Thursday, March 29, 2012

Neither snow nor rain nor sleet nor wind...

Phase three of spring break consisted of a visit to Leslie Gulch for camping, hiking, and bird watching. Phase one was mountain biking and hiking and phase two was a visit to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Leslie Gulch is only about a 90 minute drive from Boise, yet for some reason I had never been there before. I was always under the impression that it was a small canyon with only a single hike. While the area isn't really that large, it was much more diverse than I expected, provided pretty decent bird watching, the rock formations were spectacular, and had a number of hiking options. However, similar to Malheur it was still very windy!
American Kestrel.
Other than the wind, the weather wasn't bad on our arrival. We set up camp at the Slocum Creek campground near the reservoir. We decided for an evening off-trail hike up a nearby canyon. The rock formations were much more elaborate than I had expected. It was somewhat like a mini canyonlands. Western Meadowlarks sang as raptors and ravens kited in the wind over head. Chukars braved the threat of the raptors to find a high perch to enable their call to echo through the canyons.
The morning weather was not quite what we had hoped, but it was indeed spring break. For every spring break I can remember, it has snowed on me at least once! This was no exception.
Wind, rain, sleet, snow...
The first hike of the day was up Dago Canyon. This canyon has dirt road up the canyon, but it is gated so there were no vehicles. We hiked up a ways and then turned off up a side canyon to get into some slot canyons. This might not have been the best idea given the rainy conditions, but as long as it was a light rain and not a thunderstrom, we figured that we would be all right. We explored a few branches in the canyon until the trail got too narrow to proceed.
Dead end.
The canyons were filled with Western Meadowlarks, Chukar, American Robins, Northern Flicker, and Spotted Towhees. We were surprised to find a pair of Mountain Bluebirds braving the weather. The highlight, and one of my favorite birds, was a Canyon Wren singing in a rock backed ampitheater! Actually we would hear and see a number of them throughout the day. Their song is amazing! My first of the year Say's Phoebes joined us at lunch.
Say's Phoebe.
Rock formations.
After lunch the weather started to improve! The second hike of the day was up Juniper Canyon. As we were preparing at the trailhead I glanced up to see a falcon. Not just any falcon but a Peregrine Falcon. I know I say this a lot, but the Peregrine Falcon is "one of my favorite birds"! The Peregrine Falcon holds an extra special place in my heart as I know the history of this species. This species was threatened with extinction through human caused means. The human race realized this and adapted. The Peregrine Falcon was an instrumental species in getting the single greatest piece of legislation passed through the US congress, the Endangered Species Act. The Peregrine Falcon was one of the first species to be listed (if not the first), and was one of the first to be removed due to successful recovery (it might have also been the first to be removed). This offers hope that we as humans can adapt and help the natural world survive. To see a wild animal that had we not changed our ways would no longer be with us, is awe inspiring.

As I watched, the Peregrine rolled into a stoop! It rocketed downward. There in front were two Common Ravens soaring in the wind. The ravens barely evaded a direct strike. The Peregrine looped back up and came down again, this time making contact with one of the ravens! The ravens moved out as the Peregrine returned to circle overhead. I hate to anthropomorphize, but you cannot tell me that the falcon wasn't having fun messing with the ravens!

Blue sky! The blue sky emerged as we made our way up Juniper Canyon. Cool rock formations, singing birds, and three Golden Eagles kiting above the ridgeline. It was a great hike.
Rockin the sunshine!
Karyn near the top of the canyon.
Top of the canyon looking down.
We finished the hike just as the rain began to fall once again. We will definitely be coming back here!

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