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, September 27, 2009

Golden-crowned Sparrow!-#300

This Thursday up at the Bird Observatory, we had the fun of catching and banding a juvie Golden-crowned Sparrow! It was the first I'd ever seen in the hand, and a first for the station this season, so both Jay and I and the rest of the crew really enjoyed getting to see it...but at the same time we both wished that we'd seen it before it was caught, since we aren't "counting" the net-only birds towards our year list.
So, this morning when Jay called up the road to me as I was finishing the net run "hey Heidi, do you have your binoculars?" I was sure there was something good in the bushes he was looking at! By the time I dropped off my Nuthatch cargo and headed down the road, it was too late. The tail-less (maybe a near-death experience with a Sharp-shinned Hawk?) and un-banded Golden-crowned Sparrow he'd seen was gone! Our friends Jean and Poo who follow our little competition (along with some other wood river valley birders who were visiting for the weekend) gave me a hard time, knowing that Jay was now one more bird ahead of me for the year. It was only made worse when Jean returned from a net run with another Golden-crowned Sparrow (this one had a tail) in the bag, and said she'd seen two others! agh! It was an explosion of Golden-crowned's at IBO, and I hadn't seen any!! (If Jay were writing this post, I'm sure he'd add that it was at this point during the day that I got a little 'flustered'....though I maintain that I kept perfect composure the entire time ;) even if I did skip out on the next few net runs looking for it! heehee)
Anyway, long story short, I spent the rest of the day searching through flocks of white-crowned's (even finding one tail-less bird that turned out to be an adult white-crown and NOT the tailless GC that Jay'd seen).
After lunch, Jay and I headed for a loop around the net lanes in hopes of still turning up a bird. After an hour or more, and after lots of bush-whacking behind a flock, Jay caught a glimpse of a tailless dude! we hunted him down, and in the stream of white-crowns hopping through the bushes, I finally saw him! the Golden-crowned! YAY!!!!
this was an extra-cool lifer for me as it was LIFER #300!!! (it's amazing to think that it was only March when I saw #200: a Harris' Sparrow)
It was hi-fives all around on hawkwatch when the rest of the birders heard we'd finally accomplished our mission :)

In other news, our birding/year-list has picked up a bit in the last couple weeks and recent new species for 2009 have included Broad-winged Hawk, Anna's Hummingbird, Sanderling, and Sabine's Gulls!

all for now,

Monday, September 21, 2009

Anna's Hummingbird in Ola!

One of the species I really hoped we'd be able to see this year is Anna's Hummingbird ... I've only seen it once before in Idaho (at a feeder in Mountain Home several years ago) but as more people have carefully watched their hummingbird feeders during late summer/early fall, we've started to see that there's a regular pattern of post-breeding dispersal (wandering?) that seemingly brings a few Anna's to Idaho each year.

Thus, after reports in Moscow and Prairie that I/we weren't able to 'chase' due to time constraints/work, I was excited when I saw Fred and Melly Zeillemaker at last weekend's Western Field Ornithologists conference and Fred said that they'd been hosting an Anna's at their feeders and would keep me posted if it stuck around. After a busy coupla weeks (including a great visit with my mom who was here for a long weekend to see Lucky Peak in action - awesome!), Heidi & I finally had time to take an afternoon trip to Ola yesterday (Monday, Sep 21) after songbird banding/classes.

We arrived @ the Zeillemaker's about 5 minutes after the bird had been in feeding (figures, right?) so commenced to chat/catch up with our hosts over lemonade (several years before I had enjoyed a great visit to their place to see a Fox Sparrow of the Eastern/Red subspecies) while watching/listening for the bugger. Melly had described the song (if you can call it that ;-) that this young male was often singing and within 30 minutes or so, we started to hear the buzzy sounds coming from an ash tree in their front yard.

Heidi, Fred, & Melly looking at the ash tree that the Anna's Hummingbird was frequenting yesterday - nice backyard, huh!?

... and then we were able to spot the little dude as he sang away before coming down to the feeder - an awesome lifer for Heidi and a fun year bird for both of us!

Immature male Anna's Hummingbird - photo by Melly Zeillemaker (taken prior to our visit)

Happy birders enjoying the show

Heidi, her lemonade, and the great view from the Zeillemaker's yard

After enjoying nice views of the bird, Fred took us for a little walk around the beautiful property before we returned to the house for a great dinner (soup, cornbread, and a very tasty zucchini pie for desert) on the deck as we talked about - what else? - bird stories ;-). As we were finishing dinner, the Anna's came in to the nearby feeders for a great naked eye view!

Thanks again to Fred & Melly for their hospitality!



Thursday, September 10, 2009

Labor Day weekend birding trip

Yes, we're both still alive and well ... just been staying busy with songbird (and now hawk) migration at Lucky Peak. And, Heidi just started fall classes @ BSU a few weeks ago.

Here's a picture to prove that we've both been working/busy ... in this case, putting a band on an American Kestrel that got caught in IBO's songbird mist nets - photo by Stephanie Coates

That's our lame excuse for not posting more often .... THE REAL REASON IS THAT UNTIL SEPT 6, WE HADN'T SEEN A NEW SPECIES FOR THE YEAR SINCE AUGUST 2ND!! Thus, maybe we were feeling a little ashamed ??? (not really but .... ;-) Actually, given that we'd seen so many species already by early August, it's not surprising that we've hit a lull (after all, there aren't that many more species we can expect to see in Idaho). We've continued weekly trips to nearby reservoirs (Indian Creek and Mountain Home) in search of shorebirds and other waterbirds and, while the trips have been fun and we keep learning more and more about shorebird ID, since a trip on Aug 2 when we saw our first Pectoral and Solitary Sandpipers of the year, we hadn't been able to turn up anything new.

Spying on shorebirds at Indian Creek Reservoir along with Rob Miller - photo by Stephanie Coates

Thus, since the reservoirs' water levels are rapidly dropping, we decided we needed to do something to remedy the situation. Since I was already planning on leading a migration birding trip to Lava Lake Ranch on Saturday of Labor Day weekend, I suggested that we then continue on to American Falls Reservoir (a site famous for supporting HUGE numbers of waterbirds including, depending on water levels, expansive mudflats that usually provide the best shorebirding in the state) in eastern Idaho for a day or two of birding.

On Saturday, we had a great day up the Fish Creek drainage on Lava Lake Ranch with a number of mostly Wood River Valley birders. We enjoyed nice looks at Western Wood-Pewee and Olive-sided Flycatcher, a great overhead comparison of immature Sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks, and a number of other migrant birds in the beautiful landscape of the Pioneer Mountain foothills. Maybe the most notable sighting for me was an association between a group of Lewis's Woodpeckers and a group of Black-billed Magpies at/near a couple fruiting trees way up Fish Creek Rd. I can't remember noticing such an association between these two species before ... and then the following Wednesday several of us saw a similar grouping in some cottonwoods along the edge of Lake Lowell (Deer Flat NWR). Thus, 2x in one week!

On Sat afternoon after the trip, Heidi & I got a milkshake at Castle's Corner in Carey and then raced to Minidoka NWR to look for Sabine's Gulls before dark came ... no luck with those gulls but we did enjoy the usual concentration of Franklin's Gulls and other waterbirds, including a couple of Bonaparte's Gulls.

On Sunday AM we woke up at the Willow Bay marina (shores of American Falls reservoir) and walked down to the shore before breakfast. We were really impressed with the shorebird #s and diversity here ....

Mudflats in Willow Bay

... but then got hungry and were happy to find that the restaurant @ the marina was open for the last day of the season. Thus, we enjoyed a great breakfast while listening for Pluvialis plover calls (no, didn't hear any :) ...

The view from our table for breakfast at Willow Bay marina

We ended up exploring all of the accessible shorebirding sites around the reservoir for the rest of Sunday and part of Monday. Though mudflats were hard to come by due to the high water levels here, we still enjoyed 19 shorebird species and many other water and landbirds. The two "year-birds" (oh, and lifers for Heidi) were Stilt Sandpiper (which we were able to view side by side with yellowlegs and dowitchers) and Cattle Egret and we also saw Virginia's, Nashville, and Orange-crowned warblers in the same bush!

Me showing off my binocularing skills ;-)

Heidi studying her lifer Stilt Sandpipers as well as nearby yellowlegs & dowitchers

After birding the upper end of American Falls res on Monday AM, we decided we ought to jet to Camas NWR (only 1.5 hrs up the road) in the off-chance of finding a vagrant. In spite of the wind that made finding birds among the cottonwood leaves a challenge, we gave it a good 3 hrs and enjoyed Cordilleran and other flycatchers as well as the usual slew of Wilson's Warblers but nothin' crazy (side note: the next day, Rexburg birder Darren Clark found a female Indigo Bunting there - in a spot where we'd seen a group of buntings and warblers but all we'd seen were Lazulis ... ouch!!!).

We then raced back south with the idea of quick stops @ Willow Bay and then Minidoka in case any new shorebirds or gulls had blown in ... as we arrived at Willow Bay and parked, we noticed a small cloud of shorebirds bolting out of the bay and we pleaded, "noooo! don't fly away now!" and soon found the culprit ... a juvenile Peregrine Falcon munching on an undentified shorebird. Of course, it's always awesome to see a Peregrine (and we also saw our first 2 Merlins of the fall) but the fact that it had scared away all the shorebirds we were coming to see wasn't ideal :-).

The spoiler Peregrine @ Willow Bay

We continued the long drive home to Boise and then got ready to go back to work!