Sunday, June 30, 2013

CJ Strike Reservoir and another stop at Indian Creek Reservoir

In 2011 we enjoyed our first month of May as birders. Our interest in birds had been developing over the prior two years, and in December 2010 we submitted our first eBird checklist and started thinking of ourselves as birders. Having started birding in the dead of winter, our first time birding during spring migration was exciting and overwhelming at the same time. We had one particular outing that is still one of my fondest birding memories. On May 7, 2011 we had our first “big day”. In one day, we saw 82 species, including 24 lifers, and saw some of southwest Idaho’s most scenic places for the first time. We started at Mountain Home Reservoir, which was covered with six different species of grebes, and the shores were crawling with shorebirds of 12 different species. Next we headed down to CJ Strike Reservoir and added a lot of grassland and sagebrush specialties along the way. We visited Bruneau Dunes State Park and the magnificent Bruneau Canyon Overlook Recreation Area as well, and as the day started to wind down we made a final stop at Ted Trueblood WMA.

No doubt we missed dozens of other species due to our lack of experience at that point, and I often think about how great it would be to repeat the same trip now that we have more experience behind us. Well this year, now that we’ve moved back to Idaho from Colorado, we were looking forward to the chance to apply our improved skills to Idaho’s spring migration. One problem we were happy to have was that we had already had so much success during the early part of spring migration that there were never a huge number of birds to chase all at once. Before May even started we had already seen more birds in 2013 than we saw in all of 2011, so we just had a small handful of target birds for our outing. It was still nice to revisit some of the same places we went on our “big day” in 2011.

We started at Mountain Home Reservoir, but for some reason, Mountain Home Reservoir just hasn’t been quite right for shorebirds this year. I kept expecting it to be covered in shorebirds, since we had seen 12 different species (10 for the first time) when we stopped there two years earlier. This year the only shorebird we’ve been able to find at Mountain Home Reservoir after multiple stops has been Killdeer. We didn’t spend too long there due to the lack of birds, and headed out towards CJ Strike Reservoir. The road out passes through the Snake River Birds of Prey area, and we had quite a few non-photogenic prairie falcons, a handful of other raptors, and a roadkill Great-horned Owl on the way out.

Snake River Birds of Prey sign

Snake River Birds of Prey sign in Elmore County. May 5, 2013.

Our first big stop was Ted Trueblood WMA, which is near the town of Grandview, just north of the Snake River, which is the Elmore/Owyhee County line. Ted Trueblood is a little difficult to bird during the spring, since most public access is closed off during the waterfowl nesting season. There is a road that runs along the north side of the WMA that offers a few good chances to check for birds in the brush and agricultural fields bordering the WMA, and a ways down the road there is a raised platform that’s great for scoping a large section of open water. We found several American White Pelicans, plus a variety of ducks from this viewpoint. The best bird for this stop was a group of a dozen or so White-faced Ibis (our first for Idaho) in the fields north of the access road.

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Ted Trueblood Wildlife Management Area, Elmore County. May 5, 2013.

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American White Pelicans at Ted Trueblood WMA, Elmore County. May 5, 2013.

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White-faced Ibis and Canada Geese, north of Ted Trueblood WMA, Elmore County. May 5, 2013.

Next we finished the drive to CJ Strike Reservoir. In 2011, this is where we saw our lifer Bonaparte’s Gull, Franklin’s Gull, and Bullocks Oriole. As with Mountain Home Reservoir, I’m not sure how the conditions were different than before, but none of these birds were present. There were a few regulars below the dam, but none of the migrants we were hoping for. We headed up to a small park above and to the north of the dam, and were happy to find several Forster’s Terns sitting on and calling from the buoys around the beach.

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Forster’s Tern at CJ Strike Dam, Owyhee County. May 5, 2013.

We followed the southern shore of CJ Strike Reservoir for a ways, and enjoyed several more terns, both Caspian and Forsters, plus a few rails and soras in some of the marshy areas along the shore. At Jacks Creek WMA we called for a Sora and were able to capture a bit of video.

Sora at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. May 5, 2013.

Later, we stopped at Bruneau Duck Ponds. In 2011 we found our lifer Blue-winged Teal here, along with a large variety of other waterfowl. This year the water was much lower, so the waterfowl were much fewer and farther between, but we did have a bold Virginia Rail calling loudly for a mate.

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Virginia Rail at Bruneau Duck Ponds, Owyhee County. May 5, 2013.

We had a good time and enjoyed quite a few birds on our outing, but it was interesting to see how the seasonal movement of birds changes from year to year. For the most part the entire trip was much less birdy than it was in 2011. We decided to spend the rest of our evening back at Indian Creek Reservoir closer to home, since this year Indian Creek has been the prime birding spot for shorebirds and waterfowl, and has even turned up some surprising passerine migrants.

To make this trip a little different than the dozen or so trips we had already made in the past month and a half, we decided to get out and walk the northern perimeter. On most trips, we stick to the southern and western edges, scoping as much as we can from the car. We haven’t covered much ground on foot, due both to the incredible swarms of insects that are anxious to dine on any exposed skin, and because in my experience the birds at Indian Creek are exceptionally flighty around foot traffic. In 2011, I tried to get out and approach the reservoir on foot a couple of different times, and every time I made it no more than 10 feet from the car before the entire reservoir seemed to flush and take off into the sky. Luckily, on this trip the birds were not as worried about our presence as they had been in the past. My current theory is that earlier in the year the reservoir is mostly covered with waterfowl, which are wary of hunters, and later in the year there are far more shorebirds, which are more accustomed to sharing beaches with tourists

It was nice to get a little improvement to our photos by not having to zoom in on birds all the way across the reservoir. Our pictures still suffered a little bit from the waning evening light, and we still tried to keep some distance between us and the birds to avoid flushing them, but the pictures turned out much better than they would have from the car. Shorebird highlights of this trip included a Spotted Sandpiper, several Least Sandpipers, a pair of Red-necked Phalaropes, and a Semipalmated Plover.

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Spotted Sandpiper at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. May 5, 2013.

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Least Sandpiper at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. May 5, 2013.

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Red-necked Phalarope at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. May 5, 2013.

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Semipalmated Plover at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. May 5, 2013.

There were also several different types of gulls at one sand spit. We found Franklin’s, Bonaparte’s, Ring-billed, California, and Herring Gulls.

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Mixed gulls at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. May 5, 2013.

All in all it was a really fantastic day. The birds were not everywhere we expected them to be, but we still saw plenty. We saw 79 species, just a few short of what we had seen in 2011. Indian Creek really came through for us, with a total of 49 species, including 12 shorebirds, 5 gulls, 5 grebes, and a good variety of waterfowl, raptors, and passerines. As a lovely finish to our day, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset over Indian Creek Reservoir as we walked back to the car.

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Sunset over Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. May 5, 2013.

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