Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Epic USA Day 10

Well we eventually got our rental SUV back by 11am, but before that we walked up to a local park in search of a reported Wood Duck. Alas, there were no ducks but we did find Alder and Least Flycatchers, a few Red-eyed VireosCedar Waxwings and many Grey Catbirds. Once we had loaded the car we headed over to Bowdoin NWR and drove the loop trail searching for Baird’s Sparrow but despite a few close calls all we got were numerous GrasshopperSongVesperSavannah and Clay-coloured Sparrows. 

Savannah Sparrow

We also saw plenty of Wilson’s Phalaropes, California Gulls, Willet, American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, a Burrowing Owl, both Western and Eastern Kingbirds, a distant Prairie Falcon, several superb Lark Buntings and other common birds. 

Blue-winged Teal

Burrowing Owl

Wilson's Phalarope

On the drive out we flushed a Sharp-tailed Grouse. We left here and drove to our hotel in Glasgow – we were meant to be in Jamestown tonight but after the car fiasco still needed some very important birds here. After a quick dinner we drove some 30 minutes out into the prairies in search of Thick-billed Longspur, which we eventually found coming to drink at a roadside pool. With the sun setting way too quickly for our liking we managed to scope several birds coming in to drink and it was a really superb experience watching these tricky-to-find birds in this vast, open landscape.

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Epic USA Day 9

Headed over to East Glacier on our way to Glasgow this morning, stopping to look for Clark’s Nutcracker that unfortunately only Brian saw. However, a large marshy area along the road was pretty phenomenal as it held maybe a dozen calling Sora’s and we saw a couple of them quite easily. In the early morning sunshine with distant snow-capped peaks the setting was stunning and add in a few breeding-plumaged Wilson’s Phalaropes as well, you could say it was an idyllic spot. 


Next up was a long drive east for around 4 hours towards Glasgow, veering off into the wilderness we drove along a gravel road in the middle of nowhere to look for Mountain Plover. This was where things went decidedly off the rails as we had 2 flat tyres within 10 minutes, however despite this we well and truly nailed Mountain Plover amidst a vast open scenery of prairies and gently rolling hills. 

There's a Mountain Plover out there.....

We didn’t get too close as we suspected this was a female who had a nest somewhere so we scoped her at several hundred metres range, but the views were cracking through the scope. So what to do with 2 flats? Fortunately we were just 5 miles from a farmhouse and we limped in on a flat trye and asked for assistance. The help we received was amazing and truly heart-warming. The upshot was we had a lift to the small town of Malta and found some rooms in a motel where we spent the night, hoping that our car would be brought to us the following morning…... The motel turned out to be one of the best we stayed in and served cold beers and delicious food. Everyone was pretty upbeat despite our bad luck with the tyres and I’m truly thankful that I had such an understanding group. Fortunately, I could arrange to rebook our night in Glasgow so we could hit the famous Bentonite Road at a good time of day and cut out a night in Jamestown in a few days so we wouldn’t miss out on any of our key target species.

Monday, 27 June 2022

Epic USA Day 8

Took the bold decision to go to Kootenai State Forest today as there had been a report of a nesting pair of American Three-toed Woodpeckers within the last few days. The drive to the great named town of Eureka only took 45 minutes but once in the forest the winding dirt forest roads the going was slow but eventually we reached the site high up in the hills. The habitat was perfect and was an open patch of forest with plenty of obvious woodpecker activity but after chasing these reported birds recently my hopes weren’t that high. Unbelievably we found a freshly excavated woodpecker hole right beside the forest road and after a few minutes Jo heard tapping coming from inside the hole. And yes, suddenly a male American Three-toed Woodpecker poked his head out of the hole briefly before dropping back inside. 

American Three-toed Woodpecker

He poked his head out several more times when all of a sudden the female appeared and took over excavating duties and the male flew off. Wow! We watched the female for several more minutes before leaving her in peace and driving further into the hills. We found a few White-winged Crossbills, Neil saw a Clark’s Nutcracker and there were also plenty of other common species. After a few hours we returned to Eureka for a big lunch before heading to a lake where some Hooded Mergansers had been seen a few days ago. Google Maps didn’t want to take us the 4.5 miles and it took over an hour before we found the lake, but alas no mergs. There were 21 Ring-necked Ducks, a pair of Lesser Scaups and 4 Buffleheads here, so we walked back to the car through the forest and bumped into a Ruffed Grouse walking along the track before heading up the slope where we followed it and had great views. 

Ruffed Grouse

Elated with this we decided to push our luck and go to an area that a Dusky Grouse had been seen several weeks ago. Well, you know your luck is in when the grouse was found displaying and pretty oblivious to our presence. What a day! 

Dusky Grouse

And it wasn’t over yet as we saw a Vaux’s Swift and our first Townsend’s Solitaire singing away from the top of a conifer right next to the road! Not too shabby!

Saturday, 25 June 2022

Epic USA Day 7

Another early start to get into Glacier National Park and it started off brilliantly with a Boreal Chickadee eventually tracked down along a quiet stretch of road. A singing Cassin’s Vireo was not so obliging and only showed fleetingly. We then drove back down to the main valley and checked along the fast-flowing river that was awash with debris that the snowmelt had sent tumbling. A pair of Harlequin Ducks were found on a long sweeping bend of the river and the drake was absolutely gorgeous! But just down the road a Varied Thrush teed up in the scope as it sang from the top of a dead tree was equally as impressive. We called into Lake Macdonald shop for coffee and spent a few minutes watching some confiding Black-headed Grosbeaks, as well as Slate-coloured Junco and Western Tanagers. The rest of the morning was spent searching for woodpeckers without any new ones being found apart from a Downy Woodpecker, although Red-naped Sapsucker and Hairy Woodpecker were seen well. We also saw Macgillivray’s WarblerCalliope Hummingbird and Lazuli Bunting here as well.  We then decided to leave the park and head to a site for American Three-toed Woodpecker which remained elusive, although a fantastic male Williamson’s Sapsucker showed really well. Returning to the hotel at 4.30pm and then leaving at 7pm for dinner and owling… but minus the owls! However, instead of owls we did have a pair of Pine Grosbeaks fly in and land right next to us as we stood on a bridge waiting for dark. They remained in view for several minutes and either seemed to have a roost site or had just come to the river for a drink and before it was dark they took flight and flew a long way back up the valley and out of sight. Wow!

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Epic USA Day 6 - Glacier National Park

A tough day inside Glacier National Park started with a 4.30am departure, arriving in the park a little before 6am. Things started pretty well with a Downy WoodpeckerRed-naped SapsuckerTownsend’s WarblerGolden-crowned KingletHammond’s Flycatcher, some decent looks at a singing Varied Thrush we lured into view, followed by a pair of displaying Lewis’s Woodpeckers, our first Swainson’s Thrush, pretty cool scope view of a perched Calliope HummingbirdLazuli Bunting and an obliging singing Pacific Wren

Red-naped Sapsucker

And that little lot was before 8am when we drove to Lake Macdonald Lodge where a pair of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Vaux’s Swift, Violet-green Swallows, Western Tanager and Black-headed Grosbeak performed well. 

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

From then on we struggled finding anything else new despite intensive searching, especially at my site for Boreal Chickadee where a displaying Wilson’s Snipe, a pair of Canada Jays, and ten million mosquito’s got in our way! So we left the park, drove to our next motel where we’d be staying for 3 nights and had a siesta. Afterwards we tried another trail outside the park for American Three-toed Woodpecker but again drew a blank, apart from a superb male American Redstart, so went for dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town. Who knew?!

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Epic USA Day 5

We had a couple of hours to look for Black Rosy-Finch so headed over to Bridger Bowl Road in the rain and, no surprise, we dipped. A little compensation came with stunning views of a Pileated Woodpecker that flew around us before landing in a nearby tree. So we decided to call it quits and head north towards Flathead Lake but en-route decided to call into Missoula (some 3 hours along our route)  and twitch the reported drake Hooded Merganser, which duly showed well on our arrival. There was an exceptional number of Evening Grosbeaks around the town and after a couple false starts we finally caught up with a flock of over 14 along a leafy suburban lane. 

Evening Grosbeak

Moving on, we had a very enjoyable walk around a forest for a couple of hours notching up Olive-sided Flycatcher, Calliope Hummingbird, Western Bluebird and Pygmy Nuthatch quite easily.

Pygmy Nuthatch

Further on we heard Williamson’s Sapsucker but it failed to show. However a little judicious pygmy owl call brought in dozens of Red Crossbills, Cassin’s Finches, Pine Siskins, Audubon’s Warblers and two more Evening Grosbeaks, with several Vesper Sparrows out in the grassland. All that was left was to drive to Polson at Flathead Lake for an early night.

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Day 4 Idaho to Montana

We left Burley, Idaho after a 6am breakfast and headed to a site around 25 minutes away where a Lewis’s Woodpecker had been reported, but this turned out to be not so good. So instead of wasting any time we promptly departed and headed to a lake around 2 hours away, seeing our first Bald Eagle and Swainson’s Hawks along the way. Amidst a vast open landscape of marsh, lakes, tall grasses and ponds we found our first Canvasback, as well as a Trumpeter Swan. I think we will all remember this site for the numerous and close Northern Harriers and Swainson’s Hawks that entertained us. 

Sandhill Crane

Leaving here we saw a pair of Sandhill Cranes much closer than before and a field of White-faced Ibis feeding amongst bright yellow flowers before driving just a few miles away to Sage Crossroads where we duly nailed Sage Thrasher before continuing on another 90 minute drive. After a quick coffee stop and picking up some sandwiches we arrived at Henry Lake around 1.30pm. 

Henry Lake

What a place this proved to be as we scoped flocks of wildfowl out on the glassy calm lake that consisted of American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, numerous Lesser Scaups, Canvasback, Redhead, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Northern Shoveller, Cinnamon Teal, Green-winged Teal. This was probably the best mixed wildfowl flock any of us had ever seen! Also saw another Bald Eagle, several Red-necked Grebes in fine breeding dress, a Trumpeter Swan on a nest, a Sandhill Crane on what appeared to be a nest, Caspian Tern, Western Osprey, Audubon’s Warblers, and a very confiding Vesper Sparrow. 


It was another 75 minutes driving past Yellowstone amidst stunningly beautiful scenery of snow-capped mountains and steep-sided river valleys to Big Sky, where we were full of anticipation to find the water treatment works and the reported Barrow’s Goldeneye. Well, we found one pair of these much-wanted beasts immediately and then another pair on the pond across the road and amidst much excitement we tried to settle down to enjoy watching them. We couldn’t of had any better views in the sunshine and we lapped up the gorgeous purple sheen of the males head, his white crescent face marking and broad white flank streaks, with the females head shape and yellow bill very noticeably different from its commoner cousin! 

Barrow's Goldeneye

Buoyed by our success we drove 10 minutes further up the mountain to the ski resort in the forlorn hope of bumping into Black Rosyfinch, which we knew we were doomed to fail but at least we tried. By the time we arrived at our motel in Bozeman we were all suitably tired but rather pleased with the day’s haul.

Monday, 20 June 2022

Epic USA Day 3 - Off to Idaho

Left the Salt Lake City area early doors and drove to Bear Creek Migratory Bird Reserve where a quick check of the Visitor Centre resulted in 7 Sandhill Cranes (a key target for my group), a displaying Common Yellowthroat, lots of Yellow-headed Blackbirds and a pair of Great-tailed Grackles

Yellow-headed Blackbird is pretty common around here!

Then we drove over to the auto tour loop and began with very close views of Clark’s and Western Grebes right beside us. 

Here's a good comparison of 2 Western and a single Clark's Grebe

Clark's Grebes

Western Grebe

On the loop, Marsh Wrens showed repeatedly along with Savannah Sparrow, Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets, Northern Harrier, American Coot, Double-crested Cormorants, American White PelicansWilson’s Phalaropes, and a very late Trumpeter Swan.

American Avocet

Cinnamon Teal

Cliff Swallows were nesting on the garage door of a large farm building

Double-crested Cormorant

Marsh Wrens were very common

Pied-billed Grebe

This Trumpeter Swan should be many hundreds of miles further north by now....

American White Pelicans

Then we drove a couple of hours into Idaho and headed up into the Albion Hills where snow was still causing the road to be closed up into the campground where I had hoped to visit. As we headed up, a roadside stop produced Orange-crowned Warbler, Mountain Bluebird, and a pair of Black-headed Grosbeaks. However, despite the closed road we nailed Cassia Crossbill easily and we also saw Mountain Chickadee, very close Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and a Slate-coloured Junco. 

Record shot of Cassia Crossbill

Walking up the road to the snowline and a Dusky Flycatcher showed well, with another Cassia Crossbill seen as we walked back downhill. Lower down we found a pair of cracking Red-naped Sapsuckers, along with Cassin’s Finches, Willow Flycatcher, Northern Flicker, and some confiding Western Tanagers. One final stop a the base of the hills gave us Hairy Woodpecker and a pair of Hammond’s Flycatchers before we drove to our next motel around 30 minutes away. And tonight we decided to have a night off from owling and catch up on some much-needed sleep.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Epic USA Day 2

Headed over to Soldiers Pass Road for a bunch of desert specialities after a later than intended start! We picked up a few Brewer’s and Lark Sparrows on the drive in, but more importantly, our first and only Black-throated Sparrow of the trip. 

Black-throated Sparrow

Once at the right spot we began searching for Grey Vireo and eventually found a singing birdthat showed quite well, if not as close as we would have liked! We then spent quite a while looking for Sagebrush Sparrow, which involved walking out into the vast open plains that were covered in sagebrush. Eventually Pete picked one up and we all had great views of at least 3 birds.

Sagebrush Sparrow

During our search for the always problematical sparrow we found a Juniper Titmouse feeding in a….. Juniper tree! 


Moving on to a campground I visited last week via some close Long-billed Curlews, we tried in vain for 20 mins to see a ridiculously skulky Plumbeous Vireo before notching great views of a different individual nearby. 

Plumbeous Vireo

We also saw Chipping Sparrow and House Finches before walking into the campground where Dusky FlycatcherWestern TanagerBlack-headed Grosbeak, lots of Yellow Warblers, and as luck would have it a Northern Pygmy Owl perched high up in a bare tree. Wow! Last year we tried numerous sites for this bird but at our first attempt this year we nailed it… !! That’s birding.


So we left after a very successful morning and headed back to the motel, stopping for lunch along the way. After a little rest we drove up into the mountains… And scored with great views of Virginia’s WarblerBlack-capped ChickadeeWoodhouse’s Scrub JayBroad-tailed HummingbirdBullock’s Oriole, and a displaying pair of Cooper’s Hawks

Black-capped Chickadee

Virginia's Warbler

Woodhouse's Scrub Jay

After dinner we again headed out in the evening and this time had close views of 3 Common Poorwills, with one hovering right above us and a pair of Flammulated Owls

Flammulated Owls

A calling Northern Saw-wet Owl never showed.