A Travellerspoint blog

Idaho Day 9: A grand tour of Idaho!

semi-overcast 93 °F

MONDAY, AUGUST 22:

By 6am, Poo, Kathleen, and I were off on a great full-day birding adventure through the Idaho Snake River Plane. Our itinerary included Howe for Sagebrush Sparrow, Camas & Market Lake Wildlife Refuges for assorted birds, Blackfoot for Great-tailed Grackle, American Falls Reservoir for shorebirds & other waterbirds, and finally, the Snake River at Twin Falls for a vagrant Neotropic Cormorant. Fingers and toes were crossed for a successful day!

We were treated to a beautiful sunrise to start the day.
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Our first mini-stop on the way to Howe was at Carey Wildlife Management Area where we had a few PIED-BILLED GREBES:
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Including a young one with a fish!
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And distant flyby SANDHILL CRANES:
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Next, we saw a bunch of waterfowl in Lava Lake so of course we had to stop and scan. Here are some RING-NECKED DUCKS:
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Male RUDDY DUCK (back):
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CINNAMON TEAL with a young AMERICAN COOT mixed in:
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Before we knew it, we made it to our first planned stop of the day. It was a dirt road through sagebrush areas near Howe, ID to search for Sagebrush Sparrow, a species I have only seen once before — and at this exact location, too. I immediately spied some pieces of wood strewn about and of course I had to flip. To my great surprise, what was underneath was not a herp (in the traditional sense of the word), but a Scorpion! Specifically, a Northern Scorpion. This was a lifer species for me and only the second Scorpion I have ever had the pleasure of finding. Absolutely awesome!
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After admiring the Scorpion with Poo and Kathleen (it was also a new animal for them), we went on to picking through the many sparrows scattering through the area as we drove by. Here is a BREWER’S:
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There were also SAGE THRASHER present:
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And to our delight, we soon came upon a good number of SAGEBRUSH SPARROWS — at least ten! Absolutely an awesome year bird and my second sighting ever! They posed extremely well for us, too.
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Another neat sighting was LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE.
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We even observed a fledgling begging from a parent!
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Absolutely awesome. Target #1 achieved. Next, we stopped briefly at a pull-off in Howe proper to look for warblers, and we did have a beautiful male WILSON’S, Poo’s first for the year I believe:
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Unfortunately, Camas National Wildlife Refuge was a total bust as they had drained the whole formerly-wetland preserve and not a drop of water could be found anywhere. Bummer. This was because the preserve was going through a 7.8 million dollar restoration project to actually enhance and protect the wetlands in the long term which I suppose is a good thing. The only bird I photographed there was a roosting COMMON NIGHTHAWK in a dying line of trees that used to be rife with warblers:
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We picked up a few YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS on our way to Market Lake.
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Market Lake Wildlife Refuge itself was much better. There were decent numbers of shorebirds including BAIRD’S SANDPIPER:
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LESSER YELLOWLEGS, one of a whopping high-count of 80 of these:
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WHITE-FACED IBIS:
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NORTHERN HARRIER:
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An introduced Red-eared Slider:
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We then walked a hedgerow that is typically good for warblers and GREAT HORNED OWLS, which, as you can see, did not disappoint:
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We even found its mate further along:
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And a fledgling!!!
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After a rather successful time at Market Lake, we continued on to Blackfoot, ID where Kathleen remembered having seen reports of GREAT-TAILED GRACKLES in the Walmart parking lot there. Again, as you can see, not a problem getting them — we saw them before even parking the car. Here’s a male:
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And a female:
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A nearby park held FORSTER’S TERN:
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AMERICAN AVOCET with RING-BILLED GULLS:
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COMMON TERN (left), CALIFORNIA GULL (back), & RING-BILLED GULL (right):
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Then, we continued on to our next stop which was American Falls Reservoir for hopefully large numbers of shorebirds. Unfortunately, our first stop there was majorly disappointing at first with only WILLETS seen with the many hundreds, if not thousands, of FRANKLIN’S GULLS:
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But then, right as we were leaving, it picked up when I spotted nine MARBLED GODWITS mixed in. An awesome shorebird and only my second ever in Idaho.
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EASTERN KINGBIRD on the way to our next viewing location for the Reservoir:
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Luckily, the second location was much, much better though we had to make this stop a very quick one. GREAT EGRET was my Idaho lifer, here pictured with a LESSER YELLOWLEGS:
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BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, another that was only my second ever in Idaho!
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WESTERN SANDPIPER in front — a small Peep with a long, slightly drooping bill — with a PECTORAL SANDPIPER in back, a larger bird with a clean cutoff between its white belly and darker breast.
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SOLITARY SANDPIPER left, GREATER YELLOWLEGS back, and KILLDEER right:
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Solitary again front right, Killdeer middle right, and two Peeps in the back.
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We left American Falls Reservoir with a respectable eleven shorebird species and continued on to our last stop of the day, the Snake River canyon in Twin Falls, ID. A 90-minute drive away, we were betting on the last half-hour of daylight to identify a rare Neotropic Cormorant that has been hanging out the entire summer. The views on the descent into the canyon were fabulous:
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AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN with a MALLARD:
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We almost right off the bat had a flyover group of DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS:
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But wait, does that second-to-left bird have a white outline to its bill? Please let me know whether or not you think this is a Neotropic Cormorant. It doesn’t seem smaller than the leftmost bird but the white outline sure looks good.
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We also had a Beaver:
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And a nice male CALIFORNIA QUAIL:
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And an OSPREY perched across the river to end the day!
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For now, bird-of-the-day goes to the Sagebrush Sparrows and Marbled Godwits with runners-up to the Willets, Great-tailed Grackles, and Great Horned Owls. Nice birds to choose from, even before mentioning the possible Neotropic Cormorant. We shall see!

Huge thanks to Kathleen for driving the whole day and to Poo for being a wonderful birding companion for the day, as well as providing her usual wealth of knowledge about everything natural. What a fantastic day!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1139 Species

Posted by skwclar 23:05 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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)

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