Sunday, August 3, 2014

Aug 3 (Day 215) - Productive birding in Victor, Idaho - Endth the Ruffed grouse hunt!

Yesterday afternoon, I received a tip that there were loads of Ruffed grouse along Fox Creek, a large canyon that drains west from the Tetons down towards Victor, Idaho. Although I probably could have birded this area yesterday afternoon when I arrived in town, I was tired and wet and instead decided to head right to Tibby's farm/house. Yesterday was also a Saturday afternoon which meant there would be lots of other people hiking and biking along Fox Creek. This would not be terribly conducive to grouse-finding as the ones near the trail certainly would have been flushed already. I decided I would bird the area early this morning instead. This way I would be on the trail early and would maximize my chances of flushing a grouse.

When I arrived at Tibby's last night, I noticed some very nice aspen groves in the foothills behind her house. She said she occasionally hears grouse drumming in these hills. Armed with this encouragement, I took a short walk through this area before it got dark last night. I did not find much. However, when I woke up this morning, a hunch told me to bird this area again rather than riding to Fox Creek.  Tibby actually accompanied me to provide a extra set of feet for grouse-flushing. We climbed up a steep, sage-covered pitch before dropping into the aspen-dotted drainage. The foliage was really thick and made navigation a fun challenge. We bushwached our way back down the drainage towards the house when we finally flushed a grouse. The bird did not fly far, and it actually landed on a log where I could get a good enough view to ID it as a Ruffed grouse! I instantly flipped the camera into manual focusing to try to get a shot through a the incredibly thick undergrowth. I captured a record shot before the bird flushed again and headed back up the drainage behind us. Its not great, but it leaves no doubt!

Not much visibility under the aspens

Obscured Ruffed grouse - no way to get this shot in autofocus,
so I had to go old skool manual

Mike, Loren, Tibby on the farm!
You can see the aspen groves on the hills behind them.

Resident Sandhill cranes

Great horned owl from the morning's walk

Finding the grouse leaves Gray partridge as the next very crucial bird I need to find. There a smattering of sightings of this species from the Victor area, and both Tibby and husband Mike say they sometimes see this bird on their land. After the grouse triumph this morning, I decided to use the afternoon to try for the partridge around here. The best way to find this bird is to walk the edges of farm fields, and being that I have access to farm field right here, this decision made sense. I could run into this species at any point along the road, but I really can't properly search for it on private lands. Looking at the habitat around here, I though I had a really good shot at this bird today. However, despite much tromping, I was unable to find the partridge today. It would have greatly simplified my life (more on this in a minute) to find this bird today, but I guess asking for two Gallinaceous birds in the same day was wishful thinking.

I walked many miles of field edge like this today

I did bike ~20 miles between field tromping sessions

Bad weather is going to complicate my next few days. Here is the forecast for Rexburg for the next 4 days. I was planning on using Rexburg as a base to search for Gray Partridge at Camas NWR, but I am seriously considering skipping Rexburg and Camas completely so to hammer west and get out from under this weather. I REALLY REALLY could use some intel on Gray partridge around Boise or anywhere in Western Washington. If I could get this bird around elsewhere, I'd skip it and the miserable weather here. Biking in rain is bad, but birding in rain is worse - especially when the birding will involve walking through wet, waist high grass. I'd prefer to make miles in this weather than bird in it.

Weather in Rexburg the next 4 days

Many people have asked if I use eBird. The answer is a resounding "YES". I frequently use it to give me an idea of where/when birds have historically been seen. For example, I can see that Mew Gull historically starts showing regularly in Northern California between October 19 and 23 or so (since it shows this late, I will have to go up to the Oregon/Washington coast this summer to make sure I get it). eBird is fantastic as a record keeping device and can help to point me in a productive direction. It gives me a general idea of what I can expect in a given area. However, the best form of bird finding information comes from actual discussions with local birders. I can't, after all, ask bird questions. My favorite motto this year has been "Boots on the Ground". Oral information from people who have birded a particular area in the past week is gold. I saw a grouse in area X 3 years ago is not terribly helpful. It becomes more helpful when coupled with the other sightings collectedin eBird, but no amount of pins in a map will ever trump a local birder saying "I have a spot for that bird, and I am willing to take you there." So, I am very well versed in eBird, but if anyone wants to talk to me about particular species, I always welcome it. 

For instance, there is a Northern hawk owl nest north of Boise that I would LOVE to hit, but the location is not in eBird. If someone knows about this site and wants to share info with me, please email me at The same goes for the exact whereabouts and protocols for the partridge in Western Idaho or Eastern Washington! In an ideal world someone would email me tonight or tomorrow and say "I have a really good spot for that bird other than Camas". I would then skip the northern ride to Rexburg and ride south to Idaho Falls instead. If I don't get any more intel, I am not sure what I am going to do. This is one of the primary reasons I am so religious about the blog. The more people that read it and like it, the more help I am going to get along the way!


  1. I know where the Northern Hawk Owls are (or at least where they were when they were originally found), but I wonder if they're even in your range given your planned route? They're actually about 130 miles north of Boise, and 50+ miles away from the nearest town. What kind of a route are you planning to take through Idaho, and how far are you willing to deviate from it for the owls?

  2. I wouldn't let this rain change your partridge plans. The weather forecast is calling for less than an inch of rain scattered across a 4 day period, which isn't really that much. The weather patterns in that part of Idaho generally don't produce miserable, long-lasting rain showers this time of year. If walking through wet fields isn't your thing, you could always invest in a cheap pair of rain pants. The other great thing about rain is that it makes it less hot! Right now, Eastern Washington is in the low 100s with fire danger.

    I think you can get this bird in the circular irrigation fields NW of Idaho Falls. There is nobody around in these fields and you could cover a lot of ground and walk a lot of ditches. Meet some landowners for even better access, and not stray too far from free hotel in Idaho Falls.

    Keep in mind that there are likely a lot of eBird pin pricks at Camas solely because that is a place birders visit for other reasons and some of them incidentally encounter partridge on the way in. The actual marshland portion of Camas doesn't even look that good for partridge. Birders don't often eBird in random agricultural fields, but that doesn't mean there aren't lots of partridges there as well!

    Good luck...

  3. Dorian, Do you submit your observations to eBird? You've received such an extraordinary benefit from the program on your big year; you should consider entering your sightings in return, both to contribute to the database and to help other birders find birds.

  4. Two bird notes. (1) Spruce Grouse is very findable on your route, and you should consider devoting some attention to this bird. This is an especially productive time of year to search for forest grouse because there are so many family groups on the trails. (2) Mew Gull is a hilarious joke. I wouldn't spend too much time worrying about this one--you're bound to get it.