72 hours in Utah/Nevada/Idaho

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I met the McQuades in Duluth, Minnesota in February when they graciously took me out to dinner for my Birthday. I had never met them before even though we’re practically neighbors in Florida. Over dinner, I mentioned that I was hiking up for Himalayan Snowcock in July with Tim Avery of Mountain West Birding Co. They immediately said they wanted to go too! A plan was hatched.

Tim picked us up in Salt Lake City for 3 days of intense birding. We headed for Elko, Nevada where we would spend a couple of days at the Stockmen’s Casino Hotel.

I’m sure Elko is typical of small, Nevada towns. Gambling venues everywhere and the signs of broken lives rampant. Our hotel’s smoky casino was open 24 hours. We witnessed a domestic dispute that kept David and Tammy up all night. We also saw a young, pregnant girl sitting on the sidewalk outside the casino all day. Tammy gave her $20 to buy dinner and we hoped that she didn’t gamble it.

We headed out at 3:30 a.m. so we could hike the Island Lake Trail in the Lamoille Canyon of the Ruby Mountains and make it to the top at sunrise.

We started the hike in total darkness and when the sun came up, the view around us was breathtaking! One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. We started to scan the cliffs for the Himalayan Snowcocks that come down from their rocky perches to feed in the early morning. They are extremely camouflaged but with careful scoping and Tim’s expertise, we found several.

I was shocked at how big this Grouse really is! Introduced into Nevada in 1963 due to the similarities between Nevada and the Himalayan landscape, this game bird has a wild population of about 2-500 in the Ruby Mountains.

We targeted Cassia Crossbill on our second day since we were relatively close to Idaho. Once again we were looking for a bird with a very defined and limited habitat in the stunning South Hills of Idaho. This is a recently recognized new species for the ABA Region. The birds were banded which made them unmistakable. David was able to get a nice audio recording as well.

We headed back to Utah and tried for Gray Partridge in the hot afternoon with bad results. Tired and sleep-deprived, we went to our hotel and took naps so we could go Owling in the evening. I had already seen Flammulated Owls earlier in the week but David and Tammy had not. Who doesn’t want to see an Owl multiple times? I went again. We were not disappointed.

Our last day, we tried again for Gray Partridge at Golden Spike National Historic Site. Early morning was much better for this bird! We found a flock and spent quite a while trying to get pictures of them as they flushed and escaped from us and disappeared into the sagebrush.

From there, we went to the Great Salt Lake to witness the shorebird spectacle feeding on brine flies. I have never seen so many Phalaropes or Franklin’s Gulls in one place! The causeway to Antelope Island provided us with good views of this feeding frenzy.

It was also a great spot for our last game bird, Chukar, which took a little more work to find.

3 days, 1300 miles, 3 states, 4 new birds for 2017.

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