Friday, January 15, 2016

The Frigid Northwest! (Part 1)

     Here it comes! Birding With Caleb (BWC) has moved to Coeur D' Alene, Idaho for a week! "Why Idaho?" you might ask. Well my good friends, the Noe family, moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Coeur D' Alene, Idaho recently. I, of course, took advantage of this opportunity to bird new ground and decided to fly up to the north for a week and bird with my fellow "bird hard" friends, Walker and Dalton. In the past I had only birded in Arizona, California, and a very brief stop in the southwest corner of New Mexico (along with a trip to Alabama when I wasn't a birder, but I saw Blue Jays, Carolina Chickadees, and Pileated Woodpeckers, which were all lifers). So lo and behold, on December 29th I flew up to the Spokane, Washington Airport to start our week of bird hardness! However, because I wasn't flying up to Spokane until the evening I had to wait until morning to bird.

Day 1: Prairies and Lakes--December 30th
     After a good night's rest on the 29th I woke up to the frigid cold weather of the Northwest! Upon getting ready for our first birding expedition of the week long trip, I heard my lifer Common Redpoll calling, lifer #1 of the trip! We were then ready for take off and decided to spend our first day birding the prairies and lakes of Kootenai County. Upon reaching the prairies I spied my second lifer of the trip, a Rough-legged Hawk, perched high upon a telephone pole!

Rough-legged Hawk

Our #1 target for the day was the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. Recently, there had been a flock that had been feeding on a few hay bales in the area.While we drove through the area I picked up my third lifer of the day, a distant Black-billed Magpie.

Black-billed Magpie--Distant but still distinctive!

Laugh as you might, northwestern birders, but lifers are lifers! After scanning the prairies for a good hour we decided to check the hay bales one more time for the rosy-finches, and as soon as we stopped I could see movement!

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches--Lifer #4 

In the rosy flock there were both subspecies. Hephburn's (gray-cheeked) and a Gray-crowned.

"Hephburn's" Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

"Gray-crowned" Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

The Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches were a lifer for all three of us and we were pumped to get one of our main targets! Birding the prairies is a lot of fun, because, you can never get everything in just one pass through the area, so the more you bird the area the more you'll get! While driving through a small town I spotted my lifer Northern Shrike perched on the top of a dead tree.

Northern Shrike

As you can see, the bird was distant and my views weren't too long but you have to take what you can get. The lifers just wouldn't stop! A few Ring-necked Pheasants and a Ruffed Grouse kicked up from the roadside to add to my chicken list.

Ring-necked Pheasant

 In the northwest there aren't nearly as many birds as there are in the southwest, like AZ for example, but the birds are super awesome and very rewarding to watch. After a half-day in the prairie we decided to bird Coeur D' Alene Lake. It took me quite a bit of scanning, but mixed in with the many Ring-billed, California, and Herring Gulls I found my lifer Thayer's Gull! However, the bird was way too distant for a photo so I will have to live without a photo of this gull, for now that is. While I was watching the gull I could also hear my lifer Black-capped Chickadee calling from high up the mountain side.

Day 2: Prairies for Snowy Owls--December 31st
     On our second day of birding we decided to spend the whole day looking for Snowy Owls around Walker's house and at a spot in Washington (a three hour drive!) where a pair had recently been found. While we searched the prairies around his house a flock of Gray Partridges flew across the road and provided distant scope views.

Gray Partridge--Yes, it is that brown lump

After getting the partridges we drove down to the desolate prairies in Washington. On our way to the Snowy Owl spot we drove through some good habitat and came out with the fallowing species plus my lifer Snow Buntings which flushed out from the highway road.

Gray Partridge

Black-capped Chickadee

Rough-legged Hawk

Before long we arrived at the Snowy Owl spot and I located a nice California Quail greeting us.

California Quail

We searched long and hard for the Snowy Owls and we spent the entire day scanning through the snowed in prairies but we couldn't find a single Snowy! We were pretty frustrated, because, we spent the whole day looking for one of our top targets but couldn't find it! And to put the icing on our cake, a couple of locals said that they had just seen one of the owls along the roadside the day before! I can't really put into words the way we felt after missing the Snowy Owls that day but we barely said anything driving back from our failure of a day. However, this young Northern Shrike put a tic down on our photo life list.

Northern Shrike--Juvenile

Don't fall asleep on me now! This was the more boring half of the trip, and I promise you the next half will be much more exciting! So stay tuned for my better half of the trip, all I'm gonna say is Garth, Bianca, and Jimmy, the three birds that made the trip!


  1. Replies
    1. That's right m' man! SMACK is the word to describe our trip!

  2. Awesome! The photos of the Gray-crowned Rosy Finches were of excellent quality. The snow that was encrusted on the Northern Shrike's wire is a clear indicator of the kind of weather that you experienced up there!!! Congratulations to you and the Noes for birding hard! Looking forward to Part 2...

    1. Thanks Josh! I wish I had taken some photos of the landscape with my camera but I took some with my phone so that's to come. The second half of the trip was amazing!

  3. Wow, great trip so far Caleb! Good to see you birding in the north! Jealous of the Gray Partridge pics...that's a tough bird to find here, let alone photograph.

    1. Thanks Mr. Josh! The north is a blessing for us southern birders! I like those chickens!

  4. Wonderful birds in great weather. Congrats. Good birds in a great place.

    1. Thanks Mr. Chris! the northwest has some great birds and I still need some of their specialties so this won't be my last trip out there!