By Rebecca Long Pyper
With spring starting today bird enthusiasts in southeast Idaho are dusting off their binoculars and getting ready for a colorful show.
Thatâs 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 doesnât take much to get started. Youâll need a pair of binoculars â Trost said you can get a good pair for $200, and itâs worth the cash because âyouâve got to be able to see the birds.â If youâre 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 âThe Sibley Guide to Birdsâ and National Geographicâs âComplete Birds of North America.â
Once youâve got your binoculars and your books âthe best way to get started is to come on Audubon field trips,â 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. âGo with somebody thatâs good, and youâll learn a lot,â 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. âThey 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,â current Portneuf Valley Audubon president Barb North said.
One of Northâs 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, itâs a colorful annual visitor. Also, Idahoâs 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 â âwhen people get out and start talking, you canât hear a darn thing,â Trost said. Wear muted colors rather than white or brights, and youâll better blend in with the surroundings. And leave those dogs at home because theyâll 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 âbigger than a breadboxâ or âsmaller than a sparrow.â âThese characteristics you can look up later in a field guide or ask another person to help you identify it,â North said.
Also pay attention to what the bird is doing. âOften 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,â she said.
Sidebar: For more information on the Portneuf Valley Audubon and for suggestions on where to go birdwatching around Pocatello, visit www.pvaudubon.org.
: The western tanager visits Idaho each spring; its colorful markings make it a favorite among birdwatching enthusiasts. Other favorites include the yellow warbler and lazuli bunting. Photo courtesy Sue Weeg