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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 as leader
August 2023
with Jon Dunn as leader

Price: $2,800 (08/2022)

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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 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 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. 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 Hammond’s Flycatchers, Black-capped Chickadee, Lazuli Bunting, and perhaps Yellow-breasted Chat 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 to try for Common Poorwill. 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 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, 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 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 7: 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. After lunch in Pocatello we’ll return to American Falls Reservoir. Depending on the water levels it can be excellent for migrant shorebirds, and the groves of trees along the south shore can be good for migrant land birds. Night in Pocatello.

Day 8: We’ll drive south this morning into the Arbon Valley, a good location for raptors including possibly Ferruginous Hawk and Prairie Falcon. We should see numerous sparrows including Brewer’s, Vesper and Savannah and with good luck perhaps a Sharp-tailed Grouse. They are much more predictable when they are on leks in the spring, but one can always hope. Later we will drive north and return perhaps to American Falls Reservoir for additional birding before heading west back to Boise, about three hours. If we have time and water levels are right we might stop at Blacks Creek Reservoir, not far from the Boise airport.

Day 9: The tour concludes after breakfast in Boise.

Created: 25 January 2022

Prices

  • 2022 Tour Price : $2,800
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $730

Notes

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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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