Sunday, June 23, 2013

Trading ducks for shorebirds

In southwest Idaho spring shorebird migration picks up in early April, just after the bulk of the waterfowl migration has come to an end. Many of the places that had been filled with ducks, geese, and swans for the past few months start to fill up with shorebirds instead. This year the best place near Boise to check for any kind of water loving migrant was Indian Creek Reservoir.

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Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada county. April 6, 2013.

Indian Creek Reservoir is southeast of Boise on I-84. It’s one of a string of reservoirs in the area that can be great to check, depending on the water levels. Blacks Creek Reservoir is the the west, and Mountain Home Reservoir is to the east. In 2011 we had far more shorebirds at Mountain Home Reservoir, but this year Indian Creek Reservoir was the place to be. It seemed like almost every day from early April through early May, the mix of birds on Indian Creek Reservoir changed significantly.

Unfortunately, Indian Creek Reservoir (or ICR as many abbreviate it on the listserv) is much better for birds than it is for bird photography. There are several great vantage points you can scope most of the reservoir from, but that leaves you attempting to take pictures of subjects that may be as much as 1/3 of a mile away. Every now and then we manage to get something close enough to get a usable photo, such as this Lesser Yellowlegs.

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Lesser Yellowlegs at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada county. April 6, 2013.

Following our stop at ICR we headed out to do the Prairie loop. This is a beautiful drive that can be driven two different directions, but for this trip we drove from Mountain Home to Anderson Ranch Dam via Highway 20, then from Anderson Ranch Dam to the little town of Prairie on a scenic plateau above the South Fork Boise River, and then from Prairie back to the I-84 by following the South Fork Boise River canyon and Blacks Creek Road. On this trip we added a stop at Little Camas Reservoir on Highway 20 before continuing to Anderson Ranch Dam.

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Little Camas Reservoir, Elmore county. April 6, 2013.

The scenery was incredible but the birding was a little slow up there on this trip. Highlights included a dozen or so Long-billed Curlews, Sandhill Cranes now paired off for the breeding season, and a late Tundra Swan.

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Long-billed Curlew at Little Camas Reservoir, Elmore county. April 6, 2013.

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Sandhill Cranes at Little Camas Reservoir, Ada county. April 6, 2013.

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Tundra Swan at Little Camas Reservoir, Elmore county. April 6, 2013.

At the northern tip of the reservoir just past the dam there’s a great view of the drainage pond beneath the dam with the Trinity mountains in the background. This little pond had a few good birds on the shores, but they were too distant for usable photos.

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Drainage above Little Camas Reservoir, Elmore county. April 6, 2013.

After enjoying Little Camas we headed to Anderson Ranch Dam. On this trip we counted five separate ospreys between three different nests in the first hundred yards of river beneath the dam. A little further down the road we found a small flock of Stellars Jays.

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Anderson Ranch Dam Spillway, Elmore county. April 6, 2013.

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Osprey beneath Anderson Ranch Dam, Elmore county. April 6, 2013.

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Osprey beneath Anderson Ranch Dam, Elmore county. April 6, 2013.

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Stellars Jay near Anderson Ranch Dam, Elmore county. April 6, 2013.

After following the South Fork Boise River for a while past the dam, the road rises up the canyon to a plateau and the town of Prairie. This stretch of the road is one of the best places around to see Western and Mountain Bluebirds. We did see a couple of each, though it was early in the season to see the highest numbers.

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Plateau near Prairie, Elmore county. April 6, 2013.

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Western Bluebird near Prairie, Elmore county. April 6, 2013.

After passing Prairie the road follows the beautiful South Fork Boise River canyon, and a couple of Turkey Vultures posed for us on the ground.

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Turkey Vultures near the South Fork Boise River, Elmore county. April 6, 2013.

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South Fork Boise River canyon, Elmore county. April 6, 2013.

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