A Travellerspoint blog

Idaho Day 8: Rupert, Albion, & Lake Walcott

semi-overcast 90 °F

SUNDAY, AUGUST 21:

Today, Kathleen and I were headed down to Rupert to visit her mom, followed by an afternoon and evening of birding in the general vicinity including a Blue Grosbeak chase in Albion, ID and an evening at Lake Walcott State Park.

On the way to her mom’s, we passed by a field on the outskirts of Rupert that had an irrigation system going which attracted a large number of birds. This included one of my favorite Idaho species, the WHITE-FACED IBIS:
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The Ibis were mixed in with many FRANKLIN’S GULLS:
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And even a random LESSER YELLOWLEGS was present!
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Next, we had a nice visit with her sweet mom Margaret. So nice to see her again!
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Followed by a quick, hot stop at the Declo sewage ponds where there were a few waterfowl such as this distant LESSER SCAUP:
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Another quick stop, this time at our friend Kathy’s house, also had a few birds including this BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD.
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She has had Pinyon Jays very rarely in the past, one of five lifers I still need from out here, though as expected, they were not present today. This species is nomadic and extremely difficult to track down, covering large swaths of pinyon-juniper habitat across the arid west. It was great to see Kathy though!

So our next target was a family of Blue Grosbeaks in nearby Albion, Idaho. We searched successfully for these in the South Hills last year so we were hoping to continue our streak of good luck. Along the way, we came upon a stretch of road that must have had 20-30 WESTERN KINGBIRDS:
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And in the town of Albion, I got my Idaho lifer WILD TURKEYS — two whole families of them! Awesome. Here are some close-ups of these rather unsightly birds which, though a household name, never cease to fascinate me.
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A number of SWAINSON’S HAWKS were seen a bit further down the road.
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It was time to search for the Grosbeak. There were a few birds around, including this juvenile BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD — hopefully not a bad sign…
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And a WESTERN MEADOWLARK:
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But unfortunately no Grosbeaks this time despite our best efforts. So, we packed up and moved on to our other main stop today which was Lake Walcott in search of water birds and migrant passerines. The aquatic birds did not disappoint — here is a BLACK-NECKED STILT with FRANKLIN’S GULLS:
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This GREATER YELLOWLEGS was thrashing about which had us worried for a bit, but it soon demonstrated that it was simply foraging rather than struggling. Shorebirds are weird.
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Another great feeding behavior comes in the form of that done by the SNOWY EGRET, pictured here in the exact same spot I had my Idaho lifer last year. Cool!
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This hen COMMON GOLDENEYE triggered the rare bird alert as it is not an expected species at this time of year and location — here it is pictured with a FRANKLIN’S GULL:
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Getting some nice crisp shots of an adult CALIFORNIA GULL was something I had been wanting to do for a while and finally accomplished here.
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A few more views of FRANKLIN’S GULLS, of which there were probably 500-600 at Lake Walcott State Park.
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Here is a COMMON TERN transitioning into nonbreeding plumage foraging above the falls in front of a couple of SNOWY EGRETS:
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WILSON’S PHALAROPE was a nice, welcome surprise:
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After scanning through the waterbirds at the falls, it was time to move onto the songbirds. Here is a WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE:
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WILSON’S WARBLER — Kathleen’s first of the year:
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And a male YELLOW:
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Here’s the female Yellow:
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And a MACGILLIVRAY’S sulking like a classic MacGillivray’s.
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And after picking through a number of beautiful WESTERN GREBES…
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I found a distant one with a white face meaning it was my year-bird CLARK’S GREBE, the less-common of these two lookalike grebe species. Super awesome!
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We were tired and it was getting dark so it was time to drive home after a long, pleasant afternoon of birding. We were treated to some wonderful views on the way home.
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Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1139 Species

Posted by skwclar 05:45 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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 Comments (1)

Idaho Day 6: Silver Creek & Magic

Blaine County, ID

semi-overcast 90 °F

Silver Creek Preserve and the Magic Reservoir were on the docket today to get Will some more Idaho lifers on his last full day in Idaho. We started with an intermediate-morph SWAINSON’S HAWK right outside Silver Creek:
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And a beautiful Sora that posed in a marsh on the west side of the preserve:
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This COMMON NIGHTHAWK was posing on a branch for us closer to the actual creek:
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And EASTERN KINGBIRDS:
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This CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER was a year bird for the both of us and a solid migrant for Silver Creek:
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As was (despite the crappy photo), this male TOWNSEND’S WARBLER, only a fourth record for the preserve:
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A cow and calf Moose:
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The visitor center had its fair share of hummingbirds including RUFOUS:
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And BLACK-CHINNED:
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Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the species:
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This BLUE-WINGED TEAL was a nice find on the way out of the preserve:
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Soon, it was time to head out to the Magic Reservoir. Along the desert road, we had a nice LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE:
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And at the reservoir itself we had RING-NECKED DUCKS:
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CANADA GEESE, NORTHERN SHOVELERS, MALLARDS, NORTHERN PINTAIL, and AMERICAN AVOCETS:
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A nice group of EARED GREBES on the water:
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Adult CALIFORNIA GULL:
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SAVANNAH SPARROWS:
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A huge flock of CANADA GEESE flew over:
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We were overjoyed to find two River Otters in the reservoir:
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CANADA GEESE, AMERICAN AVOCETS, and one BLACK-NECKED STILT:
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Immature FRANKLIN’S GULL:
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A group of four WILSON’S PHALAROPES with BLACK-NECKED STILTS, NORTHERN PINTAIL, and CANADA GEESE:
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HORNED LARK:
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SAGE THRASHER:
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LARK SPARROW:
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WILSON’S SNIPE:
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‘Twas a great day and a wonderful final trip with Will! It has been so enjoyable to bird with him and can’t wait to bird together when we’re both back in the greater NYC area next month!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1139 Species

Posted by skwclar 20:33 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Idaho Day 5: Annual Baldy Hike!

Ketchum, ID

sunny 89 °F

THURSDAY, AUGUST 18:

Continuing my yearly tradition of birding my way down Mt Baldy, I was pleased to have Will join me to hopefully get him some new birds. Great species I have had on Mt Baldy in the past include Black-backed & Three-toed Woodpeckers, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Northern Pygmy and Flammulated Owls, Townsend’s & other Warblers, and Dusky Grouse — among many other montane specialties. So my hopes were high, especially since one year I encountered a downright bird fallout while hiking down!

We also had a butterfly target: the Rocky Mountain Parnassian. Upon arriving on the Baldy summit following the gondola ride, we noticed a proliferation of butterflies — just no Parnassian, though Poo told us they have a population hanging on at the top of the mountain. This is a different, but still beautiful butterfly. The Parnassian we were hoping is mainly white with little orange and black dots.
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Upon embarking on the trail, we immediately came upon a small passerine flock including VESPER SPARROWS:
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And DARK-EYED JUNCO:
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We were stoked to briefly spish up a MACGILLIVRAY’S WARBLER!!
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CHIPPING SPARROW:
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And we froze in our tracks when Will whispered “Dusky Grouse!” and sure enough, just like last year with mom and Tian…four incredibly tame DUSKY GROUSE crossed the trail right in front of us. They all appeared to be immature birds. Incredible!
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To give perspective, here is Will photographing one of the Grouse:
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Then, along the next switchback, Will spotted our butterfly target — a beautiful Rocky Mountain Parnassian:
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Here it is in front of the picturesque Pioneer Mountains! The views were beautiful today, too.
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OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER:
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TURKEY VULTURE:
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WESTERN TANAGER:
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Unfortunately, the second half of the hike was extremely as due to construction, we had to hike back to River Run instead of Warm Springs, taking us through less-desirable habitat. We did have an AMERICAN KESTREL fly over at one point:
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And a STELLER’S JAY right at the end:
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It was a great hike despite the slow end! Bird-of-the-day to the Dusky Grouse with runner-up to the MacGillivray’s Warbler. Stay tuned for more great birding!

Happy birding!
Henry
World Life List: 1139 Species

Posted by skwclar 06:36 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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 Comments (0)

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