Idaho & Western Montana: Fall 2016

Fall 2016: 1 Aug–30 Nov

David Trochlell

Recommended citation: 

Trochlell, D., 2021. Fall 2016: Idaho and Western Montana. <> North American Birds.

The region’s enigmatic fall 2016 weather began with typical mild conditions that persisted through September. But in October, unprecedented precipitation came to the region, making it the wettest October in recorded history. Mother Nature had still more surprises in store in November, when unusually dry and record-warm temperatures prevailed. By the end of the season, surface water remained unfrozen even at many high-elevation lakes, encouraging waterfowl and passerines alike to delay migration.

Contributors (subregional editors in boldface):

Melody Asher, Mike Becker, Bob Bond, Ben Bright (BBr), Jim Brown, Steve Butterworth, Kathleen Cameron, Jay Carlisle, Keith Carlson (KCa), Dan Casey (DCa), Darren Clark, Hobart Collins, Dan Cook (DCo), Josh Covill (JCo), Cory DeStein, Kathy Eklund, Paulette Epple, Dave Faike, Vic Fesolowitz, Tom Forwood, Pat Grantham, Andrew Guttenberg, Caleb Hansen, Lisa Hardy, Lou Ann Harris (LAH), Craig Hohenberger (CHo), Jordanne Holst, Denise Hughes, Cheryl Huizinga (CHu), Matt Keefer, Nate Kohler, Carl Lundblad, Nathan Martineau, Walker Noe, Jim Oates, John Parker, Jordan Ragsdale, Eric Rasmussen, Shawn Richmond, Forrest Rowland, RL Rowland, Nicholas Sly, Kit Struthers, Shirley Sturts, Gary Swant, Charles Swift, Jason Talbot, Chuck Trost, Dick Walker (DWk), Doug Ward, Heidi Ware, Pat Weber, Cliff Weisse, Robin Wolcott, Cole Wolf (CWo), Poo Wright-Pulliam, Austin Young.

Waterfowl through Terns

Usually scarce Surf Scoters came through the region in record-high numbers, with a mind-blowing season’s total of nearly 90 reported in both states. An incredible 21 Surfs at Silver Lake, MT 29 Oct (ph, PG, NK) had the distinction of being the region’s largest flock ever recorded. White-winged Scoters, far less reported than Surfs, also made an excellent showing, with a total of 17 recorded. Rarest of the region’s scoters, a Black Scoter that stopped in Lake, MT 21–30+ Nov (ph, SR) became a popular attraction. White-tailed Ptarmigan is scarcely distributed and seldom reported, so two documented on Rocky Mountain, Teton, MT 28 Aug (CD) were encouraging. A total of 14 Pacific Loons represented an excellent season. Green Heron is not annual in Idaho, so one documented in Boise 29 Oct–3 Nov (RLR) was very interesting. Ospreys tarried unusually late in Idaho, with one in Twin Falls 25 Nov (DH) and another in Boise 25 Nov–9 Dec (JR, JT). A Red-shouldered Hawk, not annual, represented a great sighting at Lucky Peak near Boise, ID 26 Sep (CH). Sandhill Cranes also stayed extremely late, evidenced by a flock of 115 in Blaine, ID 5 Nov (PW) and up to 231 in Paradise Valley 10–23 Nov (PE, JP).

Rare American Golden-Plovers were identified at Warm Springs, MT 8 Sep (GS) and in Jerome, ID 29 Oct–2 Nov (PW). Notable were two Black-bellied Plovers at Warm Springs, MT 30 Sep (GS) and one in Owyhee, ID 7 Oct (JC). Regionally-rare Upland Sandpipers were seen in Coolin, ID 4 Sep (ph, BB) and Flathead, MT 11 Oct (ph, DWk). A Sanderling in Clearwater, ID 1 Sep (CS) likely represented a first county record, and another was a rare find in Nez Perce, ID 18 Sep (ph, KCa, CL). Vagrant Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were discovered in both states, with singles found in Somers, MT 10 Sep (DCa) and at American Falls Reservoir 22–24 Oct (SB, DC). Uncommon Stilt Sandpipers came through in unusually high numbers, with a total of 26 reported 4 Aug–9 Sep; especially remarkable was a flock of 14 at Cottonwood Reservoir, MT 12 Aug (FR). Rare Short-billed Dowitchers were identified in Nez Perce, ID 23 Aug & 18 Sep (ph, KCa, CL, CS). Vagrant Red Phalaropes were exciting discoveries in both states: a pair stopped in Madison, MT 13 Oct (ph, VF) and one was in Sandpoint, ID 17 Nov (ph, ER). Sabine’s Gulls made an excellent showing, with a total of 23 reported during the season. Extralimital Franklin’s Gulls showed up in Idaho’s Kootenai 24 Sep & 22 Oct (CL, WN) and Boise 16 Nov (JR). The tally of rare-but-annual gulls was lackluster, with only four Mew Gulls, one Thayer’s Gull, two Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and two Glaucous Gulls reported. Record-late was a Common Tern at Lake Mary Ronan, MT 13 Oct (SR) and two Forster’s Terns below the A.F.R. dam 26 Nov (CT).

Owls through Finches

The only reported Snowy Owl was near Polson, MT 4 Dec (JO), the region’s most regular location for the species. It was a record season for visiting Anna’s Hummingbirds. By the end of Nov, a study reported an amazing 31 Anna’s in southwest Idaho (HW), and others were south of Helena, MT 16 Oct–3 Nov (PG), in Somers, MT 3 Nov (SR), and in Kootenai, ID 7 Nov (DW). Any sapsucker would be unexpected in the region after Oct, so Red-napeds found in Ennis, MT 6 Nov (VF) and Boise, ID 8 Dec (JT) were surprising. A vagrant Red-breasted Sapsucker was identified in Boise, ID 8 Dec (JT). The only reported Gyrfalcon was near Kalispell in late Sep (fide JO). An Eastern Phoebe at Silver Lake, MT 8–12 Oct (AG, JP) provided western Montana’s fourth record. Amazingly, there were two Idaho reports of vagrant Scissor-tailed Flycatchers: one was in Twin Falls 1–10 Oct (ph, MA) and another was in Cassia 9–10 Oct (ph, KE). Two Rock Wrens south of Ennis, MT 15 Oct (LAH) and one near Bozeman, MT 19 Oct (HC) represented the latest records ever for Latilong 38. If accepted, a Winter Wren documented in Twin Falls 23–29 Nov (ph, DC, AY) will provide Idaho’s second record. Shockingly late was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in Boise, ID 22 Nov (HW). The only Northern Mockingbird of the season was near Kimberly, ID 12–13 Dec (MA). An extralimital Sage Thrasher was discovered in Flathead, MT 20 Aug (CHo), where there are few precedents. A Brown Thrasher seen west of Logan, MT 7 Aug (AG) provided the fifth record for Latilong 38.

The bird of the season was a Virginia’s Warbler discovered near Three Forks 1 Aug (ph, NM) that represented a first record for Montana. Although not annual in the region, both states reported Magnolia Warblers: one was in Canyon, ID 5 Sep (ph, DCo) and another stopped near Missoula, MT 8 Oct (CWo). Chestnut-sided Warblers, rare but annual, made their best appearance in years. Singles came through Canyon, ID 5 Sep (CHu), Willow Creek, MT 16 Sep (TF), and Moscow, ID 17 Sep (ph, BBr, CL). Palm Warblers also made a better than usual showing, with one in Moscow, ID 6 Oct (ph, CL) and another in Bozeman, MT 10 Oct (JP). Surprisingly late was a Yellow-rumped Warbler in Idaho Falls, ID 15 Nov (KS). Representing a 12th record for Montana was a Black-throated Gray Warbler in Bozeman, MT 13 Oct (ph, MB). If accepted, a Hermit Warbler captured at Lucky Peak near Boise 6 Aug (ph, JC) will provide Idaho’s fourth record. Vagrant Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were discovered in Missoula, MT 4 Oct (JB) and in Blaine, ID 19–28 Nov (JH). Exceptionally late was a Vesper Sparrow near Belgrade, MT 30 Nov (AG). Apparently it was a good year to see visiting Swamp Sparrows, with one in Missoula, MT 4 Oct (NS), two in Flathead, MT 4–8 Oct (ph, JCo), one in Bozeman, MT 5 Oct (AG), and one in Benewah, ID 11 Oct (ph, CS). The only reported Golden-crowned Sparrow was spotted in Canyon, ID 10–13 Oct (CHu). Unexpected Lesser Goldfinches were notable near Cardwell, MT 9 Aug (MK) and in Challis, ID 14 Sep (ph, DF).

Report processed by Randi Minetor, 19 Feb 2021.

Photos–Idaho & Western Montana: Fall 2016

On 23 Nov 2016, Austin Young discovered this wren in dense shrubby habitat along the Snake River near Twin Falls. Austin made a sound recording of its call, and that plus his description supported his claim that this was indeed a vagrant Winter Wren. Darren Clark photographed it 26 Nov; the bird lingered until 29 Nov. Photo © Darren Clark.