Trip to Idaho and Start of Long-billed Curlew Work

Three days ago, Alex and I arrived in Boise, Idaho after a fast but lengthy drive across the country.  We started out early on saturday morning, and by the days end we were in Nebraska, just short of Lincoln.  During our morning drive the next day, at sunrise, hundreds of Sandhill Cranes soon turned into thousands, as the remaining Sandhill Cranes moved off the Platte River to nearby farm fields for a bite to eat.  The Platte River near Grand Island to Elm Creek, Nebraska is where hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes stage on migration each year before continuing their trek north.  The best time to see them is the third week of March, but luckily for us a few were left.

Sandhill Cranes in Elm Creek, Nebraska

Nebraska is where many western bird species start appearing, like Western Meadowlarks, and “speed birding” becomes possible from I-80. We made a side trip to Lake McConaughy and picked up lots of waterfowl, and ran into an adult light morph Ferruginous Hawk.

adult light morph Ferruginous Hawk
Blue-winged Teal at Lake McConaughy
American White Pelican at Lake McConaughy (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Unfortunately, as we neared the Nebraska state line, the wind picked up and a blizzard blew in, and south eastern Wyoming smacked us with a massive blizzard.  It lasted a few hours, but eventually the roads cleared, and we were on our way through a few more small blizzards.  Because of the weather, we hardly saw any Wymoing birds, but we did see a number of Golden Eagles and Ferruginous Hawks in the mountains.  In Utah, we zoomed past western Red-tails and a few more Ferruginous Hawks, and also a few American Avocets at Bear River National Wildlife Refuge.  We made it to Idaho in the dark, so we didn’t pick up any new Idaho birds.

This herd of elk was feeding near the road in Utah
Snow covered mountains in Utah

On Monday morning, we met with our new boss at Idaho Bird Observatory, Jay Carlise, and our new co-workers Olly and Eddie, in addition to two employees of Idaho Fish and Game.  We all travelled to one of our field sites, where we saw about 4 Long-billed Curlew.  Most were males calling and performing territorial displays, but a few were just standing and walking around the grasslands.  For the month of April, we will be doing survey transects, stopping at a number of set survey points along a set distance of road.  At each point, we will do a 5 minute scan for Curlews, and a number of other animals and birds that have an impact on the Curlew populations (badgers, coyotes, Common Ravens, a variety of raptors).  Each point involves a scan of 360 degrees around the point.  This may seem like a simple survey, but there is a LOT of land to look at!  The rolling hills lead into a landscape of foothills and mountain ranges miles and miles away, and since you are looking for birds flying and on the ground, you must scan up and down, while trying not to miss a flying bird in another direction.  There are also awesome western rapors flying all over the place, like Golden Eagles and Swainson’s hawks, which we also keep records of.  With so much to look for, five minutes goes very fast.  In May, we will begin focusing more on nest searching and behavioral observations, targetting areas of high curlew densities from the surveys, and may start work on Flammulated Owl Surveys as well.

adult Western Red-tailed Hawk (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)
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