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? ;-)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Road Trip to Eastern Idaho .... Day 1

This past week was spring break at BSU, so (mostly inspired by the fact that Cliff and Lisa were pretty sure they'd located a Boreal Owl cavity) Jay and I decided to head off on a road trip for eastern Idaho! While we planned to leave on Tuesday morning, the weather had other plans, and we ended up leaving on Thursday instead. It was killin' us to keep postponing our trip! Needless to say, by Thursday we were pretty excited to finally be on the road!

It was a busy three days, so we are splitting the blogging duties on this one. Heidi's sections will be written in blue, and Jay's sections will be in red. Read on if you dare!

Our final destination was Cliff and Lisa Weisse’s house in Island Park, ID but we had a few other birding stops planned on the way. One of our first stops was to Massacre Rock, where Louie & Ileana Quintana had reporting seeing Juniper Titmice on their way to Wyoming a few days earlier. It was windy, and pretty freakin’ cold, so I guess it wasn’t surprising that the titmice were nowhere to be seen. So, after a few minutes of shivering, we hopped back into the car and headed to American Falls reservoir.

We only spent about an hour there and scanned the river from three different locations: near the landfill (no we didn't actually study gulls there as the landfill material apparently isn't as 'scrumptious' as the fare at those bigger-city dumps ;-), at the cemetary (where we also looked/listened w/o success for Juniper Titmouse - now Heidi's all geeked about finding them!), and just below the dam. There were TONS of birds at this always-very-productive spot, including over 2500 gulls (mostly Ring-bills but a smattering of Californias plus a few Herring and 2+ Thayer's was all we could muster) and many waterfowl. We also enjoyed our first Tree Swallows of the year and Heidi was able to study Violet-green vs. Tree in side-by-side fashion! Other highlights here were some pelicans and a few RB Mergansers among the many other waterfowl.

After our stop at American Falls, we headed for Pocatello where a local bird nerd, Chuck Trost, had told us about a Northern Mockingbird that had been hanging around there (& Louie & Ileana had found the day before). After less than a minute of getting out of the car and walking along a hedgerow, we spotted him! He was easy to find, even for me, with those flashy black and white wings and tail. He gave us some good looks, but then headed deep into the bushes when we tried to take a photo of him. Heidi lifer #1 for this trip!

The camera-shy Pocatello mockingbird. You can see its pretty, light-colored eye

Next we headed to Idaho Falls, where we birded along the river and looked for the Long-tailed Duck that a birder friend Steve Butterworth had posted about on IBLE. After arriving at the spot Steve described, it didn’t take us long to spot the white head among all the Goldeneye that were along the river. Sweet! He was a beautiful male in winter plumage! Jay started to think I was getting spoiled with all this super-easy birding…two lifers, both found within 2 minutes of arriving at the spots! (but we hadn’t seen anything yet!)

Even though it was pretty windy, and getting windier, we decided to at least try to visit Market Lake to look for the Short-eared Owls. It was about 3 o’clock by this time, so we didn’t have very high expectations of seeing any owls. Just after getting to the marshy area, though, we spotted a bird soaring above the marshy areas. A Short-eared Owl! He flew around, and then landed on a nearby fence post to look around, where we were able to watch him for a while before he swooped down into the cattails. Lifer #3 (again, in less than 2 min!! I mean, seriously, who does that? ... and on 3 straight target birds in 1 day!). We took some time to walk one of the windrows in the area and (along with some moose poo) found a flock of waxwings, including 5 Bohemians! Those guys are always fun to see :)

While we were in the area, we also decided to make a quick trip through Sugar City ot look for redpolls; a species we'd been searching for all winter, but didn't have much hope of finding so late in the season. While we didn't find any redpolls, we were happy to discover a male Cassin's Finch in one of the neighborhoods. It wasn't a lifer for me, but it was the first good look I've had of one (besides a few fledglings in the hand at IBO) and I was glad that I was actually able to tell that he was not a male House Finch :)

We continued birding, and eventually made our way to Cliff and Lisa Weisse’s house in Island Park. After meeting their litter of adorable 3-week-old puppies and eating a quick dinner of Cliff’s tasty green curry, we headed out to listen for Boreal Owls. In their back yard (yeah, aren’t we all jealous?) we snowshoed out to where Cliff had found the Boreal’s nest cavity. We stood at a distance as it slowly got dark (and slowly got colder!) and waited for the owls to start calling. After an hour+ with only a few short calls back and forth between the male and female, we heard a strange call from the male, and then it was all quiet. Lifer #4!! We quietly walked back to the house…and learned that it isn't all that easy to snowshoe/ski in the dark! :) When we were far enough away from the nest, Cliff and Lisa explained that the last call we heard had been a ‘prey delivery’ from the male! Cliff explained that during courtship the male has to feed the female plenty of voles before she’ll stick around and nest. aww, how romantic! :)

We also listened for Great Gray Owls later that night, but only heard some Great Horned Owls over all the wind....... to be continued

Don't forget that Wednesday is the day to send in your yearlist counts, and it's also the last day to vote in the handicap poll!!

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