Monday, April 14, 2014

Boise winter rarities and learning how to bird with a baby

This January there were several good close-to-town rarities here in the Boise area. This was great for us, since we were eager to start adding some “normal” activities back into our routine after our little girl was born back at the end of November. She proved what a great birding buddy she could be on our first major outing – an overnight trip up to Moscow to see a Northern Hawk Owl. At this young age (6 weeks) she was still spending the majority of her time alternating between sleeping and eating, so we worked out a routine where we would bird from the car for an hour or two while she slept, and when she woke up we would find a nice spot to park and do some stationary birding while feeding her.

Some of the interesting rarities this time of the year included:

  • Western Scrub-Jay – rare but regular resident of southeastern Idaho scrub habitat, very rare in the Boise area. Hanging out around Cory Lane in Boise.
  • Steller’s Jay – fairly common resident of montane forests, but unusual outside the mountains. Hanging out in Boise’s North End near 24th and Anderson.
  • Blue Jay – rare but annual visitor, a great find anywhere in Idaho. Hanging out with the Steller’s Jay in Boise's North End near 24th and Anderson.
  • Varied Thrush – rare but regular winter visitor in northern and central Idaho, much more rare in southern Idaho, except for 1-2 that have wintered in Kathryn Albertson Park for several years now.
  • White-throated Sparrow – rare winter visitor across the state, except for one that has wintered in Kathryn Albertson Park for a couple of years.
  • Glaucous-winged Gull – rare but semi-annual gull, usually found in landfills or major reservoirs among other large concentrations of gulls. In this case, hanging out at Hidden Hollow Landfill in the Boise Foothills.
  • Glaucous Gull – rare but semi-annual gull, usually found in landfills or major reservoirs among other large concentrations of gulls. In this case, hanging out at Hidden Hollow Landfill in the Boise Foothills.
  • Mew Gull - rare but semi-annual gull, usually found in landfills or major reservoirs among other large concentrations of gulls. In this case, hanging out at Hidden Hollow Landfill in the Boise Foothills.
  • Eurasian Wigeon – rare but annual winter visitor, sometimes found in natural places, often found on suburban water features. In this case, DeMeyer Park.

We first checked a couple of ponds in Eagle, but it turned out they were empty, so we headed up to Hidden Hollow Landfill where I got out and checked the massive gull flocks for rarities while Ellen fed Nora in the car (don’t worry, there’s no way I’d let my brand new little girl get out of the car at the dump!)

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Nora waking up from her nap at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

While looking for a nice vantage point I ran into a very friendly gentleman working at the landfill who asked if I was looking for the “big white gull” that somebody else had been there looking for the day before. He showed me a few pictures on his cell phone of birds he’d seen hanging around, including an American White Pelican and a Bald Eagle. I was surprised how nice and friendly everyone there was, since I would have expected all the landfill employees to just think anybody going there for recreational purposes must be crazy.

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Ellen watching me watch the gulls at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

We didn’t find any of our target birds, but it was nice to pick up our first of year Herring and California Gulls from among the masses of Ring-billed Gulls. I at least got to practice using the Sport mode on my Canon SX50 HS to capture birds in flight while Ellen fed Nora.

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California Gull at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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Herring Gull among Ring-billed Gulls at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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Ring-billed Gulls fighting over food at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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Herring Gull and Ring-billed Gull at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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Ring-billed Gull at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

Other birds hanging out at the landfill included massive numbers of American Crows, Common Ravens, and European Starlings.

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Mixed birds and refuse at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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European Starlings at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

The birds would have been a lot more fun to view without garbage as the backdrop (or foreground in some cases) but it was still nice to study them and hope for something rare.

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California Gulls at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

At least there were plenty of birds in flight so that I could shoot the blue (well, gray) sky, cloud formations, or the nearby snowy mountain tops as the backdrop.

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Ring-billed Gull at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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Ring-billed Gull at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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Ring-billed Gulls at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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Ring-billed Gulls at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

Our next stop after the landfill was DeMeyer Park to pick up the Eurasian Wigeon. These birds are literally “sitting ducks”, and are almost always easy to find and photograph when you know they’re in the area. They hang out with flocks of American Wigeons and can frequently be found feeding on grassy park lawns, often with no nearby obstructions of your view.

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DeMeyer Park, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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Eurasian Wigeon and American Wigeons at DeMeyer Park, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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Eurasian Wigeon and American Wigeons at DeMeyer Park, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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Eurasian Wigeon, American Wigeons, and a pair of Mallards at DeMeyer Park, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

We also made a quick pass through Dry Creek Cemetery, hoping to spot the resident Northern Goshawk. We found another accipiter, a Cooper’s Hawk, soaring above the cemetery instead.

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Cooper’s Hawk cruising over Dry Creek Cemetery, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

At our stop in the North End (near Anderson and 24th) to look for the Blue Jay and Steller’s Jay we struck out on both. We headed to find the Western Scrub-Jay instead, and were more successful. It was getting quite windy, which we worried would keep the jay hidden in denser vegetation, but after scouring the area for 30 minutes he finally popped out of a bush to show off for us. We enjoyed great looks, and even took a bit of video. These guys were quite regular when we lived in Colorado, but this was only our second in Idaho.

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Western Scrub-Jay near Cory Lane and Dalton Lane, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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Western Scrub-Jay near Cory Lane and Dalton Lane, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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Western Scrub-Jay near Cory Lane and Dalton Lane, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

Western Scrub-Jay near Cory Lane and Dalton Lane, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

Our last stop of the day was Kathryn Albertson Park. We didn’t find our Varied Thrush or White-throated Sparrow, but did enjoy winding the day down with a few more ordinary birds.

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Cedar Waxwings at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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Mallards at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

The highlight was at the end of the day when several deer that were hanging out in the park started converging on us near a stone bench back in the north west corner. They got so close! While we enjoyed the close encounter, it is a bit bothersome to see some of the local wildlife become so accustomed to people (and being fed by them) that they approach people with little (or no) fear. I imagine this would put them at risk for unpleasant encounters with people’s pets, with cars, or in other ways.

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Mule Deer near the trail in Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

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Mule Deer approaching us at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. January 11, 2014.

We shot a quick video clip showing just how close the deer approached us. Quite the memory for sure!

Ellen and Nora experiencing a close encounter of the deer kind at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. January 11, 2014

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