The Same, But Different


WC spent the Memorial Day weekend in Central Idaho, on Payette Lake. At a little over 5,000 feet – an altitude that in Alaska supports only rock, ice and lichen – it presents a Ponderosa Pine forest, with trees up to five feet in diameter. True, the forest is damaged by over-cutting, wildfires and Pine Beetles, but it’s still pretty magnificent.

The birds in this environment are different that those down on the drier Snake River Plain. More like Alaska’s, in many ways, but different, too. Here’s a sampling.

Evening Grosbeak, Payette Lake, Idaho

Evening Grosbeak, Payette Lake, Idaho

Alaska has the Pine Grosbeak; Idaho has the Evening Grosbeak and the Black-headed Grosbeak. If there are hard seeds to crack open, a bird will usually have evolved to manage it.

Mountain Chickadee, Payette Lake, Idaho

Mountain Chickadee, Payette Lake, Idaho

Alaska has the Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees; Idaho offers the Mountain Chickadee. It uses pretty much the same ecological niche as Alaska’s Black-capped, if a little less elegantly.

Red-breasted Nuthatch, Payette Lake, Idaho

Red-breasted Nuthatch, Payette Lake, Idaho

This is the same species found in Alaska, but a different subspecies. They are much more common than in Alaska, and in Spring, the forests echo with that distinctive, nasal “snee-snee-snee.” Wherever there are bark crevices, there are Nuthatches to probe them.

Gray Jay, Payette Lake, Idaho

Gray Jay, Payette Lake, Idaho

Another familiar bird, but slightly different. The Gray Jay, the “camp robber” or “whiskey jack,” is a fairly common bird in Alaska, but the intermountain birds have a different subspecies, with more white and less black, especially in the head. WC may have to do a post on Gray Jays some day.

Rufous Hummingbird Female, Payette Lake, Idaho

Rufous Hummingbird Female, Payette Lake, Idaho

Finally, you have to include a hummingbird. Rufous Hummingbird is Alaska’s only common hummingbird. It’s not the most common hummer in Central Idaho, but it does breed here, pretty much at the southern limit of its breeding range. Ironically, this tiny lady is the only one of the five that is found in Alaska. The tiniest bird migrates the furthest.

These are just five of fifty-plus species WC and Mrs. WC have seen this trip. There will likely be more photos.

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