Friday, April 10, 2015

Looking for rare loons and scoters at C.J. Strike

Late fall is prime time for scoter and loon migration through Idaho. These normally sea-faring birds tend to show up in small numbers on large reservoirs starting towards the end of October. Finding Common Loons was a given, but other interesting loons that are possible (though quite rare) include Pacific, Yellow-billed, and Red-throated. Any of the scoters would be a great find, with Surf, White-winged, and Black being the ones to watch out for. C.J. Strike probably has the best track record for attracting rare loons and scoters within this part of the state, so we focused our efforts there for several weekends in a row. We tried to be as thorough as we could and scanned the reservoir from all the points we could get good access to.

Map

Map of our birding stops around C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County.

Despite our efforts, we never did find anything too out of the ordinary. I’ve got a few terrible photos that kind of look like a Pacific Loon, but not convincing enough to make the call. And besides, we had actually lucked out and had been able to find a Surf Scoter right in town thanks to another birder’s keen eye, and a Pacific Loon on Lake Cascade, so even though C.J. never provided what we were looking for, we still had a decent year for loons and scoters. Besides, we were much happier to find these birds somewhere else, as most of the views we experienced while scanning C.J. Strike looked like this:

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C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County. October 19, 2014.

As you can see, you can only see so far before the mirage effect from heat rising off the water distorts the view so bad that you can’t make anything out.

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C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County. October 19, 2014.

Despite not finding what we were looking for, we did see plenty of other birds. Most were quite distant but we did have a few close enough to photograph. Below the dam spillway we had a handful of Common Mergansers, Double-crested Cormorants, Western Grebes, and a lone Spotted Sandpiper walking up the spillway.

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Common Merganser at C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County. October 19, 2014.

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Double-crested Cormorant at C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County. October 19, 2014

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Western Grebe at C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County. October 19, 2014.

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Spotted Sandpiper at C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County. October 19, 2014.

At the park just north of the dam, we had lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Flickers, and this surprise Brown Creeper.

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Brown Creeper at C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County. October 19, 2014.

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Brown Creeper at C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County. October 19, 2014.

An another trip we had a Common Loon swimming close to shore, which was nice since many of the loons stay further out in the water, making it much more laborious of a process to confirm whether they’re Common Loons or a more exciting species.

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Common Loon at C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County. November 8, 2014.

Just east of the Narrows we came across a large flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls zipping around the reservoir. They were a nice find because we’d only seen them resting on shorelines or sandbars in the past during spring migration, and had never seen them in the fall, or actively foraging. They really have a different flight style than other more common gulls. They flew low over the surface, patrolling long lines across the water before looping back to where they started and doing it again, occasionally skimming their bill into the water to snag something that caught their eye. It reminded me of how the Sabine’s Gulls we had seen at Lake Lowell earlier in the year foraged. They were fun to watch, but very tricky to photograph.

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Bonaparte’s Gull at C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County. November 8, 2014.

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Bonaparte’s Gull at C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County. November 8, 2014.

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Bonaparte’s Gull at C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County. November 8, 2014.

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Bonaparte’s Gull at C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County. November 8, 2014.

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Bonaparte’s Gull at C.J. Strike Reservoir, Elmore County. November 8, 2014.

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