Saturday, December 19, 2009

Deer Flat NWR Christmas Bird Count

Today I experienced my first ever Christmas Bird Count and it was a blast!  It was a fun atmosphere as 20 plus birders gathered at the Deer Flat Refuge Headquarters.  I got to meet some of the local birders that I have seen post to IBLE.  There was a lot of excitment and energy and good natured folks ready to brave the cold and see lots of birds.  My face is still sore from smiling all day!

Lynn Davenport and I were privileged to accompany Jay Carlisle and Heidi Ware, which for me turned out to be a day-long seminar as I observed some amazing birding skills as well as some awesome birds.  Jay can identify pretty much every bird by sound and by the way it flys.  I was blown away at his ability to ID those birds time and time again.  Heidi also has an amazing gift for ID'ing birds by sound which came in very handy throughout the day.  I wish I could have contributed more to the group, but I sure had fun and learned a lot.  It felt a lot like when I play in a golf tournament when you play a best-ball scramble, I might get in just one or two shots that the group uses.  Anyway, our group tallied 60 species today in our assigned zone.  Our 15 mile diameter count area tallied 90 total species.  Pretty darn good for a cold winter day in Idaho!

The bird of the day for all of us was the Golden-crowned Sparrow!  This sparrow is normally found on the west coast of the United States.  It was one of the first birds we saw at our first stop of the morning at the Caldwell Ponds.  It is my life bird #317 too! 

I was also able to add some new birds to my Idaho list, like the Marsh Wren and Merlin which is always nice.  The pair of Cackling Geese were particularly cool to see and have positively identified with qualified people around.  I'm always happy to see Red-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, and Golden-crowned Kinglets, so it was just a great day! Oh, I almost forgot the four Least Sandpipers!

I also want to report on our use of tips discussed on BirdFellow.  We did indeed "pish our lips off."  Jay was particularly effective at this.  It was really neat to see a bush with a bird or two in it and when Jay pished a dozen more would pop up.  Jay can also generate some pretty sweet Northern Pygmy Owl and Western Screech Owl calls.  I used BirdJam to try and detect the presence of a few uncooperative species, but about the only good it did today was get the Hermit Thrush to call back to confirm what Jay and Heidi had already heard.  We did scan into the distance and looked up a lot. By so doing, I learned some great waterfowl and blackbird in flight ID tips.  Looking at flocks of common birds (in our case White-Crowned Sparrows) in combination with pishing is how we observed the Golden-crowned Sparrow.  Looking into flocks of Starlings and Red-winged Blackbirds we also observed Brewer's Blackbirds.

My only regret of the day is that I didn't take the whole day off of work so I could join the group as they gathered to go over the day's list and enjoy a nice potluck meal.

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