Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wrapping up the weekend on West Mountain Road

While it was a sad event, yesterday morning we packed up our things and checked out of our rental cabin at Tamarack Resort. We were worn out from the weekend’s adventures and didn’t plan any major excursions for the day, but we did take a nice slow pace down West Mountain Road on our way out. There is lots of beautiful beautiful and varied habitat along this road, including the large reservoir, marshy inlets, grassy fields, and mixed deciduous and coniferous woods. We didn’t find anything rare on our final trip down this road, but the common birds seem a little more special with such a nice back drop.

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Looking west from West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2015.

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Looking east from West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2015.

We had five species of swallows along our drive, including every species regularly occurring in Idaho except for Northern Rough-winged. Right as we pulled away from the resort we came upon this puddle covered in Cliff Swallows gathering mud for their nests. Seeing them huddling close together, wings vibrating in the air above their heads, reminded me of times we’ve seen butterflies “puddling” around food or water sources. Very pretty!

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Cliff Swallows on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2015.

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Cliff Swallows on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2015.

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Cliff Swallows on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2015.

A nearby Bank Swallow was nearby drying off on a fence. It’s amazing to see what incredible feats of excavation they’re capable of with such dainty beaks!

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Bank Swallow on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2015.

Tree Swallows seem to have out-competed Mountain and Western Bluebirds this year for most of the nest boxes we saw along the road, though House Wrens seemed interested in displacing a few of them.

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Tree Swallow on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2015.

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House Wren on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2015.

There was loads of good woodpecker habitat all up and down the road, and it seemed like about every suitably thick fence post or tree trunk had been bored into by something or another. This Northern Flicker was living in a hole on a small post only 3 feet or so high that was placed as an anchor point for a power line.

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Northern Flicker on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2015.

Some of the more watery edges of the road hosted a nice variety of ducks and waterbirds, dominated by Western Grebes, Mallards, Gadwalls, Wood Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, and Cinnamon Teals.

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Western Grebe on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2015.

Where the lake shore butted up against a grassy shore rather than the forest, Lincoln’s Sparrows were abundant. The more we’ve learned to recognize their sound the more we’re realizing just how common they are in this area.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2015.

The occasional Red-tailed Hawk kept an eye out for rodents in the grassy fields as well. I bet they take the occasional duck or grebe as well, as the opportunity presents itself.

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Red-tailed Hawk on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2015.

A few pairs of Sandhill Cranes dotted the shorelines as well. I’d bet that if the grass were any shorter we’d have spotted a few young ones running around the ankles of the adults about this time of the year.

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Sandhill Crane on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2015.

My favorite non-bird of the day was this Valley Garter Snake, a subspecies of the Common Garter Snake identified by the three yellow stripes on the black and irregular red spots down the sides. We found this fella lying across the road. After seeing one just like it looking pretty mangled up on Friday, I hit the brakes and helped this one get out of the road so it wouldn’t meet the same fate.

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Valley Garter Snake on West Mountain Road, Valley County. May 25, 2015.

In total, we submitted 46 eBird checklists from our 4 day trip, including a total of 105 species, 9 of which were our first-of-year birds.

Now the next challenge will be to figure if we have the energy for back-to-back trips. We’re considering heading over to southeast Idaho for a few days to try to catch up with all the rarities they’ve had in the past week. I’d bet that most (if not all) of those birds have moved on, but it should still be a decent time of the year to look for new rarities. I have today off of work and can use that time to drive over, but do still need to work Wednesday through Friday. I could potentially work remotely out of my parents house and go birding in the mornings and evenings, as well as on the weekend before we drive home, but I’m not sure whether I’ll just be too late to the party and miss out on everything, or if there are still good rarities to be found. Decisions, decisions!

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