A (mostly) friendly competition between 2 avid birdwatchers that are also friends/co-workers. Who can observe more bird species in Idaho in 2009? Will they still be friends at year's end? ;-)

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Yesterday morning, Jay and I headed out for an exciting early morning adventure to Midvale, ID! We joined up with Dave Hazelton, Bruce Ackerman, and Mike Morrison, along with our special visitors Kenn and Kim Kaufman at the entirely too early hour of 6 AM, to head out in search of Greater Sage-grouse. A busy week and about 4 hours of sleep the night before made both Jay and me pretty tired, but we were looking forward to a fun day. (We were also thankful that daylight savings came early, since that meant our meeting time was at 6 instead of 5!).

We started from Meridian, driving to Midvale and taking the highway through Oregon to get there. Luckily it was dark, so no “list-birding” time was lost in Oregon ;) We did run the risk of seeing some Oregon owls , but we were back on the Idaho side by the time it was light enough to see a Great-Horned fly across the highway in front of us. Since he was driving, Jay didn’t see the bird well enough to ID it, but Kenn and I coulda’ sworn it was an Eastern Screech Owl, and I was just about to jot it down on my year list when Jay said he wouldn’t accept it! He wouldn’t believe either of the very reliable and un-biased witnesses who saw the bird. What’s up with that? :)

Kenn and Heidi: perhaps finding yearbirds without Jay :)

"What do you mean you didn't see the Steller's Eider, Jay? it was right there!"
Steller's Eider and Eastern Screech Owl were only a few of the dozens of birds Jay wouldn't let us add to my list...and just because we were paying better attention than him! (hmm...who do you think Kenn is rooting for in this competition? ;)

Once in Midvale, Dave took us to the spot he had scouted the day before. On the way there, we spotted a flock of Wild Turkeys perched in some trees along the roadside. Not only was it cool because I had not seen Turkeys perched that high before, but they were also one of the species Jay picked up in Moscow. (That’s ONE down NINE to go for Heidi to regain the lead!) We reached one of the spots, and sure enough, there were 5 Greater Sage-grouse (including one female)! LIFER for Kim and I!! I’d seen them in photos and stuff before, but nothing prepares you for how really silly (…er…sexy?) they look. They looked so poofy and soft that I just wanted to squeeze them! (I won’t speak for Kim as to what she wanted to do with them, but as she’s now been famously quoted: “I’m no grouse, but I’m kinda diggin’ it!”) I don’t know about the other car (Dave, Bruce and Mike) but there was sure a lot of giggling going on in ours!

At the next lek Dave brought us to, there were 9 grouse, this time all males, and they were really strutting their stuff! The giggles continued, and cameras clicked away as we watched these guys do their thing.
One of the macho Greater Sage-Grouse at the lek.
This photo taken by Kim Kaufman! (see more of her photos on the Kaufman's blog)

In the background here, and throughout the day, were other boy birds showing off in perhaps the more conventional way. Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Brewers Blackbirds, and Horned Larks were singing everywhere! While watching the grouse we also saw a couple hundred Snow Geese and Canada Geese, with of course a few Ross’ Geese mixed in. My favorite part of the stop though, was another visitor to the lek. In the same field of view with my first lifer of the day (the sage grouse) was a Say’s Phoebe!! Second Lifer for the day! Hooray! :D

The obligatory "Bird Nerd Salute" photo :)
re these birders confused? or were there just a lot of birds?

The gang enjoying some delicious flan (courtesy of Sue Hazelton) by the lek. Now that's some gourmet birding!
Bruce, Mike, Heidi, Kenn, Kim, and Dave (once again Jay is hiding behind the camera :)

Okay, I just had to add this photo...you're welcome Mike and Bruce :)
mmmm, flannnn...

After our stop at the lek, we parted ways with Dave, Bruce and the Kaufmans, who had to leave to prepare for the GEAS banquet that evening. So Jay, Mike and I headed off on our own to explore the back roads of the area. We searched barns for Barn Owls, and looked around for anything else we might see. We spotted some Western Bluebirds, and saw our first Vesper Sparrow of the year. We also saw some beautiful raptors, including plenty of Red-tailed Hawks, a few Rough-Leggeds, and some Ferruginous hawks, including one bird in some sort of display flight! Very cool!

On the hill out of Midvale we stopped to watch as 2 Red-Tailed adults (1 rufous morph), 1 Golden eagle, and 3 immature Bald Eagles circled overhead! Also, within less than 10 minutes, we had a Prairie Falcon buzz through! How cool!

A short distance up the road from there, at a patch of water called Devil's Elbow we thought we spotted a Eurasian Wigeon which turned out to be a hybrid (are we allowed to count it as a ‘half-bird’ and combine it with our hybrid sapsucker for our list?) We also spotted other waterfowl including Tundra Swans, Common Mergansers, Mallards, Gadwall, Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Canada Geese, C. Goldeneye, and a group of male Ring-necked ducks hanging around with one female Canvasback.

With an hour’s drive back to Boise ahead of us and the GEAS banquet coming up at 6, we nixed our plans to once again visit the dump and made a dash for home. We all were ready for a nap after our early morning, but didn’t have much success with that!

I have to throw in a note here that I would have had a much easier time with my nap, but had to go take care of a ‘coned’ bulldog I’m babysitting this weekend…did you know that when a dog is scratching one of those plastic cones, it can get kinda loud? :) Ironically, as I type this, the accused nap-robber is snoring away on my lap! and now for your viewing pleasure: poor Bubba, the cone headed doggy



  1. Hey, we had a blast birding with you guys on Saturday! The grouse were spectacular (although I don't think I was appreciating them in quite the same way that you girls were). It was interesting that Jay happened to be looking the wrong direction when the rest of us saw some cool birds -- not only the Eastern Screech-Owl, but also the Steller's Eider, Cape May Warbler, Snail Kite, South Polar Skua, and Inaccessible Island Flightless Rail. Hope he won't object to Heidi counting all those on her year list. Anyway, thanks, and best of success to both of you.

  2. Sadly Jay isnt allowing me to count those birds! I dont blame him for not trusting ME, but...really, I think YOU seem pretty reliable...right?

    we enjoyed having the two of you visit too! maybe if I'm losing on the list by the end of the year, you can come back and 'help' me out a bit more! heehee :)