Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers at Ponderosa SP

On June 27 an out of town birder visiting Ponderosa State Park wrote into IBLE about a very peculiar bird behavior he had observed:

“This past Sunday (6/23) at the northern section of Ponderosa Park (north end of Payette Lake), around noon, I was pleased find a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers at their nest hole.  It appeared to me that they were feeding young.  Just a few minutes after seeing both male and female come and go, I was pleased to see a male Three-toed Woodpecker in the same group of trees, then amazed to see this last bird fly to the same nest hole and apparently feed young also!”

Over the next few days many birders rushed up to see the birds, both because it was an unusual sight to see two species sharing a nest hole, and also because American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers are among Idaho’s hardest to find breeding woodpeckers. The reports kept pouring in to IBLE, confirming the strange finding. We started to feel a sense of urgency about getting up there, since there was a limited amount of time before the birds would fledge, and also because the 4th of July was approaching, along with all the crowds and noises that could potentially disrupt the birds.

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Location of the shared nest hole at Ponderosa SP – North Beach unit, Valley County.

On the 2nd and 3rd of July we made back to back trips up to see if we could locate the birds. That was over 10 hours of driving between the two days, so thank goodness it’s a beautiful drive.

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Northeast shore of Payette Lake, Valley County. July 3, 2013.

On our first trip we were surprised by how bad the mosquitos were up there, and struggled to try to track down the nest hole while swatting mosquitoes. It didn’t help that the young birds had been reported to have fledged the day before we arrived, so there was no activity at the nest hole to help us find it. We did eventually find one hole that seemed to match the description, and we were able to compare our picture of it to others that had been posted, and confirmed we were looking at the right hole.

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Shared nest hole at Ponderosa SP – North Beach Unit, Valley County. July 2, 2013.

We never saw any activity at the nest hole, but after an hour of watching, listening, and searching for the woodpeckers, we heard an American Three-toed Woodpecker call. We saw it fly between trees a couple of times, but weren’t able to get a great view of it sitting still. Instead, we were treated to a Red-naped Sapsucker that was much more accommodating.

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Red-naped Sapsucker at Ponderosa SP – North Beach Unit, Valley County. July 2, 2013.

As the sun started to set we gave up on the Black-backed for the night and headed home. We took a long route, taking advantage of the later-than-usual drive to search for Flammulated Owls in a few stretches of Boise National Forest between Garden Valley and Idaho City.

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Sunset south of McCall, Valley County. July 2, 2013.

We took Alder Creek Road from the South Fork Landing area in Garden Valley, and then Centerville Road to Idaho City. We had driven this route before in the daylight and had noticed that the habitat seemed good for cavity nesting owls and were excited to check it out in the dark.

FLOW route Boise NF map 1

We set up some nice speakers on top of the car, and strapped them down with the cargo net out of the back of the SUV (not sure why I didn’t have my usual bungie cords in the car), and headed on our way. We stopped approximately every mile, skipping stops that had houses nearby, and focusing on any Aspen stands we could find. At each stop, we pulled over and listened quietly for a couple of minutes. Following that we played a Flammulated Owl call for about 30 seconds, then listened for another minute, repeating several times. This is not exactly how a typical survey protocol works. Our stops were further apart, and a little more selective, but we were more interested in getting home before too late, and actually finding an owl, than we were in doing a formal survey protocol.

Speakers

Out of our 10 or so stops, we managed to see probably half a dozen owls of various sizes. Most of them just breezed through our headlights so quick we couldn’t tell what they were, but likely Great-horneds and Northern Saw-whet Owls were most common. At just one stop, we actually heard a Flammulated Owl respond to our calls. It brought back exhilarating memories of chasing down Elf and Whiskered-screech Owls through the canyons of the southeast Arizona Sky Islands. Something about the sensory deprivation of being out in complete darkness and silence, while deep in the woods on the hunt for a tremendously elusive animal, and then hearing a faint hoot coming from somewhere far away, confirming you’d succeeded in your chase, really burns the moment into your memory.

After our arrival home at 1:30 am, then working another day, we headed back to Ponderosa to try again for the Black-backed Woodpecker since we had missed it the day earlier. We parked by the trailhead the nest was near, and started with a few minutes of watching and listening.

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Spring Board Trailhead at Ponderosa SP – North Beach Unit, Valley County. July 3, 2o13.

Swainson’s Thrushes were singing their hearts out all around, though they were hard to get a clear view of. Western Tanagers joined in with their song as well.

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Swainson’s Thrush at Ponderosa SP – North Beach Unit, Valley County. July 3, 2013.

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Western Tanager at Ponderosa SP – North Beach Unit, Valley County. July 3, 2013.

We wandered in through the woods a bit, and after a half hour or so, we finally heard the tell-tale rattle call of a Black-backed Woodpecker. We certainly never got our soul-satisfying view, though we did see it in flight a couple of times, but we were thrilled to have found both woodpeckers. We also found a single Clark’s Nutcracker. Another birder had reported finding a Varied Thrush earlier in the day, but we were not able to relocate it on our trip.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Loggerhead Shrikes on the Mayfield Loop

On the last day of June Ellen and I birded the Mayfield loop, which is southeast of Boise between I-84 and the Danskin mountains. We have done this loop a number of times before, but recently learned we were missing the part of the loop that actually goes through the historic remains of the town of Mayfield.

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Interior of old schoolhouse in Mayfield, Elmore County. June 30, 2013.

In the past we were starting the loop from the Indian Creek exit off of I-84 and then heading north and west. On this trip we started further south, on exit 90 off of I-84. This added section of the loop greatly increased the good birding habitat on this loop, and made the trip much more worthwhile.

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Map of the Mayfield loop, Elmore County, with the best birding hotspots indicated by the lettered points. June 30, 2013.

Most of the best birding spots on the loop are where the road crosses or runs near dry creek beds that carry the spring run-off from the Danskins down to several ephemeral reservoirs in the area. The scenery below is typical of this habitat, with dry sagebrush and grasses bordering willow and cottonwood groves along the seasonal creek beds.

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Bowns Creek near Foothill Road, Elmore County. June 30, 2013.

Our first interesting bird was a fledgling Horned Lark that didn’t seem to be able to keep up with the rest of the flock as they flushed away from the road when we drove by.

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Horned Lark on the Mayfield loop, Elmore County. June 30, 2013.

One interesting feature of this trip was the heat wave that was passing through the area. We had several days in a row with temperatures near 110 degrees, and the stress this was causing on the birds was quite evident. Nearly every bird we observed was panting, with mouth wide open, to try to cope with the heat.

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Western Meadowlark panting on a power line. Mayfield loop, Elmore County. June 30, 2013.

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Lark Sparrow panting on the Mayfield loop, Elmore County. June 30, 2013.

One of our main target birds for the trip was Loggerhead Shrike. Luckily we found them at three different locations, including one spot that had 5 birds, 3 of them recently fledged.

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Loggerhead Shrike on the Mayfield loop, Elmore County. June 30, 2013.

Another fun find was a Western Kingbird nest, with four young birds in the nest. They didn’t seem to handle the heat any better than the rest of the birds.

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Western Kingbird nest on the Mayfield loop, Elmore County. June 30, 2013.

In this video you can see the parent as well as all of the nestlings panting in the extreme heat.

Western Kingbird with nestlings on the Mayfield Loop, Elmore County. June 30, 2013.

Near the old remains of the town of Mayfield, a Common Nighthawk resting on a tree branch caught our eye. I’ve always been jealous when other birders have been able to photograph these wonderful birds on a perch, and was thrilled for the chance to see this behavior for myself.

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Common Nighthawk near Mayfield, Elmore County. June 30, 2013.

As you can see in the video below, the nighthawk had to waddle and change position a few times to keep its balance in the wind.

Common Nighthawk on the Mayfield Loop, Elmore County. June 30, 2013.

Boise National Forest birding

At the end of June we took a couple of drives to explore some old forest roads through the Boise National Forest. For our first trip, we drove up through Bogus Basin and Shafer Butte (point B in the map below), then further north to Star Ranch Road (point C below),  then through New Centerville and Idaho City to Shaw Gulch Road (point D below), then to Robie Creek Road where Mores Creek meets Lucky Peak Lake (point E below), and then finally over Shaw Mountain and back into town.

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Our trip through Boise National Forest, Ada and Boise Counties.

The scenery is fantastic, and many of the forest roads ride ridges that provide excellent views of the surrounding area.

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View from Boise Ridge Road, Boise County. June 28, 2013.

Just north of Shafer Butte we saw a Western Tanager that was singing quite close to the road.

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Western Tanager on Boise Ridge Road, Boise County. June 28, 2013.

Boise Ridge Road eventually meets up with Harris Creek Road, which heads west to Horseshoe Bend, and Star Ranch Road, which heads east to Idaho City. We headed east on Star Ranch Road, and after a short drive down that road we found a Northern Flicker and a Red-naped Sapsucker bickering over a nest hole. We pulled over and kept an eye on the hole for a bit. It appeared that the Red-naped Sapsucker had nestlings in the hole that it was feeding, but in the half hour we were watching we saw two other cavity nesters make a move on the hole, including a Northern Flicker and a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

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Red-naped Sapsucker on Star Ranch Road, Boise County. June 28, 2013.

We really wanted to capture video of some of the birds tussling, or at least of the Red-naped Sapsucker feeding its young. We set up our trusty window mount to make it easier to take stable video, and just let the camera roll while we waited.

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Our camera on a window mount pointed at a Red-naped Sapsucker nest, Boise County. June 28, 2013.

Here is one of the clips that includes a little more action.

Red-naped Sapsucker feeding nestlings on Star Ranch Road, Boise County. June 28, 2013.

We had a nice drive over to Idaho City and saw plenty of other woodpeckers along the way. In Idaho City we popped over to check on the White-headed Woodpeckers that are nesting on Shaw Gulch Road. On this trip there was a nestling begging at the hole. It looked like it may have been close to fledging.

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White-headed Woodpecker on Shaw Gulch Road, Ada County. June 28, 2013.

We took some video of the mother feeding the nestling. It was interesting to note how the mother gives a feeding call before approaching the nest, after which the nestling becomes more attentive and moves towards the nest hole in anticipation of the food delivery.

White-headed Woodpecker feeding nestling on Shaw Gulch Road, Boise County. June 28, 2013.

Our last big stop was Robie Creek Road. This road follows Mores Creek as it drains into Lucky Peak Lake. The habitat is fantastic for quite a few warblers, flycatchers, ospreys, and more.

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Robie Creek Road, Boise County. June 28, 2013.

This trip was at the beginning of a heat wave, and the ospreys were showing a bit of distress. Many birds will pant in an effort to cool down on hot days.

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Osprey on Robie Creek Road, Boise County. June 28, 2013.

Further down the creek we enjoyed watching a Gray Catbird sing.

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Gray Catbird on Robie Creek Road, Boise County. June 28, 2013.

Gray Catbird singing along Robie Creek, Boise County. June 28, 2013.

The next day we went for a short sunset drive, this time taking some old forest roads that travel behind Grayback Gulch campground. The light was poor for bird photos, but the scenery was beautiful. Each new bend in the road offered a new view of the setting sun.

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Our trip from Grayback Gulch to Thorn Creek Road, Boise County.

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Sunset in the Boise National Forest, Boise County. June 29, 2013.

One great find for the evening we were able to get a silhouette of in the sunset light was our first of year Red Crossbill. While it’s not a fantastic photo, we were thrilled to get home and spot the telltale crossing of the upper and lower bill when we got home and sorted through our photos.

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Red Crossbill near Grayback Gulch, Boise County. June 29, 2013.

For the last stretch of our loop we were on Thorn Creek Road. It was past sunset, and I thought it would be fun to try to call in some owls. It only took a few minutes to get the attention of a pair of Flammulated Owls, whom we enjoyed watching as they flew between tree tops in the last glimmer of evening light.

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Thorn Creek Road where we saw Flammulated Owls, Boise County. June 29, 2013.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Craters of the Moon National Monument and other Highway 20 birding spots

A few weeks ago Ellen and I had another trip to southeast Idaho to spend some time with family there. As we always do, we added several birding stops on the way there and back. During this trip, we spent most of our time at Craters of the Moon National Monument looking for a few specialties they have. It’s one of the better places to look for juniper specialties in this part of the state.

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Our stops on the way to/from Rexburg. B) Cat Creek Road, C) Silver Creek Preserve, D) Craters of the Moon.

On the way to Craters we had the obligatory stop through Cat Creek Road to look for the Ruffed Grouse that breeds there. Once again, we didn’t find any grouse, but we did snap a photo of a fledgling Mountain Bluebird and a Tree Swallow.

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Fledgling Mountain Bluebird on Cat Creek Road, Elmore County. June 21, 2013.

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Tree Swallow on Bennett Mountain Road, Elmore County. June 21, 2013.

We were a little late arriving at Craters, so we didn’t have as much time as we had hoped for. I actually haven’t been since a middle school field trip, and I was amazed how much vegetation was present. I had remembered it being mostly just dry lava rock, with nothing growing on it, so it was nice to see an abundance of juniper, sage, shrubs, and many flowering plants.

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Craters of the Moon, Butte County. June 21, 2013.

We heard (but didn’t see) a Juniper Titmouse, which was one of our target birds. Brewer’s Sparrows were quite numerous and noisy, and there were good numbers of Tree Swallows. We also saw a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher that was calling repeatedly and putting on quite a show. We got a picture of a Turkey Vulture just before the sun set.

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Turkey Vulture at Craters of the Moon, Butte County. June 21, 2013.

There was a supermoon on June 23, and while we were a couple days early for it when we were at Craters the first time, it was fun to watch the “almost” supermoon rise over Big Cinder Butte.

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Moonrise over Big Cinder Butte, Craters of the Moone, Butte County. June 21, 2013.

After spending a day with family, we headed back to Boise, and enjoyed another stop at Craters on the way. There were a few more specialties we were hoping to find, such as Pinyon Jay, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Clark’s Nutcracker, Gray Flycatcher, and Ash-throated Flycatcher.

Upon re-entering the park, we saw two blue birds, one a Mountain Bluebird, the other a Pinyon Jay. It’s always nice to get something you’re looking for early on in the trip.

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Mountain Bluebird at Craters of the Moon, Butte County. June 23, 2013.

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Pinyon Jay at Craters of the Moon, Butte County. June 23, 2013.

We were commenting to each other during the drive in that with all these rocks around, we certainly ought to be hearing more Rock Wrens.

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Craters of the Moon, Butte County. June 23, 2013.

We rolled down the windows to listen, and right on cue we heard one not too far from us. We captured a little bit of video of it singing from on top of a rock pile.

Rock Wren singing at Craters of the Moon, Butte County. June 23, 2013.

Later on the trip we managed to hear (but not see) an Ash-throated Flycatcher calling from 50 yards or so off of the road in a stand of juniper trees. We weren’t able to photograph him, but luckily a Brewer’s Sparrow perched for a few seconds on an exposed branch. Usually these guys stay fairly well hidden and are hard to photograph well.

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Brewer’s Sparrow at Craters of the Moon, Butte County. June 23, 2013.

During a lull in the birds we took a few more scenery shots.

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Craters of the Moon, Butte County. June 23, 2013.

At one point we had quite a few Common Nighthawks feeding on the wing above us. These are fantastic birds to experience. Despite being called a nighthawk, they are often quite active during the day.

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Common Nighthawks at Craters of the Moon, Butte County. June 23, 2013.

We tried to capture a few minutes of video while they zoomed around our car.

Common Nighthawk at Craters of the Moon, Butte County. June 23, 2013.

 

Common Nighthawk at Craters of the Moon, Butte County. June 23, 2013.

Near the turnoff for the caves parking area, we finally saw a couple of Clark’s Nutcrackers flying between the trees.

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We found most everything we wanted on our trip, except for Gray Flycatcher and Black-throated Gray Warbler, but it’s always nice to have something to come back for. Overall we were very happy with the time we spent at Craters, and look forward to stopping there more often.

On the way home we took a quick detour through Silver Creek Preserve. It’s a very scenic area, and conveniently close to Highway 20, which makes it an easy choice to visit.

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Silver Creek Preserve, Blaine County. June 23, 2013.

On a high point of Kilpatrick Road, on the southern side of the preserve, we found a Bank Swallow colony in the cutout hillside.

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There were plenty of both Western and Eastern Kingbirds around as well.

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Western Kingbird at Silver Creek Preserve, Blaine County. June 23, 2013.

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Eastern Kingbird at Silver Creek Preserve, Blaine County. June 23, 2013.

A Great Blue Heron posed in a field for us as we finished our quick loop.

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Great Blue Heron at Silver Creek Preserve, Blaine County. June 23, 2013.

And since we can’t help ourselves at this point, we made another stop through Cat Creek Road hoping to spot a Ruffed Grouse. There are birds far more rare in Idaho that we’ve seen numerous times, and it’s driving us a little batty that we still haven’t been able to track down a Ruffed Grouse, so with a confirmed breeding location at a spot that we so frequently drive past, it’s hard not to at least try.

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Cat Creek Road, Elmore County. June 23, 2013.

You might have been able to guess that we still weren’t able to find a Ruffed Grouse on this trip. We did see a lovely assortment of other birds, most of whom were obviously breeding in the area. On Bennett Mountain Road (which leads from Highway 20 to the southern end of Cat Creek Road) we saw quite a few Tree Swallows and Mountain Bluebirds, including fledglings, along the roadside fences.

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Fledgling Mountain Bluebird on Bennett Mountain Road, Elmore County. June 23, 2013.

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Fledgling Mountain Bluebird on Bennett Mountain Road, Elmore County. June 23, 2013.

As we got closer to Cat Creek Road we saw a Red-tailed Hawk keeping watch on his territory.

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Red-tailed Hawk on Cat Creek Road, Elmore County. June 23, 2013.

We saw him again later on, perhaps keeping track of us.

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Red-tailed Hawk on Cat Creek Road, Elmore County. June 23, 2013.

Further down the road we found a singing MacGillivray’s Warbler, and a Lewis’s Woodpecker busy gathering food for its nestlings.

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MacGillivray’s Warlber on Cat Creek Road, Elmore County. June 23, 2013.

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Lewis’s Woodpecker on Cat Creek Road, Elmore County. June 23, 2013.

Lewis’s Woodpecker foraging on Cat Creek Road, Elmore County. June 23, 2013.