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Tag: count

A Zonotrichia Christmas Bird Count

by Bryce W. Robinson


First-cycle Golden-crowned Sparrow- Zonotrichia atricapilla

Yesterday I joined Jay Carlisle, Heidi Ware, and a number of other folks for the Nampa Christmas Bird Count in south western Idaho. The day started out right. We began at Caldwell Ponds before sunrise for an attempt at turning up a few owls. Sure enough, a few Barn Owls hunted the fields, trying to squeeze in a meal before light.

When it was light enough, we started working the thickets for sparrows. Flocks of White-crowned Sparrows were sounding off, which is always promising, as they often hold something special in their ranks. Sure enough, Jay called out two Golden-crowned Sparrows. The Golden-crowned Sparrow is hard to come by in Idaho, but each year Jay and Heidi have participated in the Nampa CBC, they have found a GCSP at Caldwell Ponds.

I stayed behind with the sparrows to attempt some photos. The birds were rather tolerant before the sun rose. I managed a decent photo of one GCSP, but in poor light. When the sun finally rose, the birds seemed to avoid me, and although I spent ten minutes stalking the birds, I never managed  a photo in the golden morning light.


First-cycle Harris’s Sparrow- Zonotrichia querula

When I caught up to the group, they were working a thicket, sifting through another healthy flock of White-crowned Sparrows. I went around the group to head off some outside individuals. While sorting through a small group, I spotted a recognizable pattern deep in a bush. I didn’t want to cry wolf, so I held my tongue for a bit. Soon enough, the bird popped up onto the top of the bush, and showed itself. I alerted the group, Harris’s Sparrow!, our third Zonotrichia species for the hour.

"Gambel's" White-crowned Sparrow- Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii

“Gambel’s” White-crowned Sparrow- Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii

I soon realized that after getting the hardest Zonotrichia, the GCSP, so early in the day, seeing all four was a distinct possibility. All we needed to find was the White-throated Sparrow, an uncommon bird for winter in Idaho. The bird is uncommon, but multiple individuals are found every year. In fact, I had found one two weeks ago in Boise. The reality of reaching the goal was there.

Later in the day, I split off from the group with Heidi. We were charged with checking a few hotspots, and we both had one bird on our mind. Heidi has never seen all four Zonotrichia in a day, so the goal was looking sweet to her eyes as well.

For the rest of the day we sifted through sparrow’s with no sign of the fourth Zonotrichia. We turned up other good birds, Savannah Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and two Bewick’s Wrens. But by the end of the day, as the sun set and we continued to look through White-crowned Sparrow flocks, we came away without our prize.

Well, we almost “pulled a Zonie”! I kept telling Heidi I was going to make “a Zonie” the term for seeing all of North Americas Zonotrichia species in one day. It’s a worthy goal, and a respectable badge, that deserves some title, even if it is a bit dorky.

I didn’t realize how doable a Zonie is for Idaho, but it sure is. I’ll be after that goal now. I have heard and seen photos of a man in southern California that had all four at his feeder one day. That is remarkable. So now I have a new goal on the horizon, to see and photograph all four of North America’s Zonotrichia sparrows in a day, or simply, to pull a “Zonie”. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn into a nemesis goal, or white whale, or whatever you might call it.

Here’s the bird that got away.


Adult White-throated Sparrow- Zonotrichia albicollis


Views of Migration- An Update From the Goshutes

by Bryce W. Robinson

Immature Northern Goshawk- Accipiter gentilis

Progressively, the daily totals are rising. After a month of counting, the season total has already surpassed 3000. I’ve left the mountain for a day, so I would like to take the opportunity to make a brief report of the season to date. I haven’t the energy or the time to put much into the writing of this post, so I hope poor grammar and diction can be overlooked. Pay attention to the images, as I attempt to convey some of the images of the ridge top raptor migration at the Goshutes.

Broad-winged Hawk- Buteo platypterus


The highlight of the season thus far has been the Broad-winged Hawks. Six have flown through, and the above photo is the first of the season. This bird is actually a first for me. I had never seen a Broad-winged before. When I noticed the bird, and knew what it was, I could hardly contain my excitement. Hooting and hollering ensued, and I celebrated for minutes following. The western migration of Buteo platypterus was a thing of rumor in the past. It was thought that the bird did not migrate through the inter-west, and did not pass by the Goshutes migration sight. Jerry Liguori was the first to discover that the bird did indeed use the flight line, and many have been counted in the years since his revolutionary discovery. I hope to see many more to come, and am holding high hopes for a dark morph bird in close proximity to the observation point.

Red-tailed Hawk- Buteo jamaicensis

I’ve been able to get some amazing photographs from passing birds, many very close and detailed. I am saving the best for a future project, so for now I would like to present some photos that show what it is really like at the sight. Mainly, while watching the migration, the observer gets distant views at birds. Identifying the birds to species, sex, or age can be extremely difficult at times. Jerry Liguori has written two books to aid the observer in this task, illustrating a vast amount of tips and tricks to gleaning positive Identifications from distant specs. These books have become invaluable in my study.


Sharp-shinned Hawk- Accipiter striatus

Even better, Jerry has joined me many times at the sight this season. It has been great to have one of the best raptor experts, and arguably the best migration counter, on the ridge to teach me and aid me in becoming a better and more effective counter. I am in intense study of raptor migration, and I am neither overwhelmed or exhausted by this fact. It has been remarkable. My only complaint is that the season will end too soon.

Osprey- Pandion haliaetus

One of my favorite passers-by is Pandion haliaetus, the Osprey. We usually see a few a day, each bird a delight. I have heard of the bird carrying with it a fish, a next meal. I look forward to the day I witness this peculiar behavior myself. Hopefully it is soon, and I am able to get photos.

Male American Kestrel- Falco sparverius

The evenings on the ridge are dramatic, to phrase it lightly. The long light casts shadows across the mountains, highlighting hills contrasted against dark canyons. Often birds will catch light streaming through deep canyons, lighting up agains the dark hillside. The beauty is indescribable, and so often leaves me with a feeling of peace as my soul settles and I fall upon thoughts of comfort. I am in the right place, doing the best thing, feeling no anxiety, and having zero complaints. I am fulfilled, and for the first time in a long time, I have found a home.