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.
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.
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 ...
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 ....