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, 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!



1 comment:

  1. Hi I am a Texas birder and would like directions on how to see the South Hills Crossbill. Can you help me. Suzanne McCandless (suzannemccandless@gmail.com)