Sunday, May 19, 2013

Brambling in Hailey


In the middle of February birders caught wind of a Brambling that had been reported in someone's backyard during the Great Backyard Bird Count. Local birders kept an eye on it during the week that followed and did a great job keeping IBLE and the Facebook Idaho Birding group up to date on the bird. At the same time, a large storm system was moving over central and western Idaho threatening to bury the roads from Boise to Hailey in fresh snow. Lucky for us we had already planned a trip out to East Idaho to see family that weekend and were able to go see the bird on Friday, which was the day before the storm hit.

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Dirt road near Highway 20, Camas County. February 22, 2013.

I love the drive across this part of the state. It's beautiful all year long, but particularly stunning in the winter. This area is good for finding Snow Buntings in the winter. We successfully found a couple mixed in with a large flock of Horned Larks, although we were unable to get a picture.

When we got to Hailey it took some time to track down the right backyard. For some reason I was misinterpreting the directions we'd read online and had driven and birded up and down the street where the Brambling was probably 4 or 5 times before we finally saw someone else staking it out and realized we'd been overlooking someone's backyard. We did see a few couple of nice birds in the meantime though, including a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a large flock of Bohemian Waxwings.

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Sharp-shinned Hawk. Hailey, Blaine County. February 22, 2013.

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Bohemian Waxwings. Hailey, Blaine County. February 22, 2013.


When we found the Brambling it was actually about 10-12 feet up in some dense vegetation, rather than down at the feeders. We were thrilled to find the bird, but it was very hard to get a clear view of.

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Brambling. Hailey, Blaine County. February 22, 2013.

Another great part of a winter drive on Highway 20 is the concentration of wintering arctic raptors. Rough-legged and Ferruginous Hawks winter in huge numbers in the Howe area, and every time we pass through in December through March we’re amazed to see hawks on almost every telephone pole, sprinkler pipe, or other perch for miles at a time.

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Rough-legged Hawk. Howe, Butte County. February 22, 2013.

Near the end of the trip we drove past Big Southern Butte, which is one of the largest volcanic domes on earth. It rises 2,500 feet straight up out of the desert, and is quite an impressive sight. This goes on our list of places to hike this summer.

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Big Southern Butte, Butt County. February 22, 2013.

We spent the weekend visiting family and didn’t get to bird very much. It was hard to resist the urge to run off and chase birds while we were there, because around that time some really great reports were coming in. A family of 5 Great Gray Owls had been seen near Warm Slough west of Rexburg, a Boreal Owl had been seen in Chester Wetlands north of St. Anthony, a Gyrfalcon had been seen east of Ashton, and Gray Partridges were being reported all over the place. Luckily we did squeeze in a couple stops on our way out of town. We stopped at Warm Slough in hopes of seeing the Great Gray Owls, but didn’t have any luck. At least we got our Trumpeter Swans for the year.

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Trumpeter Swans. Warm Slough, Madison County. February 24, 2013.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sunny Saturday in February

Ellen and I love Boise's (relatively) mild winters, and one sunny Saturday in February the temperature reached a balmy 57 degrees, and it was nice to leave the heavy winter gear at home. It was a great day to enjoy many of Boise's year-round residents, which are often overlooked in the search for rarer birds.

Here are a few highlights of the day. Most (if not all) of the photos were taken by Ellen. She takes most of the photos while we're out birding, and it's a good thing, since her skills are much better than mine.

Wood Ducks enjoying a platform feeder at MK Nature Center, Ada County. February 16, 2013.

Red-winged Blackbirds. MK Nature Center, Ada County. February 16, 2013.

Burrowing Owl (captive). MK Nature Center, Ada County. February 16, 2013.

Common Merganser pair. Boise River, Ada County. February 16, 2013.

Mute Swans. Barber Park, Ada County. February 16, 2013.

Northern Flicker. Ann Morrison Park, Ada County. February 16, 2013.

Sunday cooled down quite a bit to just 43 degrees, and the jackets came back out, although the cold didn't deter us (or the birds)!


Great Egret. Two Rivers, Ada County. February 17, 2013.

Song Sparrow. Two Rivers, Ada County. February 17, 2013.

Great Blue Heron. Two Rivers, Ada County. February 17, 2013.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Northern Saw-whet Owl at the Idaho Botanical Gardens

Back in February the Idaho Botanical Gardens posted an image of a Northern Saw-whet Owl on their Facebook page. Apparently as they were removing Christmas lights from the trees the little owl didn't move, even as they worked within feet of where it was roosting. Of course such a hard-to-find owl in town in an easily accessible location got a lot of birders excited to try to find it. I actually took off from work a little early on Friday afternoon to go and see it before the gardens closed for the weekend.

When we arrived there was an employee of the gardens helping people find the bird. We were surprised at what a small tree the bird was roosting in! And the location was so close to the pathway, it was amazing that the owl felt comfortable roosting there for several days.

Approximate location of owl indicated in red circle. Idaho Botanical Gardens, Ada County. February 15, 2013.

We approached the owl slowly and quietly in hopes of disturbing it as little as possible. These owls are so good at hiding that even from a close distance they're still incredibly hard to spot.

Northern Saw-whet Owl at Idaho Botanical Gardens, Ada County. February 15, 2013.

After carefully looking around for a better vantage point we did manage to get a few clear views.

Northern Saw-whet Owl at Idaho Botanical Gardens, Ada County. February 15, 2013.

It was a good thing we managed to find the owl on Friday afternoon, since the gardens close early in the winter evenings, and are closed on the weekend as well. Nobody was able to find it again on Tuesday when the gardens opened again.