Yellowstone whooping crane experiment; and the censusing and exploration of the Yellowstone backcountry and its magnificent peaks, lakes, rivers, thermal features and canyons for birds.
I am proud of these professional accomplishments and am thankful that the National Park Service and the public gave me this golden opportunity to serve them. Special thanks also goes to the people who do the real work in Yellowstone, the people in the trenches who have made my experiences so rewarding. They are field professionals and consummate team players who value integrity and conscience. I don't need to name them, they know who they are.

I would also like to thank the following groups:

  • My colleagues in the YCR, particularly the wildlife biologists / scientists who were there for me, believed in me and shared their ideas and concerns. And, of course, many of the support staff were good listeners and went out of their way to help me.
  • Biologists and colleagues from other agencies and the working groups who understood where I was coming from -- here's to you!
  • The voices in the Comm. Center, the Fire Cache and the many pilots who kept me safe over the years.
  • My friends in the Supply Center, at the entrance gates and in the maintenance department.
  • The interpreters out in the field who forwarded the detailed bird observation forms to me over the years. Hopefully some of my philosophy about birds has rubbed off on you (but remember, don't give away the farm).
  • The many resource patrol rangers currently working or retired: resource protection is the framework for what we do in Yellowstone.
  • The backcountry rangers; I sincerely thank you for all your help over the years.
For more than three decades I have put the resources first. Now, it's time to put myself first. All I ever wanted out of this job was respect. I hope I have earned it. It has been a fun ride! I will continue to count my Lucky Feathers. I have a Web site (www.ravenidiot.com) if you would like to stay in touch.

Hope to see you sometime out in the field!

Slainte! (Gaelic=To your good health!)

Terry

Terry McEneaney
Ornithologist
Yellowstone National Park

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