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 22, 2009

More gulls and the awe-inspiring Snake River canyon

Earlier in the winter on a visit to the Swan Falls area, I'd mentioned to Heidi that a visit to the Snake River canyon in early spring is very worthwhile for the great views of Prairie Falcons & other raptors flying at eye level. Thus, we'd penciled a late March return to this area on the calendar .... and, although we'd heard both a Canyon Wren & a Rock Wren back in January while looking in vain for Gray-crowned Rosy-finches near Lucky Peak dam, Heidi was itching to get a good look at both species. Thus, it was decided that we'd head towards the canyon. BUT, the gull frenzy that started almost 3 weeks ago (with Cliff's find of that interesting, 1st-winter 'Iceland-like' Gull) had continued in the past week and 1/2 with RL Rowland (another admitted 'gull-a-holic') and other birders finding not one, but two Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Pickle's Butte landfill (the first one was found one the same day that RL was able to see the Iceland Gull adult - not a bad day!). And, neither of us had gotten a chance to look so we both agreed that a quick stop at the dump on the way to the canyon was in order.

Thus, en route to the Snake River canyon, Heidi & I stopped to study gulls at Pickle's Butte (Canyon Co) Saturday morning and ended up staying for 4 hours (yeah, quick stop, huh?!). Many birds left the area not long after we arrived but they kept coming back in and it took a while until we finally located some rarities. A couple times (once we'd been there a couple hours) I wondered if Heidi was getting bored so would ask, "Whad'ya think, should we move on?" to which she'd reply, "I don't know, what if something else good is about to fly in?". Morale of the story (much as this might sound crazy to non-birders): it's hard to pull yourself away from the dump when the gulling is good! Overall there was slightly less diversity than a couple weeks ago but we did succeed in finding 1 of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls (an apparent 3rd-winter bird - lifer for Heidi!) as well as 1 Glaucous-winged Gull (1st-winter), 5 Thayer's (including 1 photographed adult), 30 Herring, and loads of Ring-billed (450) and California (>1500).
Lesser Black-backed Gull (3rd-winter - i.e., not quite full adult; top-center facing left). In the same picture are several adult Ring-billed and California Gulls as well as a 1st-winter Thayer's Gull.

Here's the adult Thayer's Gull stretching its wing (though Thayer's appears to be annual in Idaho, the vast majority have been immature [1st-winter] birds and this is the 2nd adult I've photographed this year!)

We also located an apparent Glaucous-winged x Western hybrid 1st-winter bird ... I still need to study it more but, much as I wanted it to be a pure Western, hybrid was my first instinct and that was Cliff's best guess after looking at my crummy digi-scoped photos (of which one is below).

1st-winter probable hybrid Western x Glaucous-winged Gull (the big, dark dude in back). I'm still getting up to speed on the complex world of gull hybrids and their ID but this bird had a larger bill, different head shape, and chunkier overall appearance than nearby Herring Gulls. Also, although the bird appears dark enough to suggest a Western Gull, it's primaries look dark brown with a pale edge (as opposed to black) which suggests it's not a pure Western. Bumber b/c I've never seen a Western in Idaho but it's the first gull with any 'Western blood' that I've seen in the state so at least I'm headed in the right direction!

From there we headed towards Celebration Park (along the Snake S of Melba) and saw a migrating flock of 9 Long-billed Curlews just a couple miles N of the park (!!) and a female Yellow-headed Blackbird at the feedlot N of the park. At the park, we had great views of singing Rock & Canyon Wrens (lifer views for Heidi), Bushtits (another Heidi lifer!) building a nest, courting Say's Phoebes, tons of Violet-green Swallows, a Lincoln's Sparrow in with White-crowns, and a surprise Caspian Tern (another Heidi lifer!) along the river.

Between Celebration Park & Dedication Point, we enjoyed some very cooperative raptors including an adult Harlan's Red-tail and 2 Ferruginous Hawks. Dedication Point was awesome for close views of Prairie Falcons, Red-tails, & more ... we also saw/heard a calling pair of White-throated Swifts (the 6th life bird for Heidi on the day!).
Heidi & Jay at Dedication Point overlook with the awesome Snake River canyon behind.

View down the Snake River canyon from Dedication Point

View up the Snake River canyon from just above Swans Falls dam

We ended the day searching for recently-returned Sage Sparrows (just above where the road leads down towards Swan Falls dam) and struck out as a storm was on its way in. But, we did enjoy more Say's Phoebes, Prairie Falcons, Turkey Vultures, and Red-tailed & Rough-legged Hawks. Hawk migration (especially Red-tails and some Turkey Vultures) was apparent throughout the day.

A great day that yielded 6 lifers for Heidi, including a rare gull and some fun new arrivals! Oh, and (b/c I had already seen VG Swallow last week in Lewiston) that species pulled Heidi one closer in the fierce competition ;-).

Happy birding,



  1. oh my god I hate you guys.
    *consoles herself with her uneventful golden-cheeked warbler

  2. yes, I really have sympathy for you...golden-cheeked warbler AND you're already back to banding

  3. Let spring migration begin! Here's where the race really takes off. . . .

  4. Marissa

    Where'd you see the Golden-cheeked? That's awesome! (I still haven't seen one so I'm likely more envious than you!)