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.

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