Monday, May 25, 2015

Pacific Loon at Meadow Creek Sewage Ponds, Varied Thrush at Goose Lake, and more

Yesterday was the last full day of our Memorial Day weekend getaway to Tamarack Resort. We started the day on the patio of our rental cabin, and enjoyed a nice variety of birds before we left the property, including Steller’s Jays that were foraging on and around some of the unoccupied cabins nearby.

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Steller’s Jay at Tamarack Resort, Valley County. May 24, 2015.

We took it easy yesterday, but still had a few fun stops throughout the day. We started off with a trip to Ponderosa State Park to look for an American Three-toed Woodpecker that breeds in the area, then we headed to New Meadows to track down a Pacific Loon that Fred Erland found at the Meadow Creek Sewage Ponds, then we zipped back closer to McCall to look for Williamson’s Sapsuckers at Bear Basin, and finally we headed up to Goose Lake, just to see an area we hadn’t been too before. We did a few other things in the afternoon as well, but some storms were rolling through so we didn’t really see many birds in the afternoon.

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 Map of our route on day 3 of our trip.

At Ponderosa State Park we were focused on finding the American Three-toed Woodpecker. We looked for it the day before as well, and we couldn’t find it either time. We’ll try again later in the season. Nora is getting to be a great little hiker, but doesn’t always like to go in a straight path.

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Nora and Ellen hiking at Ponderosa State Park, Valley County. May 24, 2015.

We did have a nice little flock of Pygmy Nuthatches buzzing around us at one point though. They’re fairly common around here, but we still don’t actually get a good look very often, so they were fun to see.

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Pygmy Nuthatches at Ponderosa State Park, Valley County. May 24, 2015.

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Pygmy Nuthatch at Ponderosa State Park, Valley County. May 24, 2015.

A quick run out to the Meadow Creek Sewage Ponds near New Meadows quickly produced the Pacific Loon we were looking for. It was quite distant, but still identifiable as a first summer bird due to the small size, sharp contrasting border between white and grey on the neck, overall dull color, and lack of an eye ring that would be found on a Common Loon.

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Pacific Loon at Meadow Creek Sewage Ponds, Adams County. May 24, 2015.

After lunch we took a quick drive through Bear Basin to look for Williamson’s Sapsuckers. Last year we saw a male foraging near a trailhead in Ponderosa State Park, but after missing them there this year I looked up the eBird species map for Williamson’s Sapsucker and could see that there was a really nice cluster of reports around Bear Basin, just west of McCall, so that’s where we headed.

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eBird species map for Williamson’s Sapsuckers near McCall. Bear Basin is the cluster of dots west of Payette Lake.

The road through Bear Basin was quite crowded due to all the Memorial Day weekend vacationers. It looked like most were hunting for morel mushrooms, but quite a few were biking and hiking as well. Despite the crowds, we were able to track down several Williamson’s Sapsuckers fairly quickly. Interestingly, we only saw female birds on this trip.

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Williamson’s Sapsucker (female) at Bear Basin, Adams County. May 24, 2015.

Next we headed up towards Goose Lake, an area we had never visited before. The views on the way up were breathtaking, with Granite Mountain in the background and huge rolling forests in the foreground. Just the view is worth the trip, and the drive was much quicker than we thought it would be.

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Granite Mountain from the road into Goose Lake, Adams County. May 24, 2015.

On the way up we saw lots of great woodpecker habitat, and stopped a few times to listen and look for American Three-toed Woodpeckers. We never found one, but did see this Steller’s Jay hanging out on a dead tree.

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Steller’s Jay on Goose Lake Road, Adams County. May 24, 2015.

When we got to Goose Lake the road was covered in snow and we couldn’t travel any further. We pulled to small side road as far as we could before we hit a wall of snow and parked for a bit to re-plan, since we weren’t expecting the snow.

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Road into Goose Lake, Adams County. May 24, 2015.

While we were parked, I was thinking about whether we might be able to tromp around through the snow looking for Spruce Grouse, or if there might be an American Three-toed Woodpecker in the area when Ellen asked me if we had just heard a Varied Thrush. I hadn’t heard what she did, but I have heard of a handful of Varied Thrush reports around McCall, so it definitely seemed possible. We kept listening, and after another minute or two heard the characteristic buzzing call again. It sure sounded like a Varied Thrush to me! We kept listening to hear several different notes, and eventually had heard enough to be sure of the ID. I took a video recording of the call to document the bird, as I wasn’t sure I’d be able to track it down for a picture. Listen for four separate buzzy calls, each on a different note, and spaced several seconds apart in the video below.

After taking the recording I went tromping through the snow to try to get eyes on it. I was assuming it would be on the ground since when they show up in Boise each winter at Kathryn Albertson Park they’re usually foraging quietly on the ground. However, the closer I got the more it sounded like the sound was actually coming from up in the tree tops. I finally dialed in on it and fired off a quick documentation shot before the bird flew away.

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Varied Thrush at Goose Lake, Adams County. May 24, 2015.

We were pretty thrilled with our find, and even more pleased when we got internet later and checked eBird reports to find that they’ve actually been seen exactly once at Goose Lake in 3 out of the last 4 years (our sighting makes it 4 out of the last 5 years), so perhaps we might have a new regular place to check for them if we miss the one that shows up in Boise each winter.

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