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Idaho Day 7: One last time…over Galena!

Sawtooth National Forest, ID

all seasons in one day 72 °F

SATURDAY, AUGUST 20:

I was so happy to see Kathleen for the first time yesterday as I moved in with her since my mom had to fly back home for a weekend of concerts. So come today, we got up mid-morning and decided to head over Galena Pass for one more try at the montane species — specifically the less common woodpeckers, Spruce Grouse, and Great Gray Owl.

We started at Bigwood Golfcourse with a few birds like CEDAR WAXWING:
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And WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE:
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A pull-off in front of the Boulder Range had MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW:
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And VESPER SPARROW:
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RED-TAILED HAWK:
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Outdoor bathrooms tend to have great birds around them for some reason. This one was not an exception to that rule, with a wonderfully-cooperative MACGILLIVRAY’S WARBLER:
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And a bunch of CASSIN’S FINCHES and PINE SISKINS foraging in the parking lot:
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Our next stop was a slow cruise down Baker Creek Road. We noticed a nice pocket of activity, stopped, and found one of the best songbird flocks we’d both ever seen in Idaho. One of the best parts about it was the thrush activity with both SWAINSON’S:
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And HERMIT:
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DUSKY FLYCATCHER — note the longer tail, shorter primaries, and peak to the crest:
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Contrast with the similar HAMMOND’S FLYCATCHER with a more Kinglet-like head, longer primaries, and shorter tail:
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And contrast with the RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET which is a different shape entirely but now you have reference for the flycatcher comparison I noted above.
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Further down the road we had a tree with a bunch of VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS:
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And we finally made it to the Baker Lake trailhead where we were searching for Black-backed Woodpeckers. This male WESTERN TANAGER greeted us:
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And a female:
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And though we didn’t find the Black-backs, we found another wonderfully uncommon woodpecker species in the form of WILLIAMSON’S SAPSUCKER! Super cool!
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And a beautiful butterfly:
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The drive out was beautiful with the view of the Boulder Mountains looming ahead of us.
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Up on Galena Pass, we stopped at a pull-out when I spotted my Idaho lifer Yellow-bellied Marmots!
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In a residential area behind Smiley Creek Lodge we had nice flocks of EVENING GROSBEAKS, pictured here with a PINE SISKIN. Cool!
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And a male LAZULI BUNTING:
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After a quick stop at Smiley Creek for the obligatory milkshake, we headed up to Redfish Lake to look for Spruce Grouse.
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Upon arriving at the parking lot, Kathleen and I chatted with a local park ranger who told us she’d seen them at Iron Creek Road and deep in the Sawtooths, but not right here. So, we walked along the trail anyway and Kathleen pointed out the tree where we had our male grouse exactly three years ago.

I glanced at the tree and then stopped in my tracks: “There it is!!!” I half-whispered, half-shouted…
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SPRUCE GROUSE!!!!!!
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Only my second one ever, it was epic to see this female in the exact same spot (literally under the same exact tree!) we spotted the male three years ago. Absolutely surreal.
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What was even crazier is that then we heard loud planes coming in that sounded like bombers and sure enough, a few planes swooped down onto Redfish Lake and refilled with water, obviously filling up to fight the forest fires. As this all happened at the edge of the lake, I managed to get an insanely cool video of the planes refilling with water followed by one of the most solitary, quiet birds in the world, the Spruce Grouse, quietly foraging on shrubs and grasses in the woods next to the lake.
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Here is the video: https://youtu.be/YmgGxIRMWqg

After admiring that absolutely crazy spectacle for an hour, we decided we had to skip Stanley Sewage Ponds and head straight to the Great Gray Owl spot since it was overcast and the owls might be out hunting earlier. We started searching and soon had yet another WILLIAMSON’S SAPSUCKER, a female this time! My fourth Williamson’s of the trip, my highest total of any summer ever!
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Distant TURKEY VULTURE:
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WESTERN WOOD-PEWEES:
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Immature BALD EAGLE:
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SWAINSON’S HAWK:
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We were treated to beautiful views of the last rays of the day’s sun hitting the clouds above the next mountain range over:
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Unfortunately, for the third time in a row, we dipped on the Great Gray Owl. It is a notoriously difficult bird that I have only seen twice before (once in Idaho), and therefore it is so much sweeter when you actually see one. But I will ABSOLUTELY not complain about Spruce Grouse being the bird-of-the-day as that is arguably an even more challenging species to see in Idaho than the Great Gray. Runner-up to all those lovely Williamson’s Sapsuckers, as well as a small flock of PINE GROSBEAKS that flew over too quickly for photos as we were waiting for the Great Grays. Good stuff!

Happy birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1139 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:15 Archived in USA

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Comments

What fabulous shots of the spruce grouse and the video of her and the plane are spectacular! Sorry no great gray this year but you are still one lucky birder!😍

by Poo

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