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!

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