Friday, May 22, 2015

Grasshopper Sparrow on Highland Valley Road

This week Nora and I went for a couple of early morning trips to Highland Valley Road. This is the road that takes you from Highway 21 up to Lucky Peak where the Intermountain Bird Observatory runs a banding station in the late summer and fall. Due to the poor road conditions after all the rain we’ve had lately and the short amount of time available before I had to get back to work, we didn’t go up to the peak, but focused on the lowest 3 miles instead.

Map

Map of my drive along Highland Valley Road. The Grasshopper Sparrow location is marked by a red star.

As soon as we got off Highway 21 the hillsides were full of birdsong. The area is dominated by sagebrush, but there are little strings of willows and other shrubs at the bottom of every crease in the landscape. As I approached the first such ribbon of green, I heard Lazuli Buntings, Yellow Warblers, and a Wilson’s Warbler calling. We don’t see Wilson’s Warblers all that often, so I had to try to get a shot, despite the long distance and the dim overcast lighting.

IMG_5869

Wilson’s Warbler on Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 19, 2015.

Lots of other common spring migrants were present in good numbers, including Black-headed Grosbeaks, Western Tanagers, and Bullocks Orioles like this guy.

IMG_5881

Bullocks Oriole on Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 19, 2015.

Spotted Towhees were calling incessantly, and Lark Sparrows were all over the place.

IMG_5905

Spotted Towhee on Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 19, 2015.

IMG_5911

Lark Sparrow on Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 19, 2015.

There was also a handful of Brown-headed Cowbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Brewer’s Blackbirds like this fella.

IMG_5921

Brewer’s Blackbird on Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 19, 2015.

Thursday morning I got out again, and this time the light was a little better, though the roads were still pretty soggy. Lark Sparrows were all over the place again.

IMG_6165

Lark Sparrow on Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 21, 2015.

Lots of colorful birds like Bullocks Orioles, Yellow-breasted Chats, and Lazuli Buntings were present in good numbers as well.

IMG_6215

Bullocks Oriole on Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 21, 2015.

IMG_6242

Yellow-breasted Chat on Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 21, 2015.

IMG_6265

Lazuli Bunting on Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 21, 2015.

The highlight of the trip was a pair of Grasshopper Sparrows. Grasshopper Sparrows have become fairly reliable near Avimor (a housing development north of Eagle on Highway 55, and home to several avid birders), but that’s on the opposite side of town from us and I was really hoping to find a regular spot closer to home. As I was driving up Highland Valley Road, I started looking at the grassy hillsides behind the ribbon of willows on the side of the road, and realized this was pretty similar habitat to the hills near Avimor, so I stopped and listened for a while to see if I could hear a Grasshopper Sparrow calling. I kind of thought I heard one pretty early on, but their call is very quiet, and there were a couple of Brewer’s Sparrows nearby, whose calls have some similar qualities, so I wasn’t totally convinced. I went along my drive further up the road, and on the way back down decided to stop and listen again. This time I heard the calls again, and was a bit more confident that they were actually coming from Grasshopper Sparrows, so I hopped out of the car and slowly tried to dial in on the sounds. The birds were staying well concealed and it took my a while to finally lay eyes on one, but eventually I saw this guy perched on top of a bit of low brush. I was pretty thrilled to see it and to snap a few distant photos to record the ID. I would have liked to have been able to get closer and get better photos, but this was one skittish bird!

IMG_6278

Grasshopper Sparrow on Highland Valley Road, Ada County. May 21, 2015.

On the way back down, I was able to confirm the presence of a second Grasshopper Sparrow as well. Now let’s just hope I can re-find these guys next spring! Hopefully this wasn’t a one-off occurrence and I’ll have a new regular spot. This location is just 15 minutes from home, so very easy to keep an eye on.

1 comment: