Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Snipe Hunt

I don't know the entire history of the Snipe hunt, but as I understand it is an old practical joke that is played while camping. The group convinces a newcomer to go on a Snipe Hunt. The newcomer is given a bag to catch the birds while the others supposedly circle around to chase the birds so he/she can catch them in the bag. Once the bag holder is in position, the others leave. Instead of circling around, they simply go back to camp, leaving the newcomer waiting. I have been told that this is where our saying "left holding the bag" comes from.

The 4th of July week brings our annual trip into the mountains near Stanley Idaho, the place where we were married. In celebration of our anniversary, we hike, mountain bike, bird watch, etc. Basically just enjoy the great outdoors.

This trip also had some new activities. Two weeks ago we had visited Stanley to perform a NightJar Survey for a research project at the College of William and Mary. I wrote about it in the article - The Null Survey. In the article I mentioned that we heard what we thought were Boreal Owls in the distance. After returning home and consulting with some of Idaho's most knowledgeable bird experts, they informed me that it was unlikely that they were Boreal Owls we were hearing and more likely Wilson's Snipe. While it was not an impossibility, they asked for more evidence before accepting my report. My description of what we heard led them to further question the possibility of owls. Anyway, I just had to go back try and prove it one way or another. I once again recruited Karyn and her parents to go along on my quest. We left in late evening to follow some of the same route we surveyed. Traveling the route in reverse just before dark we found at least 10 Sandhill Cranes, lots of Elk, and a few deer. We even found a beaver in one of the wetlands. It was a beautiful sunset. Then just after dark we approached one of the areas we had heard the owl/snipe. We moved in closer and closer still. At that point it was obvious. What we were currently hearing was a Wilson's Snipe with another in the distance. Our hunt was successful. While I would have preferred the opposite result, to find a Boreal Owl and prove it, I am glad that I put forth the effort to correct what I now know to be a mistake.

One day our friend Julie came to camp with us over night. We took her on a hike up to Lookout Peak Lookout.

Karyn on the left, Julie on the right

Its a 10 mile round trip with about 2000 feet of climbing. It was raining in the morning when we left, but we hoped that it would clear for our visit to the top. At about 3 miles in it looked to be doing just that. We were down to shorts an tee shirts. At mile 4 we acquired the ridge, the wind picked up and there was a nasty dark thundercloud on the horizon, we pushed on a little closer. At about a half mile form the lookout, we decided to stop for lunch and try to wait out the storm. After lunch the conditions continued to degrade with the sound of thunder roaring in our ears. We decided on the safe route and retreated down the mountain. The sun finally came out as we arrived back at the trailhead. It would seem a later hike would have been the wise choice. The mountains usually require the opposite, early hikes due to late afternoon thunder storms. The good news is that the mountains seem to have taken back their unpredictable nature. Last year we spent 10 days here and it was crystal clear and hot the entire time. Its great to have summer storms and rain come through.

Yesterday we rode our mountain tandem on the Fisher Creek trail. This is the trail on which we were married. The two of us were in sync as we rode well on the climbs and the descents. There were a few trees down blocking the trail, but luckily they were in places with good advanced visibility. Today's route took us on the Knapp Creek-Valley Creek loop. This is a three hour ride mostly easy with a few very technical places. At one point we were riding near a meadow. There was a heard of about 30-40 elk. While we were a good distance from them, they started running in the same direction that we were headed. We entered the trees and hoped to get around them. All of the sudden they crossed our path about 30-50 feet in front of us running at full speed through the trees. Yikes. Its a good thing that we weren't trampled. It's too bad that we spooked them from the best grazing grass. Based on their reaction, they had to be on edge before our arrival. Maybe they were chased by predators during the night. Another theory of mine is that they seek protection in the trees. While we were mostly passed them when they started running, we were headed into the trees partially blocking their route to what they must have viewed as their safety zone. It could also be that one of them started to run so they all did. Such is the way of herd animals. It was a fascinating experience.

Our camp is teaming with bird life. We have found a number of active nests. Ospreys fly by the river fishing most of the day. Some are returning to the nest just up the road with fresh fish. My bird book says that a Osprey brood requires 6 pounds of fish per day! Yellow Warblers flit by. We can see a nest of Red-tailed Hawks with at least 2 large chicks across the river high on the ridge. Elk visited the meadow across the river two nights ago during dinner. Each evening the Common Nighthawks arrive flying for insects overhead. This is why we were married in the area and return each year.

These two pictures were taken from the same chair in our camp.

Osprey taking flight.
Yellow Warbler.

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