One of the many wonderful things about birding as a hobby is that you can do it anywhere, anytime. You really don’t need any equipment if you are happy just to listen. At most, a pair of binocular puts you in the club.
You also don’t need a license or a permit, and there are no seasons. Some locations and times are better than others, but even that depends on your goals. If you just want some time away from the house, a walk around the block might do the trick. You can check in on your local house finches and maybe spot a Cooper’s hawk. It’s not an adventure, but it still might do wonders for your soul.
If you want more action, there are many options. A visit to a local park, a drive up to Bogus Basin, or a spin out to Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge are easy. With these short trips, you quickly increase your chance of seeing something cool.
Venturing out for a day trip opens up Silver City, Sun Valley, McCall, Idaho City, the Payette River corridor, and countless other mountain locations. Head to Bruneau Dunes State Park or Mud Flat Road if you like the sagebrush country, as I do.
We’re fortunate to live in an area with virtually unlimited birding locations, near and far. Idaho is 62% public land, managed by the U. S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other federal agencies. Those who want to privatize those 32,635,835 acres frequently argue that this land is owned by the government. No. This land is owned by you and me. It’s owned by my mom, my kids, and my grandkids. It’s public land. With a few exceptions, you can take your birding trip to any of those acres whenever you get the urge. That’s a beautiful thing!
I love to hit the road with my dog, Sienna, either up through the mountains or out through the Owyhee Uplands where I stop at a half dozen locations to do some birding. On longer road trips to Reno, Bend, Missoula, or Elko, there are countless interesting places to check out. Spots with a creek are going to have more species. But even a patch of dry forest or endless sagebrush can be fun. In fact, Sienna thinks every spot is perfect. She doesn’t talk much, but I can tell.
Closer to home, we are also fortunate to have city governments that understand how important open space is to Idahoans. The City of Boise manages over 90 parks and undeveloped areas, totaling around 4600 acres. Some of these parks are mostly lawn and trees, e.g., Ann Morrison, but many of them have a variety of habitats that attract a lot of birds. For example, Kathryn Albertson Park, right across Americana Boulevard from Ann Morrison, is a favorite destination for birders.
One of the things I would like to see across Boise parks is the removal of areas of lawn that are not used by kids for play or families for picnics. These patches can be seeded to native flowers and fruiting shrubs, which will immediately improve the park’s value for birds and other wildlife. I was happy to see some of this conversion has already taken place in Kathryn Albertson Park.
I’m not as familiar with parks in other cities because there are so many places to visit in Boise. But in Eagle, a favorite spot of mine is the Reid W. Merrill Sr. Community Park. This park is a good access point for the Boise River Greenbelt, as well as providing some open water and marshy vegetation on site.
Meridian has 20 parks. Although I’m not familiar with most of them, I’m keeping my eye on their newest and largest park as it is developed. Discovery Park will be 77 acres, substantially larger than both Kleiner and Settlers. I hope there will be patches of natural habitat for birders to checkout between hotdogs.
In Garden City, River Pointe Park is the perfect spot to jump on the south side of the Boise River. A walk downstream takes you through a variety of habitats, with the river always nearby. One bonus is the hummingbird feeders hanging in the yards along the first stretch.
Another terrific spot is Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve. Unlike many of the parks along the Boise River, Hyatt Lakes is marshy with relatively large bits of open water. This attracts a somewhat different array of species. Photographers who are keen on waterfowl and marsh birds love this place.
The Greenbelt itself is a wonderful place to bird, especially when the parks themselves are crawling with people. Treasure Valley cities deserve enormous credit for working together to create what is essentially a very long park. It takes our quality of life to a higher level.
We also have parks at the county scale. You may not realize that Barber Park is run by Ada County Parks & Waterways. You will find birds in Barber Park that you might have a harder time finding elsewhere. The combination of open woods, a lot of old trees, and the Boise River provide habitat combinations that are somewhat different from the other river parks.
Canyon County parks include a real favorite among birders – Wilson Springs. This series of ponds attracts waterfowl and marsh birds. Because this natural area is not near the Boise River and is largely surrounded by houses, it serves as an oasis. An oasis attracts and concentrates birds because the habitat there is much more desirable than the habitat around it.
Another good Canyon County destination is Celebration Park. As Idaho’s only archeological park, many visitors are attracted by the human history of the site. But because it is located on the Snake River, it provides a nice place to watch birds, as they move up and down stream, especially during migration.
Moving up to the state scale, we’re lucky to have yet another large area along the Boise River protected for public use. Eagle Island State Park has large meadows, a pond, riparian vegetation, and woods which provide a lot of different habitats for birds. Like all parks, it can get busy with human activity on weekends and during special events. Early morning is always a good time to visit parks. And, of course, that’s when most birds are most active anyway.
Aside from sites at the city, county, state, and national level, there is another source of information on where to go birding. That’s the Idaho Birding Trail. Birding trails are a series of birding spots around a state that have been recommended by local birding enthusiasts. All states have them. Like any trail, you could do a small part of it, the whole thing over time, or the whole thing in one go.
Good birding trails not only tell you where to bird and what species you might find, they also give you ideas for where to eat, where to stay or camp, and even what other interesting things are in the area. A giant ball of string or a 38-foot-tall fiberglass Holstein might be just around the corner.
The Idaho Birding Trail lists over 250 sites idfg.idaho.gov/ibt.
One of the sites in our region that I have not already mentioned is the Canyon Hill Cemetery in Caldwell. Cemeteries typically have old spruce, pine, and other coniferous trees favored by seed eaters for food and by owls for roosting sites. They’re also pretty quiet. The author of Canyon Hill recommends visiting in winter, when you might find red crossbills, Townsend’s solitaires, brown creepers, and merlin. Cemeteries are almost always oases.
Birds don’t care how we classify the world. All they know about is the habitat. So, pack a lunch and head to the boondocks, a local park, or even a local cemetery. No matter when or where you go, if you are birding, you’ll find something!