Thursday, January 14, 2016

Winter birding is a fun activity; Hagerman Bird Festival offers opportunities to learn

Great blue heron along the Boise River (courtesy Ken Miracle)
Juvenile bald eagle on the Boise River (courtesy Ken Miracle)
Merganser on the Boise River (Courtesy Ken Miracle)
Kingfisher (Courtesy Ken Miracle)
Hi all,

To me, it's always a treat to see birds and wildlife as part of an outdoor recreation outing. But every once in a while, I like to make seeing birds or wildlife the central focus of an outdoor adventure. One of my favorite winter bird walks in Boise is along the Boise River, particularly when it's colder outside, with temperatures below freezing. My main objective is to see bald eagles perching on the top of cottonwood trees. But you'll also see a variety of ducks, geese, kingfishers, herons and songbirds. The variety of ducks can be pretty darn cool. I especially like to see the colorful wood ducks.  

About 15-20 bald eagles typically winter along the Boise River urban corridor, between Lucky Peak and Eagle. If you're lucky, you'll see an eagle swoop down to the river to catch a trout or whitefish breakfast with its talons. And that's a beautiful thing to behold. Nature in action.

This week, my outdoor tip is to take a moment to look for birds and learn about them. Consider starting a bird list! According to an article in Audubon, all you need is a pair of binoculars and a basic field guide to birds to get started in birding. I've recently learned about another way you could get into birding -- attend the Hagerman Bird Festival, Feb. 12-14. The Festival provides guided outings to see particular types of birds, such as night walks to see owls and boat tours to see waterfowl on the Snake River. I wrote about the festival for Southern Idaho Tourism, and I thought my readers on Stueby's Outdoor Journal would want to know about it, too.
Mallard ducks on the Snake River (Courtesy SITA)
Here's my blog post:

Maybe you've been wanting to become a "birder" -- a person who goes out to look at birds, learns how to identify them and keeps a list -- or perhaps participate in a bird-watching outing and see if you like it.

The upcoming Hagerman Birding Festival, scheduled for Feb. 12-14, is a perfect event to learn how to get started. Pre-registration is open for the event, which is limited to the first 150 people who sign up. There are classroom sessions where you learn how to identify different kinds of birds and field trips with birding experts. That's where the rubber hits the road. The multiday event costs $80 for adults and $25 for children 16 and younger,  including food and field trips.

Inspiration. Usually, a person's interest in birding is started by an inspirational moment. For me, it was watching bald eagles swoop down and catch crimson kokanee in West Glacier, Montana. Even since then, I've always been interested in birds of prey in particular. I must have taken 300 photos of eagles catching fish on that snowy day in December.

We learn in the Twin Falls Times-News  that Burley High School senior Joseph DeTemple is a budding birder after earning a Boy Scout merit badge through identifying eight species of birds. He's working with veteran birder Wallace Keck, superintendent of City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park, to learn about birding. DeTemple already has identified more than 130 species. He's off and running!

Sharp-shinned hawk at the City of Rocks
(Courtesy Wallace Keck)
Keck, whose life list hovers near 460 species, was inspired by taking an ornithology class in college at Arkansas State University. Campus was near a number of mountains and rivers that made birding fun and exciting for Keck, who frequently blogs about his birding adventures. Keck recently blogged about "The Big Year" in which he hopes to add more species to his life list and surpass 500 species.

So how about making 2016 a year in which you start birding? The greater Southern Idaho region is a wonderful place to see birds -- from lots of waterfowl, bald eagles, and great blue herons in the Hagerman area along the Snake River, to more waterfowl at Lake Walcott State Park and Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge, songbirds at City of Rocks National Reserve and a variety of species at The Nature Conservancy's Silver Creek Preserve near Picabo. With every stop, you'll pick up more species. 

At City of Rocks, you can see a variety of songbirds such as pinyon jays and scrub jays and a variety of other birds surrounding the feeders they have at the Visitor Center, plus Keck photographed a beautiful Cooper's hawk perched in a tree nearby, looking for a morning meal.

Christine Gertschen, the organizer of the Hagerman Bird Festival this year, lives in Hagerman and enjoys seeing all the birds in that area. "The birds come here because of the open water on the Snake River," she says. "Last night, I was watching a pair of great-horned owls. Birding is just crazy around here in the winter ... it's definitely a hot spot."

How to get started?
According to an article in Audubon, all you need is a pair of binoculars and a basic field guide to birds. Perhaps a small pocket notebook would be handy for noting species. My partner Wendy Wilson is an expert birder, and she likes to use the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America for identifying birds. That guide is very well-done and very detailed. But there are quite a few available.

Audubon suggests thinking about a particular species that you'd like to identify, and then go out and find it. The Hagerman Birding Festival would be a perfect way to learn how to get started birding from the experts and go out in the field and start your own bird list.

To sign up for the festival, 
visit For more information, call 208-352-3175 or email See you at the festival!

If you plan to be visiting from out of town, look for lodging deals here at the Southern Idaho Tourism web site.

Another resource for learning about birds is to join the Idaho Birding Facebook page. You'll see a lot of birders and photographers posting close up and spectacular bird pics on the page. And you can learn tips about identifying a particular species.

Enjoy the birds!
- SS

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