A Travellerspoint blog

Idaho Day 14: Fallout!

Ketchum, Idaho

all seasons in one day 75 °F

Yesterday, my final full day in Idaho, I rode the gondola up Bald Mountain in Sun Valley and hiked down, like I do every year. This route never ceases to deliver great birds for me, and it sure didn’t disappoint yesterday, either!

On the ride up, a WESTERN TANAGER posed for me:
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The views, as usual, were amazing. Some ominous-looking clouds and light rain showers did worry me, though.
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Immediately, DARK-EYED JUNCOS proved to be common throughout the hike:
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As did the ubiquitous CHIPPING SPARROW:
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After some spishing, an immature HOUSE WREN popped out:
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MOUNTAIN CHICKADEES were everywhere:
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The most common bird on the hike was the YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, which gave great views at one point:
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WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE:
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All the sudden, I came out into a ski run and i noticed that the trees on the other side of the run were absolutely crawling with birds. Immediately, I noticed a profusion of fast-moving RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS:
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DUSKY FLYCATCHER:
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Then, the intensity of bird activity grew to an astronomical height, with songbirds such as warblers, kinglets, and sparrows literally swirling around me in the mist. They were foraging insects off the trees, sallying forth to catch gnats, and constantly flying in to join their other avian comrades. It was a true fallout! Definitely one of the most impressive birding spectacles I have ever witnessed. An exciting find was this NASHVILLE WARBLER, an uncommon find for Idaho:
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The warblers were extremely common in this mixed flock. Here is a YELLOW-RUMPED & a TOWNSEND’S together.
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And 2 TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS together:
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I found an unbelievable 26 birds of this species, an extremely high count since this is usually a harder-to-find migrant in central Idaho:
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HAIRY WOODPECKER:
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Probably the most surprising warbler species up on the mountain was this brilliant male WILSON’S WARBLER, which is usually a species of lowland willow-dominated riparian habitats in Idaho. Yesterday, he was at almost 9000 feet of elevation in a douglas-fir forest!
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There were a heck ton of RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES in the mixed flock, as well:
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ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS showed beautifully a few times throughout the day:
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A single RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD flew by:
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As well as a WARBLING VIREO:
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I was able to capture a young Mule Deer bounding away:
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Female LAZULI BUNTING:
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It was truly an amazing pocket of birds. Throughout the rest of the hike though, I still found a good number of birds including CASSIN’S FINCH:
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A few CLARK’S NUTCRACKERS were nice:
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As well as a Mule Deer with a full rack of antlers:
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WESTERN TANAGER:
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A soaring RED-TAILED HAWK:
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I flushed an uncommon MACGILLIVRAY’S WARBLER from the trail, and true to form, it hid in the bushes for a few slightly-obstructed photos:
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Then, as I was almost at the bottom of the mountain, I heard a woodpecker softly tapping in the Lodgepole Pine trees above. It took me a few minutes to track down exactly where this tapping was coming from, but lo and behold I then laid my eyes on possibly the most prized avian species that breeds on Bald Mountain: the BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER! I spent forty-five minutes photographing this beauty from various different angles, and though the lighting and its constant tapping for insects underneath the bark made photography challenging, it was still gratifying to spend such a large chunk of time with this rare species.
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When I finally made it to the bottom of the trail where it crosses Warm Springs Creek, I spied a YELLOW WARBLER in the shrubs:
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And a female BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD visited a nearby feeder:
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Wow! What an amazing last day to an absolutely incredible trip. Bird-of-the-day of course goes to the Black-backed Woodpecker with runners-up to the Nashville & MacGillivray’s Warblers. Such fun! I want to thank several people for helping make this trip extra-special for me: Kathleen Cameron, Jean Seymour, Poo Wright-Pulliam, Brian Sturges, and of course, my parents. And shout-out to Gary Stitzinger for tipping us off to the Spruce Grouse the other day — THANK YOU! Birds are not the only thing that makes the hobby gratifying; enjoying other birders’ company is an extremely positive element, as well.

Some exciting news: the rest of my family is flying to China right now to present a chamber music concert tour of the country, while I will have a few days in Chicago where I will lead a few Oak Park Bird Walks. Following that, on August 28th I return to Manhattan for the school year! Much further ahead, over winter break my family will be taking a cruise around the southern tip of South America, and then we will spend a few days in Patagonia, Chile. SO excited — I believe my life list will exceed 1K!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 974 Species (3 life birds this trip: Virginia’s Warbler, Black Rosy-Finch, & Spruce Grouse)

Posted by skwclar 22:00 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Idaho Day 13: Will we find the foolhen?

Central Idaho

semi-overcast 82 °F

Yesterday, Kathleen Cameron, Poo Wright-Pulliam, and I had our last shot to find the elusive Spruce Grouse or “foolhen!” This would be a lifer for all except Kathleen, and she had never even seen it in the state.

We started the day at 7am and birded our way up the Sawtooth Scenic Byway, state highway 75.

We started off by birding Baker Creek Road, where we quickly picked up two RED-NAPED SAPSUCKERS including this one:
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A western race of FOX SPARROW was a great surprise to see, here posing with an immature SONG SPARROW:
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Next, we stopped at Billy’s Bridge to see if we could spot any Mountain Goats climbing in the Boulder Range. Although we didn’t see any goats, we did find this beautiful male WESTERN TANAGER posing in the morning light:
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As well as a nice OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER:
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Next, we birded a road north of the Galena Lodge in search of Spruce Grouse, since we knew they have been sighted in that area in the past. We immediately found a huge flock of sparrows and other passerines, including this VESPER SPARROW:
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“Whoa!” This immature RED-TAILED HAWK didn’t expect its sibling to make such a close landing!
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Unfortunately, no Spruce Grouse.

After a few quiet stops over Galena Pass, we birded Forest Road 199 in the Sawtooth Valley. BREWER’S SPARROWS were nice:
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As well as a WARBLING VIREO:
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And many MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRDS, including this pale one:
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My favorite bird there was this GRAY FLYCATCHER, an uncommon find this far north in Idaho!
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Seeing a herd of Antelope was also nice.
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A flyover PEREGRINE FALCON was a great surprise:
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Then, it was off to Pettit Lake because the Spruce Grouse have been seen at the campground there recently. This Red Squirrel was cute:
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As well as this DUSKY FLYCATCHER:
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But once again, no grouse. Next stop: Little Redfish Lake! It sure was beautiful there:
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A couple COMMON MERGANSERS resting on a log close to shore were nice to see:
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Then, we birded near the Redfish Lake Visitor Center where Poo pointed out some uncommon orchids to us — these are called “Lady’s Trusses,” and they grow strictly along streams and water bodies in mountainous areas.
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Kathleen shouted, “I’ve struck gold!” and she pointed out a SOLITARY SANDPIPER, a fairly common migrant out east but definitely uncommon for Idaho.
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Poo and I discussed the difference between a spruce cone (left) and a pine cone (right).
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A RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET put on a nice show for us:
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As we were driving out of Redfish Lake, Kathleen received a text from one of her friends, Gary, and he said he had heard a report yesterday of a family of Spruce Grouse on the other side of the lake. So, we accordingly raced over to the appropriate boat launch area where the Grouse had been seen just a few hours earlier.

We walked into the appointed trail, and within a minute, Kathleen pointed and said “there it is.” Sure enough, this fluffy, black, chicken-like bird was sitting underneath — you guessed it — a spruce tree! SPRUCE GROUSE! An unbelievable life bird for which I have been waiting for years! Poo had been trying to find this bird for 25 years, and it was a life bird for her too! Kathleen, as well, had never seen the bird in Idaho before so it was a first for her. How absolutely incredible!
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Here is a photo Poo took of Kathleen & I photographing the Spruce Grouse with our matching Nikon P900’s:
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And Poo’s excellent sketches of the grouse:
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With high spirits, we continued on to Stanley Ranger Station Sewage Ponds, which also did not disappoint! This LEAST SANDPIPER posed splendidly for us:
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As did a WESTERN SANDPIPER:
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Female LESSER SCAUP:
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NORTHERN SHOVELERS:
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BUFFLEHEADS:
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BLACK-NECKED STILT:
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GREEN-WINGED TEAL:
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The views of the majestic Sawtooth Mountains and their snowfields throughout the day were spectacular.
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At the end of the day, we birded Cape Horn Road northwest of Stanley in search of Great Gray Owls, which we have seen there before. Here is a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW, a common breeder there:
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And we were overjoyed to finally find an AMERICAN DIPPER, a bird all of us were wanting to see today:
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Unfortunately, no owls were found but we saw dozens (I believe near forty!) SANDHILL CRANES, with young! So great to see these as they definitely had some successful breeding this year. (no photos since I was saving my camera battery for possible owls)

Bird-of-the-day fo the Spruce Grouse, of course, with runner-up to the Fox Sparrow. Such a joy to bird with Kathleen and Poo — thanks Kathleen for driving!!! The full species list from the day is attached below. Stay tuned: I have a great report coming for today’s birds!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 974 Species (1 life bird today: Spruce Grouse)

Posted by skwclar 18:56 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Idaho Day 12: Marvelous Magpies

Ketchum, ID

semi-overcast 84 °F

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Edit: later today, after I posted originally, I photographed this COMMON NIGHTHAWK which appeared to be in a rather large migrating flock. Very cool!
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Stay tuned: tomorrow I am birding with Kathleen Cameron and Poo Wright-Pullman for one final search of the summer for the elusive Spruce Grouse!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 973 Species

Posted by skwclar 15:13 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Idaho Day 11: The Elusive Mountain Finch

Pioneer Mountains, ID

semi-overcast 92 °F

Today, I hiked with my family into the Pioneer Mountains with one clear purpose: to find my life bird Rosy-Finch. I didn’t care if it were a Black or a Gray-crowned; I just wanted to see and identify at least one of them! This hike was to Hyndman Basin, high above the valley & above the tree line — these elusive finches live in only the harshest, most inaccessible alpine climates.

My Dad spotted a good amount of wildlife on the drive in to this hike, including a Coyote:
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And a Jackrabbit:
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And some Elk:
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The first thing evident on this hike was the profusion and diversity of wildflowers. STUNNING!
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My mom and Pearl posed for the camera shortly before turning around; Pearl was beginning to feel a smidge under the weather and understandably wasn’t up for a mega-intense hike high into the mountains.
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As my Dad and I hiked up and up and up, the views got progressively more astounding:
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And the closer and closer we got to the treeline, the more we noticed a change in wildlife. Here is a ground squirrel:
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Then, my dad spotted this female DUSKY GROUSE! Jeez, quit stealing my “wildlife spotting thunder,” Dad!
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Another higher-mountain speciality, the CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD, was a treat to see:
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More stupendous views.
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And amazing wildflowers.
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Then, I spotted a furry head poking out of the rockslide in front of us and I spotted this Long-tailed Weasel! How cool is that?!?!?! I have only ever seen one once before, and that sighting was a split-second look.
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YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER:
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And its less-common cousin, the ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER:
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RED-TAILED HAWK soaring high overhead:
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Then, after five hours of hiking and scrambling above treeline, I spotted a small group of birds calling and flying overhead. I made the classic birder sound “spish” rather violently and they circled around us a few times — at this point I had my suspicions as to their I.D. — and then landed a bit further up the slope from us. I zoomed in, and there they were, my life bird BLACK ROSY-FINCHES!!! Too cool, this is an extremely hard bird to find in the summer due to their inaccessible habitat! Here is the adult which was quite far away:
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This immature bird with its black feathers just starting to come in, perched a bit closer:
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WOW is all I have to say! I really wanted to see Rosy Finches this summer, and see them I did!!! The fun didn’t stop there, though, the rugged alpine walls of the highest peaks of the Pioneer Mountains did not disappoint with their beauty:
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Around mid-day, we ended our strenuous hike at this high alpine tarn (“tarn” means a glacial-fed, alpine pool). The climate up here was definitely harsh, even on a summer day, very windy and cooler than the valleys below! The vegetation was accordingly scarce in this fascinating world at & above the treeline.
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The scramble down was filled with even more wildflowers, and even a waterfall!
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As well as another ground squirrel:
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My Dad rejoicing after yet another 45-degree angle boulder field to scramble down.
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PINE SISKIN:
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Then, I heard some screams from the forest canopy, and after a bit of searching through the dense pine & fir forest, I spotted this SHARP-SHINNED HAWK! Too cool! A juvenile of its kind was also nearby.
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And only a little while later, it’s much-bigger Accipiter (bird-eating hawk) cousin, the NORTHERN GOSHAWK, also stopped by to join the fun! Super super cool! This is an immature bird so I can safely say that both of these hawk species probably nested up here in the Pioneer Mountains this summer!
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13.9 miles later, my Dad and I were back to the trailhead! Whew! What a hike! Bird-of-the-day to the Black Rosy-Finch of course, with runners-up to the Dusky Grouse, Sharp-Shinned Hawk, & Northern Goshawk. AMAZING! Thanks so much to birder Brian Sturges for giving me this tip to find the Rosy Finches.

Stay tuned and good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 973 Species (1 life bird today: Black Rosy-Finch)

Posted by skwclar 16:33 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Idaho Day 9: A Steller Saturday

Ketchum, ID

semi-overcast 79 °F

After a huge day of birding yesterday, I was ready for a much more relaxing day today. Birds are always on the mind, though, and I raced to my camera when the local pair of STELLER’S JAYS made an appearance in the trees behind my condo. I love this unique and beautiful western bird!
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It will therefore be my bird-of-the-day. Stay tuned!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 972 Species

Posted by skwclar 20:31 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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