Friday, June 28: My first birding stop today was a sagebrush area near the Kelly road, south of the airport. My target birds were the two sage birds—grouse and thrasher. At first, I could only find Brewer's and Vesper Sparrows, but pretty soon I heard a distant thrasher. It took some walking to get close, and by then it was quiet. I went through this exercise a couple of times before finally spotting a distant Sage Thrasher (trip lifer #5). Eventually I got better, but not great views. However, I did get to see a display flight. As for the grouse, all I managed to flush were Brewer's and Vesper Sparrows...no grouse. This romp through the sage flats left me smelling like sagebrush for a while.
The next stop was the Blacktail Ponds Overlook in Grand Teton NP. This brought three trip birds, Green-tailed Towhee, Willow Flycatcher (there were several fitzpewing), and Orange-crowned Warbler (in that order). When I got back to the overlook there was a couple photographing something, which turned out to be a Moose.
Stops near the Moran entrance station and Oxbow Bend brought no trip birds. Next, I checked Christian Pond for nesting Trumpeters. There was what I guess was an unoccupied nest. Pied-billed Grebe was trip bird #190. The Jackson Dam brought nothing new, and I headed up the Signal Mountain Road. While walking behind a pond next to the Signal Mountain trailhead I spotted a Northern Goshawk flying by (and calling). This is only the second time I've seen Goshawk, and it is still a BVD bird.
After that I headed for Two Ocean Lake. I didn't do the whole trail, only about a mile. I had barely started when I looked up a dry creekbed and saw a bull Moose. As I traveled along the trail I heard the drumming of a Ruffed Grouse (trip #192). Since I've seen Ruffed Grouse before (both morphs), I didn't feel compelled to disturb it by hunting for it (it was quite close, and should have been findable). So I got one of the 3 possible grouse today, but neither of the two I wanted. Maybe tomorrow. A female Hairy Woodpecker gave me a moment. I didn't see the usual white on the back and immediately started thinking Black-backed. Then the male appeared, which was clearly a Hairy. Only then did I recall that western Hairys have much less white on the back than the eastern bird.
During midday, I noticed some very interesting light on the Tetons. Normally, it is a not a good time to photograph scenics. However, a bit of haze in the air gave the light a very interesting quality when looking in the direction of the sun. Later on, I noticed a Teton poster by David Muench in the store at Jenny Lake. He had exploited that very same quality of light in his photograph. I'm not surprised that such a master of landscape photography would take advantage of that light.
My last birding stop was Lupine Meadows, where I walked a bit of the trail. No new birds. I ended with 60 for the day, and 191 for the trip. Tomorrow I will look for Sage and Blue Grouse again in the morning.
I ended the day with a relatively expensive dinner (easy to do in Jackson Hole), celebrating my new lifer.
Grouse Hunt — Wrong Grouse
Saturday, June 29: As the sun rose I was already out in the sage flats hunting for Sage Grouse. No luck, but I got much better looks at a Sage Thrasher. A second location also brought no grouse.
The third stop was the Taggart Lake Trail. I found a nice assortment of birds there, but only one trip bird—Cassin's Finch.
I again drove up the Signal Hill Road, hoping for Blue Grouse. Signal Hill is perfect since the forest is purely coniferous. Blue Grouse like conifers, Ruffed Grouse prefer mixed forest. Imagine my delight when I spotted a grouse on the side of the road. I quickly ticked off Blue Grouse. It stayed by the side of the road, and even moved toward me a bit. I keep looking, and found it a bit odd that a Blue Grouse would be so light-colored. It also seemed odd that the grouse was advancing on me. Blue Grouse should be skittish, the Ruffed Grouse around here are not (unlike the east). The grouse had a topknot. I consulted Sibley, and found that the bird looked a lot like a Ruffed Grouse. As it moved closer (eventually within 10 feet!), I could see the dark tailband, confirming it was a gray morph Ruffed Grouse. So I'm still looking for Blue Grouse.
Although the Birder's Guide mentions that grouse in the east are very skittish, while western Ruffed Grouse can be aggressive, it's not always the case that eastern grouse are skittish. I recall seeing a Ruffed Grouse once in the Catskills, along the Escarpment Trail. It didn't seem particularly concerned that I was there, and keep grousing all the time I had it in view.
From Signal Hill, it was on to Jackson Lake Dam. Most of the white blobs resolved into White Pelicans when I used the scope, but 4 turned into Trumpeter Swans. I got two trip birds there: Caspian Tern and Bank Swallow, putting my trip list at 194.
By now, it was getting close to noon, and I did a little sightseeing, including driving over Teton Pass for a brief visit to Idaho. My Idaho list is a big 6! According to the sign at the top of Teton Pass, it used to take 2 weeks to get a wagon over Teton Pass. These days, we drive it in under an hour. However, some vehicles still have trouble, and I was stuck for a while behind a school bus that was doing about 20 up the mountain. Even though he pulled over, it was not so easy to get around him. It was so steep that even in second gear I couldn't accelerate quickly. However, there is a cure, downshift into first! That still accelerates pretty quickly, even with the altitude and the grade.
I didn't do any more birding today and ended with 54 species. I declared the rest of the day a rest day (something I've haven't gotten a lot of). Tomorrow I will bird my way to Vernal, Utah. I've got several Sage Grouse spots to check on the way.