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 1, 2009

A Wood River Valley excursion

Jay and Heidi, along with dedicated volunteer IBO-ers Gary and Jean, headed out for a day of mountain birding on Saturday. We met in Mountain Home to pick up Gary in the early hours of the morning and were soon on our way. No sooner had we hit the highway, after listening to Jay's “Hey guys, what do you say, let’s book it to Sun Valley and only stop if we see something totally amazing” when a blinker went on, the vehicle suddenly decelerated, and we heard those infamous words: “hey, was that a gull?!” We scanned the water for a few minutes, finding mostly mallards and swans, and NO gulls before moving on. (this was grim foreshadowing of the rest of the day, as we did not see any gulls the whole trip! poor poor Jay)
We were on the road! On the drive there we didn’t see much more than blowing snow drifts and the occasional roadside magpie.

After arriving in the valley, we first stopped in Bellevue at a house that had been visited by a Harris’ sparrow. We had no luck with the sparrow, but saw our first batch of gazillions of Pine Siskins that would greet us everywhere we went throughout the rest of the day.
Then it was off to Jean’s house, between Hailey and Ketchum. On the turnoff to her house, we spotted a bunch of crossbills in some conifer trees near the road. We hopped out and soon had some good but fleeting views of both Red and White-Winged crossbills! The White-Wings were LIFERS for both Gary and I! It was great to see both males and females of each species at the same time, and getting to compare their appearance as well as the calls of each species was especially cool.

We met up with Jean, and all piled into her vehicle (with wonderfully heated front seats, which I enjoyed immensely :) and we were off to search for Black Rosy-Finches. We drove through the small community of Triumph and other area neighborhoods, but had no luck with the Rosy’s or our other 'target bird', Redpolls. We did see a new and adorable species for the year, Mountain Chickadees, along with plenty of Black-capped Chickadees, Siskins, Am. Goldfinches, Juncos, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Flickers and House finches.

We headed to a tasty burrito place in Hailey for lunch, where we met up with Robin, Jay and Jean’s cool biologist friend. Then we went for one last check on the Black Rosies in Triumph before journeying back to Bellevue. While we still didn’t find the finches, we did get an awesome view of some Cedar waxwings in the bushes right next to the car. And mixed in with them was a Bohemian! It wasn’t a Lifer, but I was still excited to see it so close up, and be able to compare it with the cedars. I’d only seen Boho’s twice before, and had never gotten to see the wing pattern! Gary also got some great photos, including this awesome comparison shot of a cedar with his big fatty cousin :)

A Cedar Waxwing (on the left) with his Bohemian buddy (right)
--Photo by Gary Robinson--

At another stop after this, Jay claimed to have seen a Hairy woodpecker fly over (a new year bird) but also claimed he didn’t see where it had gone (a likely story, I say! ;) Nevertheless, this meant that Jay was now ahead of me in the competition!

We checked one last time for the Harris’ sparrow in Bellevue, and then met up with Robin again to search for a Barred Owl and Yellow-shafted Flicker that had been reported in the area. After looking for the owl for awhile, Jay decided to try his best “who cooks for you?” call. (He actually did a good job…but that didn’t stop us from laughing at him!)

Heidi, Jay, Robin and Jean have a laugh while calling for the Barred Owl
--Photo by Gary Robinson--

Much to his dismay, the owl never answered Jay; but soon after, we were able to spot a bunch of flickers, including the Yellow-shafted Flicker! We got to check out the cool red marking on the back of its head, and of course the yellow on his wings when he flew! This was another new bird for me…though not technically a lifer.

Next we headed off down the valley to the Hayspur fish hatchery to look for sparrows. The girls took the lead in Jean’s car, while the boys followed in Jay’s vehicle. On the road there, Jay called to say they’d spotted another Hairy woodpecker. And thus we were tied on the year list again! (yeah, I guess Jay can be pretty nice sometimes ;) At the hatchery, while a little bunny looked on, we spotted a White-Throated sparrow!!! We watched him for a while and got some good looks as he hopped around the brush piles with the other birds. How cute! Another LIFER!! (This bird was probably the same one that Jean and the valley’s other birders found on their CBC. A great find!)

As the sun was setting we headed to the silver creek area, where we spotted plenty of water birds, including Lesser Scaup, ring-necked ducks, common mergansers, goldeneye, trumpeter swans, American widgeons and mallards. Finally, with the last few minutes of sunlight, we drove the back roads in the area, keeping an eye out for short eared owls and snow buntings, but finding only a few Horned Larks. After dark, we said goodbye to Jean and headed for home, stopping for burgers and malts in Fairfield on the way, and running in to some ‘fun’ patches of strong wind gusts, with lots of blowing snow! We reached Boise at about 10:30, worn out from a fun day of birding!

Jay and I are now tied at 120 species so far this year! We're putting together a page of other birders' year lists (with species seen as of 2/28) but need some numbers to put up first! So if you want, tally up your Idaho lists for January and February and send them in! You can post them as a comment here on the blog or just send them to heidithebirdnerd@yahoo.com! We also may be including people's 'top sighting' of the year along with their tally so far, so feel free to send that in as well!


  1. Heidi & Jay -

    I would like to propose a new dimension to your competition. I'm interested in making a pledge to IBO but I'm proposing to make my pledge based on the number of eBird checklists you submit during the year. The advantages are that your sightings gain additional value as a part of the eBird database, you can promote eBird to Idaho birders, and IBO gets more money! Let me know if you're interested and I'll figure out the particulars. I myself haven't done much birding this year, my Idaho year list is currently around 65, but I've already submitted 50 eBird checklists. (BTW when you are out birding together or in a group you can share checklists thereby dividing up the data entry responsibilities.)


  2. I use Ebird religiously and would second the motion to enter all your sightings so they can contribute to the science and conservation of birds!

  3. we're in! & thanks for the inspiration ... 5 eBird checklists submitted for yesterday & more to come