This is the most accessible place to find Cassia Crossbill, and it's great for hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and other birds.
By Terry Rich | Published: 10/18/2017
I like this region in the South Hills because the mix of habitat types leads to great birding. Of course, Cassia Crossbill is the star bird. Search for it in the older and more open stands of lodgepole pine, and especially look for trees with old cones that are gray in color. The birds are most active early in the day, and they can be found any time of the year. Note also that two types of Red Crossbill — Types 2 and 5 — occur regularly in summer in the South Hills. The calls are different enough to distinguish them, but be sure to listen to recordings before you go, so you know what to listen for.
At Porcupine Springs, dense forests, forest patches, high-elevation sagebrush, mountain shrub, and open, grassy areas produce a high diversity of species. Because the campground is at around 7,000 feet elevation, it provides active birding through July, when lower elevations have heated up and quieted down. I do a lot of birding from my camp chair, running a new eBird checklist every hour or so for 15 minutes. And I like to take a couple of hummingbird feeders to hang around camp to draw in Calliope and Black-chinned Hummingbirds during early summer and Rufous later in the season.
Terry Rich is the former national coordinator for Partners in Flight and is a board member of the American Birding Association and Great Basin Bird Observatory, and is an honorary lifetime member of the American Ornithological Society. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Public Policy from Boise State University. In 2016, he wrote about how the Migratory Bird Treaty Act can finally become an effective tool for conserving birds.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Lodgepole pine forest, high-elevation sagebrush, mountain shrub, riparian areas,
and open, grassy areas.
Highly variable mountain landscape, both flat and steep terrain. Roads provide relatively easy walking routes; not wheelchair-accessible.
149 species. Northern Goshawk, Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, Greater Sage-Grouse, Dusky Grouse, Long-eared and Flammulated Owls, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Common Poorwill, White-throated Swift, Calliope Hummingbird, Lewis’s and American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Red-naped Sapsucker, Dusky, Hammond’s, and Gray Flycatchers, Orange-crowned, MacGillivray’s, Black-throated Gray, and Virginia’s Warblers, Western Tanager, Lazuli Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeak, Green-tailed Towhee, Red Crossbill, Cassia Crossbill.
When to go
Year-round for crossbills. June and July for breeding birds, September for migrants. Avoid weekends and holidays, when more campers create more noise.
The only amenities are toilets, drinking water, and camp sites.
National forest. Accessible by car in spring, summer, and fall, and by snow machine in winter. Reservations not required for the 12 individual camping units; fee is $10 per night.
The site is at about 7,000 feet, so prepare for variable weather, including rain and snow squalls; if camping, bring everything you need.
For more info
Porcupine Springs Campground
Learn more about Cassia Crossbill and other places to see it at https://idahobirds.net/birding-idaho/cassia-crossbill/.
1 km south of Murtaugh, Idaho. Large variety of water birds.
Centennial Waterfront Park
On Snake River in Twin Falls, Idaho. Riparian and water birds.
Harrington Fork Picnic Area
On Rock Creek Road, south of Rock Creek, Idaho. Riparian and shrub-steppe birds.