Friday, March 20, 2015

Flammulated Owls in the South Hills

Towards the end of June we took a camping trip out to the South Hills, south of Twin Falls. This area is home to Magic Mountain Ski Area, and consists of rolling hills with a really interesting patchy mix of aspen, pine, and grasslands. The mosaic of different habitat types provides for some interesting birding opportunities.

Map 2

Google map of the Drive to the South Hills from Boise.

While there are lots of nice birds in the area, a few in particular really stand out.

  • Flammulated Owls: This area seems to be the most reliable place in the state to find Flammulated Owls. Flammulateds love the mixed coniferous/deciduous forest, and particularly prefer to nest in Aspens. The South Hills are home to some of the best Aspen stands I’ve seen in the state, so I think that may be one of the bigger reasons this area works so well for them. We worked our tail off to find a couple of Flammulateds closer to home the year before, so were hoping to see if they really were a lot easier to find in the South Hills.
  • Northern Goshawk: I’m not sure whether or not the South Hills host more Northern Goshawks than other forest habitats throughout the state, but I do know that the South Hills population of Northern Goshawks is certainly one of the more well-studied populations in the state. Rob Miller is a raptor biologist that’s been working on Northern Goshawk research in this area for quite a while now, and we’ve enjoyed seeing the updates on his blog. From reading his notes on his blog over the past few years I felt like I had some great tips to go on to help spot potential nest sites so I could keep a close eye out for any Goshawks in the area.
  • Red Crossbill: The South Hills type of the Red Crossbill is endemic to Idaho, and may in fact be it’s own distinct species. Check out this article from eBird that does a great job describing the differences between the different types of crossbills.

We planned an overnighter to make sure we had plenty of time to find everything we hoped to see, and to make sure we could be there light enough at night for a chance at Flammulated Owls. We for sure wanted to include a stop at the Brockman’s Hummingbird Feeder Station, and planned to camp at Pettit Campground. We found out after we got there that Diamondfield Jacks Parking Area also had lots of great birds and was a nice place to get off the main road. See the map below, which marks all the eBird hotspots in the area, with the spots we focused on marked by the text.

Map

eBird hotspot map of the South Hills.

We came into the South Hills from the western edge, and after wandering around through the hills for a while we made a stop at the Brockman’s Hummingbird Feeder Station. We weren’t sure what to expect at this stop, except that we knew it was supposed to be good for Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. It turned out to just be a few log benches near a stand of trees along a creek, with several hummingbird feeders dangling in the branches.

IMG_0270

Brockman’s Hummingbird Feeder Station, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

There were loads of hummingbirds using the feeders, and we had a total of 4 species: Rufous, Calliope, Broad-tailed, and Black-chinned. Black-chinned and Calliope were the most numerous. The lighting underneath the trees was a bit dim, so the photos turned out a bit grainer than I had hoped and it was harder to stop the motion of the wings, but it was really fun to enjoy the time around so many hummingbirds.

IMG_0191

Calliope Hummingbird at the Brockman’s Hummingbird Feeder Station, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

IMG_0225

Broad-tailed Hummingbird at the Brockman’s Hummingbird Feeder Station, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

IMG_0234

Black-chinned Hummingbird at the Brockman’s Hummingbird Feeder Station, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

IMG_0248

Calliope Hummingbird at the Brockman’s Hummingbird Feeder Station, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

IMG_0276

Calliope Hummingbird at the Brockman’s Hummingbird Feeder Station, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

IMG_0289

Black-chinned Hummingbird at the Brockman’s Hummingbird Feeder Station, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

On one of the trees in the middle of the feeding station was a tiny nest box that a House Wren was busily stuffing during our visit.

IMG_0300

House Wren at the Brockman’s Hummingbird Feeder Station, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

On our way out we finally caught a hummingbird in decent light on a natural perch. It was fun to watch it go through a few body contortions just before taking off.

IMG_0346

Calliope Hummingbird at the Brockman’s Hummingbird Feeder Station, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

IMG_0347

Calliope Hummingbird at the Brockman’s Hummingbird Feeder Station, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

IMG_0350

Calliope Hummingbird at the Brockman’s Hummingbird Feeder Station, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

On the drive over towards the campgrounds, we ran into this Gray-headed Junco, a subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco that we hadn’t encountered in Idaho. We made sure to log the subspecies of this one in eBird just in case it gets full species status at some point down the road.

IMG_0367

Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed subspecies) in the South Hills, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

Here’s a good example of the typical mix of habitats that we saw on our trip – lots of grasslands and sagebrush mixed in with stands of aspen and pine.

IMG_0374

South Hills, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

Before exploring the area further, we went to our campsite and got our gear set up for the night. This was Nora’s first camping trip (6 months old) so that added another element of fun and excitement to our trip. She loved it!

IMG_0626

Nora hanging out at our campsite, Pettit Campground, Twin Falls County. June 23, 2014.

We had quite a good mix of birds to enjoy right from our campsite, without hardly getting out of our camp chairs. We had this Mountain Chickadee and a Yellow-rumped Warbler come right up to us while we were enjoying some down time.

IMG_0394

Mountain Chickadee at Pettit Campground, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

IMG_0402

Mountain Chickadee at Pettit Campground, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

Just to the side of our campsite was this old dead snag that we kept seeing birds on. After seeing 2 or 3 different birds on it, we made a point to keep a close eye and see how many different species we could see using just this one perch. We ended up counting at least 6 species, including a Western Tanager, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Northern Flicker, Hermit Thrush, Barn Swallow, and Violet-green Swallow, just on this one tree with only a couple of bare branches.

IMG_0613

Western Tanager at Pettit Campground, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

IMG_0622

Cordilleran Flycatcher (I think - I can’t remember which species this one was anymore, and am not in the mood right now to try to figure it out from this small photo. We also had Dusky and Western Wood-Pewee, could have been one of those.) at Pettit Campground, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

IMG_0625

Northern Flicker at Pettit Campground, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

IMG_0661

Hermit Thrush at Pettit Campground, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

IMG_0681

Barn Swallow at Pettit Campground, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

IMG_0701

Violet-green Swallow at Pettit Campground, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

After dinner as the sun started to set I geared up for the owling portion of the evening. I was expecting it to be difficult to track down a Flammulated, and wasn’t sure how abundant they would be. However, just after sunset, it seemed like there was nothing but quiet one minute, and then a minute later there was at least a half dozen Flammulateds calling, in all directions around us. It was pretty amazing! It seemed like the trees were just dripping with them! We had lots of fun close up encounters with them, including one that came and perched just 6 feet above my head, one that perched right above our tent and called for a few minutes, and a few that held still long enough to try to photograph. Of course, in the dark it was quite difficult, and would’ve been quite difficult without a spotlight.

IMG_0469

Flammulated Owl at Pettit Campground, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

We shot some video as well, though you’ll have to forgive all the shaking and breathing in the background. I swear 90% of the videos I take are spoiled by my heavy breathing sounds right on the microphone. Well, let’s all just agree to tune that part out for the sake of enjoying a really cool owl.

Flammulated Owl at Pettit Campground, Twin Falls County. June 22, 2014.

In the night we heard lots of other great nocturnal birds, including lots of Common Nighthawks and Common Poorwills, and even a Northern Pygmy-owl. That was fun and all, but boy did it make for a short night! We hardly slept a wink, and then Nora woke up before sunrise. Luckily that gave us a chance to get bundled up and hop in the car to go watch the sunrise from the top of Pike Mountain, just a few minutes from our campsite. Not a bad way to start the day!

IMG_0576 Stitch

Sunrise from Pike Mountain, Twin Falls County. June 23, 2014.

On our second day we spent more time exploring the area. We found Diamondfield Jacks Parking Area to be particularly productive. Highlights there included lots of Red Crossbills, a few Pine Siskins, and a Cordilleran Flycatcher. Despite actually seeing quite a few Red Crossbills on our trip, we hardly saw any that were actually red, and were hardly able to photograph any of them. Oh well – that’s what return trips are for!

IMG_0722

Red Crossbill at Diamondfield Jacks Parking Area, Twin Falls County. June 23, 2014.

IMG_0906

Pine Siskin at Diamondfield Jacks Parking Area, Twin Falls County. June 23, 2014.

IMG_0944

Cordilleran Flycatcher at Diamondfield Jacks Parking Area, Twin Falls County. June 23, 2014.

All in all it was a great trip, and we can’t wait to return and repeat many of the same activities next year!

No comments:

Post a Comment