Having recently returned from Boise, Idaho, the Mellowcat will now dispense travel guidance. Boise looks like this:


Not bad, right? I’ve been to Boise a bunch of times,  but I had never understood it. There are other towns like this: Bend, Spokane, Bozeman. All fine places, with fine people, but still. Why? They’re all in the middle of nowhere. I remember the first time we flew into Boise, cruising over endless miles of wind and sun blasted high desert, and it looked just like the video from the lunar module on its approach to the Sea of Tranquility. What is Boise doing out here? I wondered.

But then we arrived, and the town is attractive, people are nice, the living is easy. Do I have to go to the moon to find this? Again, I wondered, “why?”.   After each visit, I’d return home and resume my position in the rat maze, but the question haunted me. Why.

Now I’m starting to get it, and the birds helped me figure it out.

Boise has two natural attributes that shape the city: the foothills and the river. If it wasn’t for those, even the citizens of Boise would be asking, “why”. There’s an extensive network of trails in the foothills, offering endless hiking, running and biking opportunities close to your front door. The river flows right through Boise, accompanied by the excellent Greenbelt trail system. The availability of the foothills and river supports an active and enthusiastic outdoor community. If you’re like me, and no doubt you are exactly like me, this outdoorsy lifestyle is a big selling point.

I prepared for this Boise trip by checking eBird’s lists to see what could be found here, hoping to add a few new inter-mountain west birdies to the list. It didn’t take long. Upon arrival, we were sitting outside conversing with our hosts, enjoying the beautiful weather, and a Great Horned Owl flew low across the lawn, made a quick left turn, and landed in the maple tree next to us, ready to join in the conversation.


Hello. We get a lot of birds in our yard, but this was pretty astonishing. I was revved up then about getting out in the field and looking for birds, and the next day our gracious hosts took us on a hike up into the foothills. The bird is not unlike us, in that it is going to look for places that offer food, water, and shelter. All three are conspicuously absent in the foothills at this time of year. Other than the Black-billed Magpie and a few Juncos, the bird action was minimal. Undaunted, we planned a hike along the Greenbelt the following day. Surely there would be birds along the river. There they would find the food, water and shelter that they seek.

Our delightful hosts selected the Bethine Church River Trail section of the Greenbelt for our walk. When I first heard the name, my natively guarded reaction was that it was named after a church. But no, wrong again. The name honors Bethine Church, the wife of Frank Church, the U.S. Senator from Idaho for many years. His name doesn’t come up very much these days, but it should. We could really use his style of environmental leadership right now.

This beautiful section of the Greenbelt is jam-packed with birds, including the Northern Flicker that you see here.


I did pick up a few new birds for the List along the way, including the heard-but-not-seen Black-capped Chickadee. I’m a big fan of all things Chickadee, and really hoped to encounter one on this trip. We have the Chestnut-backed and Mountain varieties at home, but you have to go out of state for the Black-capped. On another day I had gone out on the foothill trails for a morning run, and was lured up a hill trail named “Chickadee Ridge Trail”. It was completely free of Chickadees, and all other birds. But the river came through for me.

There’s more to Boise than birds, and we availed ourselves of the many fine eateries and heard the good local music during our stay. But you can find those in Bend, Spokane and Bozeman as well, I would expect. And that’s what the birds taught me. If you know where to find it, you will fly for miles and miles across the desert for food, water and shelter. We will keep this lesson in mind on our next migration flight, when we’re looking for a place to land.

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