A Travellerspoint blog

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:

And a Jackrabbit:

And some Elk:

The first thing evident on this hike was the profusion and diversity of wildflowers. STUNNING!

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.

As my Dad and I hiked up and up and up, the views got progressively more astounding:

And the closer and closer we got to the treeline, the more we noticed a change in wildlife. Here is a ground squirrel:

Then, my dad spotted this female DUSKY GROUSE! Jeez, quit stealing my “wildlife spotting thunder,” Dad!

Another higher-mountain speciality, the CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD, was a treat to see:

More stupendous views.

And amazing wildflowers.

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.


And its less-common cousin, the ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER:

RED-TAILED HAWK soaring high overhead:

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:

This immature bird with its black feathers just starting to come in, perched a bit closer:

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:

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.

The scramble down was filled with even more wildflowers, and even a waterfall!

As well as another ground squirrel:

My Dad rejoicing after yet another 45-degree angle boulder field to scramble down.


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.

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!

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,
World Life List: 973 Species (1 life bird today: Black Rosy-Finch)

Posted by skwclar 16:33 Archived in USA

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


What a day Henry! Can’t wait to hear more about it Wednesday!!!

by Poo

Amazing! I'm also fascinated by the wildflower pictures. I recognize some of them by family, but some are interior western species that I have not seen here in Wisconsin. That weasel will be all white this winter! Congratulations- what a great summer! Cheers, Liz

by Liz Cifani

Rosy Finches, Dusky Grouse, and Northern Goshawk are all on my target list! All that mountain climbing effort paid off. Great job! Best regards, Iris

by Iris Kilpatrick

Comment with:

Comments left using a name and email address are moderated by the blog owner before showing.

Not published. Required
Leave this field empty

Characters remaining: