Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Harlequin Ducks on Mores Creek

Back in April we had planned a trip up to Grayback Gulch to look for White-headed Woodpeckers that breed in the area. White-headed Woodpeckers are very local breeders, and have a limited number of breeding sites in Idaho. The Idaho City area is probably the best place in the state to look for them. We had made another trip earlier in the season but the snow was a little too deep and we spent more time trying to dig our car out than we spent looking for the woodpeckers.

Grayback Gulch 1

Grayback Gulch group campground, Boise County. April 21, 2013.

Birding was pretty slow at the campground. Most reports of White-headed Woodpeckers at Grayback are from the group camping area. We spent a couple of hours traveling the roads nearby, walking around the campground area, and hiking in the nearby area. We didn’t find the woodpeckers on this trip, just a few of the local breeders.

DEJU 1

Dark-eyed Junco at Grayback Gulch group campground, Boise County. April 21, 2013.

RBNU 1

Red-breasted Nuthatch at Grayback Gulch group campground, Boise County. April 21, 2013.

On the way out of the campground we saw an Osprey doing a courtship display high above the campground. The bird was flying in big “U” shaped swoops in the sky, where he would dive, and then pull up until he stalled, and then go into another dive. We captured a bit of video for the small time he was visible above the trees.

Osprey courtship display above Grayback Gulch, Boise county. April 22, 2013.

Although we were disappointed to miss the White-headed Woodpecker, we did get a fantastic consolation prize. Both on the way up to the campground, and on the way back down to Boise, we saw a pair of Harlequin Ducks on Mores Creek. Harlequin Ducks are quite rare in Idaho, particularly this far south. Looking at historical data in eBird, Harlequin Ducks are usually found no more than a few times per year, and almost always in the northern third of the state.

HADU map

Location of the Harlequin Ducks on Mores Creek, Boise County.

We spotted the birds while driving up Highway 21, almost exactly at mile marker 28, which is about a mile south of Grimes Creek. We weren’t intentionally trying to bird that particular stretch of the river, but we were keeping an eye on it as much as you can while driving a windy mountain road.

HADU 1

Harlequin Ducks on Mores Creek, Boise County. April 21, 2013.

Since we only got a glimpse on the first pass we turned around and made another pass. There really aren’t any safe pullouts on this stretch of the road, but with one of us keeping a close eye on the road behind us, and the other manning the camera, we did manage to get a few quick shots.

HADU 2

Harlequin Ducks on Mores Creek, Boise County. April 21, 2013.

Traffic was slow enough we were actually able to capture a little bit of video before we had to scuttle out of the way.

Harlequin Ducks on Mores Creek, Boise County. April 22, 2013.

We were hoping we could get a data connection on our phones as we got closer to Idaho City so we could write in to IBLE about the Harlequin Ducks right away, but the connection wasn’t good enough to get a message out. We posted to IBLE and the Facebook Idaho Birding group when we got home that evening, and quite a few birders headed out to try to re-find them in the morning. I never heard of anybody that was able to track them down, so we felt pretty lucky to have caught them for the short amount of time they were there.

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