Sunday, June 1, 2014

Black-throated Sparrows, Bushtits, and other fun finds on the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway

At the end of April, after checking up on the Snowy Plover at Mountain Home Reservoir, we headed out to see the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway. We’ve seen different parts of the loop several times, but had never been through the entire loop before, so we were excited to see some new sights. The expansive wilderness areas along the byway provide great habitat for a number of species that specialize in sage, juniper, and mountain mahogany. It was a bit early in the year for some of those species, so we’ll be making another trip later in June, but there were definitely some nice specialties to be found.

Owyhees Map

Our trip along the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway, starting with a stop at Mountain Home Reservoir (point B), the Black-throated Sparrows on Mud Flat Road (point C), Poison Creek Recreation Site (point D), Cottonwood Creek (point E), Barrows Goldeneye Reservoir (Point F), North Fork Campground (point G), Douglas Reservoir (point E) and Cow Creek (point I). Click here to see this map in Google Maps.

Our first stop on the byway was a spot along Mud Flat Road south of Grandview where a family of Black-throated Sparrows have been breeding for a number of years. This is the northern edge of their range, and probably the most reliable place in the state to find them.

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Mud Flat Road near the spot where the Black-throated Sparrows breed (point C on the map above), Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

We posted about these birds last year, when we found a pair of adults with three recently fledged juveniles in July. We had three adults on this trip, so perhaps there will be more than one breeding pair using the area this year.

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Black-throated Sparrow on Mud Flat Road, Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

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Black-throated Sparrow on Mud Flat Road, Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

Our next stop was Poison Creek Recreation Site. It seemed like a fantastic migrant trap, though we were still a bit early in the season for a lot of the expected migrants. We did have quite a few Yellow-rumped Warblers, House Wrens, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and a Cassin’s Vireo. We’ll probably make another trip later in the year to see what else is showing up here.

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Poison Creek Recreation Site (point D on the map above), Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

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House Wren at Poison Creek Recreation Site, Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

The real highlight was just south of the recreation area, where we found a Long-eared Owl nest that you could look at from the road. This has been a regular place to find Long-eared Owls for a few years now. It wasn’t our first Long-eared Owl, but it was probably one of the better views we’ve had.

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Long-eared Owl south of Poison Creek Recreation Site, Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

Al Larson, the “Bluebird Man”, runs a bluebird trail along the byway through the areas where the juniper and mountain mahogany are a little thicker. He puts a tremendous amount of work into maintaining and monitoring his trail, and his work has had a great effect on the nesting success of Mountain Bluebirds along the byway. The bluebirds were present in good numbers for most of the byway, and it was nice to see them doing well in this area.

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Mountain Bluebird on the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway, Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

Lark Sparrows were also present in good numbers. They enjoy many types of scrubby habitats, so they can be found throughout a lot of Idaho, but this area is definitely one of their strongholds.

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Lark Sparrow on the Owyhee County Backcountry Byway, Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

We had a surprising number of Ruby-crowned Kinglets along much of the byway as well. The highlight was at one stop near Cottonwood Creek, where the trees were dripping with kinglets. We saw several different trees that each had probably a dozen kinglets hopping all over them.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Cottonwood Creek (point E on the map above), Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

We were also surprised at the number of small reservoirs and lakes that could be found along the byway. Although the byway runs through an awful lot of dry, arid land, it seemed surprisingly verdant with the all the creeks, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs criss-crossing and dotting the byway. There were quite a few that we couldn’t find names for, and some that didn’t even appear on any maps we could find.

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Unnamed reservoir (point F on the map above) on the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway, Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

There were a few kinds of ducks on the reservoir, but the best were a pair of Barrow’s Goldeneyes. I suspect they may be breeding here. It’s not as far north as much of their breeding range, but it was at a fairly high altitude, which does seem appropriate for this species.

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Barrow’s Goldeneye (male) on the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway, Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

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Barrow’s Goldeneye (female) on the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway, Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

Another great stop was the North Fork Campground. It sits along the North Fork of the Owyhee River, at the bottom of a beautiful canyon. It was definitely one of the prettier stops along our path.

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North Fork Campground (point G on the map above), Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

We stopped there to feed Nora for a little while, and enjoyed a pair of Say’s Phoebes hawking insects from on top of different plants, rocks, or picnic tables.

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Say’s Phoebe at North Fork Campground, Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

Another highlight was a small flock of 3-4 Bushtits, a deceptively fun bird, given their dull gray plumage, and still among the few that we’ve actually laid eyes on in Idaho.

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Bushtit at North Fork Campground, Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

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Bushtit at North Fork Campground, Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.e

Our next big concentration of birds was around Douglas Reservoir, just north of the campground. We were in a hurry to get home before it got too late, so didn’t slow down for many pictures, but we couldn’t help but stop and appreciate this beautiful Northern Pintail we found just a few feet from the road in a small puddle.

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Northern Pintail near Douglas Reservoir (point H on the map above), Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

Other good birds we had to appreciate quickly as we sped on the rest of the way home was this Loggerhead Shrike just north of Douglas Reservoir, and a Wilson’s Snipe on a fencepost near Cow Creek, north of Jordan Valley (Oregon).

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Loggerhead Shrike north of Douglas Reservoir, Owyhee County. April 28, 2014.

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Wilson’s Snipe north of Jordan Valley (point I on the map above), Malheur County (OR). April 28, 2014.

1 comment:

  1. Who would have thought that there are so many birds on the desert.

    ReplyDelete