Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dusky Grouse in the Lick Creek Mountains

For a long time, every time I looked at a map of the McCall area trying to pick out new places to explore, Lick Creek Road kept catching my eye. You can see on the map below how the long, steep valley stands out, and we hoped to find out what the views were like from the middle of those steep slopes.

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Google map of the drive from McCall to the Duck Lake/Hum Lake trailhead.

During our anniversary trip to Valley County in August, we set a day aside to explore the area and do some birding and hiking. For much of the drive, you really couldn’t see the forest for the trees,but there were definitely plenty of patches where the road broke away from the trees to provide a glimpse at the impressive granite cliffs rising on either side of the road.

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Lick Creek Mountains, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

On one of Nora’s feeding stops, we tried to track down some birds. In those dense woods it was much easier to hear birds than it was to see them, but we did track down this Hairy Woodpecker, working the underside of a fallen tree.

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Hairy Woodpecker on Lick Creek Road, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

The road climbed in altitude until the summit, where the trees thinned out and the views opened up even more. I really like the contrast of the evergreens against the gray granite and black and white burned timber.

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Lick Creek Summit, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

Near the top we had a handful of birds, most too far from the road to photograph, but we did catch a quick shot of this female Black-headed Grosbeak. I always keep a close eye on these guys, as we found our lifer Northern Pygmy-Owl by taking a minute to investigate what a couple of female Black-headed Grosbeaks in Colorado were making a big fuss about.

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Black-headed Grosbeak (female) at Lick Creek Summit, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

As we headed north over the summit the scenery greened up again, and the views just kept impressing at every turn.

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Lick Creek Mountains, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

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Lick Creek Mountains, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

We let Nora nap in the car as we continued on down the road a little further. When she woke up, we circled back to go for a hike to Duck Lake. While not a long hike (it was about 2.5 miles round trip) the terrain was fairly rough, and there was a pretty steep grade in the middle of it, so I wouldn’t quite rate it as “easy” like the trail guide we looked at did.

Map 2

Trail map of the Duck Lake area from Trails.Idaho.Gov.

With Nora and a big jug of water on my back it was definitely a bit of a workout. Good thing she’s such a good sport for all the fun outings we take her along for!

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Stoddard (and Nora) hiking to Duck Lake, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

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Ellen (and Nora) hiking to Duck Lake, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

The scenery along the hike was some of the best we enjoyed all summer. Huge mountains in every direction, bright blue skies with puffy white clouds, mirror-smooth water, and rainbow colored wildflowers along the whole path.

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Duck Lake, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

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Wildflowers along the hike in to Duck Lake, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

We really wanted to track down Spruce Grouse on our hike, and we tried to keep a close eye on everything that moved, or on every black lump or outline we saw. We got excited when we were almost back to the parking lot and spotted a few grouse quickly scuttling off of the trail in front of us! However, when we caught up to them it turned out to be Dusky Grouse, a hen and a few chicks, rather than Spruce Grouse. Still a fun bird, but after hearing (but not seeing) Spruce Grouse a couple other times this summer we’re really itching for a good soul-satisfying view.

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Dusky Grouse near Duck Lake, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

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Dusky Grouse near Duck Lake, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

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Dusky Grouse near Duck Lake, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

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Dusky Grouse near Duck Lake, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

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Dusky Grouse near Duck Lake, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

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Dusky Grouse near Duck Lake, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

The area should definitely be good for Spruce Grouse, so we’ll just have to make another trip next summer. With views like this, it won’t take much persuasion to get us back there.

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Hike to Duck Lake, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

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Hike to Duck Lake, Valley County. August 19, 2014.

We had a total of 10 species in two and a half hours along the trail. Click here to check out our full checklist on eBird.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Clark’s Nutcrackers on Snowbank Mountain

In mid-August we took a trip up to Valley County for our anniversary, and kicked things off with a trip up Snowbank Mountain. We checked out this area for the first time a month earlier in July, and were a little underwhelmed by the birding. We were hoping to prove that it was just bad timing, and were optimistic that with the weather cooling off a bit that we might have better luck on a repeat trip.

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Blue Lake, Valley County. August 18, 2015.

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Snowbank Mountain, Valley County. August 18, 2014.

The scenery was just as amazing as on our earlier trip, but we were pleased to find quite a few more birds. The main highlight was the hordes of Clark’s Nutcrackers rabblerousing between the tree tops. We saw groups of 10 or 20 at a time that were zipping around, gathering pine nuts, and hustling off to cache their find.

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Clark’s Nutcracker at Snowbank Mountain, Valley County. August 18, 2014.

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Clark’s Nutcracker at Snowbank Mountain, Valley County. August 18, 2014.

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Clark’s Nutcrackers at Snowbank Mountain, Valley County. August 18, 2014.

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Clark’s Nutcracker at Snowbank Mountain, Valley County. August 18, 2014.

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Clark’s Nutcracker at Snowbank Mountain, Valley County. August 18, 2014.

We also had a handful of Mountain Bluebirds and Cassin’s Finches.

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Mountain Bluebird at Snowbank Mountain, Valley County. August 18, 2014.

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Mountain Bluebird at Snowbank Mountain, Valley County. August 18, 2014.

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Cassin’s Finch at Snowbank Mountain, Valley County. August 18, 2014.

On our way back down we had a Red-tailed Hawk overlooking the mountainside.

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Red-tailed Hawk at Snowbank Mountain, Valley County. August 18, 2014.

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Wildflowers on Snowbank Mountain, Valley County. August 18, 2014.

In total we had 11 species during our time around the peak, click here to check out our full checklist on eBird.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Day trip to the Trinity Lakes

In August we took a day trip up to the Trinity Mountains. We had started out that way at the end of June, but got stopped by snow three miles shy of the summit, but this time the road was snow free. We still had not yet discovered that the road in from Pine/Featherville is much more drivable than the road in from Prairie, so we enjoyed quite the bumpy ride up over the summit.

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Last stretch of the road south of the summit on Trinity Mountain Road, Elmore County. August 9, 2014.

I love getting up into the thin air at these elevations, there’s just an entirely different feeling when you get so far away from and up above everything else.

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View of Big Roaring River Lake from the summit of Trinity Mountain Road, Elmore County. August 9, 2014.

Trinity Lookout is the highest drivable point in Idaho at 9700 feet, and is located nearby in the range. We hope to get back and hike up to it another time, but didn’t have enough time on this trip. The area also has several drive-in and backcountry campgrounds, about 15 or so lakes, mostly scattered across the north and east facing slopes.

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Trinity Mountains (the lookout is on top of the left peak), Elmore County. August 9, 2014.

After coming over the summit into the lakes, we pulled in at one of the first campgrounds to get our bearings, stretch our legs, and look for a few birds. Besides a handful of birds, there were loads of wildflowers, the diversity and number of wildflowers was really impressive.

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Meadow near the Big Roaring River Lake Campground, Elmore County. August 9, 2014.

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Wildflowers near the Trinity Lakes, Elmore County. August 9, 2014.

The birds we saw were fairly typical for these high altitude mountains. We had Cassin’s Finches (young and old), Olive-sided Flycatchers, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Clark’s Nutcrackers.

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Cassin’s Finch (juvenile) near the Trinity Lakes, Elmore County. August 9, 2014.

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Cassin’s Finch (juvenile begging from adult) near the Trinity Lakes, Elmore County. August 9, 2014.

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Olive-sided Flycatcher near the Trinity Lakes, Elmore County. August 9, 2014.

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White-breasted Nuthatch near the Trinity Lakes, Elmore County. August 9, 2014.

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Clark’s Nutcracker near the Trinity Lakes, Elmore County. August 9, 2014.

The pictures just don’t do justice to how beautiful the area was. We are really looking forward to our next chance to return and spend more time. We noticed a cabin while we were up there, and were actually able to get ourselves a reservation for August 2015. We’re going to spend two nights up here enjoying the solitude and quiet, and are really looking forward to a nice relaxing trip. Hopefully the extra time will help us track down a few more area specialties as well (top of the list being Boreal Owl, more on that later on when we start the hunt!).

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Big Trinity Lake, Elmore County. August 9, 2014.

In total we had 23 species in 3 hours, and were sad we had to leave so soon. Click here to check out our full checklist in eBird.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cattle Egrets hanging out with (you guessed it) cattle near Parma

On July 19 a group of Cattle Egrets was discovered hanging out with some cattle (surprise!) on some farm fields just outside of town in Parma, near the Idaho-Oregon border. Cattle Egrets can be difficult to find in Idaho. Most Cattle Egrets found in Idaho are in the southeast corner of the state, with just a handful of records in the southwest corner, only one record in northern Idaho.

Map eBird map of Cattle Egret records in southwest Idaho through the end of 2013.

We were excited to try to track one down a little closer to home and headed out on July 21 to try to fine them. On our first trip we had plenty of egrets, but all of them were Great, rather than Cattle.

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Farm fields where the Cattle Egret was reported near Parma, Canyon County. July 21, 2014.

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Great Egret near Parma, Canyon County. July 21, 2014.

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Great Egret near Parma, Canyon County. July 21, 2014.

We couldn’t find it on our first trip, but others kept finding them off and on throughout the next couple of weeks, and on August 3 we got a chance to try again. This time, after a couple of passes, we finally spotted the little guys running around between the cows legs, right where we had checked the first time. After keeping an eye on the fields we eventually found 3 of them.

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Cattle Egret near Parma, Boise County. August 3, 2014.

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Cattle Egret near Parma, Boise County. August 3, 2014.

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Cattle Egret near Parma, Boise County. August 3, 2014.

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Cattle Egret near Parma, Boise County. August 3, 2014.

While we were looking for the egrets, we met a guy who was curious what we were looking at in the fields. We told him we were looking for a Cattle Egret and tried to describe how it was different from the Great Egrets that are common in this area. After we described the size difference, this fellow told us he’d been seeing these birds all summer long! I’m not 100% confident that he really knew the difference between the two, but he kept calling them “little guys” and “shorty”, so maybe he does. If that’s the case then maybe they’re breeding in the area and could be found again next year. We’ll be sure to check it out and see if we can track them down again next summer.

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Cattle Egret near Parma, Boise County. August 3, 2014.