Monday, June 30, 2014

Weeknight hike at Wildcat Gulch

On May 21 we went for a quick hike after work along Wildcat Gulch, just north of the turnoff for Grimes Creek from Highway 21.

Wildcat Gulch Map

Map of our hike along Wildcat Gulch, Boise County.

Last July the Pine Creek Fire raged between Wildcat Gulch and Grimes Creek, burning just shy of 2,800 acres before being fully contained. The burn damage is more readily visible from Grimes Creek, but we still saw a few burnt patches here and there along our hike. Wildcat Gulch was used (successfully) as a key fire line to prevent the growth of the fire. According to the incident overview from InciWeb (the one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about the status of wildfires):

“The Pine Creek fire burned at varying intensity over the terrain, producing a mosaic pattern. In some areas within the fire perimeter, the fire burned with such intensity that it consumed all visible vegetation, while in other areas it burned light enough to consume only the vegetation at ground level. This variation in heat and duration allows for regeneration of the vegetation to occur more rapidly. Many of the tree and shrub species are fire-dependent and will prosper in the recently affected ecosystem.”

We definitely saw a few burned patches but were pleased to see that generally, things were quite lush and beautiful, and seem to be recovering quickly.

IMG_3489

Wildcat Gulch, Boise County. May 21, 2014.

Since it was a cloudy evening on the shady side mountain, photography conditions were much better for the general scenery than they were for the birds, though we couldn’t help but at least try.

IMG_3407

Wildcat Gulch, Boise County. May 21, 2014.

Among the nice birds we found was probably our highest concentration of Western Tanagers so far this year, we probably had a couple dozen spread out along the mile or so that we covered.

IMG_3415

Western Tanager at Wildcat Gulch, Boise County. May 21, 2014.

Yellow-rumped Warblers were also quite abundant. Since they both breed here and pass through here on they’re way further north, I’m not sure there’s a good way to tell (prior to nest-building activities) which birds are staying and which are just passing through, but I tend to think the larger flocks that don’t seem to have paired off or become territorial yet may still have aways to go before they end their journey.

IMG_3417

Yellow-rumped Warbler at Wildcat Gulch, Boise County. May 21, 2014.

We had lots of Dark-eyed Juncos as well, busily chipping away and foraging in the understory.

IMG_3432

Dark-eyed Junco at Wildcat Gulch, Ada County. May 21, 2014.

The gulch was also a major hotspot for Spotted Towhees, though they were usually skulking around out of sight. We tried the whole night to get a picture, but despite their abundance we only saw one or two actually step out into open view.

IMG_3451

Spotted Towhee at Wildcat Gulch, Boise County. May 21, 2014.

It was obvious the Lazuli Buntings were ready to get down to business, with the males each picking different perches, as prominent as could be, and singing loudly.

IMG_3456

Lazuli Bunting at Wildcat Gulch, Boise County. May 21, 2014.

We also had a couple of visually similar birds – a pair of Western Bluebirds – striking the same poses up on top of Ponderosa Pines.

IMG_3474

Western Bluebird at Wildcat Gulch, Boise County. May 21, 2014.

The light was too dim to photograph everything we saw, but a few other fun finds included a Red Crossbill, a half dozen Yellow Warblers spread along the trail, three kinds of flycatchers, a Hermit Thrush, and others, for a total of 22 species in just over an hour and a half. Not bad for a work night!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

First-of-year Eastern Kingbird near Highland Valley Road

On May 19 we went for a walk along Highland Valley Road. This is the road that takes you from Highway 21 up to the top of Lucky Peak. There are usually good birds the whole way up, but one of our favorite areas to focus on is fairly close to Highway 21, where Highland Valley Road rides alongside a seasonal creek bed with nice riparian shrubby habitat.

Highland Valley Map

Map of our walk along Highland Valley Road, Ada County.

IMG_3399

Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 18, 2014.

Western Kingbirds regularly breed along this road, and were out in force. We saw several noisy pairs, and it seemed like they were all making a point to assert their territorial boundaries.

IMG_3259

Western Kingbird along Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 19, 2014.

Chipping Sparrows were present in good numbers, as they have been almost everywhere we’ve been lately.

IMG_3276

Chipping Sparrow along Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 19, 2014.

There are lots of California Quails along the road as well. Occasionally you can find Chukars or Gray Partridges as well.

IMG_3291

California Quail along Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 19, 2014.

At one point we were thinking out loud about how we were about due for our first-of-year Eastern Kingbird, and within 5 minutes we spotted one, perched far up on a hillside, and then it vanished over the next hill and we didn’t see it again on our walk. Though they’re by no means rare, it was fun to be the first to find one in southwest Idaho this season.

IMG_3302

Eastern Kingbird along Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 19, 2014.

In total we had 23 species after our 2 hour, 2 mile walk. Others we were able to photograph included Black-headed Grosbeaks, and a Dusky Flycatcher.

IMG_3318

Black-headed Grosbeak along Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 19, 2014.

IMG_3336

Dusky Flycatcher along Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 19, 2014.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Red Crossbill near Idaho City

On May 18 we enjoyed a nice relaxing drive through some favorite, (relatively) close to home parts of the Boise National Forest. We started in town and headed out on Rocky Canyon Road, which cuts over the Boise Ridge, and then spent some time at Robie Creek, then headed up to Grayback Gulch and Shaws Gulch near Idaho City.

Boise NF Map

Map of our birding stops on Rocky Canyon Road (point B), Robie Creek (point C), Grayback Gulch (point D), and Shaw Gulch (point E). May 18, 2014.

Nora was napping in the back of the car for most of the trip, and since she tends to stir easily when we slow down too much or turn off the car, we enjoyed most of our birds by ear as we rolled along with the windows down. We did see a few fun things though. The south-facing slope of the Boise Ridge is fairly dry and scrubby habitat, but as soon as you hit the ridge and start coming down the north side, the habitat transitions to dense forest. When we hit that part of the road there were so many birds to listen to, including loads of flycatchers and warblers. We decided it was probably a good opportunity to try to get a MacGillivray’s which we did end up hearing. While we were pulled over for a minute hoping to see the MacGillivray’s Warbler we got a nice view of this Calliope Hummingbird.

IMG_3096

Calliope Hummingbird on Rocky Canyon Road (point B on the map above), Boise County. May 18, 2014.

Robie Creek is also great for warblers, wrens, sparrows, swallows, and vireos in the spring. We had quite a few Yellow-breasted Chats, a colony of Violet-green Swallows, and several Yellow Warblers, to name just a few.

IMG_3102

Yellow Warbler at Robie Creek (point C on the map above), Boise County. May 18, 2014.

Nora was waking up by the time we got to Grayback Gulch, so we spent a little extra time there, feeding her and enjoying the birds in the group campsite. Historically, the group campgrounds have been a reliable place to find White-headed Woodpeckers, so we stop in occasionally to see if we can find one there.

IMG_3198

Grayback Gulch group campsite (point D on the map above), Boise County. May 18, 2014.

We had several fun birds while we were there, but the most abundant were Chipping Sparrows and Hammond’s Flycatchers.

IMG_3121

Chipping Sparrow at Grayback Gulch, Boise County. May 18, 2014.

IMG_3151

Chipping Sparrow at Grayback Gulch, Boise County. May 18, 2014.

IMG_3140

Hammond’s Flycatcher at Grayback Gulch, Boise County. May 18, 2014.

Since we didn’t find a White-headed Woodpecker at Grayback Gulch, we headed just next door to Shaw Gulch where they nested last year. We didn’t find our woodpecker, but were pleased to find a few Red Crossbills instead. They can be surprisingly tricky to track down, given how abundant they likely are in this type of habitat, so we were thrilled to find (and be able to photograph) one.

IMG_3243

Red Crossbill at Shaw Gulch (point E on the map above), Boise County. May 18, 2014.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Twisted Spring Trail in Avimor

On May 17 we spent the first half of the day out at Silver City, and when we got back to town we still had some daylight left so we headed over to Avimor to look for a few of their specialties. Avimor is a planned community in the foothills north of Eagle along Highway 55, and it just happens to have several resident birders, so I suspect that some of the unique birds that are found regularly at Avimor might actually be more widespread in the foothills than realized, it’s just that there’s no where else with the same concentration of birders that might find them and get the word out.

On this particular trip our targets included Blue-gray Gnatcatchers that have been seen on Twisted Spring Trail, Bewick’s Wrens that are seen several different places in the area, and Grasshopper Sparrows that have been seen at Burnt Car Draw. Click here for a map of trails in the Avimor area.

IMG_2974_thumb

Twisted Spring Trail near Avimor, Ada County. May 17, 2014.

Near the trailhead for Twisted Spring Trail there’s a shallow pond with a resident (and well photographed) Cinnamon Teal. This fellow’s picture has shown up on the Idaho Facebook Birding page more times this spring than perhaps any other Cinnamon Teal, thanks to all the people that have been out to Avimor to look for birds.

IMG_2924_thumb

Cinnamon Teal near the Twisted Spring Trailhead, Ada County. May 17, 2014.

Among the 33 species we recorded on our nearly 2 hours in this area were several Black-headed Grosbeaks, lots of Yellow Warblers, and a couple of Black-chinned Hummingbirds, to name just a few.

IMG_2932_thumb

Black-headed Grosbeak at Twisted Spring Trail, Ada County. May 17, 2014.

IMG_2985_thumb

Yellow Warbler at Twisted Spring Trail, Ada County. May 17, 2014.

IMG_3048_thumb

Black-chinned Hummingbird at Twisted Spring Trail, Ada County. May 17, 2014.

The highlight was finding our Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. These guys were all over the foothills last spring, but it’s been a much slower year for them this year. Hulls Gulch has had one or two with some regularity, and there are several at Avimor (probably nesting, as they did last year), but not much else close to Boise.

IMG_2959_thumb

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Twisted Spring Trail, Ada County. May 17, 2014.

After our hike at Twisted Spring Trail we headed over to Burnt Car Draw. We hiked up the trail a couple of miles looking for Grasshopper Sparrows that have been regular there for a few years, but didn’t find them on the way up. As frequently happens, we ended up finding them on the way back, when we were almost back to the trailhead. The light was fading and they were too flighty to get pictures, but we were at least glad to get a few glimpses, just enough to confirm the ID.

Before we left for the day we parked near the Spring Valley Creek Greenbelt to feed Nora and see what we could see or hear from the car. While parked we heard a Bewick’s Wren calling from a little ways down the trail. The light was too dim and we were too beat from several other hikes earlier in the day to try to chase them down for a photo, so we just let them be. The most interesting experience from our pit stop was watching the pair of Swainson’s Hawks that were tending a nest near the top of a tree get harassed by over a dozen different song birds. They really seemed to be a magnet for those small birds, whom I’m sure were just interested in protecting their own nests. The Swainson’s Hawks really didn’t seem bothered by any of the feistier littler birds and just held their ground.

IMG_3066_thumb

Swainson’s Hawk near the Spring Valley Creek Greenbelt in Avimor, Ada County. May 17, 2014.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird and Fox Sparrow at Silver City

On May 17 we took a trip out to Silver City, a ghost town in the Owyhee Mountains. Silver City had its heyday in the 1880’s as a gold and silver mining town, and peaked at a population of around 2,500 with 75 businesses. Today there are still 70 buildings from that era standing, many of them in good condition.

IMG_2881

Entrance to Silver City, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

The Owyhee Mountains are also good for a number of birds, including Green-tailed Towhee, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, and Fox Sparrow, so it’s a nice destination both for sight-seeing and for birding. The map below shows the locations where we submitted eBird checklists on our way in to Silver City.

Silver City Map

Map of our eBird checklists for our Silver City, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

One of the better hotspots on the way in was Sinker Creek (point B on the map above), where the main road intersects with some ATV trails near some old corrals and a creek. There we had a few nice songbirds, including the Lazuli Bunting, American Goldfinch, and Northern Flicker below. Not pictured were several Yellow-breasted Chats, a Fox Sparrow, and a Green-tailed Towhee.

IMG_2755

Lazuli Bunting near Sinker Creek, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

IMG_2769

American Goldfinch at Sinker Creek, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

IMG_2779

Northern Flicker at Sinker Creek, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

The road up through the Owyhees can be treacherous at times, but provides lots of great vantage points.

IMG_2786

The Owyhee Mountains, Owhyee County. May 17, 2014.

In the town of Silver City, we had loads of Violet-green Swallows, a handful of Dark-eyed Juncos, and several other birds.

IMG_2912

Violet-green Swallow at Silver City, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

 

IMG_2811

Violet-green Swallow at Silver City, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

IMG_2792

Dark-eyed Junco at Silver City, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

A couple of our favorite finds included a Broad-tailed Hummingbird, and a Fox Sparrow. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were by far the most abundant hummingbird when we lived in Colorado, but here in Idaho they can be tricky to find. Silver City seems to be a fairly reliable place to find them. It seems like in general, the mountain ranges no the southern portion of the state seem to have the best odds of hosting Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, though they’re spotted less frequently across much of the state. They’re easy to identify based on the metallic buzzing sound they make in flight even if you don’t get a good view. Other hummingbirds have their own sounds and can certainly make wing noise while doing territorial or courtship displays, but only the Broad-tailed has the constant metallic buzz with every wingbeat.

IMG_2833

Broad-tailed Hummingbird at Silver City, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

Fox Sparrows have been an inordinately difficult bird for us to find this year. They breed across much of the state, preferring high elevation willow thickets near forests, and they’re seen fairly regularly all over the state, but for whatever reason we had a hard time tracking one down this year. We were thrilled to hear one singing just yards away while we were photographing the Broad-tailed Hummingbird, and when we looked down in the bushes it was right in front of our noses.

IMG_2850

Fox Sparrow at Silver City, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

We got plenty of non-bird photos while we were in town as well. I can’t comment much on the history of individual buildings, but in case you haven’t been out to Silver City before, here’s a sampling of what you can see around town.

IMG_2874

Silver City, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

IMG_2879

Silver City, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

IMG_2885

Silver City, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

IMG_2901

Silver City, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

IMG_2902

Silver City, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

IMG_2905

Silver City, Owyhee County. May 17, 2014.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Weeknight walk at Hulls Gulch

Continuing our efforts to get out more often for some kind of walk or hike on weeknights after work, we headed out to Hulls Gulch on May 14. The night before we got ourselves in a bad situation off trail after dark on the back side of Lucky Peak, so it was nice to follow that up with a little more tame experience.

IMG_2087

Ellen and Nora at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

Things were a little quieter than our last trip, though we actually had a little better diversity. We found 41 species this time, 2 more than the trip before. We kicked things off with a Black-chinned Hummingbird, using the same perch as the one we saw last time, so maybe it was the same bird, setting up a breeding territory.

IMG_2106

Black-chinned Hummingbird at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

We saw our Western Screech Owl again in its nest box back along the creek. Check out the goofy eyes its making in the first picture on the left. I think it was halfway through a blink as it was coming out of the nest box.

IMG_2391

Bridge and Creek near the Western Screech Owl nest box in Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

IMG_2129

Western Screech Owl at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

IMG_2130

Western Screech Owl at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

Black-headed Grosbeaks and Bullock’s Orioles, which we only found a couple of on our last trip, were all over the place this time.

IMG_2149

Black-headed Grosbeak at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

IMG_2383

Bullock’s Oriole at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

A few other finds included this Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Belted Kingfisher, and Downy Woodpecker.

IMG_2197

Northern Rough-winged Swallow at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

IMG_2217

Belted Kingfisher at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

IMG_2244

Downy Woodpecker at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

We also enjoyed a Cooper’s Hawk that seemed to move around the reserve along our path, giving us great views several different times.

IMG_2314

Cooper’s Hawk at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

IMG_2374

Cooper’s Hawk at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

After watching the bird preen and stretch, we caught this fun take off sequence as the bird prepared to launch off of its perch.

IMG_2378

Cooper’s Hawk at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

IMG_2379

Cooper’s Hawk at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

IMG_2380

Cooper’s Hawk at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

IMG_2381

Cooper’s Hawk at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

When it settled back down it had a little nicer lighting to bring our the nice colors.

IMG_2408

Cooper’s Hawk at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.

As with our last trip, we made a quick pass by the cliffs where the Great Horned Owls have nested for ears, and found a couple of nestlings looking out from the cliff edge.

IMG_2456

Great Horned Owl nestlings at Hulls Gulch, Ada County. May 14, 2014.