Saturday, December 19, 2009

Golden-crowned Sparrow #317

Photo by Christopher Taylor

On the 2009 Christmas Bird Count based at Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge, the bird of the day for my group was the Golden-crowned Sparrow! This sparrow is normally found on the west coast of the United States. It was one of the first birds we saw at our first stop of the morning at the Caldwell Ponds. It is my life bird #317 too!  Looking at flocks of common birds (in our case White-Crowned Sparrows) in combination with pishing is how we observed the Golden-crowned Sparrow.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter Wren #316

Photo by Steve Round on BirdForum

I'm preparation for the 2009 Christmas Bird Count at Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge, I went out this foggy morning to practice some strategies.  I went to the Avimor entry bridge which gives me a good above-view of Spring Valley Creek. By pishing and playing a Northern Pygmy Owl hoot I was able to see Song Sparrows, American Goldfinch, and even a Downy Woodpecker stopped by to investigate.

I know we have wintering Spotted Towhees here at Avimor that will lurk in the thick underbrush because I had them last winter. I played its call, but no response. Then I got to thinkin'...there's another little winter bird that I've never seen before that this habitat should be perfect for; shaded, damp, and fallen trees. I've been reading about it a lot recently as it may be a species split between the western and eastern varieties. I played its call five times and then just listened and watched for 15 minutes. Dark-eyed Juncos and a Northern Flicker whizzed by, but still no sign of the little bird I hoped to see.

I gave up and started walking back toward my office...when I heard a faint keep-keep that was just different enough that I knew it wasn't a Song Sparrow. I went back to the bridge slowly and tried to track down with my eyes what I was hearing with my ears. There before my eyes was a cute little brown ball of joy. It reminded me of a mouse as it snuck stealthfully around the low brush and fallen cottonwoods.

An Avimor first - the 99th bird officially recorded at Avimor - and my life bird #316: The Winter Wren! This also makes the 4th species of wren observed at Avimor: Rock, Canyon, House, and Winter.

I wonder now if the Winter Wren call I have in my Zune BirdJam is an eastern bird or a pacific bird? Well, whatever it was, I suppose it worked!

I probably won't be able to call this a "Winter" Wren for long. To read more about the portending species split of the Winter and Pacific Wren, click here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gray Jay #315

My father-in-law and I took my four kids on a birding tour around Cascade Reservoir while the Mrs. did the Black Friday shopping thing.  I have to always plan something fun and exciting for me kids to look forward to on these trips so that I can threaten them with not doing it which holds their complaints about my birding to a minimum.  The plan for this trip was to stop at Gold Fork Hot Springs and swim while it snowed.  We stopped a couple of times on Gold Fork Rd and saw Stellar's Jays and Clark's Nutcrackers.  While I answered mother nature's call a gray bird flew overhead and Lynn called out, "There's a Gray Jay!".  Zipping up as fast as I could I was able to see the Gray Jay for a few moments through my binoculars.  At this stop, we also watched an American Dipper diving into the stream off the ice.  When we go to the hot springs and got into our bathing suits, I was delighted to see Gray and Stellar's Jays flitting over the pools caching away winter food supplies.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dunlin #314

My father-in-law, Lynn Davenport, reported last week seeing Dunlins at Dry Lakes south of Nampa, ID. That was before our trip to Utah were I saw the Bonaparte's Gull discussed below. It is almost an hour drive from Avimor to Dry Lakes, so unless we are visiting family out there its a rare opportunity to get out there just for a bird. I made my way out there today in the late afternoon evening hours and I saw 12 Dunlins in about the plumage shown in the picture above. I would love to see them in breeding plumage, but a Dunlin is a Dunlin and a life bird whichever way I look at it!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bonaparte's Gull #313

I observed a Bonaparte's Gull in about the same plumage as the photo above at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. The seem to be moving through the region this time of year as they have also been reported at Dry Lakes in Nampa, Idaho.

Monday, October 12, 2009

White-throated Sparrow #312

Thanks to Lew Ulrey in Boise for letting me come over and see this infrequent to Idaho bird in his back yard. It was feeding along with the Juncos.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Northern Shrike #311

Photo by Terry Gray

While I was putting out more seed to lure in birds for the Big Sit! I saw this bird fly over head and I knew immediately it was different. It landed on a tall snag in the creek which gave me great views for several minutes...enough to make these notes and drawings. I'm still trying out that field-guide-less observation which is really tough, but probably for the betterment of my birding skills. When I got back to my office I went to my Sibley's and National Geographic field guides and I became afraid to admit what I think it was. So I sent my notes off to Idaho Birders Linked Electronically and they unanimously confirmed my observation. A Northern Shrike.

Sorry for the sloppy handwriting and awful drawing, but hey, my fingers were freezing. Here is the translation with post-note clarifications in parenthesis:

In flight dark/wht contrast pattern (on wings), Solitaire-like, Shrike-like, Big hook on bill, calls with kay-kay, About size of a Kestrel, head browner than body, Black line at eye level, slightly below - white at top/back of eye (the black arch I show on the drawing indicates boundary of white near the eye, not a dark mark on the bird), Black wings with white showing, Light tan/gray body, long tail white edges, faint wavy breast, other birds terrified of it, House Finch attacked it.

Other behavior notes - flew over head, perched on snag for several minutes, dove into large shrub after other birds, came back to perch for several minutes, dove into large shrub. I never saw it again.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Broad-winged Hawk #310

Observed and identified with the help of the fine folks at the Idaho Bird Observatory from the top of the hill as part of the hawk watch efforts. They observed a kettle of 21 of them just the other day. Amazing!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Solitary Sandpiper #309

Knowing that shorebird migration is underway I figured I'd check out the small mud flat created in the rain water retention ponds near the Avimor Water Reclamation building. I saw a few Killdeer and one odd ball. I took good field notes and was able to identify it as a Solitary Sandpiper. I went back again the next morning and it was still there. Very cool to add a life bird in my own neighborhood!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Great Gray Owl #308

Owing to recent reports of multiple Great Gray Owls being seen on Loomis Lane, south of Donnelly over the last month and a half, I just had to go for the chance to see a life bird. I loaded up the Mrs. and the kids in the minivan after dinner and took a very enjoyable drive up to the Cascade area. We stopped at Cascade Lake State Park and let the kids take a swim and tried a little unsuccessful fishing. Then about 8:15 pm we headed up to Donnelly. We drove slowly west on Loomis Lane glassing all of the fence posts. About two-thirds of the way west between Hwy 55 and Old State Highway we found one adult on the north side of the road, hunting from a fence post about 75 yards away. We watched it for several minutes and then proceeded west on Loomis Lane. My eight year old son first spotted the three juveniles perched on a parked fork-lift/tractor just 20 feet from the road, still on the north side. After a couple minutes the three juveniles flew south across the street into the grove of pine trees and perched on low branches still just yards from the road. Even the Mrs. and the kids were impressed. A great family outing and it was nice of the birds to be so conspicuous and not drive my family nuts with my usual searching.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bobolink #307

I was delighted to add Bobolink to my life list as I had seen so many recenting postings about them. We saw two mating pairs of Bobolinks along Center Patrol Rd. between Cottonwood Pond and P-Ranch at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pygmy Nuthatch #304

Three Pygmy Hatches visited us in our campsite at Idlewild Campground along with White-breasted and Red-Breasted Nuthatches.

Clark's Nutcracker #303

While camping at the Idlewild Campground north of Burns, Oregon. I had my first sighting of the Clark's Nutcracker. A pair of them flew over. Their color pattern was exactly like the picture shown above and the way they flew was kind of magpie-like.

White-headed Woodpecker #302

The White-headed Woodpecker made it on to my life list on Wednesday, July 8th, 2009. My father-in-law and I took a spontaneous birding trip to Eastern Oregon and that first night we stayed at Idlewild Campground just north of Burns, Oregon. We went there expecting to see this guy and we were delighted that he was right in our campsite while we set up camp that evening.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Red-eyed Vireo #301

Being a father of four small children and working two jobs, it is sometimes hard to get out and "chase" the birds that get reported on the IBLE (Idaho Birders Linked Electronically) website. But, Harry Krueger reported this one from a location just north of Horseshoe Bend, which isn't far from Avimor. Right off of Highway 55 is a sign for Porter Creek Rd (shown on some maps as Jerusalem Rd.) The creek runs into the river under highway 55, but on that east side, there are trees running up the creek draw.
It was a blustery Friday evening, but I was able to convince the wife and kids to go on a drive so daddy could see this life bird. The wind was so bad up that canyon that I didn't see much but Lazuli Buntings, Spotted Towhee, and an American Kestrel. My hat blew off my head down into the shrubs along the creek. I had to dodge all kinds of poison oak to get it back. There was also a pretty cool gopher snake that Kyle and I got to see.
Anyway, we continued up the canyon driving on Jerusalem Rd until we got to the pines. It was a beautiful drive and we saw several other birds. On the way back we decided to stop again at the location where Red-eyed Vireos had been seen. I got our my Zune BirdJam player to play the sound so I would know what to listen for and we had two Red-eyed Vireos pop right up in the tree next to the car. I turned the bird call off immediately as I didn't want to stress them out, but it was surprising how quickly they responded to the call of their own kind.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Northern Bobwhite #300...well, kind of

I've been maintaining the lawn of our home in Star, ID that we have been trying to short-sell. On the way back to Avimor one evening from working in the yard, while driving on Beacon Light Rd, I saw a Northern Bobwhite perched up on a fence post. I was delighted to add this bird to my life list.

It turns out that the Northern Bobwhite is not considered "countable" in Idaho by the American Birding Association because they are not yet known to have a self-sustaining population. Hunting clubs and private individuals raise and release them into the wild. Many "introduced species" become countable when they establish themselves by successfully breeding in the wild, like California Quail.

eBird prevents sightings of this bird from being reported on a public level, but it does remain as bird #300 on my eBird personal life list.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Gray Catbird #299

I was initially surprised to find a Gray Catbird along the greenbelt at Avimor. Now that I know a little more about Gary Catbirds, our riparian corridor on Spring Valley Creek is ideal habitat. I am quite certain that we have had a least half a dozen mating pairs this year. So what once was a bird I had never seen is now a fairly regular bird I see. I saw four in one optic view down by the Avimor Water Reclamation building one morning.

They make all kinds of interesting sounds and are fun to watch.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Red-naped x Red-Breasted Sapsucker

I was able to see a hybrid of a Red-naped and a Red-breasted Sapsucker today, thanks to some good folks posting their recurring sightings on the IBLE Yahoo group. I also met Steve Bouffard and Gary at Julia Davis Park as they too were looking to see this life bird. The grove of pine trees near the southwest corner of Zoo Boise was were the sapsucker has been working over the pines for sap. We observed it flicking off chunks of bark and drilling holes. The trees were riddled with sap wells so it is an obvious great food source.

Some local birding experts have declared it a hybrid (thought I was hoping it would be a pure Red-breasted Sapsucker so I could add it to my life list). The hybrid features being discussed are the amount of black on the face (naped); the amount of red on its head, throat and breast (breasted), the black crescent border (naped). You can compare the pics below of "pure breeds" with the Red-breasted on top.

Monday, January 19, 2009

White-winged Crossbill #298

The Southwest Idaho Birders Association had a field trip out to the Canyon Hill Cemetery in Caldwell, Idaho and they spotted a solitary White-winged Crossbill on Saturday. I was not able to attend, but their report brought birders from all over to see this rare winter visitor. I was able to go out there today, Martin Luther King Day, and met up with my father-in-law Lynn and a couple other prominent local birders.

Right away I was able to see the White-winged Crossbills feeding on pine cones near the tops of the trees in the cemetery. The folks there before me reported that they counted at least two dozen white-wings. While we checked out Golden-crowned Kinglets, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Brown Creepers, we had a flock of Red Crossbills munching on pine cones right above our heads. The Red Crossbill numbers have also increased over the last couple of days. The Treasure Valley has been experiencing an inversion and perhaps the weather is moving these birds around in mysterious ways.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Gray-Crowned Rosy-Finch #297

I had read on the IBLE Yahoo Group that Gray-Crowned Rosy-Finches can be seen in the winter at the cliffs above Discovery Park near Lucky Peak dam just east of Boise.  We finally made it out there today in spite of the chilly wind.  I scanned the cliffs for a good hour and finally a half dozen of them came down over the top of the cliff and worked they way down the steep rocky ledge.  I am told that they sleep in the cliff swallow caves.  A red-tailed hawk sent the rosy-finches into the crevices, but I still got a good five to ten minutes to watch them.