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Idaho Day 4: Quest for the Pygmy Nuthatch

Garden Valley, ID

sunny 104 °F

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 17:

On this incredibly hot day of August, my birding friends Poo, Nubs, and I set out on a full day of birding to just see what we could find, and to search for one of my last remaining possible summertime lifers in Idaho: the Pygmy Nuthatch. I have searched for this bird in California, Wyoming, and South Dakota but have never visited their regular range in Idaho, which is restricted to areas with plentiful Ponderosa Pines. That range happens to fall about two hours west of the Wood River Valley where I spend my summers, along with other Ponderosa specialties like Lewis’ and White-headed Woodpeckers.

First, we had to get there though! We spent the entire morning birding our way north to Stanley and then west to Garden Valley, taking the more beautiful and usually-faster “scenic route” (though due to construction we faced a few delays). Our first stop was Elkorn Pond right in Ketchum and we immediately spotted a number of NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS roosting across the pond from us.
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Immature CEDAR WAXWING:
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BREWER’S BLACKBIRD:
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Next stop: River Run base area. We found a beautiful male LAZULI BUNTING:
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BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK:
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And our next stop was the Bigwood Golfcourse north of Ketchum where we had a random flock of twenty-four GREEN-WINGED TEAL as flyovers:
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PINE SISKIN:
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We stopped at the Titus Lake trailhead on Galena Pass and had a few common passerines such as YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER:
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MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE:
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And from the Galena Summit overlook, we had a flyby NORTHERN HARRIER:
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Posing there with my friends Poo and Nubs!
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Finally, we made it to the Sawtooth Valley and had SANDHILL CRANES:
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We noticed a few ducks in nearby Perkins Lake including this female COMMON MERGANSER:
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And female REDHEAD:
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CINNAMON TEAL with NORTHERN SHOVELERS:
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Immature SONG SPARROW:
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Then, I spotted a distant GOLDEN EAGLE circling once we got to a pull-off near Alturas Lake.
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And it was being dive-bombed by COMMON RAVENS:
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LINCOLN’S SPARROW was another fun sighting at this productive stop:
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And our best bird of the day thus far revealed itself as a beautiful male WILLIAMSON’S SAPSUCKER!!! Awesome! Check out that yellow belly.
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The Stanley Sewage Ponds had the usual shorebirds such as SOLITARY SANDPIPER:
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And an immature WILSON’S PHALAROPE:
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Then, it was the time for the brunt of the drive west to Garden Valley, and as we were stopped waiting for a construction zone, I thought I heard the nuthatches! Turned out, after over five minutes of searching they were just RED CROSSBILLS (though a new bird for the day):
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The drive was spectacular. There was a lot of burned area and this one large dead snag overlooking the rest of the forest was quite surreal-looking. Finding these shapes and anomalies in nature is always very interesting to me.
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We arrived to Schoolhouse Gulch in Garden Valley in the late afternoon heat — a whopping 104F, an absolutely insane temperature that should not be happening in these mountains. Already dripping with sweat, we started down the trail and soon spotted a TURKEY VULTURE overhead, undoubtedly looking for those who had succumbed to the heat. We certainly didn’t know whether to expect Pygmy Nuthatch or not.
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Soon, we started to hear some suspiciously high-pitched calls around us and…could it be…?
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Absolutely yes! Lifer!!! It was my first PYGMY NUTHATCHES ever, and not one, two, or three…but at least ten of then soon surrounded us, foraging, resting, and trumpeting their tiny little squeaks about the scattered Ponderosas.
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We noticed they were not vining with the heat. Many times we watched this usually-frenetic bird rest, panting in the intolerable heat:
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There were a few other birds present, as well, including WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE:
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And a Western Fence Lizard!
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Soon, it was time to head back to the car, grab dinner, and drive back to Stanley in time to search for the Great Gray Owls. Once we got to their regular location, we saw a proliferation of Pronghorn Antelope:
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And a BALD EAGLE:
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RED-TAILED HAWK:
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American Elk:
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Although we missed the Great Grays again, it was still a fabulous day of birding. Bird-of-the-day obviously goes to my lifer Pygmy Nuthatches with runners-up to the Williamson’s Sapsucker and Golden Eagle. Solid inter-mountain west birds! Stay tuned for more great adventures! Thanks so much to Poo and Nubs for driving all day and for the wonderful birding trip, as usual.

Happy birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1139 Species (1 life bird today: Pygmy Nuthatch)

Posted by skwclar 04:34 Archived in USA

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