Friday, May 30, 2014

Snowy Plover at Mountain Home Reservoir

Towards the end of April the hot news in the Idaho birding world was a Snowy Plover that had been found at Mountain Home Reservoir. Last year Dave Lawrence found one at C.J. Strike Reservoir, although it was the same day that we found our Harlequin Ducks, so we didn’t feel too bad about missing it. However, we were glad for the chance to add one to our list this year, so we headed to Mountain Home Reservoir as soon as we had a chance. Snowy Plovers actually breed south of Idaho in California, so most that we see here are probably overshoots during spring migration.

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Mountain Home Reservoir, Elmore County. April 25, 2014.

It was a dark, overcast day so conditions weren’t great for photographs, but we enjoyed trying anyway. There were plenty of great birds around, with an especially good mix of shorebirds.

One of our first finds was this handsome Cinnamon Teal.

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Cinnamon Teal at Mountain Home Reservoir, Elmore County. April 25, 2014.

Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets were probably the most abundant shorebirds on this trip, though Least Sandpipers weren’t far behind.

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Mixed waterfowl and shorebirds at Mountain Home Reservoir, Elmore County. April 25, 2014.

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Black-necked Stilt at Mountain Home Reservoir, Elmore County. April 25, 2014.

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Least Sandpiper at Mountain Home Reservoir, Elmore County. April 25, 2014.

We also had a handful of Lesser Yellowlegs.

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Black-necked Stilt, American Avocets, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Least Sandpiper at Mountain Home Reservoir, Elmore County. April 25, 2014.

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Lesser Yellowlegs at Mountain Home Reservoir, Elmore County. April 25, 2014.

Normally Semipalmated Plovers might be enough on their own to draw a lot of attention from birders, and we probably had around 10 of them on the reservoir, certainly an unusually high count for Idaho.

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Semipalmated Plovers at Mountain Home Reservoir, Elmore County. April 25, 2014.

Several Long-billed Dowitchers were around as well. Though their size and shape, as well as somewhat uniform dark color make their fairly distinctive, they also have a unique habit of really mashing their whole face down into the water. It’s not uncommon to seem them pretty much up to their eyeballs in the water, probing for food in the mud.

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Long-billed Dowitchers at Mountain Home Reservoir, Elmore County. April 25, 2014.

Among the non-shorebirds, we had quite a few American Pipits, which we almost always find cavorting around with shorebirds, and our first-of-year Franklin’s Gull.

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American Pipit at Mountain Home Reservoir, Elmore County. April 25, 2014.

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Franklin’s Gull at Mountain Home Reservoir, Elmore County. April 25, 2014.

The real highlight of the trip was finding the Snowy Plover. We didn’t find it on our first couple of passes along the reservoir’s edge, but patience paid off and eventually we found it.

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Snowy Plover at Mountain Home Reservoir, Elmore County. April 25, 2014.

If you hadn’t already noticed a theme for our trips lately, I should point out that we owe quite a few of our best sightings this year to Nora. She sleeps fairly well in the car when we’re out birding, but we try to time things right to land at some birdable location for when she wakes up and is ready for a fresh diaper and a meal. The 30-45 minute breaks we take to feed her have helped us be more thorough and observant at locations where we might normally just make one good pass and then move on. We sat and watched the Snowy Plover pace up and down the shore while Nora ate. It was fun to see it shuffle past a Least Sandpiper, and then see the Least Sandpiper jump and spin around as though it were somehow frightened by the equally tiny Snowy Plover.

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Snowy Plover and Least Sandpiper Mountain Home Reservoir, Elmore County. April 25, 2014.

Here we had a nice lineup of the Snowy Plover next to a Semipalmated Plover and a Least Sandpiper, all of which are among the smaller shorebirds in North America.

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Snowy Plover, Semipalmated Plover, and Least Sandpiper at Mountain Home Reservoir, Elmore County. April 25, 2014.

After finishing up at Mountain Home Reservoir, we made a quick trip down to C.J. Strike Reservoir – Jacks Creek WMA. There we had our first-of-year Western Kingbirds, which were also the first-of-year Western Kingbirds for Owyhee County.

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Western Kingbirds at C.J. Strike Reservoir – Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. April 25, 2014.

Other nice first-of-year birds included Bonaparte’s Gulls, as well as Caspian and Forster’s Terns.

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Caspian Terns, Forster’s Tern, and Bonaparte’s Gulls at C.J. Strike Reservoir – Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. April 25, 2014.

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Forster’s Terns and Bonaparte’s Gulls at C.J. Strike Reservoir – Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. April 25, 2014.

Another fun find was a Clark’s Grebe, which you can distinguish from the more common Western Grebe by the white surrounding the eye, and the thinner black stripe running down the back of the neck.

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Clark’s Grebe at C.J. Strike Reservoir – Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. April 25, 2014.

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