Sawtooth Wilderness, ID
Thursday 15 August 2019 80 °F
Today, my family, a family friend named Tod, and I hiked to Alpine & Sawtooth Lakes in the Sawtooth Wilderness of central Idaho. As well as the beautiful scenery of the area, I was hoping to possibly find two life birds: Spruce Grouse in the conifer forest at the beginning of the trail, and Black Rosy-Finch at the snowfields at the top of the hike. The grouse has been reported from this location recently, so I was hopeful as I had tried and failed for both of these birds many times before. It was a beautiful drive from Sun Valley to the Iron Creek Trailhead for the hike. Here is the Smoky Range in the morning light:
On the way to the hike, we briefly stopped at Galena Summit which I believe is the highest location of any Idaho state route. I made a quick scan for birds ad quickly found this MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD which unfortunately didn’t allow for stellar views:
As well as a few finch species, including RED CROSSBILLS which I only heard, and this PINE SISKIN:
After another hour on the road, we made it to the trailhead and started hiking soon after 8am. At the beginning of the hike, it was a teeth-chattering 38 degrees! (though this seemed balmy compared to 28 degrees at the start of last year’s hike to Goat Lake out of this same trailhead) I quickly found some CANADA JAYS (formerly called Gray Jays), the first I have seen in quite a while. This trail is one of the best places in the area to find this localized species.
Another montane-nesting specialty found alongside the trail was a SWAINSON’S THRUSH:
And I was pleasantly surprised to find a good number of GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS, the more uncommon of the two kinglets in this part of the state.
Probably one of my favorite birds during the hike came in the form of this female WILLIAMSON’S SAPSUCKER, an uncommon and localized montane woodpecker species that can be hard to find in this part of the state:
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH — over thirty of these today!
A few CLARK’S NUTCRACKERS also made brief appearances throughout the hike:
The views of the Sawtooth Mountains during the hike got progressively better as we got higher and higher. It also got cooler and windier as we hiked up and up.
Aster (?) wildflowers abounded alongside the trail:
Male HAIRY WOODPECKER:
My mom and sister posing in front of Alpine Lake. My dad and his friend Tod stopped at Alpine Lake to relax while my mom, sister, and I continued on the tougher climb to Sawtooth Lake.
Female LAZULI BUNTING:
A mammalian surprise was this Pika, the first I have ever seen in Idaho! These uncommon creatures abound in harsh, rocky, alpine climates in the Rocky Mountain West, though they are significantly tougher to find in central Idaho (possibly competing with Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrels, which were incredibly common throughout the hike).
As we approached Sawtooth Lake, it got colder and colder and we passed by a patch of snow of which my sister took advantage to execute several snow-angels (in August!):
Then, we arrived. Sawtooth Lake was a spectacular place, a mile-long alpine lake with beautiful views of the surrounding peaks, the highest in the Sawtooth Range. Glaciers decorated the cliffsides, wind howled through the lake basin, and the sun blazed above, providing only a measly force of heat at the impossibly high elevation.
This is a disk cloud, typically caused by wind sheer in mountainous areas.
Again, the wildflowers did not disappoint!
Female CASSIN’S FINCH:
Alas, I failed to find any Black Rosy-Finches in the alpine areas above Sawtooth Lake. Thankfully, I will have one more shot to find these birds this summer because my family and I will hike up to Pioneer Basin on the 19th. This is a known breeding location for Rosy Finches, so fingers crossed! The view of Alpine Lake on the way down was once again marvelous:
Near the end of the hike, I found a beautiful male WESTERN TANAGER which was obliging enough to pose for these photos very close to the trail.
As my parents washed up at the trailhead after the hike, I walked through the Iron Creek Campground in hopes of stumbling upon a lone Spruce Grouse, which can be found there. I didn’t find the grouse, but instead I found this RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER:
On the way home we made another brief stop at Galena Summit which was fairly quiet except for this female CASSIN’S FINCH:
Well, I failed to find either of my target birds for the day, but I believe I will have other chances to look for them this trip, so all hope is not lost! Bird-of-the-day to the Williamson’s Sapsucker with runner-up to heard-only Northern Goshawk & Red Crossbill. The full list from the day is attached below. It was a wonderful hike with my family! Stay tuned — tomorrow I head down to the City of Rocks/Castle Rock area in southern Idaho in search of several life birds: Pinyon Jay, Virginia’s Warbler, and Long-billed Curlew.
World Life List: 971 Species
1. Canada Goose
2. Common Merganser
3. Rock Pigeon
4. Eurasian Collared-Dove
5. Northern Goshawk
6. Swainson’s Hawk
7. Red-tailed Hawk
8. Williamson’s Sapsucker
9. Red-naped Sapsucker
10. Hairy Woodpecker
11. Northern Flicker
12. Peregrine Falcon
13. Olive-sided Flycatcher
14. Western Wood-Pewee
15. Canada Jay
16. Steller’s Jay
17. Clark’s Nutcracker
18. Black-billed Magpie
19. Common Raven
20. Violet-green Swallow
21. Cliff Swallow
22. Mountain Chickadee
23. Red-breasted Nuthatch
24. Brown Creeper
25. Golden-crowned Kinglet
26. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
27. Mountain Bluebird
28. Swainson’s Thrush
29. American Robin
30. Cassin’s Finch
31. Red Crossbill
32. Pine Siskin
33. Brewer’s Blackbird
34. Yellow-rumped Warbler
35. Western Tanager
36. Lazuli Bunting
37. Chipping Sparrow
38. Dark-eyed Junco