Saturday, May 24, 2014

Northern Pygmy Owl north of Crouch

Around the same time the Harlequin Duck was found on the river near Banks, Jason Talbot reported finding a Black-backed Woodpecker on the nearby Schoolhouse Gulch hiking trail near Garden Valley. We headed up to the area in early April hoping to find the woodpecker, and enjoyed a lovely hike, but did not find the woodpecker. Others who were there the same day did, but we didn’t have specific enough of directions (we found out later we were focusing on the wrong area) and our little one was running out of patience for the trail.

While we were in the area we decided to explore a couple of other nearby places, and took a drive north of Crouch on the South Middlefork Road. It’s a beautiful road that starts out at the tiny town of Crouch with several fun little rustic storefronts to check out, then continues past a number of small ranching properties with beautiful homes on them, then as the valley narrows there is a stretch of river front cabins, and eventually the town gives way to the forest as you leave pavement and start passing campgrounds hiking trails. As has become our routine on day trips with Nora, eventually we needed to find a nice place to get off the road and give Nora a fresh diaper, a meal, and some playtime. There was still a fair amount of snow on some of the roads, but we found one that looked clear and headed in about a quarter of a mile.

Bell Creek map

Map of the Bell Creek area off of the Middle Fork of the Payette River.

We found out after we got home that the creek that runs along this road is called Bell Creek, and the road leads up to the trailhead for One Spoon Trail. We got settled in and Ellen fed Nora while I hiked around a bit, seeing what we could find in the area.

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Nora and Ellen hanging out in the Bell Creek area, Boise County. April 6, 2014.

It seemed like a great patch of woods for finding forest specialties, and it sure ended up being productive! It was a cool, foggy morning with intermittent sprinkles, so the lighting wasn’t great for photography, but as soon as we got out of the car we started hearing great birds all around.

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Bell Creek area, Boise County. April 6, 2014.

One of the first birds we heard was a Pileated Woodpecker. We also heard both Mountain and Black-capped Chickadees, Pygmy and Red-breasted Nuthatches, and the only bird we actually photographed – a Brown Creeper.

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Brown Creeper near Bell Creek, Boise County. April 6, 2014.

The best birds of the day were a pair of Northern Pygmy Owls we heard calling back and forth way up on the hillside. I was thrilled to hear them, because they were our first Northern Pygmy Owls for Idaho, and I thought it would have been too late in the day (about 11am) to hear them calling. I wondered if the cool, foggy morning made the owls think it wasn’t as late in the day yet? In either case, I couldn’t help but try to chase after the birds. It’s difficult to find such a great bird, and just be happy with hearing it only. I started hoofing it up what must have been a 45 degree angle hillside, with no trail to help cut through the brush, straight towards where I thought the bird was. I made it further up the hill than I had any business being, and couldn’t keep solid footing enough to continue (that and I couldn’t catch my breath!). I decided to use a little restraint for once and let this one go, and headed back down to meet up with Ellen and Nora instead. We’ll definitely be checking this place again in the future, maybe we’ll get luckier next time and the owls will be easier to see.

The next stop after the Bell Creek area was Lake Cascade. We didn’t have any specific birds in mind, we just wanted to enjoy the scenery, and it sure didn’t disappoint.

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Lake Cascade, Valley County. April 6, 2014.

Barrow’s Goldeneyes were among the more common birds on the lake during this trip.

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Barrow’s and Common Goldeneyes on Lake Cascade, Valley County. April 6, 2014.

On one of the marshy edges of the lake we spotted a couple of beautiful drake Wood Ducks, our first for Valley County.

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Wood Ducks near Lake Cascade, Valley County. April 6, 2014.

Near the southern tip of the lake, we spotted this Northern Shrike, hanging out a little later in the season than most Northern Shrikes, which usually head further north for the summer.

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Northern Shrike near the southern tip of  Lake Cascade, Valley County. April 6, 2014.

In a canal south of the lake, we found another pair of Wood Ducks, plus a pair of Common Mergansers.

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Wood Ducks near the southern tip of Lake Cascade, Valley County. April 6, 2014.

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Common Mergansers near the southern tip of Lake Cascade, Valley County. April 6, 2014.

All in all it was a fantastic trip. We sometimes delay mountain day trips until a little later in the year to avoid getting hung up on snow, but we were pleasantly surprised to find much of the area snow free. There was just enough on the higher mountainsides to add another layer to the scenery. We’ll definitely be starting our spring mountain trips earlier next year.

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Sandhill Cranes in Garden Valley, Boise County. April 6, 2014.

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