Monday, February 10, 2014

Varied Thrush and White-throated Sparrow at Kathryn Albertson Park (but not for us)

For four out of the last six winters, one or two Varied Thrush have overwintered at Kathryn Albertson Park. Given their tendency to return to the same corner of the park each year (and how rarely they’re found elsewhere around town) it’s quite likely that the same birds are returning each year. Additionally, for the past two winters there has also been a White-throated Sparrow overwintering in the same section of the park. Just about all the serious birders in the Treasure Valley have searched out these birds, and we made several attempts to get in on the action. This was our first attempt of the season, and while a fun outing (and only our second bird walk with brand new Nora) we failed to find either bird.

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Ellen and Nora at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. December 28, 2013.

As a consolation prize, we got some heavily obscured looks at a Bald Eagle next door at Americana Terrace.

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Bald Eagle at Americana Terrace, Ada County. December 28, 2013.

In the park we spent a little while waiting for one of our target birds to make an appearance, but little Nora only goes so long without getting hungry, and between getting across town, getting her set up in her stroller, and staking out the bird for a little while, it was time for her to eat again soon after we got to the park. We still enjoyed some nice views of a few of Boise’s familiar winter birds, like this Black-capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, Song Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos.

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Black-capped Chickadee at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. December 28, 2013.

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Black-capped Chickadee at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. December 28, 2013.

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Song Sparrow at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. December 28, 2013.

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Downy Woodpecker at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. December 28, 2013.

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Dark-eyed Juncos at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. December 28, 2013.

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Song Sparrow at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. December 28, 2013.

We weren’t too bothered about not finding the birds, since we have seen both of them here in previous years, and since the park is close to home it will be easy enough to try again later on.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Baby’s first bird walk - Wilson Springs Ponds

Ellen and I have enjoyed all sorts of adventures together since we started dating in the summer of 2005. We’ve made it a point to explore our surroundings with every chance we get. We’ve been camping, hiking, kayaking, white water rafting, jet skiing, off-roading, and of course, birding, all over Idaho and Colorado. In March of last year, we found out we were about to start our most challenging and rewarding adventure yet – parenthood.

We were actually on a birding trip to southeast Arizona – our first real away-from-home birding vacation – when we started to suspect we might have a little one on the way. Despite the typical crummy feelings that come with early pregnancy, Ellen stuck by my side through several days in a row of pre-sunrise wake up calls, hikes in the desert heat, and long days of non-stop bird chasing. She didn’t lose steam at all once we got home from our trip either – we spent most of the summer doing all of our normal activities, including kayaking the Boise River, paddling at Lucky Peak, hiking and exploring around McCall, and off-roading in the Boise National Forest. Even at 38 and 39 weeks, right up until two days before our little girl was born, she was right by my side as we chased a few winter rarities around town.

Just before 3am on the day before Thanksgiving, our little girl was born. After a hard delivery and a rocky recovery, we got to bring our new little turkey, Nora Rai, home the day after Thanksgiving. It didn’t hurt to have a bird-themed holiday as an excuse to bring her home in a turkey outfit.

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Nora Rai, just 2 days old, on the way home from the hospital. November 29, 2013.

Despite the number of times friends and family members encouraged us to get the most out of our adventures before the baby came (“while we still could”), or told us how they used to do fun stuff (you know, before the baby came), we never planned to stop adventuring when our little girl arrived. We’re pretty happy with our hobbies, and see no reason not to share the world with our little girl, and our little girl with the world.

Of course there was some recovery time and a bit of a learning curve (not to mention another surgery Ellen had to endure just two weeks after Nora was born) before everybody was ready to get back out there, but at about four weeks old, Nora got to join us for our first family bird walk. Two days before Christmas, we went on a walk around Wilson Springs Ponds, with my mom joining us for the day.

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Ellen, Nora, and Grandma at Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. December 23, 2013.

Mom and baby did great – Nora didn’t make too much of a fuss, and Ellen got to enjoy some sunshine and fresh air, not to mention a nice variety of waterfowl which we got to photograph with our new camera (but that’s another story).

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Ellen and Nora at Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. December 23, 2013.

We didn’t have any rare finds on our short walk, but Wilsons Springs is always good for a nice variety of waterfowl, especially in the winter when it’s often the only open water to be found nearby. Below is just a sampling of what we found, including Lesser Scaup, Wood Ducks, Gadwalls, Buffleheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and Mallards.

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Lesser Scaup at Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. December 23, 2013.

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Wood Duck at Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. December 23, 2013.

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Gadwall at Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. December 23, 2013.

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Bufflehead at Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. December 23, 2013.

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Bufflehead at Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. December 23, 2013.

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Ring-necked Ducks and Mallards at Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. December 23, 2013.

Of course its hard to find any kind of waterfowl without also finding a few coots and gulls as well (including this Ring-billed with his mouth full).

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American Coots and a Ring-billed Gull at Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. December 23, 2013.

One find that was particularly fun was this Marsh Wren, who only felt like showing his rear end for a picture.

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Marsh Wren (well it’s butt, anyway) at Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. December 23, 2013.

Ted Floyd (a Colorado birder and editor of the ABA’s Birding magazine, whom we ran into a couple of times around Boulder County during our Colorado days) wrote an article that I really liked a couple years back about how he introduced his kids to birding:

“My daughter and I spent a good part of her first day of life at the hospital window. We saw a Golden Eagle fly by, and we listened to coyotes warbling. The next few weeks, we explored the canyons, marshes, and mesas near our home in Boulder County, Colorado. We took our first out-of-state birding trip when my daughter was three months old; with Rick Wright, we birded around Tucson, Arizona, finding such regional specialties as Abert’s Towhee and Gila Woodpecker—plus a locally uncommon Swamp Sparrow. You get the picture.

My son got an even earlier start. He and I had wandered out onto a hospital balcony within two hours of his birth. (Long story, but it involved an impending blizzard, a scarcity of doctors and nurses, and a bit of a “misunderstanding” about restricted areas in the hospital.) It was nearly midnight, so my son and I tried for Great Horned Owl. A few days later, he and I and his big sister got Eastern Screech-Owl for the Boulder Christmas Bird Count. The bird was a “save”—the only one recorded for the count.”

While we didn’t attempt to find any rooftop access at midnight during our hospital stay with Nora, I do subscribe to Ted’s way of thinking. We certainly don’t intend to force Nora into birding – but she’ll certainly have every opportunity from a young age to find her own way of loving nature and the outdoors. Maybe overhearing a few ducks while safely bundled away from the cold in her stroller will help her get started.

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Stoddard (hey that’s me!) and Ellen, with Nora safely bundled away from the cold, at Wilson Springs Ponds, Canyon County. December 23, 2013.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Wood Ducks aplenty at MK Nature Center

With Ellen being 39 weeks pregnant, it seemed like a gentle walk close to home was the way to go. Boise is full of nice, close-to-home places to enjoy wildlife, so as much as we enjoy getting out of town and exploring southwest Idaho, sometimes it’s nice to have a little extra reason to stay in town. Towards the end of November, we enjoyed a nice walk in MK Nature Center.

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MK Nature Center, Ada County. November 23, 2013.

Lots of Mallards and Wood Ducks were enjoying the main pond, and we were also lucky enough to see one of the resident beavers out for a swim with the ducks.

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Mallard at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

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Wood Ducks at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

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Wood Ducks at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

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Beaver at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

Beaver swimming with the ducks at MK Nature Center, Ada County. November 23, 2013.

The park has several areas where they’ve built plexiglass windows into the side of a stream bed or pond so that visitors can learn about different aspects of a river ecosystem.

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Lots of fish (hey I’m a birder not a fisher!) at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

Behind the visitors center there’s an area with several feeders, and two different viewing blinds provide good photo opportunities. It’s probably the best place I know of for getting up close and personal with Wood Ducks, and you can even catch them working the platform feeders most of the time as well.

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Wood Duck at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

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Wood Duck and Mallard at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

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Wood Duck at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

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Wood Duck at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

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Wood Ducks at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

There were lots of Dark-eyed Juncos on this trip too.

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Dark-eyed Junco at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

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Dark-eyed Junco at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

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Dark-eyed Juncos at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

Mourning Doves were scouring the ground for spilled seeds.

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Mourning Dove at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

A flock of House Finches was hanging out in the trees surrounding the feeder area.

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House Finch at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

American Goldfinches were hanging out in the area as well, including this one that was getting a drink from the small stream nearby.

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American Goldfinch at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

Black-capped Chickadees were everywhere, though I couldn’t get one to show its face.

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Black-capped Chickadee at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

Near the end of our walk we also found this Red-Breasted Nuthatch conveniently enjoying a conspicuous perch.

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Red-breasted Nuthatch at MK Nature Center, Ada Count. November 23, 2013.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Looking for a Harris’s Sparrow at Hyatt Wetlands

In mid-November there was a Harris’s Sparrow hanging out at Hyatt Wetlands (same location that hosted a Great-tailed Grackle earlier in the year). Since Ellen was 8 and a half months pregnant at the time, we were glad to have something in town to chase.

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Ellen on the hunt for a Harris’s Sparrow 9 days before having a baby! Hyatt Wetlands, Ada County. November 18, 2013.

We arrived just minutes after several other birders had seen it, so we spent an hour or so patiently scouring up and down the little patch of vegetation it was known to hang out in.

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Location in Hyatt Wetlands where the Harris’s Sparrow was reported, Ada County. November 18, 2013.

While the Harris’s Sparrow didn’t ever turn up again while we were there, we did get to practice photography on a few more common species. There were higher numbers of Pied-billed Grebes than I’d ever seen in one location before. I would guess there was around 40-50 of them spread throughout the ponds.

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Pied-billed Grebes at Hyatt Wetlands, Ada County. November 18, 2013.

It’s hard to miss the American Coots too.

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American Coots at Hyatt Wetlands, Ada County. November 18, 2013.

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American Coots at Hyatt Wetlands, Ada County. November 18, 2013.

We saw this American Kestrel swooping down on songbirds near a little drainage area.

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American Kestrel at Hyatt Wetlands, Ada County. November 18, 2013.

There were several Mourning Doves hanging out in the brush below the kestrel’s favorite perch, and I’m sure they didn’t appreciate when I got too close and they had to flush with a raptor watching.

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Mourning Dove at Hyatt Wetlands, Ada County. November 18, 2013.

The drainage area leading out the north side of the wetlands was loaded with Song Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos, and in the back corner we spied some Mallards trying not to get noticed.

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Drainage on north side of Hyatt Wetlands, Ada County. November 18, 2013.

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Mallards at Hyatt Wetlands, Ada County. November 18, 2013.

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Song Sparrow at Hyatt Wetlands, Ada County. November 18, 2013.

Further into the wetlands there are some larger pond areas, which hosted a good number of Hooded Mergansers this season.

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Hyatt Wetlands, Ada County. November 18, 2013.

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Hooded Mergansers at Hyatt Wetlands, Ada County. November 18, 2013.

Black-billed Magpies were abundant as well.

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Black-billed Magpie at Hyatt Wetlands, Ada County. November 18, 2013.