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, June 28, 2009


After a day of surveys on the ranch on Friday with Jack and Larry we woke up Saturday morning to TONS of rain! Still in sleeping bags on Larry's couches, we huddled around Jay's computer to check the weather online, and saw a gigantic green swath moving across our area....we were hosed! so...we crawled back into our beds and got to sleep in for once--till 7AM! :) Then we decided to drag ourselves out of bed and think of what we'd do for the day. While we were deciding though, Larry, ever the amazing host, started whipping us up a batch of waffles! woohoo, talk about a morning off!
While munching our breakfast, Jay reminded us that we had info about an active Great Gray Owl nest in the Stanley area, and since it'd be a lifer for both Jack and I, we of course HAD to go check it out! (even though it meant Jay foregoing his plans for an afternoon nap...as Jack said "awww, what a big softie!" ;)

Chef Larry makin' us breakfast!

We packed up and were soon on our way through pouring rain and low clouds over the pass to Stanley. It took some doing, but soon we were a few miles up a dirt road into the forest, and were approaching the nest. We stopped when Jack pointed out an adult Great Gray perched right in front of our noses!! Jack and I did a lifer fist-bump (yee-haw!) And we were able to watch it for a few minutes perching in a Lodgepole Pine (and looking a little wet and bedraggled after the morning's stormy weather). Soon though, the bird floated off through the forest to the edge of a nearby meadow.

Jack and I checking out our Lifer Great Grays!
We drove up closer to where we thought the nest would be and soon spotted two fuzzy dudes sitting in an old Goshawk nest! The older, more gray chick was sitting low in the nest with just the top of his face showing, but the lighter, more fuzzy baby was fluffed up and sitting high. When we cracked the car windows, we could hear his screeches every few seconds. With his Great Gray Owl translation skills Jay interpreted for us as we watched: the little guy was saying "Dude, mom, where's my food!? quit feedin' this fatty over here all the time!" while the older chick was saying "okay, seriously, shut up, I'm trying to take a nap over here!" We watched for a few more minutes, then started the car back up. The sleepy chicks stretched their necks up for just a second to check us out after hearing the sound of the car before snuggling back down onto their nest. As we left, we could see mom or dad perched and on the hunt at the edge of the meadow...apparently the little guy's nagging was working!
Not a bad way to spend a rainy day!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Always keep your windows down when you're eating lunch at a Subway ...

On Thursday afternoon we finally made it back to Hailey after the 'un-stucking' of our vehicle and met up with Jack & Dave (who had been in the Albion Mountains and South Hills doing Flammulated Owl surveys on Tues & Wed nights). B/c Jack has been birding for years and knows his birds very well, I was gonna steal Jack for a couple days of point count surveys on a private ranch S of Hailey (collecting baseline bird data prior to an impressive restoration plan) and Dave was on his way back to Boise to get back to Long-billed Curlew surveys on Friday.

Before starting to prep for the next day's surveys, Heidi, Jack, & I all agreed that our hunger from our respective long days was in need of fixing (it was 3pm, after all) and we settled on a nearby Subway as a fast but moderately healthy option. Instead of racing off right away, I decided to eat at least some of my sandwich before starting to drive and soon we rolled the windows down b/c the sun was heating up the car. After a couple minutes, Jack said, "Jay, do you hear this warbler?" (that was singing out the side of the car that he & Heidi were sitting on) and then said something like, "... maybe it's just a funny-sounding Yellow but maybe not ...". I could hardly hear it (just a couple notes that I might have passed off as a Yellow) so after Jack continued to be fidgety about it, I got out to see what I could hear. I could see what Jack was saying ... Yellows often vary in their songs (i.e., they don't always do the perfect "Sweet, sweet, sweet I'm so sweet") but this had the potential to be something different. Jack wondered aloud about Magnolia or Chestnut-sided .... I said to Jack, "I'm not really familiar with Magnolia but do they have a 'wee-tee-o' at the end?", to which Jack said, "Yup!". After another minute, I finally spotted the songster singing from a Birch tree in the yard of a small apartment building. Meanwhile (I guess we were assuming it was just a funny-sounding Yellow), only Heidi had actually brought her binoculars from the car ... which she was nice enough to hand to me momentarily so I could ID the bird .... as Jack had suspected, a Magnolia Warbler!!

A male Magnolia Warbler in Hailey, ID on Thursday, June 18 (photo by Kathleen Cameron; to see more of her great photos, check out these links: http://www.majesticfeathers.com/ and www.gotacameron.com)

I quickly handed her binoculars back so Heidi could enjoy another lifer and then she passed them to Jack (who's from Ohio so still equally excited about our magpies as he is about seeing eastern vagrants out here!) and I started making phone calls. Within 20-30 minutes, the Wood River troops - Poo, Jean, Kathleen, and Larry (several others were out of town or at work) - had arrived. Poo, Jean, and Larry had all been very hospitable with their homes and/or time in the last few days and Kathleen has routinely welcomed other birders to her yard to view interesting birds visiting her feeders (including my lifer Brambling a few years ago!). Thus, I was especially excited to be able to return the favor with this find of an exciting bird in their "backyard" (even if it wasn't actually 'my' find ... but Jack was just as happy to share). Meanwhile, the bird continued to sing & forage about 10-20 meters from us in the Birch & Spruce trees in the yard over the next 45 minutes we were there.

Just to show you who 'Jack-the-rare-warbler-finder' is .... here's a shot of Jack, Jay, & Heidi putting our 'serious' faces on (a difficult task for Heidi ;-) the next afternoon b/c we were being rained out yet again - this time waiting out a passing shower under a protective Willow so that we could do some vegetation measurements in our bird survey areas.

Needless to say, not what we expected as we started eating our sandwiches but I'm glad we chose Subway and I'm glad Jack had his ears on! And, thanks to Kathleen for being willing to share her great photo of the bird.

Happy birding!


Saturday, June 20, 2009

A streak of "luck"

as I mentioned at the end of our last post, we were about to head out to scout our survey areas for later in the week as we often do in the afternoons every day. Little did we know what the rest of the day had in store for us!

We made it about 8 miles up Quigley Gulch in Hailey before we ran into a silty stream flowing across the road. Always responsible, we decided to turn around and wait a few days for the road to dry out before scouting the rest of the route. As we backed down, we suddenly realized that our vehicle had begun to slide off the road...but not to worry, we'd been through worse mud than this before....In 4-low, Jay pressed the gas but the truck's only movement was further down the slope! We climbed out and tried our best to give the tires good traction: while I collected sticks, Jay was busy shoving them in front of and underneath the tires...all the while fighting through a very conveniently placed stinging nettle patch that ran along the entire right side of the truck!

This photo was taken before our last desperate attempt to un-stick the truck....thus Jay's still-smiling face ;)

Jay got a cut on his face while wedging the sticks--yeah, I told him to do this face

Jay's 'tough face' to make up for the previous picture :)

After an hour of trying, and sliding only further down the hill, we decided at 8:30 to hike back down to town and wait for the morning to get the truck. Lucky for us, we ran into some friendly mountain bikers who offered to call birder-friend Jean to pick us up. When we got to an area of the gulch with cell reception, we got ahold of Jean and she was able to pick us up just as it got dark. AND she was awesome enough to let us stay at her house for the night, since our tents and sleeping bags were in our poor abandoned car.

The next morning, we got ahold of BLM and soon had three willing helpers with a bigger better truck to pull us out. We made it to our car alright, but soon realized that not even the big pick-up truck could get us un-stuck! It was time to call for (more) reinforcements!


A quick call to Advanced Towing had Troy the tow truck driver to Quigley Gulch within the hour. And as soon as we saw the paint-job on his old Ford truck, we knew we were in good hands ;) After some intense winching our truck made it back onto the road alive! woohoo!

The alternative caption: "how Jay really drives on the backroads" :)

Jay with the BLM guys and towtruck driver: Victorious!

Nathan, Jay, Troy (the towtruck dude), Mark, and Kevin

And you thought this all made for an action-packed day....just wait till you hear the rest! (a post to come soon!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Point counts, Grosbeaks, and Hail in Hailey!

From a coffee shop wireless hotspot in Hailey, ID....
After postponing our MAPS banding day again this week (we were originally planning on banding on Sunday) we were finally able to make it up to Lucky Peak to band on Tuesday. It was nice to see the sunshine again, and we had a fun day up there with volunteers Dave and Carol Wike. Highlights included a singing Mountain White-crowned Sparrow (we usually only see these guys during migration at Lucky Peak) and a PAIR of Townsend's Warblers! (will they actually breed at lucky peak this year?! Their normal breeding range is 50 miles north of here, so that'd be pretty cool!) We also caught 3 Cedar Waxwings! (before these guys I'd seen a single fledgling in the hand last fall)

A pretty Swallowtail rescued from the nets
a snooty-lookin' Cedar Waxwing :)

After finishing with MAPS we left Boise yesterday afternoon to continue counts near Hailey, ID.
Just after getting into town, we came up behind a vehicle with the licenseplate "BIRD ON". After a moment's thought of "oh, that's cool!" Jay remembered that this particular license plate belonged to our bird-nerd friend Jean! He dialed up her cellphone, and soon we were pulled off the road chatting with friends Jean and Poo. It was fun catching up with Jean since seeing her last when we took a birding trip to Hailey in February, and we parted ways after recieving some inside-information on a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak that had just showed up in a neighborhood down the road.....so much for our plans of a nap after point counts the next day! :)
Jay and I arrived at our chosen campsite just as the sun was setting, and with the weather this past week we set up our tents hoping that we would not wake up to more rain. We weren't disappointed! We woke up to clear blue skies and were able to get plenty of counts in. Jay saw a Golden Eagle and some Lewis' Woodpeckers and Sage Thrashers during his counts, while I had fun seeing a pair of Red-naped Sapsuckers, my first Cordilleran Flycatcher on a point count, and a cuddling pair of Mountain Bluebirds :)
After counts, we gave Poo a call and headed to the grosbeak house. We stood watching the feeders as they were mobbed by Western Tanagers (with jelly all over their faces) Cassin's Finches and Hummingbirds. I hoped in vain that Jay would not find a Rufous Hummingbird (since it was the ONE species I had that he didnt) but I was still glad to see the pretty male that showed up. No sooner had I said "alright, I just let you catch up with the Rufous...now where's my grosbeak?" when Jay oh-so-casually pointed him out to me!! He flew to another aspen tree, and then landed high in a tree behind the house next to a male Black-headed Grosbeak. He turned just right in the sunlight and dude, was he awesome!!!! We got to watch him for a short time more before the Black-headed male chased him off. The three of us barely had time to celebrate our success when the now looming gray clouds started dumping loads of rain and hail on us! Standing under the eaves in our sandals (brrr! why didn't I leave my boots on?) We made plans to head to lunch.......which takes us to where we are now, sitting at an internet hotspot getting some officy-type work done and waiting to head out to scout some of our counting spots for tomorrow....
that's all for now!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Muddy roads & Heidi's 100th lifebird of 2009!

We started the week waiting out the rain (and mud) in our attempt to get up the road to Lucky Peak (Idaho Bird Observatory's main research site in the Boise Foothills) for a day of breeding-season bird banding. We have run a MAPS station at Lucky Peak since 2000 - it's part of a continent-wide monitoring program that involves one day of capture and banding in every 10-day period of the summer. On Saturday night, with Heidi's younger brother Isaac in tow, we tried the road up to Lucky Peak in anticipation of clearing weather for Sunday ... BUT, we were turned back by mud & very slick roads before we even got to the steep section. After slip-sliding for the umpteenth time, I turned to Heidi & Isaac and asked, "Do you both agree that we should turn back?" and saw big eyes and fervent nods in return!

The rainy weather this late May & June has been phenomenal and I've certainly appreciated the cooler weather. But, it's also starting to make it hard to fit in all the field work that we (& other IBO crews - studying Long-billed Curlews & Flammulated Owls) are doing this summer.

Heidi & I finally made it up to Lucky Peak on Sunday night and got the nets ready for Monday AM when our dedicated friends & volunteers Dave, Carol, & Gary arrived for the morning of banding. Lucky Peak is one of my favorite places in the world so it's always great to get back there for the first time each summer. As we walked back into camp @ dusk, we were greeted by a very close Flammulated Owl hooting away! ... As usual, Monday was a very enjoyable day of banding and fun company highlighted by a male Yellow-breasted Chat that Gary pulled out of the net - the first we've ever caught there during the breeding season! We also caught about 65 other birds, including 12 or so that were recaptures from prior years ... it's fun to think how far these birds have traveled in the intervening months.

The star of our 1st banding day of the season - a stud male Yellow-breasted Chat

After a couple hours in town on Monday afternoon, Heidi & I raced off to Shoshone to pick up the 'government rig' - a Ford Expedition we're using for our surveys on BLM lands - and arrived just before dark to a flat spot out in the sage we'd found the previous week to set up our tents. We spent the next 4 days surveying in primarily sagebrush country between Shoshone and Bellevue on either side of hwy 75.

On Tuesday, we split up to cover different areas and I got lucky in being able to access a couple spots along the Big Wood River in addition to many sagebrush & grassland areas. I was impressed with the diversity in the riparian habitat - Gray Catbirds, Yellow-breasted Chats, and Willow Flycatchers sang alongside more abundant & widespread species like Yellow Warblers and Bullock's Orioles. As it turned out, this was just a teaser of things to come ... on Wednesday, Heidi covered a few other survey points a little lower on the river and, among other interesting birds, turned up 3 different singing Least Flycatchers! After counts, we decided to head back to that area and bird a bit as well as take a flyer on calling for Yellow-billed Cuckoos. YB Cuckoos have declined drastically in the West in recent decades and there's a lot of concern for their population status - so much so that western population is actually a candidate for listing as 'threatened' or 'endangered' under the Endangered Species Act. Thus, there's a lot of interest in documenting where they still occur during the breeding season and trying to protect that habitat. At our second stop, (much to our surprise - after all, I'd seen a grand total of 1 cuckoo in Idaho previously) we soon heard a response to our broadcast - a cuckoo was actually singing about 120 yards away! After a long minute or 2, Heidi said, "Hey, what's this bird? Is that it?!" Sure enough, the cuckoo had snuck in closer to where the broadcast had been playing and perched up on some dead willow branches (much to the dismay of a nearby oriole who began some sort of aggressive display aimed at the cuckoo!) ... and stayed long enough for me to snap a couple pictures through the scope! AND, on Monday Heidi had calculated that she'd seen 99 new species so far this year and wondered what might be 100th ... neither of us imagined that Yellow-billed Cuckoo would be it (can you believe she's up to 100 life birds?!). More importantly, the hope is that this isn't the only individual in the area ... we hope to fit in some more surveys in other potentially suitable areas nearby.

A Yellow-billed Cuckoo heard & seen along the Big Wood River!

Yellow-billed Cuckoo habitat along the Big Wood River - notice the multi-layered riparian habitat structure

On Wed after counts, the rains returned and turned some roads into greasy tracks ... we got lucky on Thurs & Fri in that we were able to avoid rain during our morning surveys. But, that didn't stop some sections of roads from being a little nutty!

The slightly dirty Ford Expedition (making sure we could see :-) at a gas station in Fairfield - the mud layer turned out to be quite the status symbol. Heidi even had one guy strike up a conservation about how he would LOVE to go muddin' on the road we'd been on! ;-)

We were fortunate to not get stuck in a couple places - thanks to 4-low and maybe a little luck - and able to press on to keep exploring new landscapes and the birds breeding there. At one point, though, we had accumulated so much mud & grass up over the 'protection pan' under the engine that we had to spend 45 minutes under there scraping and pulling to reduce the risk of fire ...Here's Heidi proving she's not all girly-girl and not afraid to get dirty!

But, I guess all that hard work tired her out as she needed to nap for a while in the spic-n-span truck the next day ... ;-)
(I'll have you all know that I had a headache at the time...and someone had promised me there would be no photographic evidence of this nap! sheesh, what a meanie! :)

Heidi & Jay (beyond the muddy hood) and the scenic, if off-kilter, view to the Fairfield area ... and the building thunderheads

On Friday we continued from our last survey point on out to hwy 46 en route to scout some riparian survey areas West of Hailey. But, first we needed a stop for some 'tots' and chocolate malts at the Wrangler in Fairfield ...

Heidi's new favorite restaurant (when she realized it'd only be 4 miles out of our way, she said, "Oooh, can we get some tots?!")

That's our birding news from this week. We'll spend much of the next few weeks between the Big Wood River valley and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area performing surveys in cooperation with several agencies, including Bureau of Land Management, Idaho Fish & Game, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the US Forest Service. Because we've seen so many bird species already in 2009, there aren't too many more species that we can search for in south-central Idaho but we'll hope to locate more cuckoos as well as get lucky with some higher elevation birds like Northern Pygmy-owl and Spruce Grouse ....

Hasta luego!


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Camas, Island Park, AND passing #250!!!

Here's another blog post, authored from the booth at Castle's Corner in Carey, ID. :)
no Jay has not died (yet!) but at the moment he is driving to Shoshone, ID to pick up our gov't truck we use for surveys...so once again Heidi is the one doin' the blog :)
my 'office' for an hour tonight at the gas station! :)
Jay and I just finished up a whirlwind tour of eastern Idaho for our 'days off', which included visits to Market Lake, Camas NWR, and Island Park.

some highlights!

at Market on Sunday night:
-lifer American Bittern! (we got to hear his 'guh-whump' calling all night long! and saw one in flight)
-6 short-eared owls!
-SUPER-cute fledgling long-eared owl :)
-gazillions of Ibis and Franklin's gulls!! (colonies with 2000+ of each species)
-my first great looks at Forster's Terns!
-near market this morning: a Glossy Ibis! (we received the tip on this one from who else, but Cliff!!)

'The Glossy' is somewhere in there :)
at Camas: (my inaugural visit!!)
we visited Camas first on Monday, and also visited bright and early this morning. (we woke up to rain showers, which continued through the whole time we were there! I thought this was Idaho…not Seattle! ;)
-tons of tanagers, INCLUDING , on Monday, a female Scarlet Tanager!!!! crazy! (Jay had been telling me on the drive from Laidlaw the day before to keep an eye out for tanagers w/o wing bars....little did we know!)
The mother-load of flycatchers!
-my lifer looks at Cordilleran Flycatchers...sooo cute and green :) definitely one of my favorite 'empids' (...maybe 'cause they're one of the few that I can ID solo? ;)
-some cute Least Flycatchers :)
-probably 12 Peewees! (including a sweet comparison look between an Olive-Sided flycatcher and a peewee)
-lots of Willow Flycatchers singing their cute ‘fitz-bew!’

And after birding Camas on Monday, we made a quick run up to Island Park to visit our friend Cliff (who was awesome enough to show us the Boreal owls over spring break)
Just a few hundred yards from Cliff’s house, our luck started when we saw a Dusky Grouse! My first ‘confirmed sighting’ and therefore, Lifer!!!

A Dusky grouse spotted on the road near Island Park!
The three of us piled into Jay’s Subaru (and Jay and I became even more conscious of just how much crap we have stuffed into that vehicle!!—and maybe the smell too? :) –
And we headed out to a spot where Cliff assured us we’d be able to find Northern Waterthrush along the reservoir. We weren’t there 5 minutes before one popped out of the bushes in response to our calls! It was so cute and streaky…another lifer! (right about this time I asked Jay why we had only come birding with Cliff once before during the year! Go Cliff!)
While listening for the waterthrushes, we heard a sound that none of us quite recognized, but Jay and Cliff thought it sounded like some sort of grebe…but not a Western. We drove down the road to get a better view and saw a grebe with its neck tucked….of course we got out the scope, and soon his head popped up, revealing that he was a Red-necked Grebe! Sweet!!! It was right about then that I realized that I had just passed the 250 mark on my year list!! (Jay had made 250 a few days before too!)
We had had plans to drive to a spot an hour away to find a red-necked grebe, so with so much extra time, we figured there was no excuse for us not going in search of woodpeckers.
Over spring break in Island Park, we had snowshoed into a very newly burned area and seen lots of sign of black-backed or three-toed woodpeckers, but hadn’t seen any. This time, we were able to drive the road up to the burn and within 10 minutes of walking on the crispy black ground, we heard a strange chattering….
We saw a three-toed woodpecker fly in front of us, but at the same time, Cliff called that he’d seen Black-backed’s!!! of course we rushed over to see the black-backed’s and were rewarded with a view of two males! They were both on a burned tree, straight across from each other and they were both chattering away (the noise we’d heard earlier) Each male would peek his head around the trunk to see his opponent, and they circled around and around, up and down the tree, being cranky with each other. Then, after one of the males drummed on the tree-top, there was an attack!!! They flew at each other, pecking hard, and almost hitting the ground. All the while chattering away. Poofs of feathers were flying!! I couldn’t help but giggle at the face off, as the boys continued fighting each other, showing each other their white chins by tilting their heads up, waving them back and forth, and spreading their wings wide to reveal the barred patterning. By the end, they both disappeared, with only one male returning. He landed on a nearby tree, spread his wings, and chattered, and then shook the remaining feathers of his opponent off of his bill! We were sure he was the winner of the stand-off when he proudly flew up and mated with his girl who had (apparently) been observing from high in the trees!
During this drama, we also saw a pair of Three-toed Woodpeckers, who didn’t seem to mind the crazy black-backed’s at all! Cliff is Ah-Suhm at findin’ us those birds!!! :)

The three of us after watching the woodpecker drama...a photo timed from the hood of Jay's car :)
Finally, after visiting Camas again today we decided to head up Manan Butte to look for Black-throated Sparrows with Cliff. Though we struck out on the sparrows, we did find a different cute somebody. Jay had split off from the main trail as we were climbing up, and soon found a pair Blue-gray Gnatcatchers!! Lucky for me, Jay is SUPER nice, and pointed them out to me ;) even though it meant that I would catch up to him another species! (Jay had seen them without me during our first week of owl surveys) yay! They are SOOO adorable!

Whew! It’s been a whirlwind couple’a days, and this is a whirlwind post!
Do ya think we’re havin’ fun yet this summer?? :)

Until next time!