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? ;-)

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!

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