Friday, February 15, 2013

Patch birding, a Barn Owl in broad daylight, and a tree full of Wood Ducks

There's nothing like a beautiful Sunday afternoon drive to recharge the batteries for a new week. Sunday, January 13, was a beautiful winter day, with clear blue skies, and just enough chill in the air to make your nostrils tingle. The birds were out and about, and we had a great time trying to chase them all down.

We started with a nice walk at our patch near Diversion Dam, then we took a drive through the countryside south of town, and ended the evening at Wilson Springs Ponds in Nampa.

Point A - our patch at Diversion Dam; Point B - Ten Mile Creek area; Point C - Riparian area along Eagle Rd; Point D - Wilson Springs Ponds.
There were lots of interesting things to see at our patch. Right in the parking lot we had a flock of California Quails that wasn't too pleased we had arrived. If you haven't noticed yet, these guys are all over the place in Boise, and we get a kick out of their silly antics every time.

California Quails. Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 13, 2013.
White-crowned Sparrows, such as this juvenile, were quite abundant as well.

White-crowned Sparrow (juvenile). Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 13, 2013.
Large flocks of American Robins passed overhead.

American Robins. Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 13, 2013.
A week or so earlier, we had seen, but been unable to properly photograph, a Song Sparrow with no tail at a park just upriver from our patch. On this trip we re-found the bird and had a chance to take a few more pictures.

Song Sparrow (sans tail feathers). Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 13, 2013.
This little guy could fly, but his steering was obviously impaired. Here's an example of a particularly awkward landing.

Song Sparrow (sans tail feathers) making an awkward landing.
Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 13, 2013.

He didn't appear to be too bothered by the absence of the tail feathers, since he spent most of the time foraging on the ground without taking flight. He seemed to have found something he liked under this drain pipe.

Song Sparrow (sans tail feathers). Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 13, 2013.

Amazingly, the chilly breeze coming down the canyon and the water that I can only imagine was barely above freezing didn't deter this fisherman from trying to get his catch.

Fisherman at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 13, 2013.

Luckily the fisherman's presence didn't deter the hungry American Dipper that was feeding just a few yards downstream.

American Dipper. Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 13, 2013.
On the way back to the car, we got a wonderfully close up view of this Downy Woodpecker that was clinging to a tall plant just a few feet off the trail.

Downy Woodpecker. Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 13, 2013.
Black-capped Chickadees weren't far away, and seem to have found something tasty to work on as well.

Black-capped Chickadee, working on its supper. Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 13, 2013.
After a wonderful hour or so on our patch, we headed out for a drive through the countryside south of Boise. We have a particular loop that we frequent in the winter that's great for raptors without having to go too far. Luckily, Boise sits just north of the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (a bit of a mouthful), so any drive south of town is sure to include great raptor numbers.

This trip did not disappoint. One of our first stops was a patch of farmland sitting between two low hills, which for some reason creates a nice concentration of hawks and owls for almost every trip. On this occasion, we saw a total of 8 Rough-legged Hawks in a fairly small area, perhaps a half square mile. We were lucky enough to get 5 in one picture.

Rough-legged Hawks. Four on the sprinkler pipe, one on the ground behind the pipe.
Ten Mile Creek Rd at Pleasant Valley Rd, Ada County. January 13, 2013.
On one end of the field was a group of California Quails trying to dig through the snow for last season's uncollected grains, who didn't seem too concerned about the presence of the hawks, and interestingly enough, the hawks didn't seem too interested in the quails either.

California Quails. Ten Mile Creek Rd at Pleasant Valley Rd, Ada County. January 13, 2013.

Perhaps the best highlight of the drive was a Barn Owl that we got to observe hunting in broad daylight for 15 minutes or so from the side of the road.

Barn Owl. Eagle Rd between King Rd and Kuna Rd, Ada County.  January 13, 2013.
Unfortunately, these kind of daylight encounters are much better for us than they are for the owl, as it indicates that it's been struggling to find enough food through its usual nocturnal habits.

Barn Owl. Eagle Rd between King Rd and Kuna Rd, Ada County.  January 13, 2013.
The owl gave us lots of great views, including a few different postures and faces.

Barn Owl. Eagle Rd between King Rd and Kuna Rd, Ada County.  January 13, 2013.
Barn Owl. Eagle Rd between King Rd and Kuna Rd, Ada County.  January 13, 2013.
Towards the end of the time we spent observing the owl we managed to get a bit of video.



This was the best time we've ever had viewing a Barn Owl, and unexpected experiences like this remind me how many wonderful memories I've made while birding. Sometimes the January doldrums or a few days of failed chases in a row can take some of the fun out of the hobby, but a few good views of a beautiful Barn Owl reminds me why I love it so much.

Our last stop of the day was Wilson Springs Ponds in Nampa. This location is one of the best hotspots in the Treasure Valley for waterfowl, especially in the winter when it's frequently the only unfrozen water for miles around. On this particular day, the (relatively) warm water created beautiful fog that wafted up into the fading daylight.

Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. January 13, 2013.

For some reason, this particular pond is always the favorite for any scaups in the area, though today it was mostly Mallards, with a drake Bufflehead, and a few Gadwalls mixed in.

Mallards, Bufflehead, Gadwalls, and other waterfowl. Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. January 13, 2013.
On the northwest side of the ponds we spotted a Yellow-rumped Warbler feeding on Russion Olives.

Yellow-rumped Warbler. Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. January 13, 2013.
At one point our search for a few Evening Grosbeaks mixed in with the large flocks of American Robins and Cedar Waxwings was interrupted as we heard the familiar honks of hundreds of Canada Geese overhead.

Canada Geese, coming in for a landing at Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. January 13, 2013.
We shifted our focus to look for any Cackling, Snow, Ross's, or Greater-white Fronted Geese that might be mixed in with all the Canadas. January is quite early for Snow, Ross's, or Greater-white Fronted, and we'll get to see them in large numbers later in March when they pass along the Idaho-Oregon border by the thousands. Luckily we did manage to spot a Cackling.

Cackling Goose leading a loose "V" of Canada Geese. Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. January 13, 2013.
We saw Cackling Geese by the thousands in Colorado, since it was more central to a major flyway that Cackling Geese use, so we were much more familiar with what to watch (and listen) for than we would have been otherwise.

As we finished the loop around the ponds we found a tree that was overflowing with Wood Ducks. I still get a kick out of it every time I see a duck perching in a tree. Wood Ducks are among my favorite birds.

Wood Ducks. Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. January 13, 2013.
Overall it was a wonderful day to be outside, and a wonderful day to be in Idaho. A good birding day like this just gets me itching for the next big weekend trip. I can't wait to see what else we can find this year!

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