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? ;-)

Monday, July 20, 2009

To the Canadian border! (almost ...)

Before beginning Idaho Bird Observatory 's fall migration study on Lucky Peak (started on Thurs, July 16), Heidi & I decided to use a few days of well-deserved vacation time to - what else? - BIRD!! Figuring that our only chance of approaching 300 species on our Idaho year list would have to include a summer trip to northern Idaho, we opted to go for a 3-day whirlwind tour leaving from Boise at 530am on Sunday. Pretty much all we did was drive, bird, and sleep but we had fun and it was worth it!

Our first stop was the Lochsa River upstream from Wilderness Gateway campground (along Hwy 12) - what a beautiful area! Though we spent hours looking along the main river and a few tributaries, we were not lucky enough to see a Harlequin Duck (probably on nests still and/or further up the tributaries??). We finally gave up and headed towards Moscow where Terry Gray (always generous with other birders) met us and took us to a spot to look for Clay-colored Sparrows (rare in Idaho, especially in the breeding season; click here to see a picture of one of the birds on Terry's site). We got lucky and saw 2 adults - and also enjoyed getting to see & hear the closely related Brewer's and Chipping sparrows at the same site! Before dark, Terry escorted us to a spot near Harvard where we were able to hear & see a calling Northern Pygmy-owl! Then at 2am (while camping on USFS land near Harvard) I was awoken by the repeated "hooo-awww" of a Barred Owl (only my 2nd for Idaho!) and was able to call over to Heidi to say, "Hey, that's a Barred Owl!!". In the morning we awoke to a flock that included Chestnut-backed Chickadees and a Western Flycatcher that did not sound like all the Cordillerans I've been hearing all summer - Pacific Slope?

Our first stop on Monday was the Sandpoint city beach where we saw a single adult Common Tern (seems early for a returning fall migrant) roosting among all the California & Ring-billed Gulls (that included some young of the year of both species). We then pressed on to the Selkirks to look for Boreal Chickadees ... we headed to the end of Trout Creek Rd (W of Bonners Ferry; an area where I'd seen this species 2 years ago - about 20 miles shy of the Canadian border) and were able to hear & see one calling bird as well as singing Pine Grosbeak, Varied Thrush, Winter Wren, and more! Near the beginning of Trout Creek Rd was a family group of Western Flycatchers, of which the male sounded very Pacific-slope-like, that included 3 recent fledglings! Also saw several Vaux's Swifts here.

We then headed to a spot on Forest Service land NE of Couer d'Alene to look for Black Swifts which we enjoyed good looks at on Tuesday morning - another beautiful area with diverse conifer forest (including hemlocks & cedars) and lots of rain (which would feel pretty good about now down here in hot Boise!).

Heidi on the trail to the falls ....

The falls where we saw one Black Swift on a nest!

On the return trip we stopped at Mann Lake (E of Lewiston) and saw several shorebirds, including Western (20), Semipalmated (2), and Least (1) Sandpipers as well as Long-billed Dowitchers (5).

We then headed to the Riggins/Pollock area and tried a couple of short walks in hopes of running into the rare & elusive Mountain Quail - no luck but we did see family groups of Ruffed Grouse, California Quail, and Chukar. And, we saw more Vaux's Swifts as well as 10 or more White-throated Swifts - thus, a 3-swift day in Idaho!!

I think we left Pollock at around 830 pm and still had 3+ hours to drive - got back to Boise close to midnight!! Fortunately, our work day didn't start until early afternoon the next day so I was able to sleep in until 10am!

As usual, a fun trip and some great birds! Wish there was more time to explore the awesome habitats of northern Idaho ... next time, I guess.

Now off to Lucky Peak ;-)


Saturday, July 18, 2009


Jay and I returned to Boise after our week in the Sawtooths for the 4th of July weekend. After getting into town the evening of the 3rd, we rushed to our houses for a quick shower, and then headed for a gas station on Warmsprings Ave to meet up with my family. My cousins were in town from Colorado, and we had arranged that our MAPS banding day would fall during the days that they were in Boise. My two cousins Ben and Sam, along with my brothers Jake and Isaac and my Aunt Heather and Uncle Eddie piled into two vehicles and we all headed up the mountain to set up nets and camp for the night. We made it up the 'fun' dirt road okay, with only one lost hub cap and a little scraping from my Aunt and Uncle's Subaru during the process ;) (for those planning on driving to IBO sometime, don’t worry, their car and was weighted down with road-trip gear :)
Once at the top, we arrived to see that the party had already started without us! the group of campers that night besides my family included IBO friends Greg, wife Deniz and daughter Ayla. We all had a fun time eating pizza and hanging out before heading off to bed for an early start the next morning.

my family!

We had a fun time the next morning banding, and it was neat to show off all the cool birds to my family! The time went by too fast, and soon we were heading down to the Hilltop café just down the highway for some lunch before heading off for our respective 4th of July activities.
After a day off on the 5th, Jay and I once again departed from Boise to head out for some work, as well as some vacation (which to us of course means more birding!) Our first stop was some of the ‘just for fun’ part of our week:
Jay and I got up nice and early on the 6th to make a quick run up to Garden Valley to visit our birding friend Spencer. He was awesome enough to take us out and show us a spot to find Veeries, Red-eyed Vireos, and American Redstarts. We heard lots of Veeries right away, and with a little searching found a pair of Vireos in the cottonwoods. Spencer had to return to work, but Jay and I stuck around to search for a singing Redstart we’d heard earlier. Our patience paid off and we were able to see both the singing male and the female! They are sooo awesome!
Then we headed out to the teeny town of Grandview near Bruneau where a birder on IBLE had posted about seeing Black-throated Sparrows. We arrived at the described location next to a small cemetery and soon saw a BT sparrow fly overhead! As we continued to watch, we got great views of a pair of birds and were even able to see them go into a nest in a low greasewood and feed some chicks! Woohoo! We’d had good luck so far!

The Black-throated Sparrows! (photo taken by birding friend Jonathan Stoke about a week after we saw the pair...thanks for a cool photo!)

Black-throated Sparrow habitat :)

Next we headed farther south to the South Hills where we had done some Flammulated Owl surveys with Matt and Jack (the owl crew) during our first week of summer. During a survey of the South Hills, our crazy birding buddies Harry K. and Louie Q. had seen a pair of Blue Grosbeaks on Rock Creek road! We got to the spot right around sunset and were out of the car less than five minutes when we heard the male Grosbeak singing and saw him perched on a powerline. We were able to watch him for a while and got some awesome looks at that bright blue color! We have some totally sweet birding-tipsters for friends!
That night we camped near the Blue Grosbeaks along Rock Creek and in the morning woke up to drive to City of Rocks. We saw lots of cool birds and awesome scenery and habitats (including the only pinyon pine forests in Idaho!) but didn’t see any of our target birds (Scrub/Pinyon Jays or Juniper Titmice) My favorite bird there was a male Virginia’s Warbler…the best look I’ve ever gotten of one! :) What a cool place!

City of Rocks!

That evening we headed to Curlew National Grasslands in search of the same ‘target birds’ as well as Scott’s Orioles. (And in the process I got another type of ‘lifer’…the state of Utah!) At Curlew we struck out again on most of those birds, but enjoyed some close views of an angry Cooper’s Hawk that must have had a nest in the area. We also saw a pair of Long-eared Owls at dusk who were barking at us…the best looks I’ve ever had at an ‘awake’ Long-eared…it was so funny to watch their faces when they squawked at us! We camped there near Curlew, and in the morning returned to our search for Scott’s Orioles. We never saw one, but heard a torturously distant one singing in response to a playback! We spent the rest of the morning until almost 1 o’clock searching for the orioles without any luck, but were able to see some cool birds. My Lifer Juniper Titmice, who were sooo adorable!! I also got my best views yet of a Black-throated Gray warbler and its young fledgling! :)
After a few days of vacation, it was time for Jay and I to head back to work. We returned to the Wood river valley to finish up a few more days of vegetation work, and search for a goshawk nest--after being bombed by angry parents and not seeing a nest the week before while on point counts (a post about that story should be coming soon….we know, we know, we are slow-pokes when it comes to posting!) Long story short, the veg work got done, the goshawk nest was found (3 chicks!!), and we got to hang out some more with our Hailey-dwelling buddy Larry! :)
On our last day in the Wood River Valley we finished up work, and for the afternoon decided to go on a hike in search of rosy-finches. (We had come to Hailey in February this year and struck out on Black Rosy-finches)
We headed up the trail for Johnstone Pass, and after a few miles and a bit of ‘off trail’ hiking, we’d hit the snowline. As we arrived at the top of a bowl with some snowfields, we heard a finch fly over, and saw it land at the edge of a snow-melt stream. (a tiny rocky stream that was coming right out from under the snow, but eventually becomes the East Fork of the Wood River!) We didn’t get good enough looks to say for sure that it was Black…but it was definitely a Rosy! We hiked a bit farther and sat on a boulder to eat lunch as we continued to hear Rosy call notes (along with a Rock Wren and a couple American Pipits ...the only birds up that high!)…but couldn’t see them!! Finally, a bird landed on a snowy backdrop where he was visible, and we watched as he flew higher and higher up the rocky hillside away from us….it WAS a Black Rosy! Woohoo! We lingered a bit longer (but not TOO long, because I was freezing!! :) to see if we could get better looks, but eventually decided it was time to head back for Boise. 6 hours after starting our search, we returned to the highway…successful!!!
We were very disciplined birders ;) and in our rush to get home only allowed ourselves to stop once to bird: at Mountain Home reservoir. We spent the last bit of daylight there, and were able to see plenty of shorebirds, including new yearbirds/Heidi-lifers: Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and a Baird’s Sandpiper! Sweet! I still need to work on IDing those tricky peeps, but what a great way to end a fun week of exploring! :D

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Heidi takes round 1 ....

Oh, by the way ... Heidi forgot to mention that SHE WON the mid-year competition - CONGRATULATIONS! ... Even though I observed a few more species (276 to 272) through July 10, her handicap for the mid-year was 11 (~2/3 of the full year handicap of 17 - why did I agree to give her such a big handicap?) so she won by 7!! She & Melanie will be getting their creative juices flowing soon and before long I'll be donning an embarrassing T-shirt (hot pink with frills and who knows what else ??) while working up on Lucky Peak ;-)

We'll have to wait on her thoughts on how the year has gone so far but it's been pretty fun (understatement) to see so many species in Idaho, many of them while working, and I think 113 have been life birds for Heidi so far!!

Here's Heidi enjoying close views of a male Spruce Grouse (lower right) that we named 'Jacques' - just one her many lifers this year

Saturday, July 11, 2009

still alive!

dont worry guys, despite a week spent hiking and doing pointcounts in the wild woods of the Sawtooths, Jay and I are still alive! ;)

We are leaving bright and early tomorrow morning for a fun trip to Northern Idaho, so no time for a full blog post, but we have a few in the works that will be ready to be posted soon after getting back.

So hold your horses for now, you'll hear more from us next week! :)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lava Lake birding class ....

Thanks to some organizing and scheming by Tess O'Sullivan and Chris Gertschen, on June 23-24, I was teaching a class called 'A Central Idaho Birding Adventure' through Idaho State University and the Sawtooth Science Institute on the Lava Lake Ranch (a beautiful place run by great people where I've done some bird survey work in recent years). The class was full (16 or 17 participants, including Brian Bean - one of the ranch owners) so I was very glad to have Heidi along as an unofficial but valuable TA (teaching assistant) and it was a really fun couple of days!

Here's Brian (sporting his spiffy red Lava Lake hat) and Molly checking out a distant Great Blue Heron while Robert, Rose, and Allen look on and Kim takes notes (yes, they were diligent students!; photo by Kathleen Cameron)

It was a great group of students that ranged in age from 9 to the mid-70s and in bird ID experience from ZERO to decades of birding years. I knew a few of the folks previously, including Brian, Tom McCabe from Boise, Kathleen Cameron from Bellevue, and Danette & Iris Henderson from Boise. All students were awesome but one I especially appreciated is Rose, a hearing-impaired student from Gooding (teaches at the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind). She was fun, witty, and very patient during times when I was working on bird vocalizations with the other students. She hopes to bring her students to our Lucky Peak migration study this fall.

Robert, one of Rose's translators (though she could read lips amazingly & we had several conversations w/o a translator - I was very impressed!), passing on something I was saying ... (photo by Kathleen Cameron)

Both days of birding were a lot of fun ... there were of course many secretive birds that didn't show themselves but also many that were very cooperative - including a Dusky (aka Blue) Grouse perched in an Aspen, Western Wood-pewee and Willow Flycatcher that both vocalized and perched in the open within 30 minutes of each other - providing a very helpful comparison, many Lewis's Woodpeckers, Sandhill Cranes, a Moose that some of the group saw, several Lazuli Buntings, a Red-tailed Hawk carrying a young (& recently dead) American Crow (!!), and much more.

Pointing out a singing Sage Thrasher (photo by Kathleen Cameron)

The camping group (11 of us) had a lot of fun, including an evening hike up Fish Creek Rd, great food shared all around, a great history of the area from Brian, and a fun bird riddle game that Molly turned us onto.

I think my biggest internal challenge (before & during) was how to tailor the class to such a wide range of experience levels but everybody was really patient & worked with each other really well. My sense was that everyone enjoyed it & learned some valuable things ... Also, it was really helpful to have some other experienced birders along (such as Tom, Kathleen, and Kim - and Heidi, of course) who could help point birds out and answer questions when I was otherwise occupied. In the end, we all had something we could teach each other and it was a great balance ;-).

What raptor flight profile is this? ;-) (We had just seen a Red-tail and I think I had moved on to comparing the dihedral pattern of Swainson's Hawks; photo by Kathleen Cameron)

The whole class (minus Rose's interpreter, Robert, who was kind enough to snap this shot)!

This was the first time this class has been offered and all agreed it was a success - maybe something to repeat in future years. To see a slightly different story, visit the Lava Lake blog

Next up? On to some higher elevation bird surveys in the Wood River Valley and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area ...