Friday, October 17, 2014

Bobolinks, Red-eyed Vireo and more in Boise County

This post includes all the odds and ends from our Memorial Day trip to Valley County. We went for a couple of hikes in Ponderosa State Park, drove up and down West Mountain Road a few times, and went on a couple of hunts for Upland Sandpipers. Here’s all the stuff that happened in between.

On the way up our first day we stopped at Garden Valley to look for the Bobolinks that have bred along the road into Project Patch for several years. We saw them around the same time last year, and we figured it was a good time to check again.

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Fields along Project Patch Road, Boise County. May 23, 2014.

There weren’t any Bobolinks in plain view when we arrived, but luckily Nora needed a break to eat, so we parked along the road and just kept an eye out for them for about half an hour while Nora ate. There weren’t too many birds, but we did have a nice low flyover from a Turkey Vulture.

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Turkey Vulture above Project Patch Road, Boise County. May 23, 2014.

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Turkey Vulture above Project Patch Road, Boise County. May 23, 2014.

After a bit, we saw this bird hanging out along some of the fence posts. I was so focused on looking for the bright yellow and contrasting blacks of the male Bobolink that I had forgot to keep an eye out for any females. After looking at our photos when we got back home I realized that this bird was actually a Bobolink.

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Bobolink (female) on Project Patch Road, Boise County. May 23, 2014.

It was actually a good thing that I didn’t realize at the time that our first bird was a Bobolink, or we may have hustled away to our next stop right after finding it. Instead we hung out and kept looking, and eventually got really great looks at two males.

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Bobolinks on Project Patch Road, Boise County. May 23, 2014.

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Bobolink on Project Patch Road, Boise County. May 23, 2014.

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Bobolink on Project Patch Road, Boise County. May 23, 2014.

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Bobolink on Project Patch Road, Boise County. May 23, 2014.

The hotel we stayed at was nestled in the woods along the western side of Lake Cascade. We saw a few decent birds each day just coming and going from our room. There wasn’t usually enough light to photograph much, since we did most of our coming and going during the early and late hours of the day when there wasn’t a lot of sunlight. We also kept our eye out while driving between destinations around McCall. We saw lots of Chipping Sparrows, Mountain Bluebirds, and a handful of Evening Grosbeaks at somebody’s front yard feeders.

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Chipping Sparrow west of Lake Cascade, Valley County. May 24, 2014.

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Mountain Bluebird near Lake Cascade, Valley County. May 24, 2014.

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Evening Grosbeak in McCall, Valley County. May 24, 2014.

On the road along the west side of the Lake Cascade to our hotel we drove past quite a few Western Grebes, and this one hung out particularly close to the road, so we got to see it fishing several times.

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Meadow west of Lake Cascade, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

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Western Grebe at Lake Cascade, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

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Lake Cascade, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

The drive home on the final day ended up being more eventful than expected. First of all, we had a distant Olive-sided Flycatcher calling from a tree top in the parking lot of our hotel.

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Olive-sided Flycatcher west of Lake Cascade, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

One of the most abundant birds we heard constantly throughout our trip was the Townsend’s Warbler. They were everywhere we went, and usually in high numbers. Despite their abundance, we struggled to ever lay eyes on one all week (most of them were heard-only). We really didn’t want to come home without getting a picture of one, so we added a stop at one of our favorite stops for forest specialties: Bell Creek north of Crouch.

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Bell Creek, Boise County. May 26, 2014.

This little patch of woods has produced great birds every time we’ve stopped here, and this time was no different. We went for a hike along the creek, and almost got our heads taken off by a Ruffed Grouse as it launched down from its roost in the trees, swooped right between our heads, and landed on a hillside a few yards away. We saw lots of Lazuli Buntings displaying as well, but Townsend’s Warblers continued to be “heard-only”.

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Lazuli Bunting at Bell Creek, Boise County. May 26, 2014.

After our hike, Nora was due for another meal, so we found a place to park our chairs for a bit. It wasn’t long before all those “heard-only” Townsend’s Warblers finally started coming in a little closer. The lighting wasn’t great, and at first they mostly stayed deep in the shrubbery, but after a while we finally started getting some better views. Bell Creek came through for us again!

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Townsend’s Warbler at Bell Creek, Boise County. May 26, 2014.

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Townsend’s Warbler at Bell Creek, Boise County. May 26, 2014.

Our final goal for the trip home was to see if we could find the Red-eyed Vireo that has been hanging out along Porter Creek Road north of Horseshoe Bend for a few years. We made our first pass along Porter Creek Road without any luck, and as we turned around and drove past some old barns, we both wondered if perhaps there might be a Barn Owl roosting in any of them. Sure enough, the first one we peaked in (from the road without leaving our car, no trespassing!) had a beautiful Barn Owl roosting near the peak of the roof! They can be a hard bird to seek out intentionally, but they’re abundant enough that it seems like as long as you get out often enough, you’re bound to run into one every now and then.

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Barn Owl along Porter Creek Road, Boise County. May 26, 2014.

After the Barn Owl excitement we continued back down Porter Creek Road looking for the Red-eyed Vireo. Once again we can thank Nora’s appetite for the patience to stay put until it came to us. Just before the sun set, this guy finally wandered its way near where we were parked, and hung out for several minutes, singing loudly from deep in the trees. It took a long time to try to get it in view, and it was always at least partially obstructed, but we did finally get a few that we liked.

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Red-eyed Vireo on Porter Creek Road, Boise County. May 26, 2014.

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Red-eyed Vireo on Porter Creek Road, Boise County. May 26, 2014.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Search for an Upland Sandpiper in Valley County

During our Memorial Day trip up to Valley County we spent a couple of afternoons looking for Upland Sandpipers. Upland Sandpipers are probably Idaho’s rarest shorebird, and haven’t been confirmed in the state in several years. They used to breed regularly in a few mountain valleys across the state, like Round Valley near Cascade, Long Valley near Donnelly, High Valley, and the Rathdrum Prairie. The last confirmed sighting in Idaho was in 2007, and the last year that breeding was confirmed was 2005. Probably the biggest factor in their decline is the degree of residential and agricultural development in their historical breeding areas.

Upland Sandpiper, photo via Wikipedia.

Upland MapRange map of eBird sightings for Upland Sandpipers.

Despite the dismal odds for finding an Upland Sandpiper in Idaho these days, we figure no one will find one if no one is looking, and since we were in the area anyway, we may as well give it a try. We focused on two routes – the first route followed Farm to Market Road for about 5 miles north of Roseberry, and the second route was through Round Valley.

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Our Upland Sandpiper search routes in Valley County. Farm to Market Road, and Round Valley.

Our approach was to drive very slowly, and broadcast their call as we went. They have a very distinctive call, often called a “wolf-whistle”. It becomes hard to forget after blasting it a few feet away from your head for several hours. Listen to it here:

Taking a nice slow pace gave us plenty of opportunity to soak in the scenery and get some close looks at a few more ordinary birds.

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Barn southwest of McCall, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

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Farm to Market Road, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

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Barn on Farm to Market Road, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

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Roseberry, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

We had a close pass with a Swainson’s Hawk on a fence pole, it let us approach fairly closely before flushing.

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Swainson’s Hawk southwest of McCall, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

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Swainson’s Hawk southwest of McCall, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

We enjoyed this Eastern Kingbird that gave us fairly close looks as well.

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Eastern Kingbird on Farm to Market Road, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

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Eastern Kingbird on Farm to Market Road, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

A few others that we saw included a Wilson’s Phalarope, lots of Savannah Sparrows, Wilson’s Snipes, and Tree Swallows.

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Wilson’s Phalarope on Farm to Market Road, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

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Savannah Sparrow on Farm to Market Road, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

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Wilson’s Snipe on Farm to Market Road, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

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Tree Swallow on Farm to Market Road, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

After spending about two hours looking on our first afternoon without any success, we called it a day and moved on to other things. The next day we headed to Round Valley for a couple of hours. Lots more nice scenery, with the fields all in deep green, and flowers blooming all over.

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Round Valley, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

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Round Valley, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

We didn’t find any Upland Sandpipers here either, but did enjoy close encounters with lots of other birds. We had a quick flyby from a Cooper’s Hawks, and then a handful of things posing on fence posts, including Barn Swallows, Horned Larks, Tree Swallows, Western Meadowlarks, and Brewer’s Blackbirds.

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Cooper’s Hawk at Round Valley, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

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Barn Swallow at Round Valley, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

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Horned Lark at Round Valley, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

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Tree Swallow at Round Valley, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

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Western Meadowlark at Round Valley, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

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Brewer’s Blackbird at Round Valley, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

We never found an Upland Sandpiper on this trip, but we also weren’t searching during the best hours of the day. The ideal time to look would be early in the morning or late afternoon, and we were looking mid-afternoon. I’m sure we’ll have a few more looks over the years, since the locations they used historically are easy to access and close to some of our favorite places to visit. Better luck next time!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lincoln’s Sparrow and more on West Mountain Road

During our Memorial Day trip to Valley County we stayed at a hotel on the west side of Lake Cascade. West Mountain Road follows the western shore of Lake Cascade from top to bottom, and runs through some excellent birding habitat. There’s been lots of development in recent years (including the hotel we stayed at) which has impacted some of the wildlife, particularly Great Gray Owls,  but at least for now there’s still a decent amount of scenery and habitat to explore.

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West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 24, 2014.

During our stay we made at least a short excursion down West Mountain Road each day. On our first pass, we got great looks at a Lincoln’s Sparrow, a species we have thus far only observed during migration. This bird was on exactly the type of habitat they prefer, and was exhibiting some territorial behavior, so it seems we may have found one that was settling in for the summer.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 24, 2014.

Lincoln’s Sparrows have this funny way of showing their discontent at an intruder on their territory. They flap one wing at a time, raising it up by their side (perhaps to make themselves look bigger or more aggressive?) over and over again. We caught this fellow in the act several times in a couple of different perches. Quite entertaining to watch!

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Lincoln’s Sparrow on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 24, 2014.

Not having seen them on breeding territory before, I’m not familiar enough to be sure exactly what kind of a gesture the wing flapping was. They’re also known to feign a broken wing to distract potential predators from the nest after incubation begins, so it’s also possible we were seeing a broken wing display rather than territorial behavior.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 24, 2014.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 24, 2014.

The scenery was just fantastic, and a little different around every corner.

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West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 24, 2014.

Other birds we were able to photograph on our first pass included a nesting Bald Eagle and numerous Savannah Sparrows.

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Bald Eagle on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 24, 2014.

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Savannah Sparrow on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 24, 2014.

Lots of Tree Swallows call West Mountain Road home. At the start of our second pass, we saw this Eastern Kingbird trying to blend in on a power line next to Tree Swallows.

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Tree Swallow and Eastern Kingbird on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

We only had a few minutes before the sun started to set on this pass, but enjoyed a Great Horned Owl just starting his evening of hunting as the light faded.

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Great Horned Owl on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2014.

The scenery didn’t disappoint on our third pass either. Lots of beautiful green meadows, deep blue lake views, and a couple of side trips to mountain overlooks.

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Lake Cascade from West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

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West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

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Lake Cascade, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

Sandhill Cranes were present in good numbers at several different spots along the lake. Some were still in groups, perhaps still working their way north, or just not quite ready to settle down on a territory yet, but others were already incubating.

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Sandhill Cranes on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

 

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Sandhill Crane near Cabarton Road, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

Ospreys were back and well established all along the lake as well.

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Osprey on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 26, 2014.

Our last good find on this trip was a Pileated Woodpecker that swooped right in front of us on the road and landed on a power pole.

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Pileated Woodpecker on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 26, 2014.