Idaho Highlights

Anna and I have been working here in Idaho since April 4th. It has been a wonderful and bird-packed three and a half months, but now it must come to an end. On July 11th, Anna and I will begin our road trip down to Blythe, California, where we will be working for the remainder of the summer. For this post, I wanted to talk about my time here in Idaho and the birding highlights that I experienced. I put links throughout this to past posts with more photos.

Before coming to Idaho, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never been to this corner of the country. I knew I had the opportunity to see some life birds, but I didn’t realize the overall birding would be so, unbelievable amazing. Anna and I were able to see 231 species of birds during the 3.5 months we lived and worked here; making Idaho my second-highest state list (behind Pennsylvania). Needless to say, we birded our butts off, to the point that I think if I had made Anna get up early on a day off to chase another would-be state bird again, she would explode.

Our first week in the state, we were out surveying for Long-billed Curlews everyday. We were picking up state birds everyday, either out at our sites or at a few birding locations we stopped by at every day after work, such as the Julia Davis Park pond and Discovery Park. On our first days off, we joined Jay Carlisle and Heidi Ware on a trip to the Pickles Butte Landfill. Here we made our first big discovery in the state; as we were searching through the gull flocks at the landfill, Jay pointed out a Western Gull. This was quite a rarity in Idaho, something like only the third record. The same day, Anna and I also saw our lifer Glaucous-winged Gull. On the next day, Anna and I went to the Snake River Birds of Prey Area, a place I have wanted to go for quite a long time, being the raptor-enthusiast that I am. The next day we visited Jennifer Alban’s wonderful mountain-home. We picked up a load of state birds that day, bringing our state list to 106, after only 12 days in the state!

Western Gull - adult at Pickles Butte Landfill

Glaucous-winged Gull - juvenile at Pickles Butte Landfill

Evening Grosbeak - adult male at Jennifer Alban's

On April 18th, we joined a birding club trip to a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek area near Midvale. We picked up a lot of good birds and state birds that day. We also met Cheryl Huizinga for the first time. Cheryl turned out to be one of our best birding-friends here in Idaho and we ultimately spent a lot of days out birding with her and competing with her in a friendly Idaho year list competition, although she crushed us (Cheryl is at 255 for the year at the moment!). About that time, Anna and I also got obsessed with finding Virginia Rails, and trying calling and searching for them in any patch of appropriate habitat we could find.

Virginia Rail - Canyon County

On Easter, Anna and I went down to C. J. Strike WMA and Ted Trueblood. We added a few state birds that day, including our first-of-the-year Western Kingbird. That is when we knew that spring was starting to come, and within a few more weeks, loads of spring migrants would be flowing through Idaho. A few days later on April 25th, Cheryl, Anna, and I went birding around Canyon County to try and find some spring arrivals, but things were still slow. We did pick up our state ‘Western’ Willets though! A new spring arrival did come a few days later though, when I found a Loggerhead Shrike out at our curlew site!

On another block of days off, Anna and I were finally able to go north, and bird the McCall area. The goal of this trip was to pick up a life bird that I have been trying to see for a long time in the East and always have ended up arriving too late, missing the bird by a few hours; the Barrow’s Goldeneye. We were quite successful, and found loads of them on Lake Cascade, along with 16 other waterfowl species. We also picked Red-naped Sapsucker as a lifer! At Lake Cascade, Anna and I also found another Idaho-rarity, an adult Broad-winged Hawk. Seeing American Dippers was a nice treat, as we had only seen them once before. On the way back to Boise, we detoured through the Midvale area again, this time picking up our lifer Greater Sage-Grouse as well as being able to photograph a pair of Short-eared Owls up close!

Barrow's Goldeneye - male and female (American Coot in foreground) at Lake Cascade

Broad-winged Hawk - adult at Lake Cascade

Greater Sage-Grouse - female

Finally, late in the first week of May warblers started arriving in better numbers and so did flycatchers. At Discovery Park, Anna and I saw our lifer Townsend’s Warbler! This began a tradition of stopping by Foote Park and Discovery Park everyday after work, searching and hoping for more awesome spring arrivals. Around this time, Lewis’s Woodpeckers also started showing up in good numbers. This was a species I have wanted to see my entire life, and is by-far the most beautiful woodpecker there is. One day, Anna and I had five at Discovery Park!

Townsend's Warbler - male

Lewis's Woodpecker at Discovery Park

By May 12th, Long-billed Curlews (the bird we were working with) were starting to nest. Although, not many were having much luck. We only ending up being able to find 4 nests, all of which ultimately failed, either because the nest was predated, crushed, or in one case; because the chicks hatched, but then the adult female was, in all likelihood, shot. This all made for a very frustrating and sad season, working out in the ‘Curlew’ Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

Long-billed Curlew - female on nest!

The next week, I started doing Flammulated Owl surveys in the Targhee National Forest, while Anna stayed back to continue curlew stuff. My coworker, Oly and I didn owl surveys near Malad City that week, and were unsuccessful in finding Flamm’s, although we did see some neat birds and bird-moments during the week, including a raven vs Golden Eagle fight.

After the week of owl surveys, I came back to Boise to do a few days of curlew nest-searching before heading back out to do owl surveys with Anna. On my first day back to the curlew sites, while we were rope-dragging, trying to find nests, I spotted an adult female Lapland Longspur. This is a very rare species in the summer in Idaho and was the first time one has ever been reported during that time of the year in Idaho.

Lapland Longspur - female in Canyon County

By the first week of June, passerine migrants were still pushing through, but shorebirds had pretty much made it to where they needed to be and we stopped seeing migrants such as Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, and Dunlin. I summarized the Idaho shorebird migration in this post.

On June 4th, I had a ton of fun joining other IBO employees up at Jennifer Alban’s house for a hummingbird banding demonstration.  We ended up catching a lot of Calliope and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, and it was the first time I had ever held a hummingbird! It was a wonderful day, especially being able to be at such a beautiful location. The next day was the first day of MAPS banding at IBO’s Lucky Peak site. Another awesome day; we caught over 70 individual birds!

Calliope Hummingbird - male about to be banded

Black-headed Grosbeak - male after being banded

On June 9th, my friend Mark Markiewicz from back in PA flew to Boise to join Anna and I for a four-day birding tour of Idaho. Our goal was to find Mark as many lifers as possible and also add a few species to our personal Idaho lists. We were very, very successful and ended up finding 164 species total. Of those, 76 were lifers for Mark and 9 were new state birds for Anna and I!

Yellow Warbler - male at Ponderosa State Park, McCall

Anna and I went back to work the next week, up in the Island Park area surveying for Flammulated Owls. We were once again unsuccessful; not finding any Flamm’s, although we did see some other owl species such as Long-eared Owl and Great Horned. However, the general birding was great. And I saw my first-ever Moose! In the parking lot of the Island Park Library, Anna and I found our lifer Black-backed Woodpeckers excavating a cavity to nest in! On our way back to Boise after that week of work, we stopped in what looked like good Sage Sparrow habitat, and Anna and I finally saw our lifer Sage Sparrows!

Sage Sparrow - Butte County

During the last week of June, Anna and I joined Cheryl Huizinga and Denise Hughes on the South Hills Bird Census. We birded really hard over a 24 hour period in our block of the census and were able to find 102 species total! Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Plumbeous Vireo, Western Scrub-Jay, Bushtit, and Juniper Titmouse were new state birds for us, and we finally got to see a Flammulated Owl!

Flammulated Owl - South Hills

Since getting back from those days off, Anna and I have been up in the Island Park area surveying for Flammulated Owls. Its been a pretty unsuccessful two weeks of work, and we haven’t been able to find any Flamm’s. This pretty much proves every ones theory that Flammulated Owls do not occur in this part of the state. We were able to see some other really cool stuff at night though, such as Greater Sage-Grouse and various other owl species.

We are headed back to Boise, and on the morning of the 12th, Anna and I will begin our road trip down to Blythe, California where we will be working with Yellow-billed Cuckoos for the rest of the summer, before I head back to campus for the fall semester. I have really enjoyed my time here in Idaho and can not wait to come back to find more state birds! I especially want to go up to the panhandle to see Varied Thrush and Pacific Wren! Once again, thanks to everyone that I birded with in Idaho, you all really made my spring and summer something I will remember for the rest of my life. Please continue to check out this site every now and again to see what I am up too!