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? ;-)

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 ....)



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