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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Idaho: Cassia Crossbill and Southern Idaho

Wednesday 16 August to Friday 25 August 2023
with Jon Dunn as leader
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Male Cassia Crossbill Photo: Mike West

In 2017 the AOS Checklist Committee agreed after extensive research by Craig Benkman that the endemic subspecies of Red Crossbill from Idaho’s eastern Twin Falls and Cassia Counties was a full species, the Cassia Crossbill (Loxia sinesciurus). The translation of the species name, sinesciurus, literally means “without squirrels,” and indeed Red Squirrels are absent from the two mountain ranges where this species occurs. The Lodgepole Pine cones there have evolved in the absence of squirrels and so have the crossbills. We’ll spend at least one full day in the heart of the Cassia Crossbill’s range in the South Hills, and we have an excellent chance of both seeing this species and hearing its fairly distinctive calls.

There is, of course, much more to see in the South Hills, including a variety of montane species, and hummingbirds should be at their peak numbers. In addition, we’ll visit Boise National Forest northeast of Boise with hopes for a fine mix of woodpeckers including Lewis’s and the sagebrush areas and grasslands around Pocatello where we have a good chance for Ferruginous Hawk, and with luck we might see Burrowing Owl and Prairie Falcon. Our tour coincides with the peak of fall shorebird migration, and we’ll have numerous opportunities to study this compelling group. Idaho is lightly populated, and the scenery will be endlessly spectacular with majestic mountain ranges and verdant and sagebrush covered valleys.

Day 1: The tour begins with an early evening meeting in the lobby of our hotel followed by dinner. Night in Boise.

Day 2: We’ll depart for the beautiful Sawtooth Range in Boise National Forest where our prime ornithological targets are woodpeckers. Some ten species are found here, and we’ll follow the latest reports in our search for key species like White-headed, Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers. Williamson’s and Red-naped Sapsuckers are also possible, as is Pileated Woodpecker. In addition, we should see coniferous forest species including Canada and Steller’s Jays, Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, and Red-breasted and White-breasted (interior lagunae subspecies group) Nuthatches and Red Crossbill. In 2021 we even found a pair of White-winged Crossbills, a three crossbill species tour. Night in Stanley.

Day 3: This morning we will search again for woodpeckers in the Stanley area, notably around Stanley Lake, along with other mountain species including Mountain Bluebirds. Sandhill Cranes and Pronghorn should be numerous in the large meadows in the area. Our route today includes spectacular scenery, and we’ll crest several passes—the Galena Summit is nearly 9,000 feet—before descending to the famous Sun Valley ski resort. In 2022 we saw a road killed American Marten indicating the presence of this scarce mammal. Later we will arrive in Twin Falls where after check-in and dinner we might have some time for a bit of birding around the area, notably the falls themselves where we might see White-throated Swift. Night in Twin Falls.

Day 4: We’ll depart Twin Falls for the South Hills, one of the two mountain ranges where the endemic Cassia Crossbill is found. We’ll focus on finding and hearing the distinctive (from other Red Crossbill types) calls on this recently split species. We should see as well many other birds including Common Nighthawk, Western Wood Pewee, Dusky and perhaps Hammond’s Flycatchers, Black-capped Chickadee, Lazuli Bunting, and Yellow-breasted Chat (we should at least hear it) along the streams, and Canyon Wren on the steep cliffs. We’ll also check a local hummingbird feeding station (Brockman’s), where at this time of year dozens of hummingbirds of four species (Black-chinned, Broad-tailed, Rufous and Calliope) are usually present. The nearby beaver ponds have Spotted and Green-tailed Towhees, and “Slate-colored” Fox Sparrow is possible. In addition to the birds we might see Moose and Mule Deer. This evening, if conditions warrant, we’ll venture back into the South Hills along North Cottonwood Creek to try for Common Poorwill. At a riparian clump along the way various riparian birds nest and migrants are possible and in 2021 Blue Grosbeaks nested. Night in Twin Falls.

Day 5: If we’re completely satisfied with our Cassia Crossbill experiences, we’ll drive south to the southern Magic Valley on the west side of the South Hills. Early in the drive we might see individual or family groups of Gray Partridge along the roadsides as well as a variety of sparrows, including possibly Grasshopper and Brewer’s. In a roadside windbreak of trees we have seen Barn and Great Horned Owls and we’ll watch for Burrowing Owl. We’ll continue farther west to Salmon Falls Creek and Roseworth (Cedar Creek) Reservoir for various water birds, including migrant shorebirds. In the sagebrush areas we should find Sage Thrasher and we have a good chance of seeing Sagebrush Sparrow. At another grove of junipers along a grassland watercourse we’ll check for Long-eared Owl, and we’ll be watching the sky for a Golden Eagle. On the return to Twin Falls we’ll check ponds where migrant shorebirds are possible depending on the water level. Baird’s, Least, and Western Sandpipers are regular visitors and we have a chance for Solitary Sandpiper and Wilson’s and Red-necked Phalaropes. Both Eastern and Western Kingbirds could be present in the open country or in riparian areas, although most will have departed, and Swainson’s Hawk should be numerous. After a bit of rest and dinner, we might make another try for night birds, notably Common Poorwill. Night in Twin Falls.

Day 6: If for any reason we are still missing Cassia Crossbill, we’ll drive east and south to the Albion Mountains where we have an excellent chance of seeing them. Other species might include Clark’s Nutcracker and maybe Williamson’s Sapsucker. White-crowned Sparrows (oriantha) breed here along with Dark-eyed Juncos. Interestingly we found both “Gray-headed” and “Pink-sided” Dark-eyed Juncos, both seeming to be pure phenotypes. Since these likely were breeding birds, it makes one wonder if these two might actually be separate species. Later we’ll continue south to Oakley, not far from the most scenic City of Rocks National Reserve. Night in Almo.

Day 7: This morning we’ll visit the City of Rocks National Reserve. In addition to pinyon-juniper species including Woodhouse’s Jay and with luck roving flocks of Pinyon Jays, we might see Virginia’s and with luck Black-throated Gray Warbler. Juniper Titmice, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (western subspecies obscura), and perhaps Plumbeous Vireo (in higher aspen stands) should be present and we might see Say’s Phoebe and Gray Flycatcher and perhaps a late Ash-throated Flycatcher. We’ll also watch for a passing White-throated Swift or a Prairie Falcon. Later, and to the north we’ll visit Lake Wolcott State Park where we’ll have lunch and search for early fall migrants among the Black-capped Chickadee flocks, including Cassin’s Vireo, and Yellow, Wilson’s and perhaps Nashville Warblers (Pacific ridgwayi subspecies). Franklin’s Gulls will be numerous along the river. Later in the afternoon, we’ll stop at American Falls Reservoir which can be good for water birds, including Clark’s and Western Grebes. Night in Pocatello.

Day 8: We’ll spend the morning birding around Pocatello looking for, Chukar, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, Juniper Titmouse and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher all near our hotel. From here we’ll drive south to the Arbon Valley where we should have good chance for Ferruginous Hawk and Prairie Falcon along with a variety of sparrows including Brewer’s and Vesper, and with very good luck, Sharp-tailed Grouse.  After a picnic lunch on Scout Mountain, we’ll stop on the way back to Pocatello at Kinney Creek  trail in Mink Canyon where we have seen Gray Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, Juniper Titmouse, and on single occasions Ruffed Grouse and Virginia’s Warbler. Night in Pocatello.

Day 9: This morning is flexible depending on what species we may have missed around Pocatello. Not far away is American Falls Reservoir and depending on water levels it can be an excellent location for migrant shorebirds along with hundreds of Franklin’s Gulls and American White Pelicans. Here we have an excellent chance to compare Forster’s and Common Terns. The riparian woodland along the southwest shore of the reservoir can be productive for migrant land birds. From here we’ll drive west via Interstates 86 and 84 and should arrive in Boise by late afternoon. Night in Boise near the airport.

Day 10: The tour concludes after breakfast in Boise.

Created: 27 September 2022

Prices

  • 2023 Tour Price : $3,500
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $820

Notes

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Questions? Tour Manager: Sara Pike. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size is seven.

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