Monday, January 25, 2016

Late migrants and a solid start on winter birds

November was a much more exciting month than September or October. We got a new camera at the end of October, and were excited to get out and use it. We had a nice mix of late migrants passing through as well as the start of some of our winter specialties. Here are the highlights from the month:

November 4: Kuna Sewage Ponds

On November 4 we took a quick trip out to the Kuna Sewage Ponds. We didn’t have any particular targets in mind, we just wanted a chance to start getting used to the camera at a place we knew for sure there would be birds. Highlights from this trip included a Peregrine Falcon and a flock of Dunlins.

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Peregrine Falcon at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. November 4, 2015.

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Dunlins (and a Ring-billed Gull) at Kuna Sewage Ponds, Ada County. November 4, 2015.

November 14: Wildland Firefighters Monument

One of the more exciting finds of the month was a Hooded Warbler that an employee of the National Interagency Fire Center found hanging out around the Wildland Firefighters Monument. At first it seemed like there wouldn’t be any access for birders to be able to go see the bird since the fire center is a closed campus with security procedures that have to be satisfied for anybody to visit, but it actually turned out that all we needed to do was drive up to the gate, tell the security detail we wanted to see the monument, show our IDs, and keep a visitors pass on us while we were there. It took an hour or so of patience, but eventually we tracked the bird down. We got nice looks a couple of times but it wouln’t hold still long enough for pictures. The “safety shot” below is the best I could do when I just hurriedly snapped the shutter the very first time the bird flew in front of me. If you look close the small dot in the center is the Hooded Warbler.

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Hooded Warbler at the National Interagency Fire Center, Ada County. November 14, 2015.

November 15: Simco Road and Ted Trueblood WMA

On November 15 we took Simco Road (about halfway between Boise and Mountain Home) down to the Ted Trueblood WMA near Grandview. We had been on Simco Road a couple of other times recently and had noticed decent sized flocks of Horned Larks starting to gather in the area, so we decided to slow down and start checking them out to see if they had any buntings or longspurs mixed in. On this trip, we did manage to find a small handful of Snow Buntings, a pretty nice find for this close to Boise!

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Snow Bunting on Simco Road, Elmore County. November 15, 2015.

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Snow Bunting on Simco Road, Elmore County. November 15, 2015.

At Ted Trueblood we had loads of Sparrows to pick through. We were hoping to pick up a Golden-crowned, which we didn’t find, but we did get a nice late season Savannah Sparrow.

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Savannah Sparrow at Ted Trueblood WMA, Elmore County. November 15, 2015.

On the island in the center of the main pond we had a nice mix of shorebirds – including Dunlins, White-faced Ibis, Wilson’s Snipes, and this was about the latest we’d seen most of those species in Idaho.

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Dunlins and a White-faced Ibis at Ted Trueblood WMA, Elmore County. November 15, 2015.

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White-faced Ibis at Ted Trueblood WMA, Elmore County. November 15, 2015.

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Wilson’s Snipe at Ted Trueblood WMA, Elmore County. November 15, 2015.

At one little opening in the thick marsh where a small canal ran through we pulled over for a minute to listen for rails and any potential late season Soras. No Soras on this trip, but we did get a nice look at a couple of Virginia Rails.

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Virginia Rail at Ted Trueblood WMA, Elmore County. November 15, 2015.

While we were enjoying the rails we spotted a couple of unusual sparrows, and after getting a decent look they turned out to be Swamp Sparrows. Apparently these guys are somewhat regular at Ted Trueblood, but they’re pretty rare in Idaho, turning up almost exclusively along the Snake River corridor in the southern part of the state.

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Swamp Sparrow at Ted Trueblood WMA, Elmore County. November 15, 2015.

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Swamp Sparrow at Ted Trueblood WMA, Elmore County. November 15, 2015.

November 21-23: Camas NWR

The weekend before Thanksgiving Nora and I headed to Rexburg to spend some time with my parents while Ellen went on a retreat with her sisters. The timing was serendipitous, as Steve Butterworth found a Gyrfalcon while performing a raptor survey near Camas NWR right after we got to town. I spent a few mornings trying to relocate the bird. I never did find it but did have a good time looking. My first trip out yielded a nice flock of American Tree Sparrows and a very mellow Rough-legged Hawk.

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American Tree Sparrow at Camas NWR, Jefferson County. November 21, 2015.

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Rough-legged Hawk at Camas NWR, Jefferson County. November 21, 2015.

Larry Arnold zipped over to try to relocate the bird as well. He did find it, and gave me a quick call to share the details. I followed his directions to the spot where he tracked it down and quickly found a falcon, though it turned out to be a Prairie Falcon instead of a Gyrfalcon. I also flushed a pair of Barn Owls while trying to get better views.

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Prairie Falcon at Camas NWR, Jefferson County. November 22, 2015.

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Barn Owl at Camas NWR, Jefferson County. November 22, 2015.

On one more attempt on the way out of town back towards Boise we still couldn’t find the Gyrfalcon, but did see this nice weasel, which appeared to be mid-transition from its summer to winter coats

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Weasel at Camas NWR, Jefferson County. November 23, 2015.

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Weasel at Camas NWR, Jefferson County. November 23, 2015.

November 28: Simco Road

The day after Thanksgiving we had a really nice layer of hoarfrost across the valley. I figured the extra layer of ice might concentrate the lark flocks on Simco Road near the road where the ground was clear so we headed out to take a look. Turns out that was a good guess. Right off the bat we found a large flock of finches hanging out near the road working over some old sunflowers. We had a very narrow shoulder and a fair bit of traffice, so we only had a couple of minutes to look, but we quickly turned up a Common Redpoll, one of the first of the year around the Treasure Valley, and closer than they’re usually found to Boise.

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Common Redpoll on Simco Road, Elmore County. November 28, 2015.

We found loads of larks hanging out near the road, but the problem was that since there was so much traffic the flocks wouldn’t stay put long enough to get a good look. We started checking side roads instead which turned out to be a great strategy. We found one particularly large flock and hung out right near them and just took our time picking through every bird in the flock. Our patience paid off, as we turned up at least one (and likely two) Lapland Longspurs! This was a new state bird for us, and a species we’ve spent a lot of time looking for each winter.

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Lapland Longspur near Simco Road, Elmore County. November 28, 2015.

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Lapland Longspur near Simco Road, Elmore County. November 28, 2015.

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Lapland Longspur near Simco Road, Elmore County. November 28, 2015.

We ended the month at 291 birds for the year in Idaho, much better than I expected we’d do. The nice bump in November gave us the encouragement we needed to try to add as many more as we could in December to close out the year. Stay tuned to hear how the rest of our 2015 played out.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you guys managed to spot quite a lot of fellas. Thank you sharing all these picture with everyone. Hope you get to see more before the year ends.

    ReplyDelete