Saturday 15 August 2015 85 °F
Get ready for a very long and photo-heavy (but hopefully, interesting!) post, because yesterday (Friday, August 14) was one of the best birding days of my entire life. I would spend basically the entire day birding with three other awesome birders from the area with our primary target for the evening being my "nemesis bird," the Great Gray Owl, a species for which I have looked unsuccessfully over 2.5 years in 5 states!
In the morning, I met up with birders Poo Wright-Pulliam and Maria Allen, the same people who I birded with last night, and we started birding a bit after 10:00am. After unsuccessfully trying to find my life bird Western Screech-Owl in the Starweather Community of the Wood River Valley in central Idaho, we birded the same area we did the evening before: Gannett Road and the roads near the town of Picabo south of the Wood River Valley. We had one particular target bird for that area in the morning, and that was Gray Partridge, a locally common grouse that would be a life bird for me if found.
Male LAZULI BUNTING:
Suddenly, Poo and Maria spotted a covey of GRAY PARTRIDGE off the road on their side of the car! I saw the partridge and tried to start my camera, but my camera chose this perfect moment to stop working! In a mini panic-attack, I started breathing quickly and sweating profusely as I nervously shook and banged on my camera (NOT what you should do in this situation!). Then, I took the battery out and put it back in again, waited for a few seconds, and Voila! - the camera miraculously turned on and I got a picture of this adult GRAY PARTRIDGE - the last one of the covey of 15 birds we saw to stay out in the open. Whew! Life bird #1 for the day!
Juvenile dark-morph SWAINSON'S HAWK:
Light-morph SWAINSON'S HAWK for comparison:
We then drove back up the Wood River Valley and picked up birder Kathleen Cameron at Poo's house north of the town of Hailey. It was then a longer drive north on Highway 75 in order to get into an area where we could be bird for the afternoon and then have relatively easy access to my nemesis bird, the Great Gray Owl, in the evening. This area was the spectacular Sawtooth Valley, about an hour's drive north of the Wood River Valley on Highway 75.
Our first birding excursion on a dirt road in a burned area didn't yield much except for these cute fawn Mule Deer:
After getting rained out at a quick stop at Alturas Lake (where we did; however, pick up COMMON MERGANSER and CALIFORNIA GULL for the day), we birded a burned forest area closer to the town of Stanley. The most interesting find here was a pair of WESTERN WOOD-PEWEES tending to a nestling - it is abnormally late in the season for this!
Our next birding stop - the Stanley Sewage Ponds - highly exceeded our expectations with large numbers of both shorebirds and waterfowl. It was great!
LESSER SCAUP, MALLARD, NORTHERN SHOVELER, AMERICAN WIGEON, and CINNAMON TEAL are all in this photo:
BAIRD'S SANDPIPER, one of the rarest shorebirds at the ponds:
CINNAMON TEAL in flight:
3 happy birders - Poo, Maria, and I scoping out ducks and shorebirds at the Staney Sewage Ponds with the Sawtooth Mountains in the background. Photo credit: Kathleen Cameron
The next part of this post is a LARGE set of waterfowl and shorebird photos. Prepare yourself!
2 MALLARDS (upper left) with a CINNAMON TEAL (lower right)
WESTERN SANDPIPERS (left) with a GREATER YELLOWLEGS (right):
SEMIPALMATED (left) and LEAST (right) SANDPIPERS:
SEMIPALMATED and LEAST SANDPIPERS:
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (left) with SEMIPALMATED and LEAST SANDPIPERS (right):
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (left) with SEMIPALMATED (middle & upper) and a BAIRD'S SANDPIPER (right):
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (left) with WESTERN (middle) and LEAST SANDPIPERS (right & upper):
WESTERN SANDPIPERS (left) with GREATER YELLOWLEGS (right):
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (center) with WESTERN SANDPIPER (right):
When these sandpipers took flight, they formed a large, tight group of 30+ birds that flew back and forth a few inches over the water, turning in perfect synchronization. It was astounding!
By then, it was the 7pm hour so we started to make our way towards the site where we would look for my nemesis bird: the Great Gray Owl. On one road, we unsuccessfully searched for Spruce Grouse and Gray Jays; however, we did find these two SANDHILL CRANES, a juvenile (left) and one of its parents (right):
Then, at around 8:30pm, we pulled onto the road where we would be looking for the Great Gray Owls. Kathleen spotted something sitting on a fence post so Poo immediately stopped the car so we could get a look at it.
I gingerly opened my door and zoomed in my camera to identify the bird... (photo credit: Kathleen Cameron)
STRIX NEBULOSA - GREAT GRAY OWL!!!!!!!!!!
I had FINALLY found my nemesis bird! After the adult owl, who was hunting in the nearby grassland, had moved away, Poo, Maria, Kathleen, and I celebrated with laughter, hugs, and exuberant "lifer dances."
The adult bird would periodically catch a mouse or vole in the grassland, fly up to the nearby forest on the other side of the road, and deliver it to its fledged and almost full-grown chick. It would repeat this process over and over again. Quite a sight to see!
Here is the chick, starting to look like a full adult owl now:
A post-nemesis-bird grin. (photo credit Kathleen Cameron)
Left to right: Kathleen, Poo, Maria, and me beaming and posing with Kathleen's "Blue Mug" after finding our target bird! (photo credit: Kathleen Cameron)
It was then 9:00pm and we started driving back to Sun Valley; however, we did not expect the surprises that still lay ahead! After cresting Galena Pass at over 8,000 feet above sea level on the highway, we pulled over to a pull-off to stargaze and to watch the meteor shower; after all, I had never seen a "shooting star" before!
The night sky was absolutely spectacular, almost as good as the Iast time I stargazed which was on Corozalito Beach on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica last month. And yes, I got to see a total of four meteors, including a rather large one! It was so cool to see these.
Suddenly, Poo, Maria, and I hear a far-away owl call. It is a series of monotonous "toot" notes with about 10 repeated notes at a very fast pace and then a long pause. I immediately pulled out my iPad and we absolutely poured over the owl recordings on my bird app called iBird Pro. We had soon ruled out three candidates: Western-Screech, Northern Saw-whet, and Northern Pygmy-Owl because the call we heard was two to three times faster-paced than the calls of all of the aforementioned species. Then, someone mentioned that we listen to the Boreal Owl call on iBird Pro, however unlikely that might be. I played it, and - Voila! We had positively identified a super-rare BOREAL OWL by its call and we were absolutely giddy with excitement because this owl is rarer than any of the other birds we had seen yesterday or the day before - including the Great Gray. It was an absolutely surreal experience!
Suddenly, we heard a loud scream/screech noise that sounded like it was about 50 feet to our left, and like we were pulled by a magnetic force, all four of us "tough" birders bolted into the car and shut the doors as quickly as possible. Whatever that noise was, we did not want to find out from outside the car because it was absolutely pitch black out - we were in the middle of the mountains!
After a few stops of unsuccessful checking for owl calls down the highway, we were back in the Wood River Valley by midnight and thus ended a spectacular day. I want to give HUGE shout-outs to Poo Wright-Pulliam for driving most of the way, Kathleen Cameron for guiding us to the Great Gray Owls and sharing her photos with me, and Maria Allen for also driving as well as her vast birding expertise she brought with us. Thank you guys so much, I couldn't have done it without you!
Bird-of-the-day for yesterday goes to my life bird GREAT GRAY OWLS, which are now my second-favorite bird behind the Resplendent Quetzal I saw in Costa Rica last month. Runner-up to the even rarer but unseen calling BOREAL OWL at the end of the day. With the Boreal Owl as our last species, we ended the day with 77 different types of birds. The complete list is attached below.
Stay tuned for the post about today (soon to be yesterday!), Saturday, August 15.
World Life List: 864 Species (3 life birds yesterday: Gray Partridge, Great Gray & Boreal Owls)
GRAY PARTRIDGE - LIFE BIRD -
GREAT GRAY OWL !!! - LIFE BIRD -
BOREAL OWL !!! - LIFE BIRD -