Thursday, October 31, 2013

Slow day at Indian Creek and CJ Strike Reservoirs

For our last outing in July we made a loop down to the C.J. Strike area in Owyhee County. We stopped at Indian Creek Reservoir on the way out and back (point G on the map below), and then headed to the Jacks Creek WMA (point C), Bruneau Duck Ponds (point D), Bruneau Dunes State Park (point E), and the Hammett area (point F) before heading back home via Indian Creek Reservoir. Overall the birding was a little on the slow side, so we just enjoyed a few of the ordinary birds we might normally overlook.

ICR-CJ Map 1 Our route on July 28 – point C is Jacks Creek WMA, point D is the Bruneau Duck Ponds, point E is Bruneau Dunes State Park, point F is Hammett, and point G is Indian Creek Reservoir.

There were a few nice finds at Indian Creek on our first pass. First was this Solitary Sandpiper, posing nicely for us on our way in.

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Solitary Sandpiper at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. July 28, 2013.

There was also a nice group of White-faced Ibis, including a good mix of juveniles and adults. It’s good to get practice picking the juveniles out from the adults, since every now and then a juvenile White-faced can look a lot like a Glossy, which would be a much better find in Idaho.

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White-faced Ibis at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. July 28, 2013.

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White-faced Ibis at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. July 28, 2013.

Of course the usual Killdeer were abundant as well.

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White-faced Ibis and Killdeer at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. July 28, 2013.

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Killdeer at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. July 28, 2013.

At Jacks Creek we found lots of Caspian Terns and Marbled Godwits out on the sand bars.

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Caspian Terns and Ring-billed Gulls at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. July 28, 2013.

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Marbled Godwits, Caspian Terns, and Ring-billed Gulls at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. July 28, 2013.

Further back into the reeds we saw a Great Egret.

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Great Egret at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. July 28, 2013.

At the Bruneau Duck Ponds things were pretty slow, but there was one area with a handful of American Avocets.

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Canada Geese, Mallards, American Avocets, and Ring-billed Gull at the Bruneau Duck Ponds, Owyhee County. July 28, 2013.

Next stop was Bruneau Dunes  State Park. Again, very low bird activity here. There were a few Ring-necked Ducks, and a few American Coots, and that was about it.

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Bruneau Dunes State Park. See all the birds? Neither do I. Owyhee County, July 28, 2013.

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Ring-necked Ducks (adult female and hatch-year juveniles) at Bruneau Dunes State Park, Owyhee County. July 28, 2013.

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American Coot at Bruneau Dunes State Park, Owyhee County. July 28, 2013.

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American Coot at Bruneau Dunes State Park, Owyhee County. July 28, 2013.

After Bruneau Dunes State Park we headed over to the Hammett area to get on the highway and head back home. On the way we saw a couple of Eastern Kingbirds, a flock of Horned Larks with several juveniles, and a Lark Sparrow.

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Eastern Kingbirds near Hammett, Elmore County. July 28, 2013.

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Eastern Kingbird near Hammett, Elmore County. July 28, 2013.

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Horned Lark (juvenile) near Hammett, Elmore County. July 28, 2013.

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Horned Lark (juvenile) near Hammett, Elmore County. July 28, 2013.

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Lark Sparrow near Hammett, Elmore County. July 28, 2013.

The highlight of the day was probably the second trip through Indian Creek Reservoir. Upon arriving again on our way home we found that the place was swarmed by Common Nighthawks. We saw dozens in the skies, and quite a few perched near the roadway. It was quite a treat to get to see some of them up close.

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Common Nighthawk at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. July 28, 2013.

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Common Nighthawk at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. July 28, 2013.

We walked around the northern perimeter of the reservoir as well. Here we mostly just found Wilson’s Phalaropes, plus a Long-billed Dowitcher.

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Wilson’s Phalarope at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. July 28, 2013.

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Wilson’s Phalaropes at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. July 28, 2013.

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Long-billed Dowitcher at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. July 28, 2013.

One thing we really got a kick out of was watching the phalaropes hopping up and down to fetch flies right out of the air. I’ve never seen them forage this way before. They usually swim in tight circles to form a vortex in the water which draws insects up to the surface. Take a look at the video below.

Wilson’s Phalaropes foraging at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. July 28, 2013.

We seem to find ourselves out at Indian Creek around sunset time quite frequently. It’s so easy to just add one more stop on the way home anytime we’re out that direction from town. The sunset is always beautiful out here.

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Sunset at Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. July 28, 2013.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gulls, grebes, and the heebie-jeebies at Lake Lowell

Towards the end of July we made a trip out to Lake Lowell, focusing on the lower dam area on the western side of the lake. Fall migration starts early in the season for breeders from the far north, and there were good numbers of birds already heading south using the lake as a rest stop.

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Lake Lowell from the lower dam area, Canyon County, July 27, 2013.

Out on the muck was a good mix of shorebirds and gulls. First we spotted a few Killdeers and Black-necked Stilts.

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Killdeer and Black-necked Stilt at Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

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Killdeer and Black-necked Stilts at Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

We had a nice gathering of Wilson’s Phalaropes. In their non-breeding plumage, these guys can take an extra minute to ID from a distance.

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Wilson’s Phalaropes at Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

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Wilson’s Phalaropes at Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

Other stretches of the muck had more gulls and terns, such as this Caspian Tern enjoying a nice meal.

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Caspian Tern at Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

There was an impressive mixed flock of Ring-billed and California gulls.

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Caspian Tern, as well as Ring-billed and California Gulls at Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

Western Sandpipers were mixed in at a few spots.

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Western Sandpipers with Ring-billed Gulls at Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

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Western Sandpipers at Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

Out in the deeper water there were lots of Western and Clark’s Grebes.

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Western Grebes at Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

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Western Grebe at Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

On the north end of the dam, near the swim beach, we had mostly California Gulls. It was probably the greatest number of California Gulls we’ve seen in one area so far.

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California Gull at Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

It’s always fun to watch birds play with their food. We watched this Ring-billed Gull toss his food around for several minutes before he finally decided to chomp it down.

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Ring-billed Gull at Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

In addition to scoping out the birds out on the mud, we also took a stroll through a bit of riparian habitat near the southern end of the dam. We’ve birded this patch of woods several times, and have never seen it quite like this.

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Wooded area near the Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

It was an eerie feeling walking through the woods. It was amazing how quiet it was in there, we didn’t here or see a single bird during the whole walk.

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Wooded area near the Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

I’m not sure what exactly was covering everything, or if this happens every year, but it looked like the trees had shed a tremendous volume of some kind of fluffy seed matter that was coating everything.

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Wooded area near the Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

Adding to the eerie feeling was the number of dead things decaying on the ground, including fish, and unfortunately, what looks to be a domestic dog (not pictured, the image was too gruesome!).

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Wooded area near the Lake Lowell lower dam area, Canyon County. July 27, 2013.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Black-throated Sparrows in Owyhee County

After we cut our trip to the Sawtooths short to avoid the big holiday weekend crowds, we headed out to good old Owyhee county, where we can pretty much always count on having wide open spaces all to ourselves. On the way out, we were surprised to see another great birding hotspot, Indian Creek Reservoir, on fire! We watched a helicopter filling a bucket in the reservoir and dropping loads of water on the burning area while we cruised down the highway.

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Helicopter fighting a fire near Indian Creek Reservoir, Ada County. July 7, 2013.

Our main target for this trip was Black-throated Sparrow. These birds are residents of western desert habitats, wintering in the southwest, and breeding into southern Idaho and eastern Oregon.

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eBird range map for Black-throated Sparrow.

On the way to the first spot we were hoping to check for Black-throated Sparrow we stopped at Ted Trueblood WMA, near the town of Grandview. This is a great little stop that’s easy to check on the way to the CJ Strike area from Boise. This time the area had a large crowd of American White Pelicans.

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American White Pelicans (and a Great Blue Heron) at Ted Trueblood WMA, Elmore County. July 7, 2013.

Mourning Doves are pretty abundant too, and are an easy bird to overlook most of the time.

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Mourning Dove at Ted Trueblood WMA, Elmore County. July 7, 2013.

After a quick stop at Ted Trueblood, we headed straight for our main target: Mudflat Road south west of CJ Strike Reservoir, perhaps the most reliable place in Idaho to find Black-throated Sparrow during their breeding season.

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eBird sightings for Black-throated Sparrow in Owyhee County.

It didn’t take long for the sparrows to start showing up. They were actively bouncing around on the fences and under the bushes along the road, and were quite cooperative for photographing.

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Black-throated Sparrow on Mudflat Road, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

We started with just a couple of adults that were singing their hearts out. Though they were kind enough to make striking poses in clear view, they weren’t considerate enough to stay out of the shadows so we could get a better exposure.

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Black-throated Sparrow on Mudflat Road, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

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Black-throated Sparrow on Mudflat Road, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

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Black-throated Sparrow on Mudflat Road, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

After a while, several juveniles came out and joined the action. First there was just one . . .

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Black-throated Sparrow (juvenile and adult) on Mudflat Road, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

Then another  . . .

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Black-throated Sparrows on Mudflat Road, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

And then finally we had three juveniles at once.

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Black-throated Sparrow (three juveniles and an adult) on Mudflat Road, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

After a while, we finally managed to get a few shots outside the shadows, with the birds facing into the sun.

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Black-throated Sparrow on Mudflat Road, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

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Black-throated Sparrows on Mudflat Road, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

After enjoying the Black-throated Sparrows we headed up to check on Jacks Creek WMA, on CJ Strike Reservoir. On the way there we noticed a large flock of Common Nighthawks foraging over the football field behind Rimrock Jr-Sr High School.

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Common Nighthawk near Rim Rock Jr-Sr High School, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

On the way in to Jacks Creek we saw a few game birds, including a Ring-necked Pheasant, and this California Quail.

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California Quail at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

At Jacks Creek WMA there was a good mix of gulls and terns, plus the some of the earliest shorebirds heading south again for the winter.

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Caspian Terns and Ring-billed Gulls at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

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Forster’s Terns, Western Sandpipers, and a Franklin’s Gull at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

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Forster’s Terns and a Marbled Godwit at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

We enjoyed watching the Forster’s Terns feeding over the water, and quite a few were putting on quite the show as they hovered low over the water, bills pointed straight down, waiting for just the right moment to strike, and then splashing into the water with great force.

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Forster’s Tern at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.

We didn’t see too many passerines on this trip, but did manage to find a Western Wood Pewee on our way out.

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Western Wood Pewee at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. July 7, 2013.