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.

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