Friday, November 6, 2015

Five killer rarities in July

Most years we’ve seen about 90% or more of the species we’ll see all year long by the end of June, and things really start to slow down in July. This year, even though numbers dropped off quite a bit by July, the small handful of new birds we did have were really extraordinary.

The first was a Black-throated Blue Warbler that the IBO crew found at their Boise River Banding Site on July 6. Ellen and I just live a few minutes away (and their current study site used to be our old patch) and thanks to an instant message from Heidi Ware we got the news really fast and were able to zip right over. Sometimes a chase can be really frustrating, but this warbler was actually really easy to find, as it was singing constantly, and we heard it right away as we headed into the banding site.


Black-throated Blue Warbler at the IBO Boise River Banding Site, Ada County. July 6, 2015.

A few other people who were also able to get there quickly were also able to find it, but it was gone by the evening, and as far as I know we were the only ones able to get photo documentation. This was Idaho’s 18th record of Black-throated Blue Warbler, 8 of which have been submitted to and accepted by the Idaho Bird Record Committee. Lately they’ve been averaging one appearance every other year.


Black-throated Blue Warbler at the IBO Boise River Banding Site, Ada County. July 6, 2015.

A week later, Alex Lamoreaux (bird blogger extraordinaire at and seasonal crew for the IBO) found a White-rumped Sandpiper at Lake Cascade. I hustled up there, hoping to beat an approaching storm that some other birders had noticed heading towards the lake, but ended up getting stuck behind a chip sealing operation on Highway 55 that added 45 minutes to the travel time. Luckily I arrived just in time, and got to meet and hang out with Alex for a bit while we waited for the bird to put in another appearance. A large flock of Western Sandpipers came in and gave us something to pick through for a bit, but eventually we found this guy hanging out all by himself. Interestingly, this guy/gal is missing its eye on the right side. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with whatever misnavigation landed it in Idaho. This was Idaho’s 7th record for White-rumped Sandpiper (the 6th was a month earlier near Mud Lake). Before 2015 the most recent record for this species in Idaho was 2006. Pretty great find!


White-rumped Sandpiper at Lake Cascade, Valley County. July 13. 2015.

The very next day Bruce Ackerman and some friends found a Least Tern at Jacks Creek WMA (on C.J. Strike Reservoir). I bailed out of work a little early when I heard the news and Ellen, Nora, and I all rushed out to Jacks Creek. When we got there we ran into Cheryl Huizinga, Denise Hughes, Heidi Ware, and Jay Carlisle. It’s always good to run into them, and when you bump into them you know there’s something awesome around. We found the Least Tern right away, hanging out on a log in the shallow end of the reservoir. This was only Idaho’s 5th record, the first in 17 years!


Least Tern at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. July 14, 2015.

The log ended up being quite a hit for terns, and later a Forster’s Tern and Black Tern showed up as well.


Least Tern, Black Tern, and Forster’s Tern at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. July 14, 2015.

The Least Tern was quite feisty and chased off the Black Tern every time it got too close. Later a Common Tern showed up to add even more fun to the action (note the faint carpal bar on the leftmost bird).


Common Tern, Forster’s Terns, Black Tern, and Least Tern at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. July 14, 2015.

While we were enjoying the terns, there was a gull that caught Jay’s eye on a different log. After some careful study, the bird was suspected to be a Laughing Gull. Everybody busted out their field guides and stared this bird down good and hard, watching for all the necessary clues to clinch the ID, and finally it flew – giving the last few crucial details that weren’t visible on the resting bird. It was a Laughing Gull, and what I suspect will be the first accepted state record for Idaho! There was one earlier record that wasn't accepted, and of course this bird is still subject to review by the IBRC, but I presume it won’t have a problem getting accepted, as at least 6 of the 7 voting members of the IBRC made a trip out and were able to see the bird for themselves. It was fun to be there as the bird was discovered, and despite it’s nondescript appearance, this was among the best finds we had all year.


Laughing Gull at Jacks Creek WMA, Owyhee County. July 14, 2015.

Speaking of first state records, a couple of weeks later Mary Rumple found a Phainopepla at Foote Park! This is just 5 minutes or so from our house, so we zipped out to try to find it on a lunch break as soon as we heard the news, but we couldn’t find it after 30 minutes of searching before I had to get back to work. Later that afternoon, several others were able to find it, and once it was confirmed the crowds started building out at Foote Park. I suspect that’s more people than have ever been to Foote Park at once, it’s usually pretty quiet. It had made an appearance for a few other birders just before we arrived in the afternoon for our second try, and we staked it out for another half hour before it finally made another appearance. At first it just made a few sounds and provided just a short glimpse deep in some thick brush, but a few minutes later it flew up to a prominent perch where everybody could see it and started singing away for the crowd.


Phainopepla at Foote Park, Ada County. July 30, 2015.

What a great find, and it was especially nice that it showed up so close to Boise so lots of people were able to enjoy it. It’s a pretty tough bird to photograph well in such harsh lighting but we were happy to have something to take home.


Phainopepla at Foote Park, Ada County. July 30, 2015.

Two first state records plus three super rare finds for Idaho made for one heck of an exciting “slow” month!


  1. Hi Austin Young here of Twin Falls, ID. I saw the first Laughing Gull record on Idaho in 2013. Here's a link to the eBird checklist:

    I don't know why it's not in the IBRC archives but it should be soon as I submitted another one.

  2. Thanks for the note Austin - I should amend that to say the first accepted record by the IBRC. Your record is in the archive, but it shows it wasn't accepted.
    Here are the voting comments on your record, in case you hadn't seen the IBRC's vote on your bird before:

    1. I looked that up and realized that haha. My bad