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, May 31, 2009

Update from Castle's Corner

here's a SUPER-DUPER fast update from the "castle's corner" gas station in Carey, ID.

some highlights and photos:

-we finished our time in Hailey near the Big Wood River, and ended up with a special treat on our last day there. Jay and I had split up when I got a phone call from Jay saying that he had found a male Chestnut-sided Warbler!! of course I made it over there as soon as I could, and we were both able to get some great looks at the little dude, and listen to him sing! how cute!!! (we also had to contend with some very big and angry bulls in that field!!)

the chestnut-sided warbler!

-we left Hailey and headed to our next survey job at Laidlaw Park near Craters of the Moon.
Greg and Jay on our first night at the campsite
Highlights there were our first Nighthawk of the year. Tons of Loggerhead Shrikes (I'd only seen 2 before going to laidlaw, and now I've seen a gazillion!) a Veery (lifer!) we saw when we took a trip into civilization and stopped along the little wood river. And just last night, an adorable and proudly-singing Grasshopper Sparrow! (lifer!)

oh, and while waiting out the heat of the day after surveys yesterday, Jay and I scouted out a nice lava tube to hang out in. It made for a great office! but...soon the thunderstorms hit, and it got a little wet (not good for laptops!)

Jay at the entrance of our office

Jay taking shelter from the rain with his computer (and watching his office buddy the Black Widow slurping a crane fly :)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

First week of field work

What a week! Started with staying up until 4am with Matt on Sunday night/Monday morning mapping survey sites for Flammulated Owls and then we headed off to the Owyhees on Monday afternoon to start owl surveys at 940pm that night ... Friday night was my first night getting to bed before 3am all week! BUT, the owl surveys have been really fun (over 50 individual Flammulated Owls detected on 4 nights of surveys b/t the Owyhees, South Hills, and Black Pine Mountains) and the birding along the way just as great.

Matt, Jack, & Heidi after finishing our last paperwork detail (or so we thought ;-) before heading to Juniper Mountain (Owyhees) on Monday afternoon

A few highlights from the week (5-18 to 5-23):
  • Juniper Mountain (Owyhees) on Monday: Flammulated Owl, Common Poorwill, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Western Wood-pewee
  • N Fork of Owyhee River campground on Tuesday: Yellow-breasted Chat, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo
  • South Hills (Diamondfield Jack & upper Rock Creek Rd) on Thurs: 'South Hills' Crossbills, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Fox Sparrow, Broad-tailed Hummingbird (heard only), Northern Goshawk adult, Williamson's Sapsucker pair, & more
  • Hayfield N of Marion/Oakley (in hayfield on W side of 600 W between 900 S & 1000 S): 6 male Bobolinks!!!
  • Black Pine Mountains (Pole Canyon Rd) on Friday: Virginia's Warbler, Broad-tailed Hummingbird (great views of displaying & perched male), Plumbeous Vireo, & much more
  • Sun Valley Ranch on Saturday: Rose-breasted Grosbeak female, Least Flycatcher (6 singing males!!), Gray Catbird, Eastern Kingbirds (1st of spring), Swainson's Thrush, Pileated Woodpecker, Bobolink
  • Centennial Marsh on Saturday afternoon: 25+ Black Terns
A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak seen on a bird survey (photo by Jack Stenger)

A close Black Tern at Centennial Marsh (photo by Jack Stenger)

I can't remember what I'd done here ;-) (photo by Jack Stenger)

Many of these birds were lifers for Heidi and year birds for both of us....

The view from Juniper Mountain north towards South Mountain and the Silver City Range

It was a busy but really fun week (finally in the field after all the planning/prep work for the last few months) with a fun crew .... home to re-charge for a day before some more adventures!!!



Sunday, May 17, 2009

We're off!

Our day of birding in the Owyhees warrants a longer post, cuz it was definitely awesome...
BUT tomorrow marks the day when Jay and I take off (along with Matt and Jack) to start our summer of field work! woohoo!! We're looking forward to it, but as I write this, Jay is spazzing out over all the stuff he has left to do before we leave (and I probably should be!)

Yesterday after a bird banding demonstration at Celebration Park along the Snake River (as a part of the Snake River Birds of Prey Festival) Jay and I headed to the Owyhees with buddy Gary to search again for Black-throated Sparrows. We spent some time on the rocky hillsides, and in some riparian draws; then made quick stops at Ted Trueblood WMA and Indian Creek Reservoirs. We didn't find the sparrows, but found yearbirds: a singing Yellow-breasted Chat and a pair of Lewis' Woodpeckers (first time I was able to see their colors! oh, and these were kindly pointed out by Jay....I guess we're even now :) heehee. thanks Jay!) and Lifers: a total of 4 Wilson's Warblers during the day and a singing Fox Sparrow (both pecies I'd banded but not seen in the 'wild'), Common Yellowthroats (got to hear one singing, and got good views of another one) AND Black-throated Gray Warblers!! Sweet! (we heard them singing for a long time before we finally couldn't take it any longer and decided to climb up the steep hillside above the road and track one down....and it was worth it! we got some awesome looks, and got to see him singing as well!) Other cool birds included a pair of baby Killdeer (hooray!), a cute Semi-palmated Plover, and some way-too-easy-to-find Blue-winged Teal.

As I mentioned, fieldwork starts tomorrow with surveys for Flammulated Owls, and continuing with songbird surveys later in the week. We hope we'll be seeing tons of awesome birds, but likely wont have much time to blog about it.
But not to fear, we have to return to civilization eventually for the occasional shower ;) so keep checking back!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Quest for the Hermit Warbler

Jay and I started off Saturday at the celebration of International Migratory Bird Day at the MK Nature Center in Boise. As part of the activities that day, the Idaho Bird Observatory was doing a banding demonstration for the visitors. We had a bunch of fun with the kids, and I enjoyed banding some new species, like Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds! (though my fingers enjoyed it less because of their surprisingly 'large talons' *insert obscure Napoleon Dynamite movie reference here ;)

But throughout the day, the plans we had made the day before were constantly in the back of our minds: a Hermit Warbler had been sighted in the nearby Owyhee Mountains on Friday, and we were all set to chase it down once banding was over.

So, after lunch and packing up the nets, we followed in 'hermit-finder' Jim Holcomb's footsteps: down the highway, and a few miles up a dirt road, 'till we reached a pretty riparian area. We walked up the draw, birding our way until we reached the rock-pile marker of the bush where the Hermit Warbler had been spotted :) Though we birded the draw for a few hours, we never ended up spotting the Hermit...though we did see tons of other awesome spring birds!

We saw lots of singing Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers, singing Chipping, Brewer's and Vesper sparrows, Hermit Thrushes, Spotted Towhees, Hammond's Flycatchers, and lifers: Gray Flycatchers, Green-tailed Towhee, and 2 singing Male Townsend's Warblers (once, we had both of them in the same binocular view!)

After leaving the draw, we explored a rocky hillside in search for Black-throated Sparrows. We didn't find these either, but we did get a chance to hear my first singing Sage Thrasher, and I got to see another Lifer: Lark Sparrows! (I also got a whirlwind tutorial of the sage-dwelling sparrows, as we were able to see in flight and hear call notes of 4 different species in a short time: Lark, Vesper, Chipping and Brewers...we'll see how much o' that sticks when we start doing point counts later this week...yikes!!)

We didn't find the species we were searching for, but found some pretty sweet birds in the process!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thanks Heidi!

Would you believe that we could go birding for 6 hours on Sunday afternoon/evening and that Jay would see 3 'year' birds and Heidi none? Given her lifer rate of late, I would never have believed it myself - and I actually saw 4 year birds on Sunday, including a Lewis's Woodpecker flying over 13th & Grove in Boise early Sunday pm.

B/c we hadn't had our shorebird fix on Saturday (when we raced off to an isolated riparian draw on the NW side of the Owyhee Mountains in hot pursuit of a male Hermit Warbler found the day before by Nampa birder Jim Holcomb - we struck out but saw many great migrants and enjoyed birding in a great new spot), we joined up with Rob Miller for a quick trip to Indian Creek and Black's Creek reservoirs on Sunday afternoon before heading to the Boise River WMA to pull some field gear out of storage for our summer field work (well, and bird the riparian draw there).

I need to point out right off the bat that the 3 year birds I saw while birding with Heidi were all found by her and pointed out to me. Rob & I could see that she had mixed emotions about allowing me to catch up (by seeing some species she'd already seen this year) but she was nice about it ;-). After meeting at Heidi's place, the three of us walked up the road to see a male Black-chinned Hummingbird at a neighbor's feeder. Then, at Indian Creek Reservoir, soon after arriving Heidi scanned the shore and said something like, "Is that a godwit? ... oh man!..." and then started to waffle a bit about how much she wanted to share the info with me (since she'd seen Marbled Godwit the previous weekend but I was still waiting on my first of the year). Sure enough, a single godwit stood out among the BN Stilts and Wilson's Phalaropes that it was foraging near - cool! We saw many other shore & waterbirds there, including a snazzy Blue-winged Teal that posed next to a pair of Cinnamons.

A male Blue-winged Teal who had moved himself in between a pair of Cinnamon Teal (photo by Rob Miller)

At the Boise River WMA, Heidi kept catching glimpes of a hummingbird coming to a flowering currant bush and we finally spied a female Calliope Hummingbird! My 4th year bird of the day ... and the Yellow-breasted Chats that we were hoping for never sang or showed themselves (probably b/c the sun sunk behind the hills just as we arrived - not great timing for bird activity).

I should also point out that Rob also added 5 birds to his life list. Not sure what this was like for Heidi - who's accustomed to having the high lifer and/or year-bird total on each birding outing ;-). Oh well, I guess she'll just have to wait for another day for her next installment of lifers!

Happy spring!


Thursday, May 7, 2009


Since Jay and I had obviously not had enough birding for one weekend (with our two separate fieldtrips on Friday and Saturday) we decided that it was necessary to head out on Sunday for some important spring migration shorebirding. So, after church and soccer games, we met up with birding friend Tom McCabe in the afternoon and started out for our first stop, Indian Creek Reservoir. With a tornado warning nearby and thunderclouds looming overhead, we were a bit nervous about what our birding prospects would be, but figured we might as well try, right? The rain was crazy as we drove down the highway, but we could see blue sky behind us! By the time we reached Indian Creek, the small pocket of blue sky was almost overhead. We made it through some tricky patches of mud, thanks to Tom’s drivin’ skills and four-wheel-drive, and we weren’t disappointed with what we saw! There was an awesome variety of birds on the water including plenty of avocets, stilts, phalaropes, teal, blackbirds, curlews, ducks, grebes and more! And Jay was able to scope out plenty of little peeps and other shorebirds for me, all of them lifers!! There were Least, Spotted, and Western Sandpipers, two Semi-palmated Plovers, White-faced Ibis and a Dunlin! (He also managed to get even farther into the lead by finding Long-billed Dowitchers)
On the road around to the other side of the reservoir, we stopped near a little riparian area and among all the yellow-rump’s we were able to find two cute Dusky Flycatchers, a Nashville Warbler, and a Lincoln’s sparrow that was singing.
Then, after getting through some even muddier roads, we found some cool birds on that side of the reservoir. There were a gazillion swallows, a little sharp-shinned hawk, and a male Harrier displaying for his girl….pretty sweet! But the thunder and wind had really started up, and we decided we’d better get back through the mud before it started pouring again...
The storm was really coming in!!

Here's Tom, our mud-drivin' hero! :)

...and we made it with perfect timing! Almost as soon as we got on the highway again, the downpour hit. And again (dude, do we have good luck or what?) by the time we got to our next destination: Ted Trueblood WMA, the rain had let up. We didn’t see any year birds here, but there was a good variety, including lots of white pelicans.

Next we made a run to CJ Strike reservoir and stopped at Jack’s Creek. There we were able to see lots of gulls (including Bonaparte’s-a year bird!), swallows, and Caspian’s Terns, as well as a few Forster’s Terns: another Lifer!!

For our last stop of the day, we decided to give our bud Gary a call and meet him in Mountain Home. We saw tons of sweet birds at the reservoir, including many of the species we’d seen at Indian Creek plus a few more. We were able to find a pair of Red-necked Phalaropes, as well as a sneaky female Blue-winged Teal…more lifers!!! We stayed at the reservoir until sunset, when we were able to see a calling Burrowing Owl silhouetted on a fence post (a Heidi year bird, heehee!) AND just as we were heading back to the vehicles, we were able to spot a Long-eared Owl flying overhead! It was awesome to watch him swoop around, and from where Jay was standing he could even see the brown facial disks!

It was pretty sweet to see that dude in flight like that….what a great way to end a great (10-lifer!) day with friends!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

'South Hills' Crossbills!

On Friday, May 1 I had the opportunity to join several US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) colleagues on a field trip to the South Hills (south of the Twin Falls area) in search of an endemic population (species?) of crossbill - the 'South Hills' Crossbill (see http://www.uwyo.edu/benkman/ then hit 'publications', then select the 3rd article down, entitled, "A new species of red crossbill (Fringillidae: Loxia) from Idaho."). My partners in crime were all USFWS employees in town for a meeting all week, including Terry Rich (national Partners in Flight coordinator - based in Boise), Stephanie Jones (Denver, CO), Mike Green (Portland, OR), Dave Krueper (Albuquerque, NM), Steve Lewis (Minnesota), and Mark Seamans (Laurel, MD). I've known Terry, Stephanie, Mike, and Dave for years and I was glad to get an opportunity to spend more time with them but I also enjoyed getting to meet Steve and Mark - all were fun birding companions.

Our first stop was Diamondfield Jack - a site that crossbill researcher Craig Benkman (who will be the banquet speaker when the Western Field Ornithologist's meeting is in Boise this fall - http://www.westernfieldornithologists.org/conference.php) had suggested to Terry. We arrived to snow flurries that got a little heavier ... We split up & spread out a bit and, despite the elevation & weather, the site was pretty birdy. We soon heard a Fox Sparrow (year bird for me!) belting it out in the distance and then Mike spotted an adult Northern Goshawk that blew by us while we were admiring a Red-naped Sapsucker. Then, Mark, Dave, & Terry started whistling & waving their arms and we figured we better run ... They'd heard some crossbills! Soon after we all arrived on the scene, 5 crossbills obliged and flew out over us calling (though tough to put into words, to those of us with some experience hearing Red Crossbills in a variety of areas, these call notes sounded noticeably longer and less 'voicy' than other crossbills) and proceeded to land in the top of a Lodgepole Pine not too far from the parking area. I pulled out my scope and we enjoyed decent views of both males & females (only got pics of a cooperative female) as they were feeding on the pine branches.

A female 'South Hills' Crossbill in a Lodgepole Pine - these are best distinguished by voice (well, and range since they breed only in the South Hills and Albion Mountains) but the bill is a little longer and deeper than most Red Crossbills

Here's the crew taking a closer look ...

Another view of the same female 'South Hills' Crossbill

Victorious! Happy USFWS biologists after seeing their first 'South Hills' Crossbills - from left: Dave, Terry (giving a celebratory 'whoop'?), Mike, Stephanie, Mark, and Steve

After enjoying the crossbills, we birded a bit more in that area (enjoyed fleeting views of a male Williamson's Sapsucker) before working our way back down Rock Cr Rd and trying (mostly in vain) to find some newly-arrived migrants.

Mark, Steve, Stephanie, and Terry trying hard to find some migrants along Rock Creek Rd

We made a few other stops en route, including along the Snake River in Buhl and -briefly as I had a soccer game to get to ;-) - at Mountain Home Reservoir and were able to see/hear several year birds, including a singing Yellow Warbler, several Least Sandpipers, and Black-necked Stilts. I also enjoyed a pair of Gray Partridge - if only b/c this species is still eluding Heidi (wouldn't be a lifer for her so I won't feel bad if she misses it!)!!

All in all, a great day as I really enjoyed conversations with Dave & Mike in the car and also appreciated the opportunity to observe a unique bird taxa (forecasted to be upgraded to full species status with the next revision of the American Ornithologist's Union checklist) that is endemic to Idaho!



Saturday, May 2, 2009

Camas Prairie-Centennial Marsh Fieldtrip

This Saturday, I went out on the last of my Ornithology class fieldtrips in hopes of finding some ‘charadriiformes’ at Centennial Marsh, and any other bodies of water we could find along the way. We were met in the morning with a downpour (okay, for Idaho standards at least-a record 0.5"!) so at least water was not hard to come by during our trip!
We tried Indian Creek reservoir first, but the roads were too sloppy for our 16 passenger vans. So next, we headed to Mountain Home reservoir, where there were plenty of our shorebird friends. One of the first birds we saw upon arriving was a couple of Black-necked Stilts….a Lifer! (It’s a good thing my classmates are also fellow bird geeks… since Heidi--ever the sucker for birdie cuteness--was getting just a little excited over these guys :) But, my nerdiness was well-matched within the group as there were quite a few mumbles of “hmmm, let’s see now, these are charadriiformes… charadrii…family….recurvirostridae?” yes, we have a lab test on Tuesday. Woohoo! At the reservoir we also saw some Cinnamon Teal, Shovelers, Bufflehead, 2 Western Grebes that were 'neck-bobbing', and 3 Eared Grebes.
At another spot on the reservoir, we saw some other cool birds, including some great views of Avocets and about 6 Long-billed Dowitchers! Another lifer!
At some ponds on a dirt road off the highway, we spotted a Swainson's Hawk pair, and lots of waterfowl including: Redheads, Shovelers, Scaup, Ring-neck Ducks, Canvasbacks, Pintail, and Cinnamon Teal. Oh, and it was still raining at this stop as well, and here’s a photo of the result:

Contrary to appearances, this is NOT a BSU van and it is NOT stuck horribly in the mud :D
This photo was taken by Ornithology class member and fellow blogger Rob Miller. Thanks Rob!

At another stop along the highway, we were able to spot some spinning Wilson’s Phalaropes in what else, but a sewage pond! :) Another cute Lifer!
We continued our trip, and ended up at Centennial Marsh (yes, these roads actually weren’t that bad! Except when a certain van #2 tried to go over a hill…but that’s another story) We saw tons of Shovelers here, as well as some beautiful Cinnamon Teal and gazillions of Red-wing, Brewer’s, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

Some Shovelers and Teal: out on a double-date
Another photo by
Rob Miller

At one of the super puddles in the marsh, we saw TONS of Avocets, a few Stilts, and more (10+) Phalaropes! It was awesome, and overwhelming with so many of my new lifer species! At that spot we also saw tons of Kestrels (a pair in almost every box!) and a mixed flock with 4 swallow species: Tree, Cliff, Barn, and Rough-winged! perfectly posed for great comparison looks on the fence wires.

A cute Avocet and a cute and super-teeny female phalarope
another Rob photo

On the sloppy road out, we also saw two more lifers: a Willet and two Marbled Godwits! Here’s some pics of them by Rob! Dude, the Charadriiformes at Centennial Marsh are awesome!

One of the Marbled Godwits

A Willet…does their name make them even more full of cuteness? I think so.
Photo taken on Rob’s camera (after being handed to the ‘good’ side of the van) by classmate/photographer/van-driver John :)

Friday, May 1, 2009

An outing to the Snake with the Carlsons & Co

Last year, Kecia won the bidding at the Bald Eagle Days fundraiser for 'A Birding Day with Jay' as a gift for her husband, Dave, and Saturday, April 11 was the day (little did she know what she was getting herself into ;-). I know what you might be thinking - NO, I didn't take them to the dump, a cemetary, a feedlot, or a sewage treatment plant.... Dave & I had communicated about the details and, after seeing the blog, they decided that having Heidi along would be fun. Dave & Kecia also brought along Dave's dad Arnold (from Boston), Dave's brother-in-law Brian, and a friend Terri. Unfortunately for Terri, she took all the pictures shown here so she's MIA in all of them :-(.

We met up and piled into 2 cars - ladies vs. guys (I wonder if Kecia & Terri had already planned that part out ;-) and headed on down towards Dedication Point and Swan Falls dam. I enjoyed chatting with the dudes but the chats were often interrupted b/c we were seeing A LOT of raptors along Swan Falls Rd - including some newly-returned Swainson's Hawks playing house, more Rough-legged Hawks than I expected for mid-April (at least 4 or 5), several Ferruginous (including one very close to the road on the ground - Heidi's best look ever! - that the guys car drove right by - oops :), Red-tails, Prairie Falcons, a Golden Eagle, and several N Harriers. We also saw a Cooper's Hawk just before dropping into the canyon. Everyone was enjoying the great looks at raptors and I was particularly impressed with Dave's knack for IDing the raptors (I think the Rough-legs might have been a favorite).

As we began down the trail to Dedication Point, we saw a raven in hot pursuit of a Prairie Falcon that was carrying a small (or part of a) ground squirrel. I think we were all surprised when the raven appeared to hit the falcon (or at least came very close) and then swooped down to snatch up the morsel that the falcon had dropped!! We lingered a bit at Dedication Point and enjoyed a singing Say's Phoebe, many White-throated Swift fly-bys, and - of course - some nice views-from-above of raptors (though less raptor activity than a few weeks before). We also ran into Denise Hughes (very friendly Caldwell birder) who informed us that SIBA (southwestern Idaho birders association) was also having a field trip to the area and she was trying to catch up with them!

Most of the gang (David, Jay, Kecia, Heidi, & Brian) @ Dedication Point enjoying the tower-buzzing White-throated Swifts

Lunchtime! A gourmet picnic spread being enjoyed by Kecia & Arnold.

We wound down to Swan Falls dam and the Carlson crowd pulled out a seriously gourmet lunch that included the best pasta salad I can remember eating, fresh fruit, brownies, and much more (was that champaigne that I saw?). I think it was the brownies but, one-by-one, members of the SIBA crowd started wandering over to see who had brought such a spread! (They claim to have actually just finished lunch and not be hungry - but I didn't eat that many brownies!) And we soon spotted the double-trouble that is RL Rowland and Mark Collie ;-) These guys had spent the AM there and gave us some hot tips and, among other fun birds, we soon found a Clark's Grebe on the river and a Red-naped Sapsucker actively foraging in a cottonwood.

A Clark's Grebe on the Snake River - our first of the year!

Watching the Red-naped Sapsucker (Mark Collie at left; RL Rowland @ right)

As we packed up to head for Boise, I asked if folks wanted to switch up who was riding in which car but Kecia and Terri would have none of it - they wanted to keep Heidi for themselves! (I heard something about scheming to come up with some little-known birding facts they could later impress dinner guests with but maybe the birding battle of the sexes had something to do with it?). Not sure but I tried not to be too hurt that Kecia & Terri were so averse to me riding with them!!

In all seriousness, it was a really fun outing and I enjoyed meeting all of them (and hope to see them during fall migration at Lucky Peak). Thanks to the Carlson's & friends for the fun day and great spread!