Saturday, January 11, 2014

Greater Scaup and Golden-crowned Kinglets at Lucky Peak

My favorite part of living on the east side of Boise is our close proximity to Lucky Peak. From our house it’s just 8 minutes to Lucky Peak Dam, and another 11 minutes to Spring Shores Marina. Lucky Peak never has high numbers of waterfowl, but does frequently host a few interesting birds. For whatever reason, Boise area birders tend to overlook Lucky Peak as a spot to check for migrating loons, grebes, or ducks. Towards the end of October we made a couple of trips out to see if there were any interesting waterfowl moving through on the late end of fall migration.

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Lucky Peak Lake from Spring Shores Marina, Boise County. October 29, 2013.

Western Grebes are fairly common on Lucky Peak,  focused our efforts on Spring Shores Marina, and we found plenty. You can usually find a few Clark’s Grebes mixed in as well, though there weren’t any on this trip.

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Western Grebes at Spring Shores Marina, Boise County. October 29, 2013.

We were hoping to find a scoter, since late October is the best time to look for them in Idaho. We didn’t spot any, but while looking, one interesting bird caught our eye while we were checking out a raft of coots.

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American Coots with a Greater Scaup (female) near Spring Shores Marina, October 29, 2013.

At first, the bluish bill made me think Lesser Scaup, and the shape was decent for something in the Aythya genus, but it wasn’t quite right. The pattern of light patches on the face also looked a bit like a female White-winged Scoter, but the bill and body shape were all wrong.

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Greater Scaup near Spring Shores Marina, Boise County. October 29, 2013.

Upon closer examination of the photos at home, the bird turned out to be a female Greater Scaup. The head shape is more rounded than on a Lesser Scaup, and female Lesser Scaup rarely show the same pattern of light patches on the face.

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Greater Scaup near Spring Shores Marina, Boise County. October 29, 2013.

A couple days later, we returned to see if anything new had showed up near the marina, but there were only a few Ring-billed Gulls and Western Grebes. We headed up to check Macks Creek Campground next.

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Macks Creek Campground, Boise County. November 2, 2013.

The light was almost gone for the day so we didn’t get to put very much time in here, but did enjoy happening upon a mixed flock of songbirds, including several Golden-crowned Kinglets.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet at Macks Creek Campground, Boise County. November 2, 2013.

Golden-crowned Kinglets descend from their higher elevation breeding grounds every fall, and are much easier to find close to home in the winter months.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet at Macks Creek Campground, Boise County. November 2, 2013.

Since we didn’t get as much time as we wanted the first time around, we headed back the next day to get more pictures of the Golden-crowned Kinglets. They were in just the same spot and were mixed in with a handful of other songbirds, the most abundant of which were House Finches.

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House Finch at Macks Creek Campground, Boise County. November 3, 2013.

Along with the House Finches there were quite a few Dark-eyed Juncos.

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House Finch and Dark-eyed Junco at Macks Creek Campground, Boise County. November 3, 2013.

Any decent sized flock of juncos was bound to include at least a few races when we lived in Colorado, but only the Oregon race is common in Idaho.

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Dark-eyed Juncos at Macks Creek Campground, Boise County. November 3, 2013.

Several Golden-crowned Kinglets stole the show, and provided some fun photo opportunities.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet at Macks Creek Campground, Boise County. November 3, 2013.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet at Macks Creek Campground, Boise County. November 3, 2013.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet at Macks Creek Campground, Boise County. November 3, 2013.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet at Macks Creek Campground, Boise County. November 3, 2013.

As always, one of the highlights of a great birding trip is seeing the sunset from somewhere beautiful.

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Lucky Peak Lake, Boise County. November 3, 2013.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Gulls, Loons, and Scoters at CJ Strike Reservoir

October was an exciting month for CJ Strike Reservoir. Treasure Valley birders were turning up White-winged and Surf Scoters, Red-throated and Pacific Loons, plus Lesser Black-backed and Glaucous-winged Gulls. We didn’t get out quite as often or as far from home as usual in October but we did take a couple of trips out to CJ Strike to try for some of the great birds being seen.

Any of these birds are great finds in Idaho any time of the year. Many of Idaho’s less common winter specialties start to show up by October, and places like CJ Strike Reservoir are bird magnets in the cooler months of the year.

Gull Bar Chart 1Loon Bar Chart 1Scoter Bar Chart 1

eBird bar charts for gulls, loons, and scoters in Idaho.

When we visited on the 12th, we started our search near the dam, hoping to knock out the Glaucous-winged Gull.

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CJ Strike Dam, Owyhee County. October 12, 2013.

As is often the case for me with gull identification, I didn’t know just what I had until I got home and had a chance to poor over the day’s pictures on the big screen with better resources at hand (such as the Peterson Reference Guide to Gulls of the Americas, one of this year’s additions to our bird library). We didn’t see the Glaucous-winged on this stop, but it turns out that we had already seen it without realizing it at the time when we visited in late September. We started our search near the power plant where the gulls wait for fish to get forced up to the surface by the rapidly churning water.

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Ring-billed Gulls at CJ Strike Dam, Owyhee County. October 12, 2013.

It was difficult to get a good visual lock on any of these gulls because they were moving so quickly, but it was fun to watch them suddenly turn and dive into the water the instant they noticed an opportunity for a meal.

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Ring-billed Gull at CJ Strike Dam, Owyhee County. October 12, 2013.

Most of the time the gulls came up empty handed, but every now and then we would see one with some small reward for their patience.

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Ring-billed Gull at CJ Strike Dam, Owyhee County. October 12, 2013.

Without any luck at the power plant we headed over to the spillway where the gulls stand still and are much easier to study. As is typical, Ring-billed Gulls were the most common, followed by California Gulls. Though we didn’t recognize it at the time, looking at the photos later on revealed a first winter Herring Gull mixed in with the others on the spillway.

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Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gulls, and California Gulls on the CJ Strike Dam Spillway, Owyhee County. October 12, 2013.

Often, there is another group of gulls in the river below the dam, but there were only Common Mergansers.

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Common Mergansers below CJ Strike Dam, Owyhee County. October 12, 2013.

One surprising find was several Osprey at different locations around the reservoir. We stopped seeing Osprey on their breeding grounds a solid month earlier, and didn’t realize there were still a good number of them to be found at a few good feeding spots.

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Osprey at CJ Strike Reservoir, Owyhee County. October 12, 2013.

We enjoyed watching one of the Osprey eat the head off of a small fish near where we were parked to scan the spillway.

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Osprey at CJ Strike Reservoir, Owyhee County. October 12, 2013.

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Osprey at CJ Strike Reservoir, Owyhee County. October 12, 2013.

Osprey near CJ Strike Reservoir, Owyhee County. October 12, 2013.

On the actual reservoir conditions were not great for bird finding or photography. We did find one fairly large raft of Ruddy Ducks with a few odds and ends mixed in, but nothing too out of the ordinary.

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Ruddy Ducks, plus a few others, at CJ Strike Reservoir, Owyhee County. October 12, 2013.

We searched the reservoir mightily and though we couldn’t get photos for the record, we did manage to spot a Pacific Loon at great distance that was reported previously by Cheryl Huizinga. There were a number of Common Loons that were a little more accommodating though.

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Common Loon at CJ Strike Reservoir, Owyhee County. October 12, 2013.

A couple of weeks later we made another trip hoping to find the White-winged and Surf Scoters, or to get a better look at the Pacific Loon. There were far fewer ducks this time, and we weren’t able to find anything new, though there were quite a few more Common Loons.

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Common Loon at CJ Strike Reservoir, Owyhee County. October 27, 2013.

The Jacks Creek area was good for a few birds, mostly just the usual suspects.

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Belted Kingfisher at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. October 27, 2013.

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Great Blue Heron at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. October 27, 2013.

The most impressive sight of the day was actually a tremendous murmur of European Starlings that had gathered in the fields along the southern edge of the reservoir.

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European Starlings near CJ Strike Reservoir, Owyhee County. October 27, 2013.

We snapped a few video clips to try to capture the sheer number of birds that had gathered. It was definitely the highest count of any kind of bird we’ve ever seen. These videos only capture a small fraction of the flock. As we drove from the Cove Recreation Area to the Jacks Creek WMA, the string of starlings in the air stretched almost interrupted for several miles. I would estimate there might have been somewhere around half a million starlings that day.

European Starlings near CJ Strike Reservoir, Owyhee County. October 27, 2013.

 

European Starlings near CJ Strike Reservoir, Owyhee County. October 27, 2013.

 

European Starlings near CJ Strike Reservoir, Owyhee County. October 27, 2013.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Golden Eagle surprised by a coyote on the Mayfield Loop

In early October we had a casual weekend around town. We weren’t really looking for anything in particular, we just wanted to get out for a bit. Mostly just the usual suspects. First stop was MK Nature Center.

MK 1 MK Nature Center, Ada County. October 5, 2013.

On the main pond we saw several Wood Ducks and Mallards.

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Wood Duck at MK Nature Center, Ada County. October 5, 2013.

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Wood Duck at MK Nature Center, Ada County. October 5, 2013.

The highlight was a fox that was hanging out near the feeder area, just keeping an eye on things. We probably interrupted his hunt, since shortly after we spotted him he ran away.

Fox at MK Nature Center, Ada County. October 5, 2013.

We also took a quick drive out south east of town, stopping first at Black’s Creek Reservoir (not a single bird, but beautiful sunset light), and then heading over to the Mayfield Loop.

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Blacks Creek Reservoir, Ada County. October 6, 2013.

The highlight on the Mayfield Loop was finding a Golden Eagle, and then watching a coyote approach it. They have quite a close encounter, and you can see how it played out in this video:

Golden Eagle on the Mayfield Loop, Elmore County. October 6, 2013.

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Golden Eagle on the Mayfield Loop, Elmore County. October 6, 2013.