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Christmas Bird Count a huge success

Living the Wild Life

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A light-colored raptor flew over our heads twice as we were trying to photograph about 45 Gray-crowned Rosy finches near the Walker Siding on the Rexburg Bench last Saturday. The sleek bird was looking for a Sharp-tailed grouse to flush for dinner, but the six grouse stayed hidden under the farm machinery.

“It’s a mature (Northern) goshawk,” Darren Clark yelled to me as the bird made another loop around us. All of our cameras were clicking at high speed as we tried to record the speedy killer. “These are the best pictures I have ever taken of a goshawk. They are tough to get pictures of.”

My partners for the Rexburg Christmas Bird Count were Clark, one of the top birders in Idaho, and Hilary Turner, another experienced and talented birder who works for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Clark is also the compiler for the annual count and had assigned the three of us to cover the Burton and the Rexburg Bench areas due to the lack of personnel to cover all areas. During the morning we covered the Burton area that was a series of agricultural lands with the unfrozen Texas Slough and other warm water seeps that hosted over 1000 Trumpeter swans, hundreds of other waterfowl including several species of ducks and Canada geese. Eight Great blue herons working the shallow waters and hunting mice in the fields and the Burton Cemetery that held Brown creepers, Red-breasted nuthatches, Mountain and Black capped chickadees and a Great-horned owl were my morning favorites on the flat land.

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During lunch, Clark explained that he and Steve Butterworth had scouted the Rexburg Bench on Friday and had found a flock of about 500 Gray-crowned Rosy finches and a couple of Lesser Goldfinch. We did not find them but finding the flock of rosy finches and the six sharpies, the Goshawk put on the show for us. We would find another goshawk and I would get pictures of both of them for my first pictures in my life of those beautiful birds.

As we traveled through Rexburg we picked up a single Cedar Waxwing, a Blue jay and a Steller’s jay to end our day.

“We had 60 species on count day and 65 including the count-week birds,” said Clark. “It was the first time ever that we had Sharp-tails and near the Teton Lakes golf course, one of our groups found a Hermit thrush, also a first ever on this count. Highlights included 16 Blue jays, 65 Evening grosbeaks, two Lesser goldfinch, over 1400 Trumpeter swans, 90 Red-tailed hawks, the rosy finches and the good weather.”

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Tuesday, the last day we could get the “week-count” I ran into Clark east of Rexburg where we found the flock of about 500 rosy finches and the six sharpies, but no goshawks were observed. I also covered the Burton area where I enjoyed watching the swans, Red-tailed hawks and Evening grosbeaks feasting on Russian olives.

By the time you read this, we will have done my favorite CBC at Howe where the raptors usually dominate the count. Hopefully we will find some Virginia rails and a Gyrfalcon or two, but the key to enjoying bird counts are being with good, pleasant and knowledgeable companions.

I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year and be very careful as there are a lot of large wild animals crossing the roads. Watch for them and be safe.

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