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, April 26, 2009

Sharp-tails and Silliness

ahhhh, the weekend: no school, no work, sleeping in....'till 3:30AM :)

Jay and I, along with our good birding buddies Louie and Ileana had the idea of getting up early this Sunday to go in search of some lekking Sharp-tailed Grouse. We were all excited to get out and bird, but somehow it didn’t seem like such a good idea when we were meeting up in Meridian at 4:45.
We hit the highway (caffeine in hand) and headed out toward Weiser where we’d been told about a Sharp-tail lek that was located on some private property in the area. In exchange for the info from the biologists at Fish and Game, Jay had offered to check out a lek that hadn’t been surveyed for a few years because of road conditions. We were hopeful that we’d see at least a few birds, but kept in mind that it could be a ‘wild grouse chase’. We arrived to the area just as the sun was coming up, and from the car we were able to spot a displaying male Greater Sage Grouse! Not what we were looking for, but still cool. We quietly got out of the car (climbing through to the far door so we wouldn’t scare the birds) and we started to hear some funny noises that weren’t like the “buh-wump” sounds coming from the Sage Grouse. Soon, we spotted a Sharp-tail dancing very close to the sage grouse! We kept listening and realized that the sounds were coming from all over the place in front of us. A few times the Sharp-tail’s leapt into the air during their dancing and we were able to count at least six. We pulled the car a little closer and continued to watch. We had some sweet views of the dancing males, and got to listen to all their funny noises and feet stamping. (there were certain people commenting on all the 'nice tail' we were seeing...but I don't know who that could be) As the sun came over the hill we could really see their yellow eyebrows and the purple on their throats. (I loved their fuzzy white tails and their cute little wind-up toy actions!) They’re so funny! Also this whole time, the big dorky Sage Grouse continued to go at it…boy was he confused! A few times, one of the male ST’s faced off with the sage, and actually scared him! After a while of watching them, the whole flock got up and flew up the hillside, and there were WAY more than 6 birds! We were able to count 20 birds in flight, and they soon returned to give us even closer looks! These were LIFERS for Louie and Ileana, and while I’d seen a ST in flight over spring break, this was definitely the sighting I’ll remember! Sweet!
A dancing male Sharp-tail! check out that purple!

photo by Ileana!

Louie and Ileana scoping out the ST's

We left the grouse to do their thing, and headed down the road. We needed to get back on time for Jay’s soccer game (and for naps for the rest of us!), and there were still plenty of places we wanted to get to, so we tried to limit our stops along the way…but of course we had to stop for all the ‘dinky birds’ (as Louie calls them). And we weren’t disappointed! We saw and heard lots of Spotted Towhees, White-crowned Sparrows, a few Lincoln’s and Savannah Sparrows, some Brown-headed Cowbirds, a Red-naped Sapsucker, and singing Rock and House Wrens. But the real treats were a singing Nashville Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, and a Dusky Flycatcher! Welcome back guys! We also saw plenty of other signs of spring along the road: lots of nests of both hawks and owls.

After birding the road to the lek, we decided to check out Mann Creek Reservoir. On the way there we got to stop to check out a pair of Long-billed Curlews, and Ileana got some more great photos!

The female Curlew - photo by Ileana

At a place called "Devil's Elbow" along the highway, and also at the reservoir, we checked out the birds on the water which included, sadly, tons of Ruddy Ducks! (A species that Jay didn't have on his yearlist yet...shoot!) We then birded in the day-use area near the N end of Mann Creek. Along with a large flock of Yellow-rumps, we were able to find yet another Nashville Warbler and a few more Orange Crowns. Cute!

the Nashville Warbler - Another great photo by Ileana!

While at this stop, 'the boys' obviously had a bit too much energy because while watching the warblers, Ileana and I turned around to see two 'sharp-tailed grouse' facing off in front of us (Jay here: Um, I think we were encouraged - at least by Ileana, who wanted to see her man strut his stuff; i.e., we didn't just start this behavior on our own). They encouraged us to join in, but (in what I'd consider true female sharp-tailed fashion) we refused, and simply laughed and rolled our eyes at these two dorks...oh, and snapped a few pictures too :D

A classic sharp-tail face off between Jay and Louie.
ncluding Louie's great imitation of a grouse's leaping abilities
Photo by Ileana :)

Still giggling, we hopped in the car, headed up the road, and stopped at a small pond. There were tons of Rough-winged Swallows and a few Bank's mixed in, along with some singing Yellow-headed Blackbirds. We stopped to watch these guys for a while, while I tried to pick out the Bank Swallows in the mix (agh, that's tough!) Soon Jay spotted something different, and it turned out to be a Vaux's swift! (Lifer!) he was really cool to see, zipping around on those long pointy wings.

To finish up our day, we headed to the New Plymouth sewage ponds. (because what birding day would be complete without a stop at at least one sewage pond, cemetery, or landfill?) There were lots of waterfowl, including some baby Canada Geese, tons more Ruddy Ducks, some Scaup, Redheads, and a new yearbird: an Eared Grebe! (I've never seen them in breeding plumage before, so that was cool) After scoping for a while, we decided it was time to pack up and head for home...we were tired!!

Ileana took so many great pictures that I've put some extra ones into an album for you to check out here !

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Today I headed out to some BLM lands N of Middleton, ID to do some territory-mapping of Long-billed Curlews (a study I am working on in cooperation with Idaho Dept of Fish & Game and the Bureau of Land Management). On the way, I picked up Emily Carson - a student at Boise State Univ. who needed to fulfill some hours of 'shadowing' a biologist for a Biology class (and she chose to do something other than the fish hatchery that most other students were visiting - good choice, right? ;-).

A view through BLM grasslands (prime Long-billed Curlew habitat) to Middleton

As we were on our way between curlew territories, I stopped to point out some American Pipits that were calling and feeding in some short grass. As soon as I pointed them out, no pipits were visible (figures, huh?). But Emily soon said, "Oh, like that one?" and I looked to see a 'non-pipit' only about 30' away and soon many neurons were firing all at once! Naked eye I thought I knew what I was seeing but, as I brought my binoculars up, my brain tried to rationalize it to an especially colorful Horned Lark .... then I saw it through binoculars and confirmed my suspicion...

... A male Chestnut-collared Longspur!!! ... (one of only a few reports for the state)

.... that was out of its normal range. I think Emily might have started worrying about the mental sanity of this biologist she was shadowing as I got excited (actually, she was pretty excited too :-). Knowing this was a real rarity for Idaho, I quickly started getting into 'rare bird report' mode and started going through features with her to ensure she saw some of the key features to help 'back me up' in case I couldn't get any photos. After we'd studied it for a few moments, I said, "PLEASE don't let this bird fly away!" and ran off to the truck to grab my scope & camera. In the last week I had seen American Pipits feeding in and migrating N over the grasslands so I knew the flock might get up & keep moving at any moment. I returned and the pipits and longspur were still feeding in the same general area and I alternated between snapping my usual crummy pictures (digital camera held up to the scope on a breezy day by an excited birder;-), studying the bird, and giving Emily looks at the longpur and the pipits. While we watched (~ 20 min), we heard it call a few times and it sang 2x.

Here are a couple more shots of the bird:
Look at that chestnut collar!

Here's the longspur with a pipit in the foreground ...

Here's Emily, content knowing she'd just found me a very unusual bird (the longspur was actually walking around behind her right shoulder as I snapped this pic!)

After we enjoyed the birds for a while, I decided that maybe we oughta get back to work and actually watch some curlews! We didn't go far before we got into the middle of a very active curlew area (we saw interactions between birds from as many as 7 territories!) and were able to get some important observations of one pair (see below) that may have only recently 'found each other' (i.e., behind schedule relative to other birds) as we eventually saw the male scraping/picking at a potential nest site and 'cooing' to the female to come check it out.

Here's the male curlew posed over a potential nest site and the female (finally - he was trying to get her over there for a while ;-) moseying over to check it out. Notice how much longer her bill is.

As I admitted to Emily (after seeing the longspur), my first choice would have been sleeping in this AM as its been a very hectic few weeks BUT the longspur was a great reward and we got some valuable curlew data. I told Emily she should come back out and see if she can bring more luck! (actually, she still needs some more hours of 'shadowing' so she'll likely join me & the curlew crew next week sometime ....)



Sunday, April 19, 2009

Heidi's weekend of birding!

No that’s not a type-o, I didn’t forget to include his name…I actually went birding without Jay for once!! (he was gone to a conference in BC...oh darn, no Idaho birds for Jay this week! :D)

My family and I spent the weekend in McCall with friends, so of course I took the opportunity to do just a little bit of birding :)
Friday evening we arrived just in time for dark, so after dinner the only birding I could do was owling. I headed up to Bear Basin with ‘the fam’ to listen for owls (and of course I was hoping for a Great Gray) but we were all kindof surprised when a Saw-whet responded to us! I’d heard one for a short time once before at IBO, but it was really cool to hear this little guy go on and on, and my family thought it was pretty sweet too! Not a bad start to the weekend. :)

Saturday morning, while my parents and our friends were prepping for a tasty breakfast (and my teenage brothers were still snoozing away) I downed a cup of coffee and headed outside. In the trees around the cabin I found plenty of BC and MO Chickadees, Red and White-breasted Nuthatches, Siskins, Flickers, Cassin’s Finches, and Red Crossbills (including my first ever singing male!).

After breakfast I called up a fellow birder Bobbi Cross who was in McCall for the weekend with her husband Dean. I learned that Cheryl Huizinga was also in town, and we soon made plans to meet at the Cross’ cabin to check out some Pygmy Nuthatches. I brought my parents and my youngest brother Isaac along (because who can resist an adorable nuthatch?) and we arrived to see the trio of birders bunched around Cheryl’s scope. In an aspen tree in their front yard were two Pygmy Nuthatches excavating a nest cavity! (Lifer!!) They were both taking turns hopping inside the cavity, and we could see their little heads pop out with beak-fulls of wood splinters that they would toss out their door. They were busy! And sooooo cute!!

Hanging out with the Pygmy Nuthatches (that's their tree behind Bobbi's head)
Me, Bobbi, Dean and Cheryl!

After enjoying the nuthatches, Bobbi and Dean offered to take me around the area and show me where they had seen a Williamson’s Sapsucker. We didn’t find the ‘sucker, but I had a bunch of fun with these two driving around the back roads. We probably saw about 15 snipe in one field….the most I’ve ever seen at once!

After parting ways with the Cross’s I headed back to town for a snack of ice cream, and then absconded with the family car to head towards the Ponderosa state park area. I saw and heard a gazillion RB and Pygmy Nuthatches (yay!), more singing Red Crossbills, both chickadees, a RC Kinglet, and nutcrackers. Out over the lake, I saw an adult Bald Eagle flying with both a Raven and an Osprey chasing him at the same time! nice! After that adventure it was time for me to return to family and friends for the night.
After striking out on the sapsucker the day before, I decided to head out to check out the area again at 8:30 the next morning. Since we were leaving that day I had the deadline of having the car returned for loading at 10:00. I saw lots of snipe and violet-green swallows on the way out, and stopped to watch a pair of Red-tails before making it out to the power poles where the sucker had been. It didn’t take me long to hear the ‘bouncy-ball’ drumming, but it was far away into the trees! (with a fence and deep snow between us) I continued to hear some pretty distant drumming from both sides of the road for about an hour, but it never got any closer. (while I was listening though, I also heard a Screech-owl…year bird!) It was 10:15 (yes, I called my dad for an extension on the 10:00 deadline…good thing he understands how important a Lifer is!! :) when I decided to head back. I drove down to a wide place in the road to turn around, and after driving past a power pole or two, I saw a little sapsucker scoot around to the other side! I got out of the car and stood listening to the drumming coming from the other side of the pole, and then a little brown head appeared. Yes, a brown head…it was the female Williamson’s! I got to watch her drumming for about 20 seconds before she flew off to a farther grove of trees. Lifer!! I thought it was weird that the female had been drumming (though it did explain why I heard drumming from both sides of the road and didn’t see anything fly across) but when I got home and looked it up, I found that females actually will participate in territorial drumming too. Cool! And thanks to Bobbi and Dean for showing me the spot!!!
On the way home we decide to stop at Cascade Reservoir to check out the water birds. In a puddle on the side of the road we stopped to watch a snipe taking a very energetic bath! He was lots of fun, and turned out to be my brother Isaac’s favorite part of the trip! On the water (courtesy of Jay’s scope :) we also saw some neat birds like Green-winged Teal, 3 Trumpeter (?) Swans, Pintail, Common Mergansers, Bufflehead, Shovelers, Ring-necked Ducks, and my favorite, Ruddy Ducks, including 4 males swimming in a row. It was fun to show my family all these birds!
It was a great weekend with lots of cool birds! (including a few that helped me close the gap in the year lists!...well at least until Jay got back to Idaho and into the field) Not to mention 2 sweet lifers!

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Here's some of what we did last week.
sorry to keep you in suspense so long...I know you all were dying to hear what we did, after the 'hint' posted last weekend :)

We’re still waiting on some photos from the first half of our day that Saturday, so Jay will be posting later, but for now I will tell you about the last part of our day.

We went to Pickle’s Butte landfill! (Yeah, that’s what the picture’s of in the previous post. Sweet huh?) There were tons of gulls as usual, and among them, our friend the Lesser Black-backed gull! We first spotted an adult Lesser Black-backed (a different bird than the 3rd winter we’d seen at both pickles and hidden hollow landfills) Cool! Then later, while Jay was scanning the flock, I was watching some gulls zipping around fighting over some garbage (yummy!). I was about to ask Jay about the juvie flying in the group, when I noticed one of the birds was a Lesser Black-backed… BUT he was the 3rd winter bird! So there were two different LBBG’s there! That day we also spotted a likely adult Thayer’s gull, with awesome pink legs :)

(you've already seen the incriminating photos of Heidi enjoying herself at the dump, so it’s only right that I now return the favor, dont-cha think?)
The adult Thayer's with Crayola 'tickle-me-pink' colored legs :)

The adult LBBG! you can really see its yellow eyes
That's it for now! keep checking for Jay's post about the rest of that Saturday (4/11), and also my upcoming post about this most recent weekend (the competition has taken a turn! :)


...so where'd Jay and Heidi go this weekend??
A post'll be coming later, but here's a hint...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Garden Valley Birding

Howdy everyone!
Just got back from another of our Saturday birding excursions! (but don't worry, this post will be much shorter than our last ones!! :)
We wanted to go for a more subdued day of birding today after a crazy week for the both of us (how long till school's out?) so we decided to head up to Garden Valley.
At a bridge over the river on the way up, we stopped to look for American Dippers, and found 'em! woohoo! a Heidi year bird! (uh oh, that means Heidi is catchin' up!) it was fun for me because this is the first time I've heard them since I really started paying attention to bird calls :) Dippers are sweet!
In Garden Valley we met up with a birding buddy, Spencer Walters, who was awesome enough to show us around today!! We searched for White-headed Woodpeckers, and ended up stopping by Michael Wiegand's house (thanks Michael!) to look for them. While there, we had a fun time hangin' out, and had some torturous 'listens' of the White-head's and a White-breasted Nuthatch. But with an adorable toddler, some goofy dogs, and tons of Red Crossbills around, we certainly weren't bored! :) Finally after a few hours of hanging around, we were able to see a male White-headed Woodpecker on the suet feeder! yay, Lifer!!
Waiting for the woodpecker to show up!
Our awesome hosts Michael & Serena, Heidi, Spencer "The Guide", and one of the dogs :)
The White-headed Woodpecker! he finally showed up!!
Before heading home, we stopped for a quick visit to Ralph and Sheri Foote's house, where we were able to see lots of birds! It was cool to see a single pine tree full of all the colors: yellow, orange, and red Red Crossbills, Cassin's Finches, Goldfinches, and some awesome male Evening Grosbeaks! I'd never had a close view of those guys before, so that was pretty sweet :) thanks guys!
all in all, a fun day with some super fun birders!

Just a few of the Siskins and Crossbills at the Foote's house

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Road Trip to Eastern Idaho .... Day 3

Saturday AM: After the long snow-shoe earlier and then the success with the Boreal Owls on Friday night, we were all partly buzzing with excitement and partly dead-tired. Thus, when the discussion turned to, "what are we doing on the way back tomorrow?", we struggled to decide between sleeping in (lazy but good for you) and waking up way too early to hope that one or more Sharp-tailed Grouse might have just enough hormones surging to make an early appearance at a lek we had directions to on the Sand Creek WMA (which, unfortunately, I am not allowed to give out - but I do highly recommend the Dubois Grouse Days coming up on Apr 17-18 which would give a chance to see these guys and Greater Sage-grouse!). In the end, Heidi's argument of, "we're already over here so we should, right?" won out even though I think we were both a little skeptical as we got into the car at 545am to make the hour+ drive in the dark on too little sleep ("adios & thanks again, Cliff & Lisa!!"). Apparently Sharp-tails begin their lekking behavior 2-3 weeks later in the spring than the Sage-grouse and the helpful WMA manager I spoke to didn't have a lot of hope that we'd have success so ...

We arrived after dawn but before sunrise and didn't see much going on ... we eventually got out of the car (I was told the lek was far enough away that this wouldn't disturb the birds) in order to listen better. It took a while but we finally started hearing an odd and very distant hoo-ing and a few other strange sounds that sounded familiar (I've seen these guys on leks a few times before, especially in South Dakota) BUT we couldn't see any birds. Soon we had a couple of flyover Common Redpolls (first of the year and a would-be lifer for Heidi) but the lighting was poor and there wasn't much to see. Thus, here we were with two potential life birds for Heidi but neither giving good looks :(. Soon enough we heard some wing flapping in a different direction and a Sharp-tail got up and flew across in the distance in front of us (and another redpoll fly-by around the same time)!! The cool breeze and lack of further activity led us back to the car ... (I hope you've all realized by now that when Jay says 'cool breeze' it means that Heidi is freezing her butt off!--similar to when he says "DUDE, it's hot!" and Heidi barely thinks about taking her coat off :)

After our first stop of the morning with some not-too-satisfying looks at redpolls, it was off to try and find some hot breakfast and coffee in the teeny town of St. Anthony. While grabbing some food at a Subway, we planned our next stop. We decided to head out on nearby Sand Creek Road to see if we could find any more grouse. Driving the road, we saw some fun birds including cool raptors like Rough-legged and Red-tailed Hawks, Harriers, and Mountain Bluebirds, Townsend’s Solitaires, Red Crossbills, and W. Meadowlarks. The coolest part, though, came when we were standing outside the car to listen for more grouse. A flock of finchy birds flew over us, and by now the sounds were somewhat familiar…they were Common Redpolls!!! Lifer #8!! We were able to watch this flock of about 25 birds for more than an hour while they fed on the ground in the sagebrush. Jay was slowly being driven nuts with the fleeting glimpses of some shorter-billed birds that we were getting (we were of course hoping for some Hoary Redpolls to be in the mix) but I was pretty content to just watch these adorable little birds! They would stay and eat on the ground very near to where we were standing, and then all at once they would get up and fly a few feet away and settle back down. It was fun to listen to their calls and watch them land on the sage and the barbwire fence before going back to the ground for their breakfast. They were SO cute when they would sit all puffed up and look towards us with the stern looking black markings on their little faces!…yes, I am unashamedly in love with redpolls :)

A little female Common Redpoll on the sage

Once I got my fill of studying & enjoying the redpolls (it had been a while since I'd seen a big group of these guys), we decided we oughta head for Boise and chose to try the northern route with the hope of a stray Gyrfalcon or other fun birds. We saw loads of raptors along hwy 33 between Rexburg and Howe, mostly Rough-legs but some Red-tails and Ferruginous mixed in ... and one biggish female Prairie Falcon that made me stop for a 2nd look!

We continued down the highway, still seeing plenty of raptors, when Jay once again put on his ‘birder brakes’, and I instinctively looked for the nearest power pole for another raptor quiz…but this time it was a Northern Shrike! I’d only seen one before, and from kind of far away, so I was pretty excited! It was an immature bird, and it was cool this time that I was able to see the thinner eye line and the faint barring on the chest. Jay left me to continue scoping the bird, and I was only half listening to the sparrowy noises coming from the roadside when something unfamiliar hopped up next to the shrike! I said something like, “woah! Jay get over here it’s a new sparrow!!” It was interesting enough that this bird had just landed on the same bush as one of its mortal enemies, but even cooler that it was a Sage Sparrow! Lifer #9!! (Whew! Jay confirmed that I had actually guessed right that it was a Sage Sparrow!) We followed this guy a little ways and were able to find another Sage Sparrow too. They were fun to watch running around on the ground with their flippy little tails in the air but we waited in vain to hear one sing....

After a 'Lifer hi-five', we looked back to the perch where one of the sparrows had just been, but saw something bigger sitting in its place. I couldn’t see what it was, but when Jay got the scope on it, we both couldn’t help but laugh. It was a Sage Thrasher! Another Lifer!!! (#10, if you’re still counting) It was cool that both these summertime birds were already back, even though it was still pretty cold! We enjoyed these birds for a little longer, and were both cracking up at my crazy good luck as we headed back to the car. (seriously, 2 lifers on the same perch ... & 30 seconds apart!)

We pressed on, heading for home and Jay’s soccer game that he was hoping to make (yeah, he wasn’t tired enough after getting up at 5:30AM to go grousing ;) We made a short stop at the Craters of the Moon visitor center, and had the chance to see a 'Pink-sided' Junco and a ‘Canadian Rockies’ Junco (according to Sibley) mixed in with the regular Oregon Juncos.

As we got near the Silver Creek preserve area in Blaine Co, we both took note of a raptor on a powerline all hunched over. I'd been quizzing Heidi on raptor ID (and many other birds too - after all, she is training for standardized counts this summer ;-) all along and was impressed, especially given the poor view we'd had, that she had the same thought as I did (Osprey), but I wasn't really expecting one yet up this high. We turned around just in case and, sure enough, there was an Osprey with a recently-caught fish. We said, 'Welcome back, dude!' and pressed on ....

As we neared Fairfield, the snow was becoming much deeper in the fields along the road, and we were commenting on how we had missed the Snow Buntings when we had visited this area on our Sun Valley trip in Feb. Then we started noticing more Horned Larks on the roadside. We soon pulled over when we saw a flock of more than 50 larks, and decided to drive down the side road to get a better look at the flock. The farther down the road we went, the more larks we saw, and we ended up counting about 400 of them! Scanning through one of the groups, it didn’t take long for Jay to spot her…a Snow Bunting!! Woohoo!! Lifer #11 for the trip! She was much more faded than we had expected, with gray and white on her body, and only a little orangey-brown on her head; and she still had the lighter winter-colored bill. I guess it makes sense that she’d almost be in breeding plumage by this time of year. While I was watching her, she started rubbing her head in the snow, and took a sort of ‘snow bath’. How cute!! It was another fun surprise bird that we were not expecting to still be here!

We rolled into town around 7 and I dropped Heidi off with her 'happy-to-see-her' family and raced off to try to catch whatever I could of my game (I'll have you know, I actually drove very responsibly, TY very much!) but arrived just as the first half was ending. I suited up and did my best - we lost :( - believe it or not, it actually felt good to run around after the long car ride ... but the combo of sunburn from our long snow-shoe trip, too little sleep, and soccer made me a zombie for the rest of the weekend! Time to get some sleep!

Until next time .....

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Road Trip to Eastern Idaho .... Day 2

In case you missed it from yesterday's post about "Day 1", Heidi's part of the post is in blue, and Jay's part is in red

Friday AM: After a long day of birding and a late night of owling I was happy to crash on the couch by the warm wood stove! And just as Cliff and Lisa had predicted, I woke up in the morning and looked out the window to see 4 birds below the feeder. Without even getting out of bed, I had my first lifer of the day: Pine Grosbeaks!! trip lifer #5! including 2 beautiful males! (no…I’m not a spoiled birder at all! ;) hmmmm?

After a relaxed AM of coffee, gourmet breakfast, and good conversation, Cliff was up for some exploring with us so we decided to ski/snowshoe 2.5 miles back from the road into an area of forest that had burned last summer in the hopes of finding Three-toed or Black-backed Woodpeckers.

Cliff & Heidi on the snow

Cliff & Jay on the trail

After a long & invigorating stroll in, we finally arrived at the burn and soon started to see sign of the target woodpecker species, who often 'flake away' the bark while foraging as shown on the burned tree below. Amazingly, these species (maybe especially Black-backs) often move into burns almost immediately after the fires sputter out to take advantage of the increase in insect larvae (especially beetles that specialize on dying/burned trees). But, Heidi's luck had run out for the moment for, though we saw sign of these woodpeckers (including poo stuck to the sides of the trees! yeah, sweet, I know...) almost everywhere, the only one we could find was a Hairy Woodpecker (though not as reliant on burns, another species that tends to increase after a fire).

Burned tree showing the characteristic 'flaking' of bark often caused by the foraging of Three-toed or Black-backed Woodpeckers.

On the way back we were rewarded with a pair of Gray Jays (another Heidi lifer!) that flew across the trail ahead of us ... once we caught up to them, we thought we'd heard something like a Pygmy-owl in the background so I did my best imitation of their trilling call (which is passable but not great). I hadn't even finished when one of the jays kicked in with its own imitation ... and one much better than mine! Made me laugh outloud and I struggled to keep whistling .... ;-). A Clark's Nutcracker even came in to check things out. As usual, the jays were very curious and stuck around for a while.

During the day we were also lucky enough to find some fresh tracks of this Ruffed Grouse that we tracked to its day roost in a Lodgepole Pine!

We got back from snowshoeing just in time to eat dinner and head back out to visit the Boreal Owl nest cavity. It wasn’t very dark yet, and just as we were posing for Jay to take a picture of the owl voyeurs, Cliff spotted an owl fly through a clearing in the trees. We stood quietly and pretty soon we heard the male start calling from behind us! The night before we hadn’t heard any of his ‘real’ calls, so this was really neat! Then, after calling a few times behind us, he flew right over our heads and landed in a tree near the nest cavity! My first view of a Boreal Owl!! He sat there for a while and then swooped to the cavity. At first we thought he had gone inside, but when we looked with our binoculars we could barely make out his shape clinging to the outside of the tree. He ducked into the cavity, and then the hole in the side of the tree disappeared….it was filled up with his cute little white face! He started calling to the female, and we could see his face pattern as he turned his head back and forth, looking in all different directions to broadcast his calls. He kept calling and calling, but I guess his girl was playing hard-to-get that night, because even with his irresistibly cute face poking out of what I’m sure was a quality nest cavity, she never answered him. Poor little guy! Hopefully it’s just all part of the springtime Boreal Owl ‘game’ and she’ll soon realize that he’s the one.

Lisa, Cliff, & Heidi just before the Boreal Owl action began!
ooo, how's that sunburn Heidi??

....... to be continued

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