J. HARRY KRUEGER
Harry Krueger, who was well known to most of the Idaho birding community (and well beyond), passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack on Saturday, June 8, 2013.
Harry certainly was a prominent birder and an excellent source of both birding and life knowledge for many. He taught us, he encouraged us, and he challenged us to strive for excellence as birders and as human beings. And for those of you who knew him well, Harry – the self-proclaimed President of the Idaho Curmudgeons Society (tongue-in-cheek) – will be sorely missed by family, friends, and the entire birding community. His prowess and reputation as a birder would often belie his gentleness as a teacher, friend and mentor. He was self-assured because he was perpetually the student, always striving to learn more. He was also always so very willing to teach that knowledge to others.
He often told me the story of his first bird I.D. as a young high school boy in Southern California, the Acorn Woodpecker. While doing field research for a science paper on local tarantulas, he noticed these “birds.” When he asked his teacher about what these birds might be, his teacher went to a bookshelf and grabbed a birding field guide. He tossed it to Harry and said, “Figure it out on your own.” That was the beginning of his wonderful birding life, and this moment of curiosity made it possible for him and me to eventually become friends. I’m sure that many of us birders have a similar sort of a simple beginning. As I bird the San Francisco Bay Area where I now live, and observe these very same birds and their antics that gave Harry his beginning into the birding life, I remember my friend.
My specific time with Harry began with a group sponsored trip to Blue Lakes, near the Idaho/Nevada border. I drove the hours down there on my own, and I joined the folks already assembled. I noticed a core group of people sitting in front of their scopes. There was one person to whom everyone directed their comments. I leaned over and asked someone, “Who’s that guy?” They replied, “That’s Harry Krueger.” “….Oh.” was my response. I knew the name, and had seen his many posts on local birding list serves. That entire day, wherever he went I followed, me sinking ankle deep in the mire of that swampy lake bottom, determined to stay close and learn from someone who clearly knew more than this very inexperienced birder.
As my birding life continued, I began being driven bonkers by Harry’s posts regarding subspecies identification of Canada/Cackling Goose (i.e. “white cheeked geese”) in the Boise parks. I desperately wanted to understand how to correctly identify these species, but I just didn’t understand enough on my own. So I got up the courage and emailed him, asking to join him sometime in order to learn. To my surprise, he responded. A fateful Sunday afternoon of birding together in Julia Davis Park was the beginning of a cherished friendship. We spent many hours together, sharing not only a passion for birding, but also sharing the curious twists and turns that are life – hour after hour both on the road and on foot as we explored the world around us. I was frequently amazed at the hours we spent together, driving and birding, without not only a single word spoken but without the need for spoken words.
I learned very quickly to not bird standing beside him but to bird standing BEHIND him, just off to his right side, in order to better follow his line of sight with my binoculars. When he would identify a bird and point, I found that I was in a much better position to pick up sight of the bird myself. What a way to experience the joy of discovery in birding! It’s a great technique to make the most of a learning experience when someone is willing to teach you, which was Harry’s natural disposition. Those who were privileged to bird with him quickly understood this point. I was always glad to be one step behind Harry; I am forever thankful that his keen eyes, combined with his well-trained ear and that well positioned step behind him are a substantial part of who I am today as a birder, and as a person. He also encouraged folks to do their study of what might be found on a birding trip beforehand, and to leave the field guides in their vehicles. He watched a bird, observed its behavior, and only when the bird was gone would he write down any notes for later study. He taught that you should watch a bird for as long as it presented itself, in order to understand it as much as possible.
He was an incredibly patient teacher and mentor. His attention to detail and what was an encyclopedic mind for birding always amazed me. He could study a group of birds for what seemed like forever, long after I had lost my focus, and often found the gem that I had missed. His relentless study of migratory bird patterns of Southwest Idaho was both impressive and helpful to me. Due to his vast birding experience, he had a substantial knowledge base of North American birding in particular and an impressive understanding of World birding in general. He was a self-motivated student in the best sense. I agree with others who have had the privilege of birding with Harry – while I retain a fraction of what he taught me, only a portion of his vast knowledge base now remains with those of us who were fortunate enough to bird alongside him. While he had his own birding blog to which he added an amazing amount of information, I do wish he had catalogued more of his knowledge, for the benefit of us all.
I have had the great fortune of being formed by many amazing Treasure Valley birders. Harry took that knowledge, along with my passion, and honed me into the birder that I am today through his patient and kind mentorship. I will be forever thankful, and yet I still have so much to learn.
I will always be thankful for the many countless hours that I spent at his side, birding and sharing life’s journey. And I am sad that the time is past that with a simple phone call an adventure can be had – “Let’s go see what we can discover today….”
Rest well, Harry. Requiescat In Pace. As you so willingly taught me, may your memory live well on in those around me who allow themselves to be taught the wonders of birding, and so much more. By so many of us who you touched in life, you will be sorely missed – and we have been so very blessed by our sojourn with you. Soar on, good friend….
Photos of Harry by Louie Quintana