Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Idaho, mission accomplished, really

Friday, May 14, 2010

Idaho was the third target state for the hundred species project. When I had first started I had none, but one winter I'd poked into the SW corner for an afternoon and the next morning around Bear Lake NWR, and had started with 35 tics. Anyway, I'd not focused on it at all, even though I'd been there several times not keeping detailed records, only looking for lifers in my early birding. Dipped on Sage Grouse, hit on Williamson's Sapsucker, those on a trip north from City of Rocks NM.

Entering Idaho the first challenge was guessing whether the first bird would be a Raven or a Robin. Saw the Raven first, but passed a Robin as I approached it. That was an empty and boring piece of driving. I went a little out of the way to try Deer Flat NWR, but it was over-full and had nothing but Western and Clark's Grebes. Drove all around the lake, but mostly only saw industrial agriculture in poison spraying mode. Rather than get to the Boise sites late I tried a WMA right on the Snake River at the border. Not a bad place, still had waterfowl though hard to see for the vegetation around the pools. Finally got up on the tailgate with the scope as a monopod. The river itself had some action too but I was sleepy from a good meal at a small town burger drive-in, outfitted with a standard beautiful stuck-up waitress, and fell out early. Then about 3am a fisherman decided he just couldn't make it through the night without rock&roll, loud. Pillow over the head loud.

Saturday, May 15

Into Boise. The first reservoir I tried was dried up, another was just a puddle of its former self. Went by a place that I'd tagged on the GPS mapping as a possible Gray Partridge place. My nemesis emerged intact, there had been a lot of recent development in the area, may have scared them off. I'm always trying to make up reasons for when things don't work out. I skipped the Raptor refuge, had been there before on a previous trip, it was quite a drive out and back and off the main route east. I went a fair way up a mountain road into the National Forest north of town, the road was a wash-board torture, and I wasn't seeing much. If I gone further, I found out later, there was a bird observatory which might have been good. I found a good two lane blacktop running northeast into the mountains, Rte 21, and ended up stopping early in a primitive campground beyond Lowman. Very mellow place, a few birds, but mostly just a nice open forest on a flat above a river with a little village nearby, vacation houses and a fire station. Fell out early and got a good night's sleep to make up for the previous one.

Sunday, May 16

A great day, though the start was a little foggy brain-wise, requiring an eighty mile drive to the first place with coffee. It was open early for the molybdenum miners. Drove through Stanley and on into Challis. Paydirt. I had gone north of town to another tagged place on the map and met a local birder, Falma ?, who was scoping a small wetland full of critters. She offered to show me more of the area, and led me into a WMA where they were working on an Important Bird Area designation. Good thing she was there; turns out that it had a "sportsman's access", which meant you could drive through chained gates across private land to get to it. I'd have never tried it since I didn't know the rules. Great birds, Sandhill Crane nesting, a Western Screech Owl in it's hole, good passerines, finches, flycatchers, some warblers. Winter had only broken a few days earlier, and the first wave of migrants was setting up shop, lots of motion and singing to make birding easy.

While we were trying to find the owl tree another local birder came up, Dave Faike, who led me to his house for Mountain Bluebirds, which didn't co-operate, and Lark Sparrows that nearly ran us down responding to a tape. Peregrine Falcon on a telephone pole, Dave had named his road when required Peregrine Lane. Then he led me to Falma's place where she had her first hummer. Between Dave and Falma I added about eighty tics! including his directions for a stop on the way to Camus NWR netting a Sage Sparrow. Turns out his wife is the top lister in Idaho. Talk about some inside info. Camus was good but I'd already seen a lot of the species around Challis. I also tried a neat place called Market Lake WMA, which was rich, but more than an hour of intense scoping didn't turn up the Red-necked Phalarope that had been there earlier.

And since it was still light I crossed over the border into Montana so I could spend a night at my favorite campground at Red Rocks Lakes NWR. Too bad the road had just been torn up by a grader 'cause it's twenty miles to the camp, and another twenty going east to hit another paved road. It's at the east end of the Centennial Valley. Winter had either ended the day before, or would a couple of days later. The willow osiers were slightly red, there was some new green coming up, but it was a cold night.

Moose and Magpies

Monday, May 17

Woke to cold foggy drumming by a Ruffed Grouse. Walked and birded the road away from the campsite past a pond where I'd seen my first Trumpeter Swan many years earlier when they were still rare. Most of the birds re-introduced around the west had been captured at Red Rocks, which had one of the few remaining viable populations. I guess I was too early for them, none seen, and the duck variety hadn't built to its breeding peak yet. But there were a few pushing-the-envelope passerine arrivals riding the edge of the season. I braced myself for the drive east, the grader hadn't come that far, but the road sucked from not being graded, and from being a mountain dirt road over the divide at the end of winter. Strangely enough I picked up twelve tics for MT, some sparrows, and this and that.

Eventually I was back in Idaho, and pavement, and the long watched for Mountain Bluebird. Also found Red-necked Grebes in exactly the spot the old Idaho bird-finder book had promised, great looks, but they were gone minutes later like magic. And a Cooper's Hawk in somebody's yard sitting on a mailbox. I wanted to try a couple of places near West Yellowstone, but was driven out by tourist grossness. There had been some shorebird reports from the area, and I managed to get in touch with the guy who reported them, who gave me directions. I followed them until it was clear I was getting way the hell back into nowhere, and still had to walk a mile of swamp to reach a small inlet where there might be a few birds. Talked myself out of it and started back, and got a Dusky Grouse.

I had been hoping to visit with a friend in Jackson Hole and drove down the east side of ID though Driggs and Victor, the bedroom suburbs of Jackson where the folks who serve the food and mind the shops have to live since its marginally affordable. Requires going over Teton Pass twice a day, and it's a long steep puppy. Brake grinder. When I got to Mary's place on the ranch her dad owned it turned out she and her husband were split, he somehow had the house on the ranch that had always seemed to be hers, she was gone and nobody there would confess to knowing where, dad was gone away for the day. The whole situation had a distinct whiff of lawyers. I was appalled. I drove on into Jackson, found one book in a used bookstore, missed another friend at the bookstore where she worked, and was mostly grossed out by the stink of money. Drove south and west back into Idaho and slept in a little empty campground by the highway in the National Forest.

Tuesday, May 18

Went past Gray's Lake NWR, but there is almost no public access to it. Saw a few birds from the highway. My goal was Mink Creek just east of Pocatello, a place I had tagged as "don't miss". It was great. Met a birder first thing named Bob Davis who quickly sent me up a great trail, the first to the left after entering the natural area, maybe eight new tics in a half mile walk, and then met up with him again to work over some more developed trails higher up the road. I blew him away with the owl tape, and later sent him a copy. "Crack for Birds" he called it. I followed him sorta to American Falls where we found more good stuff including a Common Loon and some more species at the fish hatchery. He had also recommended Curlew National Grasslands, and that was the last stop before leaving Idaho. Got lucky and found some running irrigation which had attracted gulls and Caspian Terns. Last bird for ID was a Sage Thrasher just before leaving and heading over the border back into Utah. Bob's guidance got me about 25 more tics, and I ended up adding 110 for the days I spent in Idaho, totaling 145, and getting more than 30% of the state's species. Mission accomplished, really.

To see the last few posts from this trip, go to the top of the page and click "Bird Traveling". That will put you at the intro section of the blog. Then go down the archive list and click June 2010.


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