A Travellerspoint blog

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)

Idaho Day 3: Profile Lake…and up?

Sawtooth Wilderness, ID

sunny 90 °F

TUESDAY, AUGUST 16:

After waking up at 5am, my mom and I drove the 1 hour, 10 minute drive up to Redfish Lake to hike up to Profile Lake and Thompson Peak in the Sawtooth alpine. My main target birds were Black and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, the latter of which would be a lifer if seen. We arrived to the trailhead on time and while my mom put on her boots, I checked out some bird activity I was hearing nearby along Fishhook Creek. I started out with a great bird in the form of an AMERICAN DIPPER:
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I was surprised and ecstatic to see a pair of Kokanee Salmon, one of the two native salmon species which gave Redfish Lake its name. This, and the migratory Sockeye Salmon, are bright red at this spawning time of year and have inspired and fed folks in the Sawtooth Valley for ages. I was able to capture a couple of blurry photos of these Kokanee:
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Then, it was time for the hike itself! It started with switchbacks and soon followed a long ridge overlooking the Sawtooth Valley.
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Birds were very active along this stretch, led in force by more common forest passerines like WESTERN TANAGER:
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And YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER:
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CASSIN’S FINCH:
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Then, I spotted this PILEATED WOODPECKER atop a distant snag.
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A bit further along the trail, what I believe to be the same Pileated appeared on a downed log not even ten feet away from us! Absolutely spectacular views!
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Not too much further down the trail was an even more exciting woodpecker species for me, a female WILLIAMSON’S SAPSUCKER, a bird I had only seen twice in my life prior to today!
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Halfway up the trail, my mom and I stopped at a beautiful overlook where we could see a waterfall cascading down from the basin to which we were headed.
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And a wondrous mixed flock of birds surrounded us, including TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS, a year bird for me:
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Another year bird — CASSIN’S VIREO:
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MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE:
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Immature WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (note the brownish crown):
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After an extremely steep climb up a crazy boulder field, we made it to a beautiful subalpine meadow full of wildflowers.
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I began to hear the squeaky “Mreep!” call of Pika and quickly tracked one of these cuties down:
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Two small, darkish finches had me very excited for Rosy-finches at one point, but they unfortunately turned out to be just PINE SISKINS.
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Finally, after a strenuous five-hour ascent full of scrambling, boulder navigation, and narrow trails on the edge of cliffs, we made it to Profile Lake at approximately 9000 feet above sea level. This has to be one of the most beautiful alpine lakes I have ever seen, rivaling nearby Goat and Sawtooth Lakes in stark beauty. Absolutely insane. I was also stoked to see all of the remaining snow as that meant heightened chances for Rosy-finches!
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At one point, I spotted a Mountain Goat high on Thompson Peak above Profile Lake and was even able to point out this precarious creature to my mom:
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Soon, it nonchalantly rested on a large, flat boulder. This species forages a vegetarian diet on high, steep alpine scree slopes like these.
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I wanted to push on, partially in hopes of summiting Thompson Peak, the highest in the Sawtooth Mountains, and partially in hopes of finding my lifer Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, or their more common Black cousins. As I climbed, I came across more and more snow patches — always a welcome sight in August!
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But alas, it was snow that kept me from almost reaching Thompson Peak. I did not feel like attempting to cross this snow field resting on a steep slope, followed by that gnarly looking climb up a small cliff. It was simply not doable for me even though I consider myself a strong hiker and scrambler.
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The photo makes this large snowfield look less steep than it actually was.
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But of course I had to enjoy a controlled slide back down, avoiding a bunch of boulder hopping this way.
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And on the way a single BLACK ROSY-FINCH flew by, chirping incessantly! Though it zipped by and disappeared too quickly for a photograph, its calls were clinching the ID — what a fabulous treat to see this alpine-specific species on its breeding grounds.

And here is a gorgeous alpine tarn nearby where I had the Rosy-Finch flyby.
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This view of the tarn makes it look like a natural infinity pool.
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Profile Lake from above.
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One last look and a selfie before heading back down!
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The birds were much less prevalent on the way down, so our attention turned to the scenery — barely peaking out over the foothills, the White Cloud Peaks truly resemble white clouds.
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A lone OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER between serenades of “quick three beers!”
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And a flyover AMERICAN KESTREL to round out the birds from the day:
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It was an intense hike. We both hiked 10.2 miles round-trip with 2500 feet of elevation gain to Profile Lake, and my solo tag to Thompson Saddle added an extra 2 miles and 800 feet of gain for me. Those totals, combined with the sheer amount of scrambling and nail-biting route finding made this the most difficult, strenuous hike I have ever attempted. It was exceptionally beautiful and birdy, but I will probably never attempt this trail again unless they do some serious trail restoration as it was extremely scary and dangerous looking in parts where we had to cling to a sheer rock face above thousand-foot drop-offs.

Bird-of-the-day to the Black Rosy-Finch despite not being photographed, with runner-up to the Williamson’s Sapsucker. A very solid group of birds for the habitat traversed.

Stay tuned for more incredible Idaho adventures!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1138 Species

Posted by skwclar 04:45 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Idaho Day 2: A Bit of Baldy

Ketchum, ID

sunny 87 °F

MONDAY, AUGUST 15:

Today, I was supposed to hike up Thompson Peak with my mom but we decided to wait a day since I was up extremely late owling last night.

So instead, I gloriously slept in, had breakfast, and then ventured out into the Warm Springs neighborhood and over to the Creek for some birding. I immediately had this Pink-sided subspecies of DARK-EYED JUNCO, one of the more lovely resident subspecies:
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And a young of its kind:
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WARBLING VIREO:
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YELLOW WARBLER foraging right alongside the Creek:
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RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH:
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CHIPPING SPARROW with a nice rufous cap:
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I hiked up Mt Baldy a bit and it was extremely quiet with the exception of this male HAIRY WOODPECKER:
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So, I came back down soon and discovered that there was an immature AMERICAN DIPPER foraging in Warm Springs Creek right behind our condo! Consistently my favorite yard bird out here in Idaho and one of the many reasons I love it out here so much. Bird-of-the-day!
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Stay tuned: tomorrow, my mom and I will hike up to Profile Lake, and maybe on to Thompson Peak!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1138 Species

Posted by skwclar 02:15 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Idaho Day 1: Search for the Great Gray & more!

Sawtooth National Forest, ID

semi-overcast 82 °F

SUNDAY, AUGUST 14:

Today, Will Schenck and I headed up north to search for a number of Idaho & general lifers for him. His main target was the Great Gray Owl but other lifers and state lifers he wanted to net included Boreal Owl, Gray Jay, Lincoln’s Sparrow, both Arctic woodpeckers, and basically any shorebird species.

So, I threw together a detailed itinerary and our first productive stop was the Titus Lake trailhead where we had two GRAY JAYS do a quick fly by, an Idaho lifer for Will! Hell yeah — and a surprise since I had never had them at this particular location (we were looking for Pine Grosbeaks here, which we missed).
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And on the Corvid train we had CLARK’S NUTCRACKERS, too!
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A beautiful view from the Titus Lake trail.
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Our next stop on the other side of Galena failed to get us Williamson’s Sapsucker, but we had a few more common things like this male WESTERN TANAGER:
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SPOTTED SANDPIPER:
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This little creek that we found ourselves birding was so darn picturesque. This is why I love Idaho so much.
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Our best bird of this location so far was this NASHVILLE WARBLER which I believe was a state bird for Will, too:
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RED-TAILED HAWK:
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Our next stop, Redfish Lake, was for Spruce Grouse and we unsurprisingly dipped yet again on this extremely-elusive grouse species. This WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW tried its best to cheer us up, though:
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And this ratty Audubon’s YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER:
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And a RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH:
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At our next stop, the Stanley Sewage Ponds, this ground squirrel greeted us:
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And we were thrilled to spot AMERICAN AVOCETS in the upper pond!
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And upon peaking over the edge to the lower pond, there was plenty of waterfowl as usual including this CINNAMON TEAL:
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NORTHERN SHOVELERS:
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MALLARDS:
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This young PEREGRINE FALON came dive-bombing in at one point:
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Female REDHEAD:
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An absolutely sick find were these two WILSON’S PHALAROPES. The one was taking a bath in the sewage pond water — nice.
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I would call this a LESSER YELLOWLEGS based on the shorter bill length:
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And conversely, this a GREATER — would you agree?
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LEAST SANDPIPER:
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AMERICAN AVOCETS in front of the Sawtooth Mountains, where mom and I will be hiking on wednesday!
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And a GREEN-WINGED TEAL in the icky algae:
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Gorgeous Stanley Lake on our way to the next spot.
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Next, we headed up to Cape Horn Road to try for the Great Gray Owls (among other targets). One of the other targets was a Lincoln’s Sparrow, and I had us stop the car by some appropriate willow habitat and sure enough, as soon as we started spishing, a LINCOLN’S SPARROW popped up! Cool! This brought back memories of the same exact thing happening with a Saltmarsh Sparrow down in Florida a few years back.
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This OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER was another state bird for Will:
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And right alongside, he spied his life mammal AMERICAN BADGER! Awesome!
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Here’s its den:
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A visit to Cape Horn Road is never complete without proper SANDHILL CRANE photos.
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And Antelope:
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Oh, and juvenile CHIPPING SPARROWS.
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We got excited over this woodpecker for a minute but it turned out just to be a RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER. Still cool, though.
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A little further along the road, we saw a huge owl flying away from us which was assuredly a Great Gray Owl but unfortunately it never perched, never allowing for a clinching ID to separate it from Great Horned. So unfortunately that left us with a big “owl sp” for the day which was incredibly frustrating. We even parked the car and hiked along the woods it disappeared into but nada. Very frustrating, but that’s birding sometimes.

The owling the rest of the night was quiet but we did spot 3 shooting stars! Hopefully more luck when I return on wednesday to search for the Great Grays again with Poo and Nubs. We shall see! Still a great day out, and wonderful to bird with a new friend. Bird-of-the-day goes to the Wilson’s Phalaropes for me with runner-up to the Gray Jays. A fairly solid day of admiring the birds in this beautiful western land!

Stay tuned — tomorrow I will bird a bit on Mt. Baldy, and tuesday I will hike up Thompson Peak in the Sawtooth Mountains with my mom! Birding shall ensue.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1138 Species

Posted by skwclar 04:03 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Wrapping up my stay in Chautauqua

Chautauqua, NY

all seasons in one day 72 °F

As I am posting this from Sun Valley, ID, I am clearly in the final stage of my summer — but I must first catch you up on the last part of my residency in Chautauqua, NY. I managed to get out a few brief times towards the end of the music festival. Firstly, after a dinner with friends on the Lake Erie shoreline I was able to scope out some gulls including many RING-BILLED and a few HERRING:
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And two separate family groups of ducks: COMMON MERGANSERS and MALLARDS:
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The views along Lake Erie at Westfield, NY are quite beautiful. This is halfway between Erie, PA and Buffalo, NY.
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A faithful KILLDEER was guarding the parking lot from any possible nest predators:
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About a week later I was able to take another birding/herping hike right off of the Chautauqua Institution grounds and immediately found my trusty CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER behind the Chautauqua Cemetery. Admittedly, it was much more scrappy looking than when I last saw him a month ago; though it was definitely the same individual guarding the same territory (he was going through his fall molt).
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And the HOODED WARBLER was also around, but likewise being rather uncooperative for photos. Still my fav warbler though!
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COMMON YELLOWTHROAT:
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On the amphibian side of things, this Northern Two-lined Salamander was much more photogenic in the creek down the hill:
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As were some beautiful trees in a new old-growth forested area I was able to explore (and amazingly, avoided getting any ticks despite monumental bushwhacking!).
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Here I am posing with my friends after a successful run of Don Giovanni by Mozart:
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Unfortunately, that is where my luck ended for the time being — I caught Covid and was unable to perform in the Cunning Little Vixen which I had been so looking forward to all year as I was the lead role. Darn! Additionally, Covid was the most intense sickness I have ever had — a fever pushing 102 for multiple days and just about every other textbook symptom of Covid you could imagine. No energy whatsoever. I shudder to think about what this disease would be like without vaccination and boosters.

So, now that I have recovered, I have arrived in Idaho and will start posting photos from my favorite place in the world! Idaho is always a wonderful tradition that helps me reset for the school year and I have these next ten days jam-packed with birding and hiking, as always.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1138 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:43 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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