A Travellerspoint blog

Idaho Day 6: Searching in the Sage

Central Idaho

sunny 97 °F

Today, my wonderful birding friend Kathleen generously guided me around for the vast majority of the day. Our target was Greater Sage-Grouse which would be a life bird for me, but the other purpose of the day would also be to scout locations for our planned “big day” on August 21.

After being picked up bright and early at 7:30AM, Kathleen and I headed to Greenhorn Gulch where there have been two sightings of Sage Grouse recently. We were immediately greeted by a flurry of birds along the road — CLIFF SWALLOWS.

Then, Kathleen spotted a hummer which turned out to be a female RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD.

Next, I spotted a MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD:

Here it is with an AMERICAN ROBIN, two thrush species in one photo:



A nice find was when this ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER briefly flew into the area where we were keeping our eyes peeled for Sage Grouse. Notice its brood patch on its belly — super cool to confirm Orange-crowneds breeding in the area!

Some screeching from a nearby hillside alerted us to the presence of an adult & immature RED-TAILED HAWK.


We were delighted to see a bird we had both been musing about during the early morning hours, a beautiful LEWIS’ WOODPECKER!

Despite searching the reported area in Greenhorn Gulch, nada — no Sage Grouse. This WILLOW FLYCATCHER was somewhat of a consolation:

Kathleen spotted some PINE SISKINS on the way out:

As well as a male AMERICAN KESTREL:

After an unsuccessful try for the Grouse at Apache Drive east of Hailey, the next stop was Rock Creek Ranch, where Kathleen has had Sage Grouse in the past. Suddenly, a huge bird burst out of the sage in front of us and Kathleen said its long tail, pale coloration, and barring on the tail pointed to it being a Northern Goshawk. Unfortunately, it flew away too quickly to really get a clinching identification.

A classic sage species, BREWER’S SPARROW, greeted us as we hiked into the habitat a bit:

Then, a large accipiter (bird-eating hawk) circled a few times overhead, and sure enough, we had our juvenile NORTHERN GOSHAWK — too cool! I have only seen this bird once before, and this was such a surprising habitat in which to see it, sagebrush desert! Northern Goshawk is typically an apex predator of deep conifer forest.

At an oasis in the desert, one of many at which we were hoping to scare off a random Sage Grouse, passerines greeted us such as this WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE:

And a nice WILSON’S WARBLER, a bit of a surprise.

LARK SPARROW was also great to see:

As well as a SAY’S PHOEBE, my first this year!

Yet another sage species appeared, a SAGE THRASHER. Cmon Sage Grouse, where are you???

And we were treated to beautiful looks at a WESTERN MEADOWLARK.

Alas, despite plenty of cruising through appropriate habitat, we failed to find any Sage Grouse in Rock Creek Ranch. Three strikes and you’re out? We had yet to see...
Next, we cruised down West Magic Desert Road because it goes through a fair amount of desert habitat in which it would be possible to find a grouse. At a desert pond, we found a pair of uncommon HOODED MERGANSERS, our only ones of the day:

A red dragonfly was also a sweet find there:

As well as the first frog I have ever seen in Idaho! Far out! I believe this is a Pacific Tree Frog, though it was in a completely unexpected habitat, a desert oasis with no trees.

As we drove in closer to the town of Magic, we spotted another goal for the day, a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE:

The town of West Magic gently encourages safe driving.

Then, it was of course obligatory to bird the Magic Reservoir since we were right in the area, and it indeed had a good amount of bird life. Though water levels were high meaning shorebirds were for the most part absent, waterfowl and other aquatic species certainly made up for them. WESTERN GREBES like this one abounded; I believe we spotted over fifty today. We even found a (probably abandoned) nest at one point!


WHITE-FACED IBIS, a bird I have only ever gotten here at the Magic Reservoir, with a CANADA GOOSE & a RING-BILLED GULL.

NORTHERN SHOVELER — look at that bill!

MALLARD family:

AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS, another conspicuous species at Magic Reservoir with over forty individuals present today:

A nice surprise were two BUFFLEHEADS:

And throughout all of the many Western Grebes present, we managed to pick out three similar-looking CLARK’S GREBES including this one. Notice the large white face compared to the Western Grebe, with the clinching ID mark being white feathers surrounding the eye, as opposed to black on the Western.

This photo from today shows a nice comparison between a CLARK’S (left) and WESTERN (right) GREBE. Notice the location of the eyes on the respective birds as noted in my identification description above.

And yet another duck surprise was this CANVASBACK:

PIED-BILLED GREBE, one of a number of these found in the Reservoir today. Unfortunately, we failed to find any Eared Grebes.


Much of the birding at the Magic Reservoir today looked like this. Dozens upon dozens of cormorants, gulls, and waterfowl to pick through at relatively far ranges for our cameras. Pictured here are DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS, CALIFORNIA & RING-BILLED GULLS, and MALLARDS.


After the Magic Reservoir, we headed over to the nearby Richfield Diversion Dam to see what we could find in this desert oasis habitat. It would also be our last shot at the Sage Grouse for the day. An OSPREY landed nearby, fish in talons:

Although it was overall quiet, we did find a number of WESTERN WOOD-PEWEES such as this one:

EASTERN KINGBIRD was another neat find here, after seeing the Westerns earlier in the day:

As well as a roosting COMMON NIGHTHAWK:

Again, no Sage Grouse! We decided to give one last ditch attempt at a location along Highway 20 where the grouse were reported just the other day. We managed a brief look at a SWAINSON’S HAWK:

A single NORTHERN HARRIER also cruised over the field in the distance. But despite another search, Sage Grouse were nowhere to be found. Well, we certainly gave it our best shot — just about ten hours worth of effort, driving & hiking through sagebrush habitat and finding 74 great bird species, but no Sage Grouse. The full list is attached below.

Bird-of-the-day to the extreme surprise Northern Goshawk with runner-up to the Canvasback which is always a wonderful duck species to see. STAY TUNED: tomorrow my family & I will hike into the Sawtooth Mountains in search of my life bird Spruce Grouse (fingers crossed — it’s another long shot, lol)!

Good birding,
World Life List: 971 Species

1. Canada Goose
2. Cinnamon Teal
3. Northern Shoveler
4. Mallard
5. Canvasback
6. Bufflehead
7. Hooded Merganser
8. Common Merganser
9. Pied-billed Grebe
10. Western Grebe
11. Clark’s Grebe
12. Eurasian Collared-Dove
13. Mourning Dove
14. Common Nighthawk
15. Rufous Hummingbird
16. American Coot
17. Killdeer
18. Spotted Sandpiper
19. Ring-billed Gull
20. California Gull
21. Caspian Tern
22. Forster’s Tern
23. Double-crested Cormorant
24. American White Pelican
25. Great Blue Heron
26. White-faced Ibis
27. Black Vulture
28. Osprey
29. Northern Harrier
30. Northern Goshawk
31. Swainson’s Hawk
32. Red-tailed Hawk
33. Lewis’ Woodpecker
34. Northern Flicker
35. American Kestrel
36. Prairie Falcon
37. Western Kingbird
38. Eastern Kingbird
39. Western Wood-Pewee
40. Willow Flycatcher
41. Say’s Phoebe
42. Loggerhead Shrike
43. Steller’s Jay
44. Black-billed Magpie
45. Tree Swallow
46. Violet-green Swallow
47. Bank Swallow
48. Cliff Swallow
49. Barn Swallow
50. Black-capped Chickadee
51. House Wren
52. Mountain Bluebird
53. American Robin
54. Sage Thrasher
55. European Starling
56. Cedar Waxwing
57. House Sparrow
58. House Finch
59. Cassin’s Finch
60. Pine Siskin
61. American Goldfinch
62. Western Meadowlark
63. Red-winged Blackbird
64. Brewer’s Blackbird
65. Orange-crowned Warbler
66. Yellow Warbler
67. Wilson’s Warbler
68. Lazuli Bunting
69. Spotted Towhee
70. Chipping Sparrow
71. Brewer’s Sparrow
72. Vesper Sparrow
73. Lark Sparrow
74. Song Sparrow

Posted by skwclar 22:16 Archived in USA

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It looks like you are having an amazing trip! What a wonderful place for birding. Thank you so much for sharing your adventures.

by Susie

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