A Travellerspoint blog

Day 8: My Nemesis Bird

all seasons in one day 64 °F

So what exactly is a nemesis bird? A nemesis bird is a species that constantly evades being seen by a particular birder. They are every birder's worst nightmare. Today my goal was conquering my nemesis bird--the Great Gray Owl, or the "Phantom of the North," as I call it.

Why have I traveled to three national parks, three national forests, and one state park to see this bird? Well for starters, it is my nemesis bird after all. Also, this bird is the definition of "awesome." Being nearly the size of a Golden Eagle, having some of the most powerful claws and jaws in the animal kingdom, and being the largest owl in North America are just a few factors that fuel my obsession for this species.

After a hiatus from birding yesterday, today I intensely birded central Idaho with my mom and Kathleen Cameron, THE (pronounced thee) owl expert of Idaho, in search of my nemesis.

Kathleen Cameron is a delightful person and an extremely knowledgable birder. She recently produced an owl documentary, filmed entirely by herself in Idaho, called "Connecting with Owls." It is an awesome documentary, you should definitely check it out:

So, I obviously had high hopes for finding the Great Gray Owl today. Read on to see if I conquered my nemesis!

We started the day by departing Sun Valley and drove the two-hour drive to Salmon-Challis National Forest, just north of the majestic Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

Our first birding activity was driving slowly along a gravel road in the national forest northwest of Stanley. This is one of the most reliable spots in Idaho for Great Gray Owls, and Kathleen and I scanned every possible tree in sight for this bird.

The first pocket of birds along the drive yielded this female CASSIN'S FINCH, an uncommon species:

I also found my LIFE BIRD BREWER'S SPARROW in the mixed flock, with was a huge, awesome surprise!

Then, we all watched this stunning male WESTERN TANAGER at a mouth-wateringly close range:

Our next stop yielded this locally uncommon LINCOLN'S SPARROW:

And this definitely uncommon OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER, which was a HUGE surprise and a great bird for the day:

Then, once the road cut through the center of an enormous field, I spied this NORTHERN HARRIER with its diagnostic white rump patch:

Next, once the road went through the woods again, we saw this amazing juvenile WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER, yet another very uncommon species, just five feet away from the car!

Then, we entered another open field and these extremely handsome SANDHILL CRANES allowed for photographs at thirty feet away at most:

Dark-phase SWAINSON'S HAWK--first time I have ever photographed this species:

Our next stop was, of all places, the Stanley sewage ponds, which can be productive for waterfowl and shorebirds. We found representatives of both groups of birds, but most cooperative for photographs were these flashy WILSON'S PHALAROPES, a rare type of shorebird:

Next, we had lunch at the pristine Little Redfish Lake with the craggy, snowy Sawtooth Mountains as a magnificent backdrop:

During lunch we even spied this WESTERN GREBE far out in the water:


Our next stop was Pettit Lake, another sublimely beautiful lake in front of the sheer, rocky, snowy walls of the Sawtooth Mountains:

Kathleen found this female-type LESSER SCAUP, a species of diving duck, out in the water:

Our final birding stop for the day was at a group of rustic looking cabins which had a hummingbird feeder set up. I found this female RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD:

As well as this female BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD:

Then, after a stop to get delicious huckleberry milk shakes at Smiley Creek Lodge, we drove the scenic drive back home to Sun Valley.

So did I find my nemesis bird, the Great Gray Owl? No, but I did see 63 other species of birds and met a new birder, so it was very worth it. An awesome day of birding would be an understatement. Thank you to my mom for driving for almost seven hours today and thank you to Kathleen for coming along and showing me some awesome birds.

Bird-of-the-day to my only life bird of the day, a BREWER'S SPARROW. Runner-up to the awesomely photogenic juvenile WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER.

Good birding and stay tuned,

World Life List: 686 Species (1 life bird today: Brewer's Sparrow)

63 species today:

Canada Goose 4
American Wigeon X
Mallard 20
Lesser Scaup 2
Eared Grebe 1
Western Grebe 1
Great Blue Heron 2
Osprey 4
Northern Harrier 1
Bald Eagle 1
Swainson's Hawk 3
Red-tailed Hawk 10
Sandhill Crane 15
Killdeer 7
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Wilson's Phalarope 2 Photos
Mourning Dove X
Black-chinned Hummingbird 5
Rufous Hummingbird 6
Lewis's Woodpecker 1
Williamson's Sapsucker 2
Red-naped Sapsucker 2
Northern Flicker 5
American Kestrel 1
Prairie Falcon 1
Olive-sided Flycatcher 3
Western Wood-Pewee 20
Willow Flycatcher 1
Dusky Flycatcher 1
Black-billed Magpie 5
Clark's Nutcracker 2
American Crow X
Common Raven X
Horned Lark 3
Violet-green Swallow 20
Barn Swallow 5
Cliff Swallow 5
Black-capped Chickadee 2
Mountain Chickadee 2
Mountain Bluebird 20
Townsend's Solitaire 1
American Robin 30
European Starling 7
Cedar Waxwing 2
Common Yellowthroat 2
Yellow Warbler 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2
Chipping Sparrow 20
Brewer's Sparrow 2
Vesper Sparrow 20
Song Sparrow 3
Lincoln's Sparrow 3
White-crowned Sparrow 20
Dark-eyed Junco 4
Western Tanager 4
Red-winged Blackbird X
Brewer's Blackbird X
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
House Finch 2
Cassin's Finch 2
Pine Siskin 5
American Goldfinch 5
House Sparrow X

Posted by skwclar 16:49 Archived in USA

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