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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Idaho: Cassia Crossbill and Southern Idaho

Monday 12 August to Tuesday 20 August 2019
with Jon Dunn and Austin Young as leaders

Price: $2,950

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Male Cassia Crossbill Photo: Mike West

In 2017 the AOS Checklist Committee concluded that the endemic subspecies of Red Crossbill from western Twin Falls and Cassia County, Idaho, 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 (South Hills and Albion Mountains) 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 their different calls. There is, of course, much more to see in the South Hills, including a variety of montane species, and hummingbirds should be at peak numbers in mid-August. In addition we’ll visit the Boise National Forest northeast of Boise with hopes for a fine mix of woodpeckers including Lewis’s; the sagebrush areas and grasslands around Pocatello where Ferruginous Hawks, Burrowing Owls, and Sharp-tailed Grouse—with luck—occur; and Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge with up to 20,000 nesting Franklin’s Gulls and the world’s largest Sandhill Crane population. Our tour coincides with the peak of fall shorebird migration, and we’ll have numerous opportunities to study this compelling group in several wetland areas. Idaho is lightly populated, and the scenery will be endlessly spectacular with its majestic mountain ranges and verdant 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 Sawtooth Range in Boise National Forest where our prime ornithological targets are woodpeckers. Some ten species are found in these forests, and we’ll follow the latest reports in our search for key species like White-headed and American Three-toed Woodpecker. Williamson’s and Red-naped Sapsucker are also possible, as is Pileated Woodpecker, and even Black-backed Woodpecker is found from time to time. In addition we should see coniferous forest species including Gray and Steller’s Jays, Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Our route today includes spectacular scenery, and we’ll crest several passes—the Galena Summit is nearly 9,000 feet—before we descend to the famous Sun Valley ski resort. We’ll look in riparian habitats in the Sun Valley area and nearby Ketchum for Willow Flycatcher and Gray Catbird, and—with luck—even Veery. We’ll continue south to the town of Twin Falls by the Snake River. Night in Twin Falls.

Day 3:  We’ll depart south into the South Hills, one of the two ranges where the endemic Cassia Crossbill is found. We’ll focus on this recently split species but we should see a large variety of other birds:  Western Wood Pewee, Black-capped Chickadee, Lazuli Bunting, and perhaps Yellow-breasted Chat along the streams; Canyon Wrens on the steep cliffs; and Dusky and Hammond’s Flycatchers and possibly Northern Goshawks in the conifers. We’ll also check a local hummingbird feeding station, 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 all of the birds we should also see Moose and Mule Deer. This evening, if conditions warrant, we’ll venture back into the South Hills to try for Common Poorwill and Western Screech-Owl. Night in Twin Falls.

Day 4:  If we’re completely satisfied with our views of Cassia Crossbill, we’ll visit City of Rocks National Reserve near the Utah border. Here in the pinyon-juniper and streamside woodlands, we should see Pinyon Jay and Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, Juniper Titmouse, Bushtit, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and possibly Virginia’s Warbler. Gray Flycatcher and even Bobolink are possible, and we’ll watch carefully in the fields for Grasshopper Sparrow. 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 Red-necked Phalarope. Both Eastern and Western Kingbirds could be present in the open country, although most will have departed, and Swainson’s Hawks should be numerous.  After a bit of rest and dinner, we might make another try for night birds.  Night in Twin Falls.

Day 5:  We’ll drive south from Twin Falls to the sagebrush region west of Hollister. Near Cedar Creek Reservoir we should see Sage Thrasher and Brewer’s Sparrow, and we have a chance for Sagebrush Sparrow. Greater Sage-Grouse is found here, although we would be lucky to find any at this time of year. In the agricultural regions we’ll watch carefully for Gray Partridge. Depending on water levels, Cedar Creek Reservoir can be good for shorebirds. We’ll return to Twin Falls for lunch and then drive east to Pocatello.  Along the way, we’ll stop at Lake Walcott and possibly at American Falls Reservoir if water levels are right for shorebirds. The spillway below the latter location is good for terns, including Common, and Sabine’s Gull is at least a faint possibility. Night in Pocatello.

Day 6:  We’ll travel south to Curlew National Grasslands. Although Long-billed Curlews will have departed the nesting grounds, we might encounter migrants in flooded fields. Sharp-tailed Grouse are resident if difficult to find at this time of year, and we’ll look carefully for them. Other species include Burrowing Owl, Ferruginous Hawk, and Grasshopper Sparrow. On the way back north we’ll pass through Mink Canyon where we might see Black-throated Gray Warbler, a very local species in Idaho, and even Ruffed Grouse is possible. After lunch we’ll continue east to Soda Springs. Night at a restored historic hotel in Soda Springs.

Day 7: We’ll drive north to Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge. It was here several decades ago where researchers tried to introduce a Whooping Crane population, an attempt that eventually proved unsuccessful, but paved the way for establishing a second population in the upper Midwest. We should see Sandhill Cranes along with hundreds of American White Pelicans and thousands of Franklin’s Gulls. We may also find [CM1] migratory shorebirds here. Along the way we’ll bird the Grays Range to the east of the Enoch Valley and not far from the Wyoming border; Pine Grosbeak (Rocky Mountain subspecies montana) is found here. On our return to Soda Springs we’ll check Blackfoot Reservoir, another excellent location for waterbirds. Night at Soda Springs.

Day 8:  While this is a driving day, we’ll make a few stops on the six-hour trip back to Boise, perhaps along Mink Creek Road near Pocatello, if we missed any of the species there, or another shorebird location. If we have time we might search for Bewick’s Wren in the Boise area. Night in Boise.

Day 9: The tour concludes after breakfast in Boise.

Updated: 01 October 2018

Prices

  • 2019 Tour Price : $2,950
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $540
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Notes

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

Maximum group size is seven.