This summer I am back in Idaho, working for the Intermountain Bird Observatory! I can’t wait to explore a new region of the state, mainly north of McCall to the Canada border while doing daily point count transects for breeding birds. My friend Ian Gardner and I drove over from Pennsylvania, winding around to a few of our friend’s houses and generally trying to find as many birds as possible along the way – we ended up with exactly 295 species seen or heard from the time I left Hershey, PA till the night we arrived in Boise, ID! Of those 295 species, I personally picked up 5 lifers: Garganey (Wisconsin), Chestnut-collared Longspur (South Dakota), McCown’s Longspur, Pacific Wren, and Spruce Grouse (Montana).
On May 18th, Ian and I met up with our boss, Jay Carlisle, and two other bird survey coworkers in Condon, MT for a week of training. After that, we took a few days off and dropped down to try and trap a Long-billed Curlew south of Salmon, Idaho. More information about IBO’s Long-billed Curlew project can be found here. We were successful in trapping an adult female curlew, and attaching a satellite transmitter!
For Memorial Day weekend, the four of us met up with Heidi Ware and Cheryl Huizinga, and visited Market Lake WMA and Camas NWR. Our goal was to hopefully find some sort of eastern vagrant using one of these two vagrant hotspots, and we succeeded! Jay picked out two Glossy Ibis mixed with the hundreds of White-faced Ibis at Market Lake WMA – a fairly rare bird in Idaho, and a new state bird for me. It was great to be out birding in Idaho and getting back into the western way of life.
Ian and I made a slight detour (major detour) through Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone NP. I had never been to either of these incredible places, and since we were sort of in the area and had the time we went for it. The birding was slow, but we didn’t have too much time to get out and really wander around, however I did pick up my lifer Grizzly Bear and Timber Wolf! We also had great looks at multiple American Black Bears, Moose, American Bison, and many other large mammals! In the meantime our coworkers headed north with one of the rental cars, and Jay and Heidi headed east to trap another curlew. Ian and I set off for Boise. We each picked up rental cars of our own to use this summer, and then set out to begin surveys.
So since May 29th, I’ve been out on my own doing point count surveys. I started along the border with Oregon, south of Devils Canyon, then jumped over to Council, and now I’m up near Grangeville doing surveys throughout the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests. The birding has been excellent, the scenery has been beautiful, and the weather has been perfect for camping and hiking.
Last evening I had the most memorable experience of the trip so far – As I was laying in my car looking over some of the vegetation information for our surveys and listening to Swainson’s Thrushes serenading the setting sun, I heard a strange sound from the opposite side of the car at 9:45pm. I figured it was going to be a deer, but climbed out and stood on the door frame to peak over the car and check it out. As I was doing this, it occurred to me the sound wasn’t anything I’d heard from a deer before and sounded more like a cat. In total disbelief and shock, I turned to see an adult Mountain Lion standing just 15ft away. As soon as I saw it, it turned and saw me, stopping in it’s tracks. I dropped down to grab my camera and move around to where I could get a clear shot but also stay hidden behind my car. As I was doing this I realized there was a second lion even closer to me! The two Mountain Lions and I stood there, staring at each other for about a minute, while I frantically, but also very calmly and quietly tried to get my camera working in the low light, and shoot off some photos. The closer lion was within 10ft and I couldn’t even get the whole animal in my viewfinder. The entire time, the two lions quietly growled and called to each other, but never broke eye contact with me. Ultimately the two turned and wandered slowly down the road, around the bend, and out of sight. I sank down next to the car, and sat there running over and over in my head exactly what just happened. I couldn’t believe it! Not one, but two Mountain Lions…and they were so freaking close!
Hopefully this was a sign of a very good summer ahead, with a lot more fun encounters with Idaho’s wildlife in store! I’ll try to post as often as possible, but with limited internet availability that may only be once a week or so, but check back soon!