Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Scott’s Oriole on Black Pine Road

After spending a weekend with family in Rexburg, we took a circuitous route home via several hotspots in the southeast corner of the state. Our focus was juniper habitats and the specialty birds they host. This corner of the state is quite a drive from Boise, so we don’t get out there very often. For many of our stops it was our first time visiting them. Check out the map of our route below. Our stops included the following:

  • A – Starting point in Rexburg
  • B – Cress Creek Natural Area
  • C – Wolverine Canyon
  • D – Cherry Springs
  • E – Malad Rest Area
  • F – Black Pine Road (near Curlew National Grasslands)
  • G – City of Rocks / Castle Rocks State Park
  • H – Burley
  • I – Final destination in Boise

SE Idaho Stops

Map of our trip from Rexburg to Boise.

We had quite a few target birds, most of which we found, but we had a difficult time photographing many of them, as it seems that the birds of these brushy arid habitats seem to be quite skittish, and would often flush quickly as soon as we started to approach them. Our main targets for the weekend included:

  • Juniper Titmouse (found at Cress Creek)
  • Pinyon Jay (found at City of Rocks and Black Pine Road)
  • Black-throated Gray Warbler (found at Cress Creek, Wolverine Canyon, Castle Rock SP, and City of Rocks)
  • Virginia’s Warbler (found at City of Rocks and Castle Rock SP)
  • Scott’s Oriole (found at Black Pine Road)
  • Gray Flycatcher (found at City of Rocks)
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (found at Cress Creek, Wolverine Canyon, Black Pine Road, Castle Rock SP, and City of Rocks)
  • Ash-throated Flycatcher (found at Black Pine Road)
  • Plumbeous Vireo (found at Cress Creek and Wolverine Canyon)
  • Western Scrub-jay (found at City of Rocks)
  • Bushtit (found at City of Rocks)
  • Great-tailed Grackle (found at the Burley Wal-mart parking lot)
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak (reported by Carl Lundblad at the Malad Rest Area, could not re-find)

After we got home and started seeing others check lists from the same areas we realized we had set our sights a little short and didn’t realize there were other birds we could have found as well, such as:

  • Northern Mockingbird (still need this for our Idaho list!)
  • Gray Partridge (they have a big range but aren’t always easy to find)
  • Bewick’s Wren (thanks to range expansion these can be found fairly close to Boise, but it would have been fun to see them in more typical habitat)
  • Loggerhead Shrike (we already had them other places earlier in the year but always nice to see)

Here are a few shots we were able to get along our route. One of our first big finds was this Juniper Titmouse at Cress Creek Natural Area, just southeast of Rexburg. They’re regular in this area, but hard to find in the western half of the state.

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Juniper Titmouse at Cress Creek Natural Area, in both Jefferson and Madison Counties. June 8, 2014.

In the same area we enjoyed a Northern Rough-winged Swallow, several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and a Black-chinned Hummingbird. There were many more we weren’t able to photograph, but here’s the ones we were.

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Northern Rough-winged Swallow at Cress Creek Natural Area, in both Jefferson and Madison Counties. June 8, 2014.

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Cress Creek Natural Area, in both Jefferson and Madison Counties. June 8, 2014.

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Cress Creek Natural Area, in both Jefferson and Madison Counties. June 8, 2014.

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Cress Creek Natural Area, in both Jefferson and Madison Counties. June 8, 2014.

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Black-chinned Hummingbird at Cress Creek Natural Area, in both Jefferson and Madison Counties. June 8, 2014.

On the 8th we did Cress Creek Natural Area, Wolverine Canyon, Cherry Springs, and the Malad Rest Area, before spending the night at a hotel in Pocatello. The reason we added a stop at the Malad Rest Area was to see if we could re-find a Rose-breasted Grosbeak reported there by Carl Lundblad a couple of days earlier. That was the only target bird we weren’t able to find.

On the 9th we started the day with a focus on what we figured would be the hardest bird of the trip – Scott’s Oriole. This is a beautiful black and yellow oriole that specializes in arid desert habitats of the southwest U.S. and Mexico, usually found far south of Idaho, but for some reason for many years now there has been just one spot that you could find them in Idaho. They’re in the Black Pines, southwest of Curlew National Grasslands, just north of the Utah border. Until this year the earliest they’ve been found in Idaho is June 21. We were there on the 9th, so it seemed like a long shot. Here’s a map showing everywhere they had been found in 2014 up through the day that we went looking for them:

SCOR Point Map 2014-06-09

eBird map of 2014 Scott’s Oriole sightings through June 9th.

Notice how there’s nothing anywhere near Idaho? Well despite the odds being against us, we made an effort anyway, because it’s a distant and remote part of the state that’s very difficult for us to get to, and we didn’t expect to be able to make another trip again during the year. At first we just kind of slowly trolled around the roads near where it had been reported in the past. We found a few sparrows, a handful of flycatchers, and a flock of Pinyon Jays, but for the most part there really weren’t many birds. We then opened up the cattle gates and drove through, headed into the back roads further south towards the border. There had been several sightings in this area as well in the past, so it seemed like the next place to check. Still just a few odds and ends, but no Scott’s Orioles. After getting tired of choking on dust and roughing up our car on terrible roads, we gave up and sauntered our way back out to the gate where we had entered the back roads.

On our way out, we were joking that just because we’d spent so long on the crumby dusty back roads looking for them, we’d probably see them right on the main road now that we had given up. Sure enough, just as we’re closing the gate behind us, here comes a bright yellow and black bird! I wasn’t prepared but hurried and snapped off a safety shot just in case we couldn’t ever track it down once it stopped moving. If you zoom in close on that black dot in the middle of the frame, you can make out a few distinctive marks of the Scott’s Oriole! We had our bird, and we had our proof!

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Scott’s Oriole on Black Pine Road, Oneida County. June 9, 2014.

Lucky for us, the bird was quite cooperative after that point. It settled in some sagebrush on one side of the road, and let me approach fairly closely. When I got to close it flushed to the other side of the road and just jumped around between different trees and shrubs not too far from me for several minutes while I photographed it.

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Scott’s Oriole on Black Pine Road, Oneida County. June 9, 2014.

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Scott’s Oriole on Black Pine Road, Oneida County. June 9, 2014.

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Scott’s Oriole on Black Pine Road, Oneida County. June 9, 2014.

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Scott’s Oriole (and Lark Sparrow) on Black Pine Road, Oneida County. June 9, 2014.

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Scott’s Oriole on Black Pine Road, Oneida County. June 9, 2014.

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Scott’s Oriole on Black Pine Road, Oneida County. June 9, 2014.

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Scott’s Oriole on Black Pine Road, Oneida County. June 9, 2014.

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Scott’s Oriole on Black Pine Road, Oneida County. June 9, 2014.

We were feeling pretty triumphant after our find, especially considering quite a few birders from all over state for the Birding Big Day Blitz at Castle Rock SP/City of Rocks nearby, and none of them had found it while they were in the area. I’m sure there were a handful of people that were regretting not adding a trip for it while they were close by! We were ready for a lunch break and headed to the closest little diner/café we could find and grabbed some food while I pulled out my laptop to put a few pictures online and send a note to IBLE.

After lunch, we headed over to Castle Rock State Park and City of Rocks to try to clean up on our list of targets. This was our first trip to this part of the state, and both locations were similarly breathtaking! We made plans to return again soon, hopefully to camp for a day or two next time.

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Castle Rock State Park, Cassia County. June 9, 2014.

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Birding (hey that’s me!) at City of Rocks, Cassia County. June 9, 2014.

Once again, we had lots of great finds, but not a lot of photo opportunities. Here’s a few birds that cooperated.

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Bushtit at City of Rocks, Cassia County. June 9, 2014.

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Red-naped Sapsucker at City of Rocks, Cassia County. June 9, 2014.

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Virginia’s Warbler at City of Rocks, Cassia County. June 9, 2014.

Overall it was an amazing weekend! We definitely tried to fit too much in for 36 hours (with a 6 month old in tow), but it’s always nice to spend a good chunk of time in different habitat than we see the rest of the year. It really makes for good memories to have so much of the surrounding environment be different than what we’re used to. We’ll definitely plan to see this area again next year.

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