Sunday, January 27, 2013

Horned Grebes at Lucky Peak Lake

On Sunday, January 6, we made another short trip up the canyon to see what we could find in the Lucky Peak area. We were hoping to track down some Gray-crowned and Black Rosy-finches that are seen throughout the winter utilizing vacant swallow nests in the cliffs. No such luck on this trip (details later on what we were doing wrong). One of our first interesting birds was actually a Song Sparrow that was missing all of its tail feathers!

Song Sparrow, sans tail feathers! Lucky Peak SP - Discovery Unit, Ada County. January 6, 2013.
It's hard to tell from this view, but when he flew, it was quite obvious something was missing.

As we were scanning the cliffs for Rosy-finches, we heard the scream of a Red-tailed Hawk and turned to find this hawk chasing a Northern Flicker. First, we observed the chase from afar, but soon the flicker had reached a tree only 10 or so yards from where we were standing, and perhaps due to our proximity, the hawk gave up the chase.

Red-tailed Hawk. Lucky Peak SP - Discovery Unit, Ada County. January 6, 2013.
He kept on eye on the tree where the flicker landed, but when the flicker took off after a few minutes, the hawk did not pursue. Eventually he took off and soared above the canyon in search of another target.

Red-tailed Hawk. Lucky Peak SP - Discovery Unit, Ada County. January 6, 2013.
Next we headed up towards the dam, and just as we approached the turnoff to drive across the dam, a flock of pigeons exploded off the ground, with a Golden Eagle in hot pursuit.

Golden Eagle. Lucky Peak Dam, Ada County. January 6, 2013.
The pigeons escaped, and the Golden Eagle stopped to take a break.

Golden Eagle. Lucky Peak Dam, Ada County. January 6, 2013.
Across the dam we spent a few minutes at Foote Park. The resident Sharp-Shinned Hawk put in an appearance:

Sharp-shinned Hawk. Foote Park, Ada County. January 6, 2013.
A couple of American Goldfinches were feeding on our way back out.

American Goldfinches. Foote Park, Ada County. January 6, 2013.
As we crossed back over the dam, we saw a pair of Horned Grebes below the dam on the reservoir. The birds were quite distant so it was pretty rough trying to get decent photographs.

Horned Grebes. Lucky Peak Lake, Ada County. January 6, 2013.
Horned Grebes are not very common around here this time of the year. Here is eBird's bar chart for Horned Grebes in Ada county.

eBird bar chart for Horned Grebe in Ada County.
The Lucky Peak area was beautiful, with the frosting of ice and snow covering the landscape.

Lucky Peak Lake, Ada County. January 6, 2013.
Arrowrock Dam, Ada County. January 6, 2013.

Friday, January 25, 2013

In-town birding - Kathryn Albertson Park, Americana Terrace, and MK Nature Center

The city of Boise was built at the foot of Boise National Forest, straddling the Boise River. The unique foothills habitat to the north and the extensive riparian corridor through town create quite a few wonderful birding hotspots you can enjoy without ever leaving town. Boise has done a tremendous job maintaining natural areas within the city, and some of our most enjoyable birding outings have been just a few minutes from downtown.

Saturday, January 5, we focused our efforts on Kathryn Albertson Park (a couple of Evening Grosbeaks had been reported recently), Americana Terrace, and MK Nature Center (a Pacific Wren had been hanging out recently). We didn't find any of our target birds (I think we were a little too slow getting out after the first reports started coming in) but we did have a fantastic time and got a great start on our 2013 year list.

Kathryn Albertson Park indicated by the red star, Americana Terrace indicated by the blue star, and MK Nature Center indicated by the orange star. Boise, Ada County.
When we first started birding, Kathryn Albertson Park provided us with our first Great Egret, Black-crowned Night-heron, and Varied Thrush, just to name a few. The park was designed to be a nature preserve, and is also home to a few deer that make their home right in town.

Ellen at the entrance to Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. January 5, 2013.
Kathryn Alberston was quite birdy this morning, but mostly with the usual suspects: American Robins, Black-billed Magpies, Song Sparrows, Mallards, Wood Ducks, etc. No unusual finds this morning. We were happy to spend some time up close with the resident Wood Ducks, whom we missed seeing as often when we lived in Denver.

Wood Duck (female). Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. January 5, 2013.
Wood Ducks. Kathryn Albertson Park, Ada County. January 5, 2013.
We look forward to visiting Kathryn Albertson more as the weather warms up, the ponds unfreeze, and the bird diversity increases.

Our next stop was Americana Terrace, which lies directly between Kathryn Albertson Park and the Boise River. Americana Terrace is not a nature preserve, in fact, it's the back side of an office building that faces the river. The big draw here is the feeders that someone maintains. There are several suet feeders, platform feeders, sock feeders, and tube feeders that always bring in great birds. In fact, a couple of years ago, these feeders hosted a Northern Parula and a Yellow-Throated Warbler for a week or so in the winter. Even when the feeders are not attracting anything rare, they still provide great viewing opportunities for local birds that are sometimes harder to get a good view of. For example, we enjoyed great looks at this Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Americana Terrace, Ada County. January 5, 2013.
This Red-breasted Nuthatch was in a bush not far from the feeders, either hoping we would add some more food, or just hoping that we would leave. Either way, he froze in great light for us to snap a few pictures.

Red-breasted Nuthatch. Americana Terrace, Ada County. January 5, 2013.
Our last stop of the afternoon was MK Nature Center. This natural area piggy-backs the Idaho Fish and Game office, and is home to a range of educational exhibits about nature and biology. We arrived somewhat late in the day, and the bird life was quite low on this trip, but in the past this has been our most reliable location to find Golden-crowned Kinglet. Many others had reported seeing a Pacific Wren here throughout the winter, but I was unable to locate it on this trip.

MK Nature Center, Ada County. January 5, 2013.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My favorite patch: Boise River Greenbelt near Diversion Dam

When I started birding one of the first patches that I really tried to make my own was a stretch of the Boise River Greenbelt between the highway 21 bridge and Diversion Dam.

Boise River Greenbelt, Hwy 21 bridge to Diversion Dam. Ada County.
There are a lot of things that make this patch a great place to bird. It follows a portion of the river that has both quick moving sections (great for dippers) and slower wider sections (great for ducks). The canyon walls and rock piles at their bases provide great habitat for Canyon Wren and Rock Wren. The riparian corridor that follows the river is excellent for a fair number of passerines, and a few chunkier birds like California Quail and Wild Turkey. It's a great area for raptors as well, with Golden Eagles nesting in the cliffs, and Bald Eagles making laps up and down the river in the winter. There is one house along the path, and luckily they maintain quite a few feeders in their back yard which always brings in a great mix of songbirds.

This patch was one of the places that made me fall in love with birding. The surroundings are beautiful, the air is full of birdsong, and the quick walk to the dam and back gets the endorphins flowing. We weren't able to find anything in Denver that could quite replace it, so we were thrilled to spend time at here again now that we're back in Boise. Our first trip back didn't disappoint.

Right off the bat this White-crowned Sparrow struck a pose:
White-crowned Sparrow. Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 5, 2013.
We caught this Song Sparrow on his perch as well:
Song Sparrow. Out patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 5, 2013.
We had heard just a couple weeks before we moved back that there was an American Dipper lingering around the dam. We were hoping the dipper would hang around until we got back to check for it, since this would be a new bird for our patch list and our Ada County list. Luckily we found the dipper without any trouble, and to our delight, we actually found a second dipper as well.

American Dipper. Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 5, 2013.
Here we are enjoying our first trip since the move back. You can see the Diversion Dam and the canyon walls behind us. The Dipper would be on the river directly behind us.

Stoddard and Ellen (hey that's us!) on our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 5, 2013.
Here's the view upstream from the dam:
Looking upstream from our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 5, 2013.
The highlight of the trip was probably our encounter with a beautiful little Canyon Wren. Canyon Wren are very reliable at this location. We've heard them on nearly every visit. Their distinctive call is easy to identify, so there's no need to lay on these guys to clinch the ID. In fact, despite the dozens of times we've listed Canyon Wrens, this was the first time we've actually seen one. Looking straight down to the ground beneath the dam, we spotted this guy foraging in the rocks and and giving little chip notes every minute or so.

Canyon Wren. Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 5, 2013.
Maybe it was due to the cold snap we've been in, but this little guy was more bold around us than most birds we've ever seen. He seemed to completely ignore our presence and foraged within just a few feet of where we were standing. We enjoyed watching him check for spiders underneath the rail along the top of the dam.

Canyon Wren. Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 5, 2013.
On our way back to the car we saw this American Kestrel keeping an eye out for something tasty.

American Kestrel. Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 5, 2013.
We paused for a moment to enjoy this brilliantly colored Downy Woodpecker.

Downy Woodpecker. Our patch at Diversion Dam, Ada County. January 5, 2013.
In total we say 29 species in just over an hour. Nine of those birds were new to our patch list, and four of them were also new to our county list. We can't wait to re-visit this wonderful patch all year long!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Golden-crowned Sparrow at Foote Park

On New Year's day we had time for a quick drive up a nearby canyon to see some of our favorite sights. We're still spending more time unpacking and getting settled in at our new place than we are playing and chasing birds, but luckily we live really close to some of the best birding hotspots in Ada county.

Our neighborhood indicated by the red star, Foote Park indicated by the orange star. Southeast Boise, Ada County.
We didn't really have any target birds in mind, we were just excited to be back in town and hanging out on our old stomping grounds, but we managed to stumble upon a Golden-crowned Sparrow mixed in with a flock of White-crowned Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos.

Golden-crowned Sparrow. Foote Park, Ada County. January 1, 2013.
Golden-crowned Sparrows are a review species in Idaho, and eBird's filters took notice. Turns out that eBird doesn't have any records at all for Golden-crowned Sparrow in Idaho in January.

eBird's bar chart for Golden-crowned Sparrow in Idaho.
I'll be submitting my first rare bird report to the Idaho Bird Records Committee at the request of Lew Ulrey, one of the Treasure Valley's most dedicated eBirders, and regional reviewer for Ada County. I've seen a fair number of review species before, but never took the extra step of submitting a report (except to eBird). Lew indicated that he would wait to hear the IBRC's action before confirming my sighting in eBird. That's the first time I've had an eBird reviewer tie an eBird sighting confirmation to the action of a records committee.

A lot of people have strong opinions on records committees (some very supportive, some not as much). I probably tend to land somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, my personal enjoyment of a sighting is not dependent on what anybody else thinks of the bird's status, so I have no real interest in whether a report gets accepted or not. On the other hand, if I'm going to tick Golden-crowned Sparrow off my Idaho list, I'd like to know I have actually seen one. If the more experienced birders on the records committee point to some other ID for my bird, I'd rather know that and hope for another sighting down the road, rather than check something off I didn't actually see.

I do think that Golden-crowned Sparrows are probably under-reported in Idaho. After all, how would these west coast residents manage to stray as far east as they often do without at least a few of them passing through Idaho? I would guess that many of the birds that pass through are missed simply because it's a much less populated state than many others, and there aren't enough birders out and about every day to notice them as they pass through.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

First new Idaho bird after the move

Moving back to Idaho was a very exciting change for us. We started birding in Idaho, but had been away for most of the last year and a half for work. We couldn't help but daydream of all of our old stomping grounds, and all the new birds we could add to our list upon our return. Luckily it didn't take us long to find our first new bird for our Idaho list: a Western Scrub-jay we found at the first rest stop north of the Utah-Idaho border.

Western Scrub-Jay. Juniper Rest Area, Oneida County, Idaho. December 30, 2012.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Quick loop through the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway

Along our path from Denver to Boise, we detoured to loop around the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway north of Moab, Utah, and circling Arches National Park.

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway, Utah.
The scenery was breathtaking, and the birds were great too. We started off with a beautiful Prairie Falcon perched on a pole.

Prairie Falcon. Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway, Utah. December 29, 2012.
Horned Larks were quite abundant, we passed several different flocks. At one point, we found a flock foraging on the shoulder of the road. As we approached, the flock took flight and flew straight down the middle of the road, keeping pace with our car.

Horned Larks taking flight. Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway, Utah. December 29, 2012.
Horned Larks, cruising down the byway. Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway, Utah. December 29, 2012.
One patch had a number of Horned Larks, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Song Sparrows.

Dark-eyed Junco, Horned Lark. Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway, Utah. December 29, 2012.
The Upper Colorado River carves a beautiful canyon through the red sandstone.

Upper Colorado River Canyon, Utah. December 29, 2012.
Other highlights that we weren't able to photograph included a Rock Wren, a couple of American Dippers, and several Rough-legged Hawks. We were hoping to see Gray-crowned and Black Rosy-finches, Pinyon Jays, and Juniper Titmouse, but we didn't get so lucky on this trip.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Last Colorado year bird of 2012

Just after Christmas we moved from Denver, Colorado to Boise, Idaho. We made sure to include a few good birding stops along the way. All year long I've been getting the eBird needs alert for Colorado sent to my email once a day. These alerts are a big part of how I plan my birding outings, and all year long there have been consistent reports of Gambel's Quail in the Grand Junction area, but it's always been a longer drive than we've had time for. Driving to Idaho was the perfect chance to stop and add this species to our Colorado list.

eBird range and point map for Gambel's Quail around Grand Junction, Colorado.

While Gambel's Quail can be found many places in the Grand Junction area, Connected Lakes State Park is one of the most consistent places to check. We stopped by and saw our first covey of quails before we even got to the entrance.

Gambel's Quail (male). Connected Lakes State Park, Mesa County. December 29, 2012.
These quails look quite similar to the California Quail, but have a few more rufous highlights. Females are a little duller.

Gambel's Quail (female). Connected Lakes State Park, Mesa County. December 29, 2012.
It was nice to add one more bird to our Colorado list. We ended 2012 with 267 Colorado year birds. We had a few other nice birds at Connected Lakes, such as a flock of Mountain Bluebirds that were eating berries and drinking from the icy river.

Mountain Bluebird, doing its best to avoid looking into the camera.
Connected Lakes State Park, Mesa County. December 29, 2012.
Mountain Bluebirds, drinking from the icy river.
Connected Lakes State Park, Mesa County. December 29, 2012.