Birding Along The MIDDLE Fork: A Personal Journey
by Tim Gunderson
The yellow-rumped warbler
If you know me, you probably know me as a geologist. I have taught and studied geology for over 20 years. But, in 2018 I began to pursue an interest that had been in the back of my mind for many years … birding.
I have always been intrigued by birds but I had never really stopped to look at them closely. In May of 2018 I spent a day with a group of knowledgeable birders in Southern Idaho and I was hooked. I bought a nice pair of binoculars and enjoyed learning more about birds and the markings to look for when identifying them. I told my wife that I wasn’t going to turn into one of those fanatical birders that slinks through the brush with a camera trying to get a closeup shot of a bird.
I soon discovered that birding is a fast-paced sport. About the time I would get the binoculars focused, the bird would flit away. A nice camera allows you to record the moment and relive it later. Within a year I bought my first nice camera.
The Middle Fork has a wide variety of waterfowl, shore birds, song birds, game birds, and raptors. But birding while floating down the river presents some challenges. It isn’t easy to use binoculars or a camera effectively while actually on the water. I became aware of how important it was to listen to birds instead of just looking for them. Different species have different sounds and listening more closely made me aware of just how beautiful birds sound. I began to notice how certain birds were seen in certain vegetation types. Their preferred habitat and food source is a big clue. What was that bird that just flew out from shrubs, hovered over the river for a moment, and went back to the shrubs?
Sight, sound, habitat, and food all help to identify birds and, for me, putting it all together enhances the entire Middle Fork experience.
Some of my favorite birds along the Middle Fork of the Salmon are the Lazuli Bunting, Western Tanager, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Lewis’s Woodpecker. One day in 2020 I saw a Lewis’s Woodpecker and Clark’s Nutcracker together. This memory sticks with me because they are named after Lewis and Clark, since their expedition was the first to document these two bird species. It seemed to me they were still hanging out together.
The Middle Fork has so much to offer. For the casual or diehard birder, every day is a new adventure.