Looking for some pretty plumage? Spring is the best time for bird watching in Idaho
With spring starting today bird enthusiasts in southeast Idaho are dusting off their binoculars and getting ready for a colorful show.
That’s because spring is the best time of year for local birdwatching, said bird enthusiast Chuck Trost, who started the Portneuf Valley Audubon in 1973.
It doesn’t take much to get started. You’ll need a pair of binoculars — Trost said you can get a good pair for $200, and it’s worth the cash because “you’ve got to be able to see the birds.” If you’re serious about birdwatching as a hobby, a telescope and a tripod or window mount are worthy investments too.
He also recommends apps like iBird Pro, which contains images of all the birds in North America and their songs; it allows users to search multiple attributes and plays bird songs and calls that attract birds. Books are a good resource too; check out “The Sibley Guide to Birds” and National Geographic’s “Complete Birds of North America.”
Once you’ve got your binoculars and your books “the best way to get started is to come on Audubon field trips,” Trost said. The local chapter, Portneuf Valley Audubon, meets nine months a year and has a membership of 175 people from Pocatello, Soda Springs, Blackfoot and American Falls. The third Saturday of each month the group is active, members head out together to see as many feathered friends as possible. “Go with somebody that’s good, and you’ll learn a lot,” Trost said.
In Idaho the birds bring the show to you. The watching gets good in March and April but peaks in May and June when colorful birds stop to breed here or take a break mid migration to fatten up en route to breeding grounds further north. “They are often in breeding plumage and starting to sing their songs to attract mates. This is a fantastic time of year to be out observing and listening,” current Portneuf Valley Audubon president Barb North said.
One of North’s favorite species that passes through and sometimes sticks around for awhile is the western tanager. With its yellow body; black wings, tail and back; and orange-red head, it’s a colorful annual visitor. Also, Idaho’s state bird, the mountain bluebird, can be seen around southeast Idaho once you leave city limits, North said.
Because of the elevation around Pocatello, the chances of seeing an array of species are especially good in areas like Scout Mountain. But before you leave for your first birdwatching venture, remember a few things. You need to be quiet — “when people get out and start talking, you can’t hear a darn thing,” Trost said. Wear muted colors rather than white or brights, and you’ll better blend in with the surroundings. And leave those dogs at home because they’ll scare away birds.
If identifying species you see is important to you, North recommends making small drawings of birds and noting the size in relation to something familiar, like “bigger than a breadbox” or “smaller than a sparrow.” “These characteristics you can look up later in a field guide or ask another person to help you identify it,” North said.
Also pay attention to what the bird is doing. “Often you can learn much about a bird by what you see it doing, such as walking up tree trunks, digging in the ground, catching small insects from a branch, sitting quietly beside the trunk of the tree (or) sings only from the top of the brush or tree,” she said.