Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Nest box wedged under A/C outside my office at UI. Violet-green Swallow young looking out of nest box waiting for its next meal.  Posted by Hello

Violet-green Swallows fledgling here at UI

The VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS nesting outside my office window here at the UI are fledging. At least one of 2 young is making forays outside the
nest box (which is wedged under a window air conditioner unit). This
is one pair of a small colony of VG Swallows that nests every year on
the east side of my building. The window ledges, nooks and crannies,
and 3-4 story height make a very passable immitation of the cliff/rock
outcrop habitats that this species often uses in more natural setting.
Based on past years experience, these birds will leave very quickly
once all the young in the group are fledgled. This is often by early
July so I would not be surprised if they are gone by the time I return
from a short 4th of July vacation. From here I presume they move on to
some summer congregating area to feed and fatten up before they
actually migrate later in the summer.

Also at our MAPS station on 6/24 east of Moscow, we banded our first
fledgling Song Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. We also had a family of
5 Black-capped Chickadees fly into one of our nets which as other
banders may relate is somewhat of a nightmare (chickadees can be
difficult to get out of the nets).

Monday, June 27, 2005

Eastern sky before dawn (4:20 AM) near Gifford, ID on the Camas Prairie before start of my BBS route. Posted by Hello

Nez Perce Co. Grasshopper Sparrow, 6/26/2005

I found (i.e. heard) a GRASSHOPPER SPARROW on Hubbard Gulch Rd. this
morning on stop 30 of my 4th (and final!) BBS route of the year.
Hubbard Gulch Rd. runs north from River Rd. along the Clearwater R.,
best accessed by the Lenore bridge to the east. The bird was singing
from a small weedy field dominated by teasle. The location is < 1 mile
up Hubbard Gulch Rd. across from the mailbox painted with "Jesus Loves
You".It may be possible to see with some patience.

This species seems to like a bit of vertical sructure in its grassy
patches in the form of scattered weeds or small shrubs. This type of
habitat is hard to come by in Latah and Nez Perce Cos. I've had them
twice on my Joel BBS and know of one other location east of Moscow
(which I checked on my way home to no avail).

Other birds of interest in Hubbard Gulch included YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT
and many of the other species typically found in this shrubby habitat.

Least Flycatcher (6/12/2005) retraction

Back on 6/12 I reported a Least Flycactcher from the bottom of Coyote
Grade in Nez Perce Co. For a variety of reasons I felt a bit
uncomfortable with this call and an experience this morning clinched
it for me. Along my BBS I had a Western Flycatcher giving the down
slurred portion of its call incessantly, but I knew it was a WEFL as
after some time it included other parts of its song as well.

I am now almost certain this is what I heard on 6/12 at the bottom of
Coyote Grade. The location, shade trees around a farm house, is much
better for WEFL in our area. I've found them in these settings
somewhat regularly in June. Also this bird did not quite give the dry
che-bek call of the LEFL although it was suggestive. (Hammond's
Flycatcher also sometimes gives the first part of its song, a 2-parted
call somewhat suggestive of Least FC).

It is important to retract this as this would have indicated further
range expansion of this species which so far seems to be not expanding
in northern ID south of Lake Coeur d'Alene (and now I believe this is
still the case!).

This is why I believe this happened:

1 - It was 4:40 AM (!)
2 - I only listened for about 20 seconds from the car
3 - wishful thinking, the L-C Valley seems a likely location for this
expanding species

Anyway, better to be safe, I think we'll know if/when they expand into our area.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Vernita Bridge

Vernita Bridge at the Hanford Reach of the Columbia R.  Posted by Hello

We made a quick trip over to Buckley, WA on 6/21 and back on 6/22. We
returned crossing the Cascades at Chinook Pass near Mt. Rainier and then
from Yakima to Othello via Vernita Bridge over the Columbia R. along the
Hanford Reach. We had limited time but made a few quick stops along the way
noting birds of interest. There was steady rain west of the Cascades and an
impressive wind storm w/ attendant dark clouds across the Columbia Basin.
The tail winds were such that I think I got record gas mileage!

Buckley, WA - enjoyed watching the local (pugetensis) sub-species of
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW nesting near my sister-in-law's house and feeding in
the yard. They have an interesting song, recognizable as a WHITE-CROWNED but
quite different from the "gambelii" sub-species that migrate through and
winter here the interior. Also present were SPOTTED TOWHEES including
juveniles and nesting CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES. I would have done some
more birding around here except for the steady rain all morning.

Upon leaving, we drove east on 410 across Chinook Pass and north of Mt.
Rainier which was completely invisible in the clouds. Not far east of
Chinook Pass we entered the rain shadow and it was dry most of the way home.
We stopped at Cliffdell along the Naches R. for some lunch at Whistlin Jack
Lodge and did a bit of birding around the lodge finding the following:

Calliope Hummingbird
Vaux's Swift
Barn Swallow
Hammond's Flycatcher
Pacific-slope ("Western") Flycatcher - sounding very much like the WEFL in
our area
Western Wood-Pewee
Steller's Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Mountain Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Black-headed Grosbeak
Spotted Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Pine Siskin

Further along the Naches R. in the dryer canyon country I had 2 LEWIS'S
WOODPECKERS fly across the road.

Heading east from Yakima over Rt. 24 we drove through all the Hops Farms and
orchards to Vernita Bridge at the Columbia River's Hanford Reach (and west
entrance of the Hanford DOE Site). We stopped at the rest area here and did
a bit of birding enjoying the gusty winds and ominous sky backdropped by dry
sagebrush hills. Birds here were:

Cliff Swallow - huge swarm over the river, probably nesting around the
Bank Swallow
Common Nighthwak
Western Kingbird - at least several pairs nesting in the trees here, very
noisy and obvious
American Crow
American Robin
Brewer's Blackbird
House Finch
House Sparrow

The rest of the way home was uneventful with few birds seen (mostly
Red-tailed Hawks etc.) although we felt like we were being chased by the
unsettled weather all the way back to Moscow.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Brewer's Blackbird update

I went by Wal-Mart yesterday to pick up some plants and the Brewer's Blackbird nest had several young being attended by a parent. They looked quite vulnerable in the hot sun but the parents were nearby and waiting for a chance to feed them. Amazing that they've pulled this off will all the people around!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Phillip's Farm

Terry Gray and I walked the trail circuit around Phillip's Farm on Wednesday (6/15) evening. This was our scheduled Palouse Audubon Wed. evening field trip (every Wed. in June) but nobody else showed up this week. This is a great park just north of Moscow left by Mr. Phillips for the enjoyment and use of Moscow's citizens (especially kids). There are very few public, easily accessible natural areas around Moscow so this is a real gem. I have been thinking about the possibility of starting a MAPS banding station at this location. There are a nice variety of breeding species here, for example this is a sample of what we found last evening:

  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Tree Swallow - at least 5 pairs nesting in boxes around the property (see pictures below)
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • Western Wood-Pewee - lots!
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Black-headed Grosbeak
  • Western Tanager
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Cassin's Finch

Tree Swallow looking out of nest box at Phillip's Farm north of Moscow. (LW is part of initials of Latah Wildlife Association). Photo by Terry Gray. Posted by Hello

Tree Swallow nest inside nest box. Feathers lining the nest appear to be duck feathers. Photo by Terry Gray. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Unusual nest location

I found a Brewer's Blackbird nesting in a potted (for sale) Colorado Spruce tree in the Moscow Wal-Mart garden center. The nest was about 3' up in the 4-5' tree and contained 5 eggs. As I approached, the female would fly off the nest into a nearby maple tree in the median, often joined by 1 or 2 males. This is what initially attracted my attention to the nest location.

See pictures of the nest and nest location below.

** note: anybody actually buying this tree will be getting a very angry female Brewer's Blackbird as part of the deal!

Colorado Spruce (front right, leaning) w/ Brewer's Blackbird nest in Wal-Mart parking lot. Posted by Hello

Brewer's Blackbird nest w/ 5 eggs in potted Colorado Spruce tree in Moscow Wal-Mart's parking lot/garden center. Posted by Hello

Monday, June 13, 2005

Least Flycatcher

I had a LEAST FLYCATCHER Sunday morning, singing incessantly at the bottom of Coyote Grade Rd. This was between stops 1 and 2 of my "Joel" BBS route so I didn't really have much time to check it out. It was in shade trees around the farm house right at the bottom of the grade near where is intersects U.S. 12 (east of Lewiston along theClearwater River). Be aware that there are dogs around the farm house that will create a commotion if you go looking for this bird. Other species of interest along the bottom few miles of Coyote Grade:


** note: this is a species which appears to be expanding rapidly in the inland northwest

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Clearwater R. and Coyote Grade

View south toward the Clearwater River at approx. 4:45 AM early on my BBS route. The road seen is Coyote Grade which starts at the river and works its way up to the prairie. Posted by Hello

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Vassar Meadows, MAPS banding station location. Near Deary, ID east of Moscow. Posted by Hello

Friday, June 10, 2005

Barn Owl vocalizations

Here are some good Barn Owl calls. The first call in particular sounds like the one I heard flying over last evening.

Barn Owl in the night

I heard a Barn Owl call several times last evening when I went out to coax our cat in. I thought I might even get a look at it but it must have flown off. I have seen or heard one in the area several times since January. I presume a pair is nesting nearby somewhere, most likely in a building downtown (perhaps one of the grain elevators). They are probably flying over on their way to foraging areas. I will try to find a Barn Owl call to post here.

Barn Owls are fairly common in the Palouse area although we are near the northern edge of the range for this species. They nest in a variety of cavities including rock caves, old buildings, and even nest boxes are more common done in the Lewiston/Clarkston Valley and somewhat easier to find there - especially in the winter.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

House Finches

An adult male and fledgling House Finch were on the sunflower feeder outside the kitchen this morning. Seed-eating birds (esp finches) will bring their youngsters to feeders and sometimes feed them pre-chewed seeds right at the feeder. The young are very handsome in their fresh juvenal plumage. Always nice to see this time of year.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Late Migrants

Late spring has been quite cool here on the Palouse and we are still getting a trickle of migrant songbirds coming through. This is really not that unusual even in more normal years. A Wilson's Warbler has been singing outside my office window for much the morning. Although the first migrant Wilson's arrive as early as mid-May it is not unusual to have a few passing through into early June. Possibly these later migrants are going well north, perhaps to Alaska where they are common breeders in Alder thickets.

A Swainson's Hawk was being harassed by several crows on campus this morning. This is not that unusual as they both nest on campus and manage to mostly tolerate each other!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Harlequin Ducks

This note is a response to a recent posting on the inland-nw-birders email list reporting a sighting of Harlequin Ducks.

Male Harlequins typically leave the breeding grounds for the coast at about this time. We have seen a few on the Lochsa into mid June but that is probably the latest. The males are often in small "loafing" groups before heading for the coast.

The breeding males apparently migrate with their mates and then reunite with them later when they also return to the coast. Some studies have shown that breeding populations usually winter together in the same location. The second reference below indicates there is evidence that Harlequins breeding in Idaho winter in the San Juan Islands, WA. Harlequin Ducks are still relatively poorly studied in the northern Rockies.

More information here, plus check out the BNA account for Harlequin Duck (available at good libraries).

Selway River & Nez Perce BBS

Deb and I were up on the Selway River this weekend so I could run one of my BBS routes.

On Sunday afternoon we drove up to Meadow Ck, a tributary to the Selway. We intended to hike several miles in but it was raining pretty steadily. The Selway-Bitterrot Mountains pulls rain out of any passing systems, a weather phenomenon known by local river guides as the "Selway swirl". We didn't get very far up the Meadow Ck. trail before being soaked from wet brush. Anyway, while hiking back to the trailhead I had a possible Harlequin Duck fly by heading downstream. I only saw it flying away but my impression was of a small, dark duck. We looked carefully driving back out but without any further sightings.

We also watched a few salmon leaping at the base of Selway Falls which was pretty cool. These are spring run Chinook Salmon, a remnant of the former great salmon rains on the Clearwater.

The Selway Rd. is in terrible shape due to all the rain, even worse than when I was up here a few weeks ago to float the Selway. Probably takes close to an hour to get up to Meadow Ck. from Lowell (Lochsa/Selway confluence and US 12). There are lot of good gravel bars on the lower Selway for loafing Harlequins and we checked them all carefully without any luck.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Moscow Area Sightings

In addition to banding I've seen/heard a few birds of interest the past couple days as follows:

6/1 -Bloom Meadows (Clearwater Co., ID)

  • Wilson's Snipe
  • Olive-sided Flycatcher
  • American Redstart
  • Fox Sparrow

Vassar Meadows (northeast of Deary, ID)

  • American Redstart
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Wilson's Warbler - possibly a migrant at this locationamong many of the expected breeders at this location

6/2 -Moose Ck Reservoir

  • Bald Eagle - 1 adult, there seems to be 1 or 2 adult eagles wandering abouteastern Latah Co., they are nesting at Dworshak Res not too far to the east(3 or 4 nests I understand)
  • Virginia Rail - called once in response to a Sora immitation at upper end oflake, one of few places in Latah Co. to find this species

American Redstart - Bloom Meadows, Bovil, ID (Clearwater Co.) Posted by Hello


I was training for bird banding at our local MAPS banding station yesterday and this morning (although we were rained out today). The banding station I'm working at this summer is Vassar Meadows near Deary, about 20 miles east of Moscow. I do not run the station but visitors are welcome and I can provide more information if you are interested.

Yesterday we were banding out at Bloom Meadows on the East Fork Potlatch R. which is near Bovil, ID (actually just into Clearwater Co. if I'm reading the DeLorme right). One of the first birds we caught in the nets was a WILLOW FLYCATCHER that was caught at almost this exact spot same time last year (early June, 2004). In many species individuals return to the same place to nest in successive years (technical term = philopatry). Therefore banding in the same location in successive years can be used to estimate survivorship in that area. That is one of the goals of the MAPS program. The other is to estimate productivity = the number of young birds successfully fledged during the breeding season. Fledged young are captured in the nets
later in the breeding season and an index of productivity can be generated from this data. MAPS = Measuring Avian Productivity and Survivorship

The banding station is operated approx. every 10 days during the breeding season. There are > 500 MAPS stations across the U.S. including a number in our region (some of the banders are on inland birders and probably getting their stations going now!). Okay enough for the lecture.

We also banded an AMERICAN REDSTART at Bloom Meadows and - you can see a photo of it here.