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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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