Last night I could not make up my mind how to handle today's ride, the crappy forecast, and the hunt for the Gray partridge. I originally thought that I would north and west from Victor, ID to reach Rexburg, ID. From Rexburg I could, albeit with difficulty, head to Camas NWR to look for the partridge. It has been reported in the late summer from this spot for a number of years. The alternative was to head South and West from Victor to reach Idaho Falls, ID. There are a number of Gray partridge sightings from in and around Idaho Falls, but most of these come from the winter months when the birds are easier to find against the white snow (versus hidden in wheat fields at this time of year!) Even if I were to go to Rexburg, I would likely have to cut south to Idaho Falls anyway. Also, with the atrocious weather forecast of the next few days, the idea of detouring to Rexburg became infinitely less attractive.
I was still waffling on what to do this morning. However, I received a very nice blog comment that suggested I might be able find the partridge in Idaho Falls by birding the farm fields north and west of the city. Looking at the satellite imagery (see below), I could see lots of open farm fields in the area described by the commenter. I could also see that there were lots of roads between these farm fields which meant there would be lots of edges along which I could bike to flush the bird. Looking at the weather, I could also see that there was a predicted lull in storm activity in the late afternoon. I formulated a plan to haul ass to Idaho Falls, drop my stuff at 1 of the 2 Best Westerns in town, and head immediately out to the farm field to begin the big partridge hunt!
The first 2.5 hours of the ride were in a moderate rain that did not let up for one minute of that time. The wind was swirling a bit to make matters worse. Eventually the rain did let up, and the wind came around to blow stiffly from the east. While the first half of the ride was miserable, the second half was smooth sailing with the wind at my back. I cruised into town at around 2pm, dropped my stuff off at the hotel, and headed out to bird the farm fields at 3pm once the rain had stopped and the sun started to show. Oddly, by this time the wind had experienced another shift and was now blowing at 15-20 MPH from the northwest, the direction I was headed - UGH. Since the wind was blowing from north and west, I figured I would fight into the wind in those two directions and then let the wind aid my slow return trip to town. That this strategy was formulated in response to the blowing wind might have made the difference between missing and finding this bird today. I would have taken a different route had it been calm!
View north from Route 26 as the rain finally cleared
71 miles to reach Idaho Falls....
......and an additional 22 through the farm fields.
The roads in between the farm fields were not in good shape. None of them were graded, and most were littered with rocks large enough that I did not enjoy riding over and around them. Many of the roads were also muddy from the rain earlier in the day. In short, navigating the lattice of roads was a headache. Just as I was getting very really frustrated, I crossed an irrigation canal that looked really interesting. I welcomed the chance to get off the bouncing bike and walk around a bit.
One of the wheat-lined farm roads from today
Irrigational canal along which I walked
I flushed a partridge out of the ditch right here!
Canal is just of of shot to left.
My trick to grouse finding this year has been hand clapping. As I walk along looking for gamebirds, I clap my hands very loudly 5-7 times every 30-45 seconds or so. This increases the distance from which I can effectively flush birds. It has worked wonders to date. I walked one side of this canal without flushing a thing. I crossed over and headed back towards the bike. I had almost reached my starting point when my clapping flushed a grouse from right beneath me down in the ditch. I got only a very brief look, but it was good enough to see the orange-red tail that characterizes this species. The look left much to be desired but it as good for year bird #514! I headed back to the bike with renewed spirits, and I decided to walk another section of the canal to try to find more birds. About 10 minutes into this hike, I flushed 2 additional birds. I tried my best to get a photo, but they just moved too darn fast! Just as I turned back to continue my walk down the canal path, I saw ~10 (!) partridges life off simultaneously. DAMN! I got so wrapped up looking at the first two that I flushed that I didn't see the others just sitting there until I flushed them with my next step. I was able to get a documentation shot of two of these birds as they ducked into the wheat. I had a great look at one last bird that waited until I nearly stepped on it to flush. Gray partridge is a lifer me!
Distant, but diagnostic! Reddish tail is barely visible at this distance.
I have now found, minus Sagebrush sparrow, all the interior mountain birds I had hoped to find this summer (I will get the sparrow at some point, so I'm not worried). I am now going to head west towards Boise and then turn north towards Seattle. I have quite a bit of time in hand at the moment, so I will spend some time trying to get Spruce grouse along this route. I will also try to knock out some other species such as White-headed woodpecker and Varied thrush. Once I get towards Mt. Rainier I can try for Sooty grouse and Gray-crowned rosy-finch, and from there I can head to the coast to get Mew gull, and Tufted puffin. I can also start looking for other shore/waterbirds (Marbled murrelet, e.g.) so that I can get them out of the way before I reach California. Bottom line is that I am VERY happy at where the species list sits at the moment. The key will be to be right at 575 when I leave San Diego at the end of October. This would put me in a great position to crack 600 once I reach the LRGV! Its going to be really exciting in the next few months!
AND, I got a free bird this week. Well, I didn't get it yet, but with the pending Clapper rail split, there is now one more easy bird for me in California!