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Each fall, we ask our Lucky Peak technicians to share a bit about their field season. This year the crew treated us to some fantastic writing, photography, and illustrations that you won’t want to miss! You can read the whole article, or skip ahead using these links to read about songbirds, hawkwatch, raptor banding, and owls.

The Morning News

By songbird crew member Rebekkah LaBlue

Songbird banders are the first to arrive on Lucky each season, and the smokey, amber-washed evening of July 14th—pleasantly peppered with the chip notes of soon-to-be migrants, this Easterner’s first-ever breath of intermountain air, and the laughter of five technicians who had no idea just how grateful they’d be to have found each other—set the tone for what was to be a joyful, if ominously warm, autumn.

sun setting over mountains casting multiple hues of orange, pink, blue and purple. Red paintbrush flowers and green sagebrush glow in the foreground
The first sunset of the 2022 fall Lucky Peak season. Photo Credit: Rebekkah LaBlue

“Fall banding, in July?”

A question many of us on the crew receive. It may seem counterintuitive, but a variety of factors including species and climate patterns may push some birds to migrate before the breeding season ends for others. Our first net runs on the morning of July 16th were busy: filled with still-brooding Cassin’s Vireos and doting Lazuli Bunting dads, not to mention a few Black-headed Grosbeaks and hummingbirds already fattening up to leave.


three biologists' hands, each holding a small gray bird in the left and right hands
A July morning surprised the crew with a flock of hatch-year Bushtits, a seldom-caught species on Lucky Peak. Photo Credit: Jay Carlisle

The Peak buzzed with other activity, too!

For some time our crew cherished its “Snake Streak”: tallying the number of consecutive days in which we sighted at least one individual scaled neighbor around camp (most often Great Basin Rattlesnakes, Rubber Boas, and Gopher snakes).

a smooth gray rubber boa with beady little eyes and what almost looks like a slight grin. crawling through some pebbles next to a tree root
A common resident found up at Lucky Peak. Rubber Boas are non-venomous and are famous for being docile and gentle in the hand. Photo Credit: Nick Alioto

The entire first week of banding—which included an 82 bird day—seeded high expectations for the season: a sentiment that may ring familiar from last year’s Lucky Peak recap. Indeed, our researchers wonder if warming weather patterns, drought, fire activity, and continuing residual effects from the 2020 songbird mortality event in the southern Rockies may have conspired to set a new record low at Lucky for the second year running, with 3,718 new individuals banded. While station capture rates and the stability of bird migration routes fluctuate annually, the question rang in our crew’s ears as the months came and went: is this a new norm?

Experimental Design and Analysis
Recording high quality banding data each year is crucial for monitoring bird populations over time. Photo Credit: Tom Carroll

Only more study and collaboration will help us paint a holistic picture and make firm determinations.

One of the more difficult jobs of a bander is to hold optimism and skepticism in their hands at the same time. So, as the hard work of keeping a finger on the pulse of our bird populations continues, we must also do the hard work of emphasizing the passion for what we do, including the 59 species we were privileged to meet, and the nearly 400 visitors we shared with this season.

s a collage of ten individual songbirds in the hands of scientists
Our top 10 species banded this season at Lucky Peak: (1) Ruby-crowned Kinglet, (2) Western Tanager, (3) MacGillivray’s Warbler, (4) [Oregon] Dark-eyed Junco, (5) Lazuli Bunting, (6) Nashville Warbler, (7) [Gambel’s] White-crowned Sparrow, (8) Warbling Vireo, (9) Dusky Flycatcher, (10) [Audubon’s] Yellow-rumped Warbler. Photo Credits: Rebekkah LaBlue and Linda Nong.

Despite a low capture rate, a number of extra-feathered encounters, exciting birds, and learning opportunities kept our crew in good spirits.

While averaging 20-40 bird days through July and August, we hosted an honorary sixth technician: a curious Yellow-bellied Marmot that, like clockwork every morning, would crawl atop the tallest stump in camp and watch us band for several hours.


a small mammal laying on a stump completely flat and relaxed with legs spread wide
Our resident Yellow-bellied Marmot: undoubtedly the cutest technician Lucky has ever seen, but not necessarily the most attentive. Photo Credit: Rebekkah LaBlue

A few welcome challenges for crew members early in the season included eccentric molt limits among buntings and sparrows, and “flycatcher boot camp.” Many birders are aware of the trials and tribulations of identifying Empidonax flycatchers in the field.

However, some may be surprised to learn that the task can be nearly as difficult even with the birds in hand!

One of the techniques we use is to measure the relative lengths of certain flight feathers—the differences separating species are just millimeters. If this process doesn’t sound tedious enough, just wait until you meet “math bird”: the Western Flycatcher! Per Lucky protocol, we lump Pacific-slope and Cordilleran Flycatchers in our data—two species once lumped in official taxonomy—because the mathematical formulas used to tell one species from another result in values with exceptional overlap. One thing is for sure, you better brush up on PEMDAS before handling these birds!

collage of 3 images shows a western flycatcher held in front of a data sheet featuring a handwritten equation, a ruler held up to the folded wing feathers of a flycatcher, and a gray flycatcher beak held up next to a field guide image of flycatcher beaks
Banders use a variety of measurements and resources to identify Empidonax flycatchers. Top: “Western” Flycatcher, Bottom: Dusky Flycatcher. Photo Credit: Rebekkah LaBlue.

With the arrival of some (slightly) cooler weather in September, we welcomed a few of our more iconic fall migrants and winter residents: White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Townsend’s Solitaires, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, though many in surprisingly low numbers.

In addition, we saw an influx of notable birds, including the station’s first ever Ovenbird on September 5th!

a biologist holding a small brown songbird gently in the hand
Lucky Peak’s first-ever Ovenbird—a hatch-year bird and rare visitor to Idaho from more northern and eastern parts of the country. Photo Credit: Lucian Davis

Equally exciting was the station’s first intergrade Northern Flicker on September 21st!

a collage of images showing a flicker with brilliant neon yellow wing and tail feathers, red moustache and nape patch, and a boldly polka dotted chest
A hatch-year, male, intergrade Northern Flicker. While Lucky crews catch their share of Northern Flickers, intergrades—which acquire genes from both West-dwelling Red-shafted and East-dwelling Yellow-shafted forms of the species—provide a unique opportunity for banders to learn about geographic variation and trait inheritance. Photo Credits: Katie Newsome, Rebekkah LaBlue

The songbird crew also banded the station’s 2nd Williamson Sapsuker and 15th American Redstart, not to mention the station’s 6th Red-eyed Vireo. And then lightning struck twice:

We captured not one, but two Canyon Wrens and two Steller’s Jays this season!

2 different birds, one blue and one rusty brown, gently being held by scientists
An after-hatch-year Steller’s Jay (left) and a hatch-year Canyon Wren (right). Photo Credit: Rebekkah LaBlue

Also in September, two members of the songbird crew geared up for their North American Banding Council (NABC) certification exam, and we’re proud to say each passed at their desired level. Congrats to newly NABC-certified Bander Linda and Trainer Rebekkah!

On October 8th, we captured 84 birds: our biggest day of the season; 75 of these birds were “Rickis” (stemming from their 4-letter alpha code RCKI), as we lovingly call our Ruby-crowned Kinglets! The kinglet crush continued reliably through our season’s end in mid-October, when we finally began to see a much-anticipated push of junco arrivals. A handsome, after-second-year male Oregon Junco was our final bird banded for fall 2022.

five biologists standing in front of a green yurt outside in the forest. They are smiling cheerfully and hugging each other, wearing matching IBO shirts and hats
The 2022 Lucky Peak songbird banding crew! From left to right: Alexis Kosins, Rebekkah LaBlue, Lauren Tate, Linda Nong, Lucian Davis. Photo Credit: Jay Carlisle

It will take time to tease the story from this season’s data, but the five of us are humbled to have been a part of the Lucky story, contributing to the important, multilayered work of bird conservation in the West. Thanks to our wonderful visitors and volunteers, as well as IBO’s technicians and permanent staff for an unforgettable season. Until the next trip around the sun!

The Afternoon News



By hawkwatchers Isaac Grosner and Emma Regnier

Every day from August 15th until October 28th, a dedicated crew of hawk watchers stood atop Lucky Peak and scanned the skies from mid-morning until the golden afternoon sun started to set. This year marked the 28th year of monitoring the raptor migration at Lucky Peak, and a very hot and smoky August gave way to an unusually warm and pleasant September and October.

the the view from Lucky Peak looking down over Boise as the sun is setting casting hues of yellow, orange and pink on the clouds over a city
Sunset over Boise from the top of Hawkwatch. Photo Credit: Eugenia SA

Over the course of two and a half months, we counted a total of 5,504 raptors of 18 different species!

While the season total was below the 28-year average of 6,429 raptors, every fall is filled with surprises and this year was no exception.

Whether it was the warmer weather, wildfires, or another reason unbeknownst to us, the raptors weren’t in any hurry to start their migration. But once they started moving, they moved in force! It all came together on September 26th, when we counted a whopping 522 raptors of 13 species, including a spectacular show of hundreds of Turkey Vultures kettling together in the cool autumn breeze.

Emma's sketch of a turkey vulture and an all-dark Harlan's red-tailed hawk
359 Turkey Vultures were counted on our peak day of the season, September 26th. The appearance of a dark-morph Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk on September 29th delighted the hawkwatchers. Illustration Credit: Emma Regnier

There were many other special moments throughout the season. We counted three Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawks, which are a rare and beautiful subspecies that breed in Alaska and NW Canada. A dark morph Harlan’s Hawk can be identified by its striking nearly-black body feathers, pale flight feathers, and white tail. They are an unusual sight during fall migration at Lucky Peak, so to count three this season was a real treat.

image shows a biologist holding a large raptor as it holds its wings open
Dark morph Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk, banded in 2021 on Boise Peak. Photo Credit: Jessy Wilson

Another exceptional bird we counted this year was a Red-shouldered Hawk-the first sighting since 2018!

Our incredible volunteer hawkwatcher, Kateri Bilay, was the first to spot the unmistakable pale crescent-shaped markings in its wings as it soared over the peak on its journey south.

a cartoon-style sketch of a Red-shouldered hawk and rough-legged hawk. Each hawk is labeled with their common and latin name, and both have a quizzical look on their face
A Red-shouldered Hawk was counted at Lucky Peak this season for the first time since 2018. The first Rough-legged Hawk of the season soared by Hawkwatch on October 12th. Illustration Credit: Emma Regnier

On October 12th we welcomed the arrival of the first (and only) Rough-legged Hawk of the 2022 season. These hawks breed in the Arctic Circle, and are some of the last hawks to migrate through Lucky Peak. The first “Roughie” of the season is a sure sign that winter isn’t far behind. A fan favorite bird of the Raptor Crew, we all jumped for joy when we spotted the dark carpal patches on the underwings of this pale juvenile bird as it circled up in the west above Table Rock.

a hawk flies overhead with very dark body and wings, and light gray wing tips
Dark morph Rough-legged Hawk. These Arctic breeders are some of the last to migrate over Lucky Peak. Photo Credit: Evan Buck

Then, about a week later, Hawkwatch was stunned by an exhilarating encounter with a mysterious melanistic Northern Harrier!

The distinctive long-winged and lanky bird first appeared directly above the banding station, but when it banked, we realized it was nearly black in color throughout – even in full sun. Lacking a white patch on the rump, its flight feathers were pale and struck a beautiful contrast against what otherwise looked like a silhouette. Only a handful of sightings of melanistic Northern Harriers have ever been documented!

a page from Emma's journal. In the margin are four sketches of the melanistic harrier from different angles, showing its dark body, dark rump, and light primaries
A page from Emma’s sketchbook recounting our brush with the melanistic harrier on October 18th. Melanism is the increased development of black or almost black pigment in an organism’s skin, fur, or feathers. Illustration Credit: Emma Regnier

The biggest highlight of the year was undoubtedly the Broad-winged Hawks! These hawks are small Buteos that don’t actually breed in Idaho, so the best time of year to see them is during the fall migration, and there’s no better place to see one than at Lucky Peak! The season average for Broad-winged Hawks is 35.

But this year we counted a record-breaking 146; all but blowing away the previous season record of 84!

To make it even wilder, we had one day where we counted 42 in a single day! It was a joy to watch these elegant little hawks fly by on their way to the tropics.

a hand-drawn sketch of a broad-winged hawk. Text around the sketch says "new record!!" with a cartoon-style explosion around it. Writing says "42 broad-winged hawks counted september 26th. the record for a single day. 146 counted this season!"
Record-breaking numbers of Broad-wing Hawks were the highlight of the 2022 fall migration season! Illustration Credit: Emma Regnier

Just because we are hawk watchers doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the smaller birds, too! Even during slow mornings, we thoroughly enjoyed seeing large flocks of Lewis’s Woodpeckers, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, and Clark’s Nutcrackers. A few Evening Grosbeaks, Northern Flickers, and a Black-backed Woodpecker kept us company, and the surprise appearance of two Band-tailed Pigeons was a delight.

Photo of the Lucky Peak hawk watch whiteboard. It lists the daily and season totals for each species. On the side it lists "other recent sightings: Lewis's Woodpecker 7, Violet-green swallows 30, Mountain Bluebirds 6, Cassin's Finches 7, Clark's Nutcrackers 21, Band-tailed Pigeon 2
Even though Hawkwatch technicians are only officially counting migratory raptors that pass over Lucky Peak, there is no lack of appreciation for the songbird sightings! Photo Credit: Emma Regnier

All in all, we had a blast at Hawkwatch, and it was a privilege to get a front seat to the spectacle that is raptor migration!

Many thanks to our intrepid Hawkwatch crew: Emma Regnier, Isaac Grosner, Jeremiah Sullivan, and Kateri Bilay. We hope you’ll join us up at the peak next year!

If you enjoyed the nature journal illustrations throughout this article by Emma Regnier, be sure to check her instagram page and other amazing work here. She also designed an incredible Lucky Peak project t-shirt and they are available for purchase in our IBO merchandise shop– these make wonderful gifts for the bird lovers!

All proceeds go directly back into our outreach and education efforts!

image shows a green t-shirt with the birds flying within the state shape of Idaho. The text reads Intermountain Bird Observatory Lucky Peak
Presenting our latest Lucky Peak crew t-shirt by crew member and talented artist Emma Regnier! These awesome shirts are available for sale in the IBO Bonfire Merchandise shop.


Raptor Banding

By  Abbie Valine, Lucky Peak Raptor Bander
The hardest thing for me to get used to while trapping at Lucky Peak was the view. Coming from the Midwest, how was I supposed to concentrate on the birds when there were actual mountains right in front of me?

As it turns out, it’s a good thing the view is nice, because the raptors took their sweet time arriving.

image shows view of the mountain landscape with some scattered trees and bushes in the foreground
The mesmerizing views from the raptor blind. Photo Credit: Rob Miller

We had a very slow August, with only 40 birds banded at the Lucky Peak station. September also started off slow, but by the middle of the month the pace of migration picked up and things got busier. This push of birds continued throughout early October.

But unseasonably warm temperatures and unideal wind conditions seemed to discourage many raptors from moving the last few weeks of October, and we ended with a total of 510 birds banded.

Although the season as a whole was below average for some species, we banded higher-than-average numbers of Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Prairie Falcons, and Peregrine Falcons. But despite the slow start, the late-night fallouts of hunting kestrels, the long-anticipated arrival of the first Merlin, the undulating display flights of the resident pair of Golden Eagles, and every single Sharp-shinned Hawk we saw made the season so worth it.

a series of 16 small photos showing cooper's hawk faces. Each hawk has a different eye color arranged in order from most gray to yellow to most red
A collection of juvenile and adult Cooper’s Hawks banded at Lucky Peak in 2022. Notice how the eye color changes from a light gray color developing to a deep red color as they mature. Photo Credit: Abbie Valine

One of my favorite days of the season was September 8th, a day of blustery west winds. Small birds like Sharp-shinned Hawks and American Kestrels were getting buffeted about in their attempts to come into the station, and even the bigger birds like Red-tailed Hawks were struggling in the strong winds.

Suddenly, a Prairie Falcon appeared in front of me, and it was like there was no wind at all!

Her strong, angular wings allowed her to carve through the gusts with perfect mastery, and I was overjoyed to capture my first ever Prairie Falcon, a young  female.

a profile of a brown and white raptor facing right with blue sky above and brown vegetation in the background
Hatch-year female Prairie Falcon. Photo Credit: Emma Regnier

Another exciting event happened the night of October 3rd, when we captured an adult Great Horned Owl at the station, likely one from the resident pairs that we heard frequently near camp throughout the season. Since everyone on our crew had rotating days off throughout the week, it was rare that all of us were on the mountain on any given day. However, all 11 of us were present and got to experience the magic of this owl together.

It was a night that none of us will forget!

a biologists hands hold a large brown and white owl with yellow eyes in their left hand and gently extending it's wing open with their right
Adult (after-second-year) Great Horned Owl. Photo Credit: Emma Regnier


The Evening News

By the Lucky Peak Owl Crew

Kevin García: In terms of owls caught, the 2022 season fell short of IBO’s owl banding average. We banded a total of 208 owls during the season compared to the 455 individuals banded in 2021. The beginning of the season was very challenging since we banded a single owl or none for several nights. Slow banding days are a nightmare- just ask your nearest bander! One owl during a 10 hour night will definitely test your spirit.

Luckily for me, Lucky Peak provides an excellent opportunity for visitors to camp at the station to experience owl banding!

image shows a scientist wearing a headlamp holding a small brown bird in the left hand while using a pair of banding pliers in the right
Visitors to the Peak have the unique opportunity to interact with biologists and observe bird banding up close! The banders demonstrate techniques that keep the birds safe and share information about the species and the importance of this migratory research. Photo Credit: Lucky Peak Technician

I took full advantage of all my free time in between net checks and shared everything I learned about our two study species, Flammulated and Northern Saw-whet Owls with the public.

There is a rumor that wildlife biologists dislike public engagement. It’s not true. The education component of this station was one of the biggest reasons I applied to band owls with IBO and I truly enjoyed it!

Some of my most memorable experiences were seeing the public react to all the owl facts we shared with them. Owls are among the most cryptic bird species to observe in nature, especially our two study species. For this reason we made sure every visitor got to see the birds as they were banded.

a group of people at night dimly lit by headlamps, watching biologists band an owl
Sleepy visitors watch as biologists explain the owl banding process. Photo Credit: Heather Hayes

Not only did they get a chance to see the owls up close, but they also received an education about the purpose of banding and owl anatomy as we collected data on each bird. The public enjoyed seeing every step of banding.

You could hear the “WOW!”s as we blew on the bird to check for fat and also the composed laughter as we placed an owl in a tube to determine its weight.

small brown bird in a can on a scale
Watching owls get weighed is a fan favorite at Lucky Peak! For a brief moment, researchers gently place the owl upside down in a container to keep it safe and secure while on the scale. Photo Credit: Heather Hayes

The biggest “OOOH’s” and “AAAH’s!” occurred when we exposed the beautiful fluorescent pink feathers of owls under our UV light. Owl feathers contain a fluorescent pigment called porphyrin. This compound helps us determine the age of an individual based on its concentration in owl feathers.

a collage of photos of four spread owl wings showing their molt patterns. the center of the image shows the molecular structure of Porphyrin
Saw-whet Owl molt patterns. The upper right photo shows the feathers entirely colored with pink, the common pattern of hatch-year Saw-whets. The upper right picture shows the second-year molt pattern with a block of lighter white feathers (inner primaries and outer secondaries) in the middle flanked by pink feathers. The lower left picture shows three generations of feathers; vibrant pink, semi-pink and white. This is an after second-year bird. The lower right picture features an owl with fresh, new feathers in its legs. As we like to call “pink pants”! Photo Credits: Kevin García, Lisa Viviano and Rebekkah LaBlue.

Banding and mist-netting typically comes with the fun element of surprise. You never know what may end up in our nets and this season had plenty of “chance” visitors! One surprise was a hatch-year Long-eared Owl, and believe it or not, they’re a lot smaller than you’d imagined they would be. We also had some “furry” surprises frequent our nets-Northern Flying Squirrels! These common visitors certainly provided a challenge as we had to remove them from the nets with thick gloves on.

This nocturnal species may be cute, but they’re a headache since they often bite their way through the net!

a small mammal in a gloved hand of a biologist illuminated by a head lamp
Troublemaker, juvenile Northern Flying Squirrel moments after it was extracted safely by a gloved biologist from an owl mist-net. Photo Credit: Lisa Viviano

But the biggest surprise of the season was seeing a Great Gray Owl!

YES!! A magnificent Great Gray Owl was caught in one of our nets, but it managed to fly out about a millisecond before I could retrieve it.

I shed a tear that night.

As the season progressed we began to band more birds. By late September we were banding in the double digits per night. Our highest number was a 16-bird night. The season kept that steady pace until mid October. Then the temperature dropped, the public stopped visiting and the owl migration slowed down. Regardless of the total number of owls we banded, it was a memorable season.

A view of the main Lucky Peak camp: a green yurt with a beige roof in the forest blanketed in a dusting of snow
As temperatures began to drop, so did the numbers of owls and visitors. Photo Credit: Heidi Ware Carlisle

It was a dream to work with such beautiful species and to contribute to IBO’s research at Lucky Peak along with my peers!

My highlight of the season was the opportunity to expose the public to the owls and our research. I once visited a banding station and a few years later I had the opportunity to band there. I am confident that our educational effort this season has inspired many visitors to become birders and a few to work in wildlife conservation in the future. Hoot-Hoot!

Lisa Viviano: Taking on the night shift can seem like a daunting task, especially for the first time. Living and working on the exact opposite schedule as everyone else, I oftentimes felt much like a space cadet stationed on a far off planet, but I can say with certainty that this unconventional lifestyle isn’t all bad.

In fact, many benefits and unexpected skills can be gained from operating on a nocturnal schedule.

people in jackets near a net at night with biologists in headlamps outside. the city lights of boise glow behind them
Visitors getting an up-close view as banders carefully extract an owl from the net. Photo Credit: Heather Hayes

Staying up late is one thing, but deliberately staying up every night until sunrise is something entirely another. Going against my body’s natural tendency to rise in the morning taught me self-discipline, as there are fewer/less obvious cues on when to wake, eat, and sleep. Moreover, in the dark I couldn’t see my surroundings in the way I was typically used to.

My headlamp, however, allowed me to see something more and perhaps most crucial: eyeshine.

This phenomenon is caused by a mirror-like membrane behind the retina of many animals (tapetum lucidum), which particularly helps night-hunting animals to see more effectively at night. By picking apart details such as color, distance between the eyes, and apparent height from the ground, I was able to identify a deer versus a bear or mountain lion without seeing the figure itself.

people with head lamps on, walking through the darkness
Visitors returning from an early morning net check with owl banders. Photo Credit: Heather Hayes

On a related note, I also learned how to use bear spray. Many people are (justifiably) fearful of a walk in the woods at night.

But watching the sky switch through various shades of blue and black as the moon cycled through its phases attested to the fact that a considerable amount of beauty exists in working the night shift.

an orange colored full moon in dark sky
Beautiful Halloween lunar eclipse from the top of Lucky Peak, 2015. Photo Credit: Kurt Ongman

Though the biggest reward by far was sharing a wide-eyed stare with the feathery creatures we captured and studied. Flammulated and Northern Saw-Whet Owls are among the smallest owl species in North America.

They prove to be very hardy as they migrate thousands of miles north and south of Idaho in pursuit of better food sources.

a saw whet owl on the left glares with bright yellow eyes. A flammulated owl on the left looks sleepy
The 2 most popular nighttime visitors from the forests of Lucky Peak: a Northern Saw-whet (left) and a Flammulated Owl (right). Photo Credit: Nick Alioto

The data we collect contributes to a long-term study on their migration while helping other researchers understand their population trends and life history. Each bird we catch is fitted with a lightweight band which contains a unique code so individuals may be identified when recaptured. In essence, banding helps us reveal interesting and valuable details about bird migration and ecology in a way that can be shared and pieced together within the science community.

a technician with long blond hair using a tool to measure the leg of a small brown owl
Lisa Viviano taking a leg measurement of a Flammulated Owl. Photo Credit: Lucky Peak Technician

This article is part of our 2022 end of the year newsletter! View the full newsletter here, or click “older posts” below to read the next article.

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