Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bushtits at the Boise River WMA Headquarters

In early March Ellen and I spent a Saturday hiking around the foothills near Boise. Our first stop was 5 Mile Creek, accessed from Shaw Mountain Road which cuts over the mountains from Boise to Robie Creek.

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Map of our hike at Five Mile Creek, Ada County.

We had a few birds on this first hike, but the highlight was a nice, up-close encounter with a small flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets. These feisty little characters don’t hold still for long, so it’s rare for us to get such a good chance to photograph them at close range. I was pretty happy with how these turned out.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet at Five Mile Creek, Ada County. March 7, 2015.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet at Five Mile Creek, Ada County. March 7, 2015.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet at Five Mile Creek, Ada County. March 7, 2015.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet at Five Mile Creek, Ada County. March 7, 2015.

Later in the afternoon we went for another hike at the Boise River WMA Headquarters, accessed off of Highway 21 just north of Hilltop Station.

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Map from Trails.Idaho.Gov of the hike up to Lucky Peak from Boise River WMA HQ.

The hike was enjoyable, and it was our first time up that trail. Our best find was a group of Bushtits that were noisily feeding on the hillside right by Highway 21. These little guys are pretty rare this far north of the Snake River in Idaho, so this was definitely an unexpected find.

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Bushtit at Boise River WMA HQ, Ada County. March 7, 2015.

At first they stayed mostly on the shady side of the hill, but we kept following them as they worked there way through the vegetation, and eventually we caught them in some good sunlight.

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Bushtit at Boise River WMA HQ, Ada County. March 7, 2015.

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Bushtit at Boise River WMA HQ, Ada County. March 7, 2015.

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Bushtit at Boise River WMA HQ, Ada County. March 7, 2015.

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Bushtit at Boise River WMA HQ, Ada County. March 7, 2015.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pacific Wren at MK Nature Center

On the last day of February we went for a walk around MK Nature Center. Near the beaver pond on the north side of the nature center we found a single Pacific Wren singing its guts out along the dam.

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MK Nature Center, Ada County. February 28, 2015.

Pacific Wrens seem to show up here each winter, and while we’ve heard one here before, this was our first time laying eyes on one at this location. The bird was quite cooperative and let us enjoy its company for a few minutes before we moved on to look for other birds.

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Pacific Wren at MK Nature Center, Ada County. February 28, 2015.

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Pacific Wren at MK Nature Center, Ada County. February 28, 2015.

While we were thrilled to enjoy this little brown bird, Nora has yet to take a strong interest in the littler birds. She absolutely loves ducks though, and who can blame her! It’s hard to top the striking plumage of the Wood Duck.

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Nora watching ducks at MK Nature Center, Ada County. February 28, 2015.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

White-throated Sparrow at Kathryn Albertson Park

Nora and I spent several mornings in February heading over to Kathryn Albertson Park in Boise right at sunrise in hopes of tracking down the Varied Thrush and White-throated Sparrow that have been wintering there for the last few years. The mornings were still quite chilly but it was nice to start having some usable light in the morning before I have to start work for the day.

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Nora strolling at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. February 11, 2015.

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Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. February 12, 2015.

On one of our trips, we actually laid eyes on the White-throated Sparrow and managed to snap a quick documentation shot before it scuttled back off into the brush. Kathryn Albertson Park is normally so busy when we can make it there on the weekends, so the chance to go on a weekday and have the place mostly to ourselves made a big difference. This little guy was really skittish, and after the first time he got spooked away from the trail, he never came back out into view again.

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White-throated Sparrow at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. February 12, 2015.

The Varied Thrush was a little more elusive for most people this year than it has been in year’s past, though on one morning I did hear it calling as soon as I got out of the car. Normally it’s found in the back (northwest) corner at the same spot as the White-throated Sparrow, but I actually heard it calling from somewhere near the entrance to the park, in the thick shrubs right behind the big stone letters that spell out “Albertson”. It would have been nice to lay eyes on it and get some pictures, but as a consolation prize, we did find this Lady Amherst Pheasant, a bird native to southwestern China and Burma, and probably kept by someone in Boise as part of an ornamental collection until it either escaped or was released. It seems to be doing okay at Kathryn Albertson Park, and has been hanging spotted several times over the past several months. We found it in the same northwest corner as the White-throated Sparrow.

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Lady Amherst Pheasant at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. February 12, 2015.

Of course there were plenty of more ordinary birds hanging out at the park as well, including this Cooper’s Hawk, a Song Sparrow, and the lovely Hooded Merganser.

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Cooper’s Hawk at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. February 7, 2015.

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Song Sparrow at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. February 12, 2015.

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Hooded Merganser at Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. February 12, 2015.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Steller’s Jays on Lick Creek Road

In early February we went for a hike along snowbound Lick Creek Road east of McCall. The road was impassable for cars, since there is no winter maintenance and there was at least a solid foot of snow on the road, but it was perfect for hiking. We threw on our big winter boots and went tromping around on the snowmobile tracks where the snow was packed enough to walk on without cracking through the outer crust layer.

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Lick Creek Road, Valley County. February 8, 2015.

We had a handful of birds, but the stars of the show were a noisy gang of Steller’s Jays zipping around the road. I always get a kick out of these gregarious birds, with their raucous noises, and bold plumage.

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Steller’s Jay on Lick Creek Road, Valley County. February 8, 2015.

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Steller’s Jay on Lick Creek Road, Valley County. February 8, 2015.

We also had a handful of Red Squirrels, Idaho’s only native tree squirrel. In their winter coat they look more black or gray then red.

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Red Squirrel (in winter coat) on Lick Creek Road, Valley County. February 8, 2015.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bird-killing-birds near Garden Valley

In early February we spent a Saturday afternoon in Garden Valley, about an hour north of Boise. There wasn’t a lot of bird action on that trip, though we did enjoy several Northern Shrikes north of Crouch. Northern Shrikes have the Latin name lanius excubitor, which literally translates to “sentinel butcher”, a nod to their habit of killing and storing their prey by impaling it on thorns or other sharp objects, and keeping watch for its next quarry from prominent perches atop trees or shrubs.

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Northern Shrike near Crouch, Boise County. February 7, 2015.

A quick drive through South Fork Landing (just east of Garden Valley) turned up this American Kestrel. These little birds also pack a pretty serious punch for their size.

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American Kestrel at South Fork Landing, Boise County. February 7, 2015.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Red-breasted Mergansers at Barber Park

This past winter a handful of Red-breasted Mergansers hung out on the Boise River near Barber Park. They’re uncommon but regular along the Boise River in the winter, but this year’s birds were unique in that they were males in their beautiful breeding plumage. The winter birds that show up around here are typically females or males in non-breeding plumage, which can be trickier to separate from the much more abundant Common Mergansers.

We caught up with them on the last day of January near Barber Park. They were a little difficult to spot, as they were actually hanging out on a part of the river where a small island split the river, and spent most of their time on the back of the island where they couldn’t be seen from the trail on the Barber Park side of the river. They were repeatedly drifting downstream, then quickly flying back upstream, just to rest on the river drifting downstream again to do the whole thing over again. I couldn’t ever really find an unobstructed shot, as they were quite flighty and were spooking anytime I had a nice clear view. Even though this shot was obstructed, I kept it because it was our first chance to actually photograph this species. We usually just see them from far away across a large lake or reservoir, so this was still an upgrade.

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Red-breasted Mergansers at Barber Park, Ada County. January 31, 2015.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Evening Grosbeaks and a winter Say’s Phoebe at Eagle Island State Park

Eagle Island State Park has become a fairly reliable place to find Evening Grosbeaks near Boise in the past couple of years. We made a trip out towards the end of January to track them down. They took us longer than expected to get on our 2014 year list, so we figured we’d knock them out early this time around.

Nora is getting pretty good on her feet, and couldn’t wait to head down the trail.

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Nora at Eagle Island State Park, Ada County. January 24, 2015.

The noisy grosbeaks were easy to track down, and we found them within just a few minutes of starting down the trail. The red line on the map below shows where we walked to see the grosbeaks. They usually hang out in the large stand of Russian Olives on the north west side of the pond.

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Map of Eagle Island State Park, Ada County. January 24, 2015.

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American Robins and Evening Grosbeaks at Eagle Island State Park, Ada County. January 24, 2015.

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American Robins and Evening Grosbeaks at Eagle Island State Park, Ada County. January 24, 2015.

We continued further along the path until we got to the north side of the pond, and were surprised to find a Says Phoebe hanging out on top of a dead Lamb’s Ear stem. Says Phoebes are one of the most cold-hardy flycatchers, and breed further north than any other flycatcher, so they’re not unheard of in the winter in Idaho, but still fun to see.

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Says Phoebe at Eagle Island State Park, Ada County. January 24, 2015.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Gray Jays in Rocky Mountain National Park

Towards the end of January I had a trip to Estes Park in Colorado for work. On the last day of the trip we went snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. Ellen and I spent quite a bit of time in Rocky Mountain National Park when we lived in Denver, but this was the first time back in a couple of years.

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Dream Lake, Larimer County. January 23, 2015.

There weren’t a lot of birds at this time of the year, though Gray Jays made a pretty good showing. This is prime time for them, as they often actually start nesting in January. The cold is no problem for these mountain specialists.

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Gray Jay at Rocky Mountain National Park, Larimer County. January 23, 2015.

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Gray Jay at Rocky Mountain National Park, Larimer County. January 23, 2015.

I also had a few Steller’s Jays, Mountain Chickadees, and a Hairy Woodpecker, though needing to keep up with the crowd and having gloves on made it difficult for much photography. Here’s the whole gang at the end of the outing.

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Snowshoeing co-workers at Rocky Mountain National Park, Larimer County. January 23, 2015.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Six gull species at the Hidden Hollow Landfill

In early January we made a trip to the Hidden Hollow Landfill, north of Boise in the foothills. While a landfill may seem like a non-traditional place to spend your leisure time, this landfill is a great spot to look for rare gulls in the winter. This winter was no different, and we headed up on January 10 to see if we could find anything out of the ordinary. We weren’t disappointed at all, and found six species of gulls, including two Lesser Black-backed (both adults), one Mew (adult), several Herring (3 adult, one 2nd winter), one Thayer's (adult), as well as high numbers of the usual California and Ring-billed.

Mew Gulls are quite similar to Ring-billed Gulls, but lack any significant marking on their bills, though sometimes very faint markings are still present.

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Mew Gull (center) at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 10, 2015.

The Lesser Black-backed Gull is unique for the combination of a light iris, black and red on the gonydeal expansion (bulge at the end of the bill), dark black back, and smudgy head.

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Lesser Black-backed Gull (center) at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 10, 2015.

California Gulls are quite common, and are a bit larger than a Ring-billed Gull, with both red and black dots at the end of their bills, and are sometimes a bit darker gray across the back than Ring-billeds.

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California Gull at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 10, 2015.

Herring Gulls are quite large, and have pink legs, light irises, a single red dot on their bill.

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Herring Gull (center) at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 10, 2015.

In this shot you can see the Lesser Black-backed and Mew Gulls in the same shot.

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Lesser Black-backed Gull (center) and Mew Gull (upper left) at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 10, 2015.

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Lesser Black-backed Gull (center) at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 10, 2015.

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Lesser Black-backed Gull at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 10, 2015.

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Lesser Black-backed Gull at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 10, 2015.

And this shot confirms that we had two Lesser Black-backed Gulls, since you can see both in the same shot.

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Lesser Black-backed Gulls (lower left and upper right) at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 10, 2015.

I usually don’t get too ambitious with juvenile gulls, but some aren’t too hard to ID. Here’s an adult and a second winter Herring Gull, standing side by side for comparison.

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Herring Gulls (adult and 2nd winter) at Hidden Hollow Landfill, Ada County. January 10, 2015.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Three for three in Blaine County

On January 1 a Northern Hawk Owl was found at the end of a residential cul de sac in Bellevue, and a couple of days later we got a chance to go and try to see it. Of course we had to add a couple of other nearby rarities to the trip as well. We started off by quickly finding a Eurasian Wigeon that had been lingering for a while at at Silver Creek Preserve, and a Harris’s Sparrow at the Hayspur Fish Hatchery. All of them were found within the first minute or so after we got to their location. The Eurasian Wigeon's red head stuck out like a sore thumb among the other waterfowl, and the Harris's Sparrow was just out in the open right in front of the shop at the hatchery.

 

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Eurasian Wigeon at Silver Creek Preserve, Blaine County. January 3, 2015.

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Harris’s Sparrow at Hayspur Fish Hatchery, Blaine County. January 3, 2015.

The Northern Hawk Owl was just as cooperative. When we arrived it was right in clear view and was hunting actively. We saw it capture at least 2, if not 3-4 rodents in the 25-30 minutes we were watching it. It kept disappearing quickly after each kill, returning just a minute or two later to start hunting again. I suspect it might have been doing well enough to cache some food for later. It was quite unwary as well. It was a good distance away from the road when we first arrived, but several times it kept moving in to a perch right by the road, and at one point it even landed on a fence post, probably 6 feet or less from the nearest car. Sadly, just as I was about to snap off what would have been my best shot of the day, the car nearest the owl turned on their engine, spooking the bird right before I could hit the shutter. Oh well!

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Northern Hawk Owl in Bellevue, Blaine County. January 3, 2015.

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Northern Hawk Owl in Bellevue, Blaine County. January 3, 2015.

Additionally, check out this fun sequence of the Northern Hawk Owl pulling a rodent out from underneath the snow cover. It was putting on quite the show!

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Northern Hawk Owl in Bellevue, Blaine County. January 3, 2015.

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Northern Hawk Owl in Bellevue, Blaine County. January 3, 2015.

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Northern Hawk Owl in Bellevue, Blaine County. January 3, 2015.

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Northern Hawk Owl in Bellevue, Blaine County. January 3, 2015.

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Northern Hawk Owl in Bellevue, Blaine County. January 3, 2015.

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Northern Hawk Owl in Bellevue, Blaine County. January 3, 2015.