Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pine Grosbeak and White-breasted Nuthatch near House Mountain

After kicking off our morning on May 10 at Foote Park, we headed out to explore a little around the small town of Prairie, via the Blacks Creek Road. We ended up taking a quick trip up towards the Trinity Mountains (as far as we could go until the roads were snowed in) and then spent some time looking for birds in the burned area at the foot of House Mountain. Check out the map of our trip below, where each point is a place we submitted an eBird checklist:

Prairie Map

Map of our trip on Blacks Creek Road, through Prairie, and towards the Trinity Mountains, with points for eBird checklist location. May 10, 2014.

Blacks Creek Road starts out at I-84, and heads north through the foothills and along the western edge of the Danskin Mountains, which is a popular OHV recreation area (though it’s closed right now due to the Elk and Pony Complex fires last year). After passing Willow Creek Trailhead the road rises to the top of the beautiful canyon of the South Fork of the Boise River. The view is fantastic, with the canyon stretching out on one side of the road, and the grassy hillsides and camas lily meadows on the other.

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Blacks Creek Road at the South Fork of the Boise River, Elmore County. May 10, 2014.

We saw a pair of Osprey nesting on a large snag overlooking the canyon. Last year this nest site was occupied by a Bald Eagle, so either the eagles didn’t return to the nest year, or somehow the Ospreys ran them out of town.

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Ospreys on Blacks Creek Road near the South Fork of the Boise River, Elmore County. May 10, 2014.

Blacks Creek Road follows the river canyon for a while, providing breathtaking views at every turn.

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South Fork of the Boise River, Elmore County. May 10, 2014.

When the road starts to peel away from the canyon, you’re getting close to the town of Prairie. There are lots of great spots to look for birds in the area. Right off the bat we saw a drake Green-winged Teal on a small pond near the road.

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Green-winged Teal near Prairie, Elmore County. May 10, 2014.

We continued on through Prairie to see what the road out to the Trinity Mountains was like. The area was badly burned last year, and the entire landscape was charred for miles and miles. On the way up, we saw nothing but a few robins over a dozen miles, but on the way back a few things started to pop out. We spent about 45 minutes at one stop near the foot of House Mountain while Ellen fed Nora, and had a few nice finds, starting with this White-breasted Nuthatch, which was our first of year (and #206 for our 2014 Idaho list).

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White-breasted Nuthatch at the foot of House Mountain, Elmore County. May 10, 2014.

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White-breasted Nuthatch at the foot of House Mountain, Elmore County. May 10, 2014.

Any time we see a burned area we make an effort to track down Black-backed Woodpeckers, which are very nomadic and love recently burned areas. We couldn’t find one at this stop, but did find several Hairy Woodpeckers.

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Hairy Woodpecker at the foot of House Mountain, Elmore County. May 10, 2014.

A few ordinary birds were in the area as well, like this Red-tailed Hawk.

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Red-tailed Hawk at the foot of House Mountain, Elmore County. May 10, 2014.

The most exciting find was a very distant female Pine Grosbeak. Forest finches can be difficult to track down sometimes, and Pine Grosbeaks are especially difficult to find this far south. They’re not necessarily rare or unexpected, just quite difficult to find most of the time. It would have been nice to get a better view, but we were thrilled with our find, and snagged one shot by pushing our phone to the max at 200X zoom (beyond 50X our camera uses digital zoom, so there’s a significant drop in image quality).

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Pine Grosbeak (female) at 200X zoom at the foot of House Mountain, Elmore County. May 10, 2014.

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