The Global Big Day, in eBird’s words, is an annual celebration of the birds around us. Each year birders all over the world go outside and look for birds. This year, despite lockdowns in south Asia, more than 7,000 species were seen by 51,000 participants. My brother and I and a friend named Aidan decided to explore a bit of southwestern Idaho this Big Day. We started at Blacks Creek in Ada county looking for anything special.
We didn’t see any Long-eared Owls, even though one had been photographed just a week before. But then again, I’ve quite the knack (and a long and distinguish history, in fact) for missing Long-eared Owls, so this wasn’t surprising. But there were California Quail, a Brewer’s Sparrow, Horned Larks, Western Meadowlark, an American Goldfinch, and Killdeers. A pair of Long-billed Curlews flew calling over the sagebrush and landed in the distance, and a group of White-faced Ibises flew low over us towards the reservoir.
A few other birders were ahead of us near the water, and they came back and told us they had spotted two Dunlins. Dunlins are rather uncommon in Idaho, especially in spring, so we set out for them. Soon we spotted them. They looked sharp in their breeding plumages of gray, black, and rufous. We laid down I the mud and slowly worked towards them as they foraged on the water’s edge, and soon we were able to get a few pictures.
We left Blacks Creek and drove some back roads, adding Spotted Towhee and Lark Sparrow, and then we visited Indian Creek, another reservoir that wasn’t too far away. At Indian Creek it was a little less windy and there were more birds: we saw Cinnamon Teals, Ruddy Ducks, Spotted Sandpipers, a Semipalmated Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitchers, an American White Pelican, Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers.
When we were finished at Indian Creek, we took off for a hotspot about an hour away called Camas Centennial Marsh. Camas Centennial Marsh is located on the Camas prairie, a wide expanse of land that is surrounded by hills and mountains. It freezes over in winter, but during the summer many birds breed in the marshes and damp grass.
We drove around the outskirts a bit before hitting the main marsh area. Here there was a pair of Wilson’s Phalaropes, a pair of Willets, Savanah Sparrows, an American Kestrel, Cinnamon Teal, a Wilson’s Snipe, and a Long-billed Curlew. It was still quite windy, but the sun was getting warmer. Unfortunately, the higher the sun got in the sky, the harder it was to get well-lit photos.
At the main marsh there were more Brewer’s Blackbirds, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, another Wilson’s Snipe, and two more phalaropes not far out on the water. One of the phalaropes was a female Wilson’s Phalarope, and the other was a female Red-necked Phalarope. It was a treat to see them next to each other. We got out of the car and slowly worked our way towards them, and soon we were at the water’s edge. They were incredibly tame as the foraged near the shore. Once, they even came within two feet of us! At point we lowered our long lenses and just watched them. The main challenge was trying to photograph them without shadows: the afternoon sun was harsh and it was hard to get good lighting.
The phalaropes stayed within ten feet of us for about fifteen minutes, and as they were drifting away we noticed several Least Sandpipers walking towards us. They were almost as tame as the phalaropes. We stopped to get some photos of them, and then moved up the road where some Willets were foraging. The Willets were tame, too. I had never been to Camas before, but if the birds let you this close every time, I’ll have to go again!
After another forty minutes, we decided it was time to leave. We hadn’t seen any Virginia Rails or Soras, but after our experience with the phalaropes, we didn’t feel like we were missing out too much. But then, right as we were driving out of the marsh, a Sora crossed the road right in front of us, and then a Virginia Rail dashed out from the reeds into the road. It was neat to see both of our rails within seconds of each other, even though they were both soon in the reeds again. Of course, we had to get out and look for them. After a few minutes we obtained a few photos of one of the Soras (there were actually two more) and then we had to leave. But the rail surprise was the perfect ending to our trip.