Monday, May 18, 2015

Everything but a Whimbrel at Kuna Sewage Ponds

Somehow without making any special plan to do so, we managed to spend May 6, 2014 and May 6, 2015 at the exact same two spots: Hulls Gulch and Kuna Sewage Ponds. Apparently, those are the places to be on May 6! Now that I’ve done that two years in a row, I may as start a tradition and plan on the same routine for next year!

Kuna Sewage Ponds may not sound like the best place to spend a day off of work, but if you’ve been birding in southwest Idaho fro very long, you just might know better. The ponds are only open on weekdays, so I don’t make it out very often, but every trip we’ve had so far has turned up great birds, so it’s worth taking the time to get out there when possible. See the image below, which shows a map of the different ponds. We typically just snake our way around all the different ponds for an hour or two, making sure to cover each pond edge at least once, since there can be something new or different hiding along any edge in the place.

Map

Map of Kuna Sewage Ponds.

We have already been out four times this year, though one of the times we showed up just a bit too late and the gate was already locked, so we couldn’t get in. For our first trip, we weren’t chasing any particular rarity, we just wanted to get in and see what was going on, hoping to add a new year bird or two while we were there.

American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts are quite abundant, lining the edges of most of the ponds. The narrow roads and steep banks down to each pond provide nice, up-close and personal views of anything hanging out on or near the pond edges. The close proximity makes photography much easier here than it is at a lot of other places that shorebirds tend to hang out.

IMG_4118

American Avocet at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 6, 2015.

IMG_4120

Black-necked Stilt at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 6, 2015.

IMG_4135

American Avocet at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 6, 2015.

IMG_4152

Black-necked Stilt at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 6, 2015.

We also had loads of Wilson’s Phalaropes. We kept an eye out for Red-necked Phalaropes, but couldn’t find any on this trip.

IMG_4125

Wilson’s Phalarope at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 6, 2015.

IMG_4130

Wilson’s Phalarope at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 6, 2015.

IMG_4198

Wilson’s Phalarope at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 6, 2015.

The rarest birds on this first trip were a handful of Long-billed Dowitchers.

IMG_4158

Long-billed Dowitcher at at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 6, 2015.

IMG_4184

Long-billed Dowitcher at at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 6, 2015.

A week later, another birder reported finding a Black Tern at the ponds, so we rushed out to try to see it. We have found one per year for the past few years, but usually it’s just been a fleeting glimpse in the sky at some reservoir or marsh where we weren’t really expecting it, and the experience really wasn’t particularly satisfying. This bird appeared to be resting on the rocks surrounding one of the ponds, which sounded like a great opportunity to get up close and personal for some good photos. Unfortunately, after zipping out as quick as we could to try to see the bird, we were just a bit too late and the gate into the ponds was already locked when we arrived. The next day, a couple of birders confirmed that they were still there, so we zipped off to try again. This time, they were flying around rather than resting, so it was much much more difficult to try to get photographs, but I had to give it a try. Here’s the best that I could pull out with my Canon SX50 HS.

IMG_5175

Black Tern at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 14, 2015.

IMG_5181

Black Tern at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 14, 2015.

IMG_5191

Black Tern at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 14, 2015.

IMG_5197

Black Tern at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 14, 2015.

IMG_5254

Black Tern at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 14, 2015.

The next two photos are not great photos at all, but are extreme crops of a couple of not-so-good photos that nonetheless caught my eye because the tern’s mouth is open. The other terns that are more common in Idaho (Caspian, Forster’s) feed by diving for fish near the surface of the water, and I couldn’t remember hearing the Black Terns making any noise, so I was a bit confused at first as to what their mouths were doing wide open. The extreme zoom reveals the answer – in both shots where the tern has its mouth open, you can see a little black dot just in front of its mouth: an insect about to meet its demise in the gullet of a Black Tern. It’s always fun to learn something new from our own photos!

IMG_5171

Black Tern at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 14, 2015.

IMG_5177

Black Tern at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 14, 2015.

Just after we had taken off to see the terns, I checked my email to find that another birder had just found a Whimbrel there as well! We were super excited at the chance to see a Whimbrel, and I’ll admit may have pushed a little harder than normal on the gas pedal! Last year someone had found a Whimbrel just before we got there as well, and we weren’t able to re-find it, so this seemed like a great chance to make up for that. We arrived at the ponds just 30 minutes after the bird was reported and were happy to see a couple of other birders were canvassing the area for the bird as well. However, none of us were able to re-find it, despite a collective 5 hours of searching. It’s frustrating that a bird can be there one moment and gone the next, I really thought that since we showed up so quick after the initial report that our odds would be good, but I guess that’s the way things go sometimes.

We still enjoyed a great outing, and found a few other nice birds anyway. Wilson’s Phalaropes were present in large numbers (25+) and we also found the Red-necked Phalaropes we had missed the week prior.

IMG_5273

Wilson’s Phalaropes at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 14, 2015.

Other highlights included a Western Sandpiper (our most photogenic one yet), plus a small flock of Long-billed Dowitchers.

IMG_5282

Western Sandpiper at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 14, 2015.

IMG_5289

Long-billed Dowitchers at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 14, 2015.

The day after we first dipped on the Whimbrel, I had the day off of work and we were able to make a second attempt. This time we spent two hours very carefully scouring the ponds, but never found it. We did, however, track down one of the Dunlins that others had reported but that we had missed the day before.

IMG_5306

Dunlin at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 15, 2015.

On this trip, the swallows were out in force. We mostly had Cliff and Barn Swallows, but there were a handful of Tree and Northern Rough-winged Swallows as well. The Barn Swallow on the left in the photo below has something wrong with it – notice the missing tail? I’m not sure if this was an adult that met some misfortune and lost it’s tail, or if it’s a fledgling yet to grow in a proper, full-length tail since leaving the nest.

IMG_5348

Barn Swallows at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 15, 2015.

The Long-billed Dowitchers were still present, this time disguising themselves as No-billed Dowitchers.

IMG_5364

Long-billed Dowitchers at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 15, 2015.

Killdeers are quite common at the ponds, and it seems like everywhere you turn there’s another noisy Killdeer making a fuss at you. They like to nest in gravel, and there are likely dozens of nearly invisible nests spread out along the roadsides (or who knows, there are probably some right in the road as well) at the ponds, which they do their best to protect when cars come by. We took a bit of video of this Killdeer doing a particularly nice rendition of their famous broken wing display that they use to distract predators from a nearby nest.

Black-necked Stilts were as abundant as ever, but we were seeing more and more of them sitting on little crude piles of straw in the rocks. At first I just assumed they were resting and it was a coincidence that there was straw underneath them, but then this bird stood up, proving me wrong by revealing four eggs in a nest.

IMG_5370

Black-necked Stilt at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 15, 2015.

IMG_5372

Black-necked Stilt eggs at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 15, 2015.

We had a total of 15 Red-necked Phalaropes on this trip, a count that triggered the eBird filters, though it certainly seems like Kuna Sewage Ponds are not a surprising place to find a high count.

IMG_5378

Red-necked and Wilson’s Phalaropes at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 15, 2015.

Another fun find was this Burrowing Owl hanging out near the ponds. It probably has a nest burrow somewhere nearby, as all the rocks nearby were covered in whitewash. This was not exactly where we expected to find one, but it’s probably not a bad place to a bird to get a little peace and quiet.

IMG_5413

Burrowing Owl at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 15, 2015.

Despite how many times we circled each pond in the two hours we were there, we kept turning up new things we hadn’t seen before. Just as we were about to leave, we spied this pair of Horned Grebes. It makes it hard to trust that you’ve ever really seen everything that’s around! (Maybe that darn Whimbrel was hiding somewhere just out of sight!)

IMG_5415

Horned Grebes at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 15, 2015.

Another bird that we were happy to find was this Blue-winged Teal. Blue-winged Teals really aren’t particularly rare, and we had been dozens of places already this spring where other birders had seen them. It was just starting to get silly that we hadn’t seen one yet. We were happy to finally have one just before we were through at the ponds.

IMG_5418

Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teals at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 15, 2015.

IMG_5401

Blue-winged Teal at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. May 15, 2015.

No comments:

Post a Comment