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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Idaho: Cassia Crossbill and Southern Idaho

Wednesday 10 August to Thursday 18 August 2022
with Jon Dunn and a local leader
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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 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 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 Ferruginous Hawk, Burrowing Owl, and with luck Prairie Falcon occur. 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 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 and American Three-toed Woodpeckers. Williamson’s and Red-naped Sapsuckers are also possible, as is Pileated Woodpecker. 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 and White-breasted (interior lagunae subspecies group) Nuthatches.

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. We’ll look in riparian habitats in the Sun Valley area before heading back into Stanley. Night in Stanley.

Day 3:  We’ll depart for Twin Falls and 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 Western Wood Pewee, Dusky and Hammond’s Flycatchers, Black-capped Chickadee, Lazuli Bunting, and perhaps Yellow-breasted Chat along the streams, Canyon Wren on the steep cliffs, and with luck Northern Goshawk 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 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 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 family groups of Gray Partridge along the roadside as well as a variety of sparrows, including 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 Red-necked Phalarope. Both Eastern and Western Kingbirds could be present in the open country, 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. The actual falls along the Snake River will be checked at some point. They are highly scenic and we might see White-throated Swift or Canyon Wren. Night in Twin Falls.

Day 5:  We’ll drive south to the Albion Mountains where we have an excellent chance of seeing additional Cassia Crossbills. 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 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 Twin Falls.

Day 6:  We’ll spend the morning birding and heading toward Pocatello. Chukar, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, Juniper Titmouse and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (obscura) might be near our hotel. Nearby Mink Canyon offers excellent birding. Here we could see Gray Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, and with good luck Virginia’s and Black-throated Gray Warblers, and perhaps even a Ruffed Grouse. Afterwards we’ll travel to Soda Springs for a picnic lunch and later take a leisurely drive around Alexander and Blackfoot Reservoirs making various stops to search for water birds and watching the skies for raptors. Night in Pocatello.

Day 7: We’ll drive north to Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge. It was here several decades ago 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 and have a chance of encountering American Bittern along with Virginia Rail and Sora. Lots of Marsh Wrens and Common Yellowthroats and a variety of waterfowl should be present as well. Our access to the wetlands is limited to a single roadside point, but in 2019 we saw many water birds here, and in the sagebrush on the hillside above we had a Green-tailed Towhee and several foraging Dusky Grouse. Later we’ll go into the Caribou Mountains to look for woodpeckers and Pine Grosbeak (Rocky Mountain subspecies montana) Night in Pocatello.

Day 8:  This is a driving day. We’ll travel first southwest to the Juniper Valley and look for Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon and Burrowing Owl. Other species we might see include Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay and Ash-throated Flycatcher. From here, it’s about four hours to Boise. If we have time, we’ll stop at Blacks Creek Reservoir near Boise, another spot for migrant water birds, including shorebirds. Night in Boise.

Day 9: The tour concludes after breakfast in Boise.


Updated: 04 January 2021


  • (2022 Price Not Yet Available)
  • (2021 Tour Price: $3,050)


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Questions? Tour Manager: Stephanie Schaefer. 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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