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, December 31, 2009


What a way to end this year!

Just as I was becoming content with the "almost 300" total of 294 species for 2009, the Howe Christmas Bird Count came along ...

yesterday around 5PM I was in the movie theater with my family, anxious to get home and START packing for the Boise State trip to Kenya which Jay and I are leaving for tomorrow (1/1/10). yikes! I had a lot to do! I had no time to waste...

then...I got the text (in the middle of a fight scene during Sherlock Holmes): "CRESTED CARACARA IN HOWE!!!" (Howe, ID is a 4 hour drive from Boise) My first thought: "crap! no way can we chase that!" My second thought: texting Jay back "what time are we leaving tomorrow?"

YUP, we truly are insane birders! We both rushed home to start packing after our respective movie and soccer game (as of 8PM 12/31/09 neither of us are done). Our plan: to leave Boise at the terrible-horrible hour of 5AM, in order to hopefully miss the correctly forecasted snow storm now hitting us.

We were up Dark and Early :) Sunrise from the road near Arco

After ~4 hours of sleep, we hit the road... *yawn* :O As fellow Africa-traveler/birding buddy Rob Miller put it when he heard of our plan: "you guys are hardcore insane"

Starting @ around 920am, we scoured the area near Howe where the bird had been seen by Steve Butterworth, Kit Struthers, Mike Munts, and Marv Lambrecht the day before, but didn't have any luck. After about an hour, we received one of many calls from fellow birders who were scouring the area...this time it was Larry and Brian with the words we'd been waiting for: "any interest in a Caracara?"

We rushed to drive to the street they described, and arrived to see the group of birders with scopes aimed at a snowy field.....and there was the CARACARA!!!!!

The caracara and his snack....Happy New Year, Caracara. you look miserably cold

We drove in closer and watched for 45 + minutes as the young bird chowed down on a delicious looking piece of carrion. I dont think he realized he was only the 2nd (and probably the coldest) Caracara reported in Idaho. :) He was so cool with his long legs and bare face! woohoo! there were high-fives all around...What an awesome last year bird of 2009!!!

mmmmm, tasty! cow leg? dead cat?

the successful "hardcore insane" new years eve caracara chasers!! :D

The road home.....the snow hadn't hit yet!

this means:

FINAL TOTAL for 2009:

Jay: 298 species---4 of these were Jay state birds

Heidi: 295 species---133 of these were Heidi lifers

The birds Jay saw that Heidi didn't: Chestnut-collared Longspur, Western Scrub-jay, Gray Partridge

Heid saw her ENTIRE 'prior to 2009 Idaho lifelist' except for: Red-shouldered Hawk, Gyrfalcon, and Gray Partridge
you may ask: what's the plan for next year now that "Bird Idaho 2009" is over??? Well we dont know, but we ARE beginning the year birding in Kenya, so......Bird the WORLD 2010???? hmmm.....this could be dangerous! (and interesting...so please keep checking our blog :)


--Heidi and Jay

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas eve gulls & Blue Jay (or, 'The Year of the Iceland Gull')

On Thurs, 12-24, Heidi & I headed to Crouch/Garden Valley to look for one of 2 Blue Jays that have recently starting attending a feeder along with a few Steller's Jays. Actually, back in early November, Garden Valley birders had noticed a Blue Jay or two but it wasn't until last week that they starting keeping a regular schedule ... thanks to Sheri & Linda for keeping us posted!

In most years, I've been able to encounter 1 or more Blue Jays during the fall at Lucky Peak or elsewhere but this hasn't been so the last couple years so we had to go chasing! Progress on the 2009 year list has been quite slow of late - a combo of being busy with other things and it being a slower time of year with fewer bird species around - so it was fun when Heidi first spotted one in a conifer and then it came in to the feeder a few minutes later!

The feeder area by the Birding Store in Crouch

A nice of view of the nearby hills on a cold & beautiful winter day

A shot of the cooperative Blue Jay through my handheld ;-)

Since it didn't take long for a Blue Jay to arrive, we decided it might be worth a quick stop at the Boise dump (Hidden Hollow landfill) to see about the gulls on the way home. We'd found an immense adult Glaucous Gull as well as an adult Mew Gull (no pics) the day before so we wanted to see if anything new might be around.
Adult Glaucous Gull at the Boise landfill on 12-23

When we arrived, admitted gull lover and (fellow frequenter of dumps:) RL Rowland was already there & mentioned noticing an interesting-looking adult gull with grayish wingtips ... it soon flew in and landed nearby. It looked big and with gray-tipped wings as it flew in so we first wondered about Glaucous-winged but the yellow eyes, smaller bill, rounded head shape, and eyes more forward on face suggested otherwise. Maybe biased by the Glaucous the day before (which was cooperative on this day too & arrived about 30 min after we did), my first inclination was that it had some Glaucous in it - maybe crossed with Herring (which could help explain the gray wingtips). But, the longer we looked, the more we wondered about an adult Iceland (Kumlien's because of the gray, not white, primary tips) ... in particular, at one point after the gulls had been flushed & then settled again, the presumed Iceland was perched directly in front of the Glaucous providing a brief comparison. In addition to being smaller, the bird had a longer primary projection, daintier bill, more rounded head, and less of a 'tertial stack' (basically, more attenuated body shape) than the Glaucous.

This & the following 7 pictures are of the presumed Kumlien's (Iceland) Gull seen at the Hidden Hollow landfill (Ada Co dump) on 12-24. Notice the small, rounded head, relatively small bill, pink legs, yellow eyes, long primary projection, and somewhat deep belly. The key feature that got us thinking towards Iceland in the first place is that the primaries have gray shading ...

Here's the best shot I could get of the wing partly open - notice the big 'mirror' (white spot near tip of feather) on primary #10 - the outermost primary - and the gray (as opposed to black) shading at the ends of the primaries

with 2 adult Herring Gulls (1 standing, 1 sitting further back) at its right; the Herrings have longer, slightly thicker bills as well as a more squared-off head shape

Facing the camera (rear right, behind the hordes of Ring-bills and, based on mantle color, 1 California at front right) - notice the smaller, narrower head & neck compared to the Herring @ left

Here it is between 2 adult Herring Gulls (that have different amounts of head streaking)

It was just earlier this year (during spring migration) that we saw my first ever Iceland Gull in Idaho so 2 in one year seems mind-blowing! I'm hoping others, including the other big larophiles in the state, Cliff & Lisa Weisse, might get a chance to see it next week but we've all looked at pics and think it looks good for a Kumlien's!

It's been quite a year for gulls in Idaho, having now seen Sabine's, Bonaparte's, Franklin's, Mew, Ring-billed, California, Thayer's, Iceland, Lesser Black-backed, Glaucous-winged, Herring, & Glaucous in 2010!! Now, just waiting on the Western &/or Slaty-backed to arrive ;-).

Merry Christmas,


Friday, December 25, 2009

Snowy day

Last Saturday, Jay and I went on a long awaited birding adventure with the Henderson clan. We started out on pleasant valley road, mostly in search of horned lark flocks and raptors. It was a cold morning (though not as cold as the single digits earlier in that week!) and the snow was really coming down as we scoured the back roads for birds. We ran into a few flocks of White-crowned sparrows and a flock of Horned Larks, but didn’t find anything unusual mixed in with them. Soon after seeing this first flock of HOLA’s, we got a fun surprise when we saw a Northern Shrike perched on top of a bush. Not quite the raptor we were looking for, but close! And very cool :)
We continued down the road into the middle of nowhere, and began seeing more and more raptors as we went. One of the first birds we stopped for on a power pole turned out to be a Ferruginous Hawk!! It was a great sighting, because I haven’t really seen that many, plus it was one of the Hendersons’ “requested” birds for the trip! Danette had spotted what she thought was a Ferrug at the same spot a few days before, so she was excited to have her mystery bird ID solved! As we watched, the bird took off from the power pole it was sitting on and flew to one a little further down, letting us see the cool white patches on the tops of the wings, and the dark legs….but I was more excited about something else, because as it took off, it launched a great big poop! Yippee! My Ferruginous “poop lifer” :) An interesting conversation followed as I explained my recently started poop lifelist….and I only got a few looks from the Hendersons…I guess they’re used to running into some ‘odd’ birders! Haha.
As we got back into the car, I noticed some bunny prints in the snow along the roadside just below the pole…..I wondered if he knew how close he’d come to being lunch!
We continued on and continued to see more and more raptors on the poles…which turned into some fun birdie quizzes! Pretty soon IDing it as a Rough-legged was not hard enough for us, so Jay moved on to quizzes over age and sex. After pouring over the guides and seeing a few different ages of birds, we soon had it figured out!
At one place we stopped, we got a real raptor treat. In the area we could see from where we had stopped, we saw: 2 Ferrugs, 2 Rough-legs (an immature and an adult…a perfect comparison for our quizzing!) , 2 Harriers (a male and female), and a Red-tail….all but the Ferrug’s were in just one field!!
We continued driving, and saw a Golden Eagle perched next to us on a pole. We slowed down and IT got some great looks at US, staring straight down at our cars. Then, less than a mile away we got a look at a Bald Eagle on a fence line….it was a cool comparison of the huge Bald Eagle bill and the smaller Golden’s. At a farmhouse along the road, we stopped to check out some trees full of doves and soon noticed a small bird of prey sitting in an aspen watching them. It was a Merlin! The snow really started picking up, so the Merlin fluffed up and settled in for the storm as the dumb doves walked on the ground right beneath his perch!!

Ann and Danette checking out the Merlin (see him in the tree?)

Right around lunch time we stopped on the roadside and watched 100's of Horned Larks swirling out in the fields. Jay walked out toward the flock and soon 'herded' them closer to the road so we could scan them in the scopes....sadly, we didnt find anything but horned larks in the mix, but it was still very cool to watch all those birds!
Jay took this picture of all the Horned Lark tracks--cool!
The Flock!
By the time we reached the shore of Lake Lowell, it was a total white-out over the lake...you couldn't see anything! So much for checking out some waterfowl! We decided to take the opportunity to goof off while the snow kept most of the birds hidden. The lake was completely frozen and soon our whole group was out running and sliding on the ice!! Soon we had our sliding technique mastered enough for a sliding contest: Matthew and Jay won for distance, Iris won for style, and Danette and I proudly won for best wipe-outs :)
After some fun, we took a group vote and decided to make a quick check of Jay's favorite hang out, the Dump!! We were disappointed to find when we got there that there were not even 100 gulls there, and all Ring-bills with just one California! So much for turning the Hendersons into Dump fanatics :) (that would have to wait for our later trip to the Boise dump, heehee!)
The sky started to clear up and we headed over to Marsing to check out the park and river there. We saw a cool mix of birds including lots of Ducks, a Marsh and Winter Wren, Orange-crowned Warbler, Pipits, Night Herons (but no Green Heron), Golden-crowned Kinglets, Snipe, and a beaver munching on some marshy plants!!
Once we were done at the park we bundled back into the cars with hot tea and yummy cookies for a fun ride home.