Friday, October 16, 2009

Lucky Peak Songbird Migration Totals

On Thursday, October 15 we netted for songbirds for the last time in 2009 and then took the nets down. Probably due mostly to the weather, our last two days had rather lackluster totals (we captured only 21 birds each day) that were dominated by Dark-eyed Juncos. BUT, we did catch several of the fattest juncos of the season, including a male that weighed 23.1 grams (any junco weighing in @ 20g or more is definitely carrying a lot of migratory fuel but 23.1 is really fat!).
Late season 2009 songbird crew, from left: Heidi, Jay, Caroline (sweet hat!),
, and Stephanie

(we also had help from Jack & Rob earlier in the season and Gary, Erin, Micah, Randy, Dave, & Carol throughout)

In all, we captured 5,748 birds of 61 species in 2009; this marks the 5th highest season total and capture rate (5,748 birds in 4,364 mist net hours = 1.317 birds per mist net hour) in the 13 seasons so far. Thus, 2009 was a little above average ... which is still really good, especially in comparison with most other banding stations I know of that have significantly lower capture rates.

The top ten:
  1. Dark-eyed Junco 799 (includes a single-day record 170 juncos on 10-10)
  2. Western Tanager 697 (new season record)
  3. Ruby-crowned Kinglet 638 (lowest season-total to date)
  4. White-crowned Sparrow 495
  5. Dusky Flycatcher 322
  6. Spotted Towhee 285 (2nd highest season total)
  7. MacGillivray's Warbler 283
  8. Yellow-rumped Warbler 226
  9. Nashville Warbler 195
  10. Yellow Warbler 192
We captured 3 new species in the songbird nets this year, including an American Kestrel on Aug 21 (a common migrant at the site that had never been caught in the songbird nets) as well as the much more rare Hermit Warbler on Aug 6 and an Indigo Bunting on Sept 12 (see prior blog posts for pics of these two). Other unusual species captured in 2009 included a Green-tailed Towhee on July 29, a Gray Flycatcher on Aug 2, a Yellow-breasted Chat on Aug 20, an American Redstart on Aug 27, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak on Sept 9, a Least Flycatcher on Sept 15, a White-breasted Nuthatch on Sept 26, and a Varied Thrush on Sept 29.

We set or tied season records for a number of species in 2009, including Western Tanager (n=697), Cassin's Vireo (131), Lazuli Bunting (91), Swainson's Thrush (45 - 19 better than the previous high of 26!!), 'Western' Flycatcher (22 - a tie with 2006), Black-chinned Hummingbird (16), Song Sparrow (9), and Savannah Sparrow (4). Also, though we hardly captured any compared to the # that was around, we had an amazing late fall for American Robins - hundreds were around the site for a couple weeks straight and the hawkwatchers estimated over 2,250 robins flying past on one day!

Notably absent again was Northern Pygmy-owl which we had captured at least one per season for the first 11 years and then none in 2008 or 2009 after a record season in 2007 (???). Also, though I don't see any reason for concern for most of the species that we catch (based on the raw numbers anyway; still awaiting a more rigorous analysis of population trends) and most species numbers are either stable (with some cyclic and/or inter-annual variation) or increasing, my concern for the status of Golden-crowned Kinglets continues to grow.

A trio of very cute Golden-crowned Kinglets captured together in fall 2006 - photo by Caroline Poli

Though we detected this species by their high-pitched call notes most days in September and October, we captured/banded only 11 in 2009 and this is the lowest season total yet. It could be that shifts in their feeding (i.e., maybe concentrating their feeding in the Douglas-fir trees even more than usual) could be driving this pattern but we captured at least 60 individuals from 1997-2001 and numbers have generally been much lower since (see the below Excel graph to get a sense of the trend in annual captures for GC Kinglets):

In contrast, the following Excel graph shows the annual capture rate for all songbirds combined during the same period:
As you can see, the combined total for the songbird community as a whole paints a positive picture - stable if not slightly increasing. Thus, why the apparent decrease in Golden-crowned Kinglets?? Something to look into ....

I'll post again with the final raptors #s and/or if something unusual shows up.



Sunday, October 11, 2009

1st Annual BIG SIT @ Lucky Peak (& some Merlin action)

On Sunday, Oct 11, the gung-ho hawkwatch team decided to initiate a 'Big Sit' (in which observers attempt to document as many species as possible from one vantage point) from the top of Lucky Peak. Thus, John (who'd done one in coastal New Jersey last year) was up on top by dawn listening and looking for any songbirds, owls, or anything else they might miss later in the day. During the AM, Dave, Eric, and Preston took shifts (allowing the others to eat breakfast and get ready for the hawk count to start @ 10am) on the peak.

The 2009 Lucky Peak hawkwatch crew (from left, Eric, Dave, Preston, & John) on duty counting hawks during the BIG SIT on Oct 11, 2009

The total for the day was 39 species, mostly consisting of raptors and landbirds but also including Mallards, Canada Geese, Ring-billed Gull, and Great Blue Heron that we (especially Dave) picked out along the Boise River using his 60x Swarovski scope!

A few other highlights included a couple of Merlins (coming in pretty good #s of late - see below for more info/pics), a fly-by Northern Shrike, Evening Grosbeaks, Clark's Nutcrackers, and some migrating Western Bluebirds. It was a fun thing to do and something I hope will become an annual event!


In other news, we've been enjoying a pretty impressive flight of Merlins in recent weeks (great for me as they're my favorite raptor!!). As an example, here are three shots of 2 immature male Merlins of different subspecies that I captured in a matter of 7 minutes yesterday (the highlight of an otherwise very slow hawk flight due the passing cold front). The first bird to come in was quite dark and might represent the 'Black' (suckleyi) subspecies whereas the second bird looks to be of the 'Prairie' (richardsonii) subspecies. What do you think?

Two immature male Merlins captured and banded on 10-10-09. Pretty strikingly different appearances: on the right is a bird of the 'Prairie' subspecies (more common further east but seems to be annual but rare in Idaho) whereas the bird on the left might represent the 'Black' subspecies (that hails from the Pacific Northwest and also seems to be a rare, annual visitor to Idaho) - photo by Brad Ware

The same 2 Merlins in reverse order - photo by Brad Ware

In this picture, note especially the tail pattern (bold white bars on the 'Prairie' vs. a predominantly dark tail on the possible 'Black') as well as the overall coloration - photo by Brad Ware

The expected subspecies in Idaho (and most of the continent) is the nominate (columbarius) subspecies, which I captured and photo'd a few weeks ago:
(for comparison) An immature female Merlin of the nominate columbarius subspecies captured on 9-17-09; note the medium brown color and the moderately distinct tail bars - photo by Holley Carlisle

A shot of the chest/undwerwing of the same columbarius individual caught on 9-17-09 - photo by Holley Carlisle

Cheers & happy birding!


Monday, October 05, 2009

Snow on Lucky Peak!

On Saturday (Oct 3) afternoon, we started to get some sporadic snow flurries and, with a forecast for a lot of precipitation thru the weekend, we wondered what it would look like. Fortunately, the few hawks that were around (only 17 raptors counted all day) were pretty hungry and we were able to catch 6 birds in the trapping blind - including this snazzy adult male Sharp-shinned Hawk:
Adult (after-second-year) male Sharp-shinned Hawk captured & banded on 10-3-09

Heidi holding the stud male 'Sharpie' after finishing banding & measuring the bird

Fortunately for me, the whole songbird crew (Heidi took the picture) came down to the blind to keep me company/warm - from left, clockwise - Caroline, Stephanie, Jay, & Nathan - and got to enjoy a couple of the hawks

At around 530pm, a big cloud moved in to envelope the mountain and we closed up shop for the day in favor of some warm soup (care of Caroline) and games inside the trailer. At 8pm, some big snowflakes started falling and we got an inch or so last night (I took a very enjoyable but wet walk in the snow before bed!). Then, at round 6 this morning, the snow began again and we had 3" or so by the time I headed down to Boise (since all the songbird nets were completely covered in snow and there was no way to safely run nets in this weather).

Most of the songbird & hawk crews, including Preston, John, Caroline, Nathan, Stephanie, Heidi, & Dave (with a snowflake blocking his face - sorry!), standing outside the trailer enjoying the snow

This makes two straight years that we've received significant snow in October. I'll admit that I was whining about the high 80s/low 90s weather that dominated for most of September and was wishing for fall weather but this was a little extreme ;-). Now I'm looking forward to the weather clearing up so we can start counting/catching some migrants again!

Before the snow came, here's a Mountain Chickadee gauging the situation before flying off again



Sunday, October 04, 2009

Matt catches a Golden Eagle!

So Matt was due...

Last year in mid-Sept Matt was trapping when a Golden Eagle landed on the pigeon but when he went to pull the trigger for the trap, it didn't go b/c it had been set wrong by a visiting trapper. Thus, Matt had to chase the eagle off the pigeon (no other way to catch it at this point) and lose 'his' first catch of a Golden (something all hawk-trappers hope will eventually happen - I'm still waiting ;-).

Thus, I was very psyched for Matt when I got his text/picture message rubbing it in when he caught the bird on a very windy Wednesday (I was off the mountain at this point) b/c if anyone was gonna catch a Golden this year, Matt deserved it.

Look at the size of this bird!!! - a probable second-year (one-year-old) Golden Eagle captured and banded @ Lucky Peak on Wed, Sept 30

Congratulations Matt! ... and let's hope that now that it has a uniquely-numbered band, one day this bird is recovered somewhere else to help us learn more about Golden Eagle movements (see this link to get a sense for where the raptors we've caught/banded have come from/gone to).

Friday, October 02, 2009

End of September update

Figured I'd provide an update on happenings up on Lucky Peak since September just drew to a close. The recent cold front slowed things down a bit over the last few days but, as you can see from the numbers below, it's been a really good season so far ...

Totals thru September 30:

Raptors 6,992 migrants of 15 species - this is already the 3rd highest season total and we have all of October ahead of us!!!

Top Five:
  • Turkey Vulture 1,456
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk 1,435
  • American Kestrel 1,330
  • Cooper's Hawk 1,217
  • Red-tailed Hawk 735
... and we've set season-records for three species:
  • Swainson's Hawk 177
  • Osprey 115
  • Broad-winged Hawk 84 (more than double the prior season-high of 37!!)
Caroline Poli (veteran/star songbird migration researcher) with an immature Broad-winged Hawk that she captured on Sept 22, 2009 - photo by Nathan Banfield

Closer view of the same immature Broad-winged Hawk captured on Sept 22, 2009 - photo by Nathan Banfield

59 owl captures
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl 31 (just getting warmed up)
  • Flammulated Owl 26 (3rd best season total!)
  • Long-eared Owl: 2
Golden Eagle Audubon Society field trip to see owls at Lucky Peak on October 10

Songbirds 4,714 captures of 61 species

Top Ten:
  • Western Tanager 697
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet 518
  • White-crowned Sparrow 421
  • Dusky Flycatcher 321
  • MacGillivray's Warbler 283
  • Spotted Towhee 275
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler 225
  • Nashville Warbler 195
  • Yellow Warbler 192
  • Chipping Sparrow 162
recent highlights:
  • Varied Thrush (2nd ever capture) on 9-29
  • White-breasted Nuthatch (2nd ever capture) on 9-26
  • a season record 45 Swainson's Thrushes (previous high of 26)
On Sept 1, we captured our last 2 Brewer's Sparrows of the season and the first of the day was especially well-marked which made us think of the 'Timberline' subspecies that breeds at high elevation areas from Montana north through the Canadian Rockies. Thus, we took pics of each bird & I put the best here (the potential Timberline wasn't especially photogenic but I think you can see the difference) ...
A Brewer's Sparrow - maybe of the Timberline subspecies due to the more distinct markings, slightly darker coloration, and darker upper mandible - captured on Sept 1 - photo by Nathan Banfield

A more typical Brewer's Sparrow with less distinct markings and paler coloration captured on Sept 1 - photo by Nathan Banfield

On the subject of sparrows, here are two immature White-crowned Sparrows of different subspecies - 'Mountain' (oreantha) on the left and 'Gambel's' (gambeli) on the right. Notice the pinker bill and darker lores of the 'Mountain' bird - photo by Nathan Banfield

Here's the second-ever capture of Least Flycatcher at Lucky Peak (9-15-09) - photo by Nathan Banfield

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lucky Peak fall migration update

With many apologies for not posting sooner, here's an update on the migration happenings up at Lucky Peak. It's been a great start to the season and the best few weeks are ahead of us (see below for info on two upcoming Audubon Society field trips) so we hope to see as many visitors/bird fans as possible!

In particular, 2009 has been great for the diurnal raptors - both as far as the numbers we're counting and the numbers we're catching and banding - with numbers much higher than in recent years. As one example of a less common species, the hawkwatch crew counted 31 Broad-winged Hawks yesterday (Sept 21), including a kettle of 21 individuals. That daily total exceeds the season totals for all but two prior seasons!! Meanwhile, we haven't banded any Gyrfalcons yet but we have been getting really big numbers of especially Sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks and American Kestrels. We've also started to see and catch a few Merlins in the last couple weeks and we're hoping that some Northern Goshawks will start appearing with more frequency in the coming days.

Here's a shot of me holding an immature female Merlin (columbarius subspecies), my best catch of the day last Thursday when MY MOM WAS IN THE BLIND WITH ME!! b/c this is my favorite raptor - photo by Holley Carlisle

Totals thru September 20:

Raptors 4,029 migrants of 15 species
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk 1,002
  • American Kestrel 870
  • Cooper's Hawk 842
  • Red-tailed Hawk 502
  • Turkey Vulture 408
Owls 35 owl captures so far (and Saw-whets are just getting started)
  • Flammulated Owl: 20 (3rd best season total!)
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl: 14
  • Long-eared Owl: 1
Songbirds 3,845 captures of 56 species, several highlights include:
  • a record 40+ Swainson's Thrushes (previous high of 26)
  • adult female Rose-breasted Grosbeak captured on Sept 9
  • immature female Chestnut-sided Warbler seen well by many observers on Sept 10 - found by visiting birder Ron Martin of North Dakota (attending the Western Field Ornithologist's conference that BSU & IBO hosted) - it was a lifer for a couple crewmembers/volunteers!
  • adult female Indigo Bunting captured on Sept 12 - our first ever @ Lucky Peak
  • immature Least Flycatcher captured on Sept 15 - our 2nd capture of this species
Adult female Rose-breasted Grosbeak (left) that was captured in the same net with this immature male Black-headed Grosbeak (right) on Sept 9, 2009 - photo by Caroline Poli

Adult female Indigo Bunting captured at Lucky Peak on Sept 12, 2009 ... the 1st we've ever seen or captured at the site! - photo by Stephanie Coates

Upcoming Golden Eagle Audubon Society field trips to IBO (see GEAS site for details):

Sat. Sept. 26, 8:30am – GEAS trip to Idaho Bird Observatory, Raptor Watch

Sat. Oct. 10, 6pm – GEAS trip to Idaho Bird Observatory, Owl Banding



Sunday, August 09, 2009

Hermit Warbler!!

On Thurs Aug 6 (the morning after preparing the last post) a new species for the Lucky Peak nets arrived on this massive storm that came in from the NW - an immature female Hermit Warbler!

Here's a side view of an apparent immature female Hermit Warbler - photo by Heidi Ware

The concern is the potential for hybridization with the closely-related Townsend's Warbler but, though I've sent it to some experienced birders for their input, I think it looks like a 'pure' Hermit.

Hermit Warbler, though its breeding range is relatively close (principally the coastal ranges of CA, OR, and southwestern WA), is decidedly rare in Idaho with only 2 prior accepted records of the species. But, there were 2 sight reports in early May of this year, both in SW Idaho, pending review. One of the accepted records was a sight record by 7 of us up at Lucky Peak on Aug 14, 2002 - also an immature female. At the time, I was pretty excited to see that one (and glad it didn't get caught since it was my first in Idaho ;-) but it was pretty cool to catch this one and get to check her out close-up.

The underside of the bird ... (by Heidi Ware)

Another side view

The bird was in very good condition (big fat and big muscle) and, if it didn't leave due to the rain last night, will likely keep moving at the first opportunity.



Thursday, August 06, 2009

The 2009 migration season begins!

After winding up various summer field studies (including Long-billed Curlews, Flammulated Owls, and songbird counts all over south-central Idaho, we began our annual Lucky Peak fall songbird (and hummingbirds/woodpeckers too) migration study on July 16. On day 1, we captured 114 new birds plus 16 'recaptures' (birds already wearing bands - all placed there by us in this case) and were thus off to the races. We haven't equaled that total since but we've managed to keep 4 to 5 of us quite busy most days.

As usual, we have a great crew of full-time field assistants and part-time volunteers and here's a great example:
The crew on Wed, July 29 (includes several dedicated volunteers), from left: Gary, Dave, Carol, Heidi, Rob, Stephanie, Jack, Melody, and Jay

From July 16 to July 31, we captured 1,049 individuals of 31 different species. The top ten most abundant species were:
  1. Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon' subspecies): 129
  2. Dusky Flycatcher: 110
  3. MacGillivray's Warbler: 100
  4. Yellow Warbler: 88
  5. Nashville Warbler: 79
  6. Chipping Sparrow: 71
  7. Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 64
  8. Lazuli Bunting: 53
  9. Spotted Towhee: 42
  10. Hammond's Flycatcher: 39
#11 on the abundance ranking is the Calliope Hummingbird, with 38 individuals captured in July - already the 3rd highest season total in 13 seasons of this study! We've also captured a record 13 Black-chinned Hummingbirds so far (5 of them since July 31) and this represents our highest season total to date. Thus, it seems its been a good year for the nectarivores!

Up close and personal with an immature male Calliope Hummingbird
Other highlights so far include a juvenile-plumaged Green-tailed Towhee on July 29th - only the 5th we've ever captured at Lucky Peak (too sneaky for a photo ;-).

As usual, the bulk of early-season captures include locally-dispersing juveniles and some molting adults but we've also had a slow but steady push of southward migrants all along, especially including the hummingbirds plus adults of Dusky Flycatchers, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and Warbling Vireos.
4 juvenile Dusky Flycatchers (all caught in the same net) on their way back to their capture location - photo by Heidi Ware

Then, during the first few days of August, we started to catch the 2nd wave of migrants, including our first 'Western' Flycatcher and Wilson's Warbler on Aug 1, Gray Flycatcher and Western Wood-pewee on Aug 2, and Townsend's Warbler on Aug 3. Also, in the last few days, immature Yellow Warblers (usually our earliest warbler to push southward) have started putting on big fat stores (migratory fuel)!
Adult 'Western' Flycatcher (likely Cordilleran by range) - photo by Jack Stenger

Adult Gray Flycatcher

Immature Western Wood-pewee

We usually experience a bit of a lull in #s during early August (but still great diversity) as the dispersing young birds molt their body plumage and adults of many species continue molting flight feathers in prep for migration. Then, more species will begin migrating in earnest over the next couple of weeks. Then the raptor excitement begins in late August when we begin hawk counts on Aug 25 and owl netting on Aug 28.

Golden Eagle Audubon has a field trip planned for Sat, Aug 15 and this would be a great time to see many colorful birds up close!

Cheers & happy fall!


Monday, May 04, 2009

Snake River Birds of Prey Festival in Kuna-May 15-17

Join IBO at the first annual Snake River Birds of Prey Festival in Kuna, May 15-17. On Saturday morning, May 16th, Jay et al will be banding songbirds at Celebration Park.

Lectures as well as field trips (including a field trip to band nestling western screech owls or ferruginous hawks!) will be offered throughout the weekend.

Visit: for more information and how to register.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Long-billed Curlews are returning!

'And, why does this matter to IBO?', you might ask. Because, in cooperation with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG;, IBO will be launching a couple of new studies in 2009 with the goal of building a long-term partnership with IDFG to cooperatively study bird species that are considered especially sensitive in the state ( Thus, in 2009 our focal species will be Long-billed Curlew and Flammulated Owl.

Long-billed Curlew - photo by Mike Baird

Long-billed Curlews ( nest in grasslands throughout the central and western US. An area of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land roughly bordered by Emmett, Middleton, Parma, and Sand Hollow in SW Idaho has historically hosted one of the densest breeding populations in the state and this is where we'll be working. I'm excited to get a chance to work (scientifically, that is) with a new species!! Field work is set to begin in April and we may be seeking volunteers so keep in touch if interested.

Flammulated Owl - photo by Greg Lasley

Flammulated Owls ( nest in coniferous (mostly Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir) and aspen forests throughout the western US and parts of Mexico. They are a neotropical migrant (winter range largely in the New World tropics; in this case, pine and pine-oak forests of Mexico and northern Central America) that typically arrives to the state in early May and departs in September or early October. We've studied this species at Lucky Peak during fall migration for a decade but this will be our first opportunity to study these birds during the breeding season. Partly because of its nocturnal habits and possibly also its vocal similarity with the larger Long-eared Owl, relatively little was known about this species & its distribution until the last 30+ years and there's still much to be learned - including population status. We're working together with IDFG to develop a long-term monitoring program for this species and 2009 will be a pilot year. Survey areas are yet to be determined but field work will begin in mid-May.



Birding Competition between IBOers ;-)

Back in January, Heidi (new IBO volunteer in 2008 who's quickly become a birding fanatic) and I decided to each keep track of how many bird species we see in Idaho in 2009 and pretty soon we got carried away, made it into a (mostly ;-) light-hearted competition, and decided to create a blog. It's been going for about a month but I keep forgetting to post a link to it here on the IBO blog - so here it is finally:

In addition to birding a lot of areas I haven't often (or ever) birded and/or at different times of year, we're also endeavoring to bird with as many Idaho (or visiting) birders as we can and we've done pretty well so far and enjoyed it! If interested, please check it out (and maybe add it to the list of blogs you follow) and you'll see that we've spent far too much time checking out gulls (including an adult Iceland Gull we found!) but we've also seen a bunch of other cool birds, including a male Black-throated Blue Warbler that showed up in Boise for a couple days in Feb (!) as well as the many great birds that occur regularly in Idaho, and many great areas - like the Snake River canyon.

Enjoy & happy birding!

Mission: to contribute to the conservation of western migratory landbirds through cooperative research and public education