SCHIESS: A hike through uncontrolled flights
“Wanted: Flight controller needed for Deer Parks. Must be able to speak ‘duckish,’ ‘goosish’ and ‘swanish.’ Must be prepared to dodge little bombs.”
Flight lanes are crowded with thousands of Trumpeter swans, ducks and blackbirds with 300 Canada Geese all trying to land at the same time. The runway is a field of unharvested wheat at Deer Parks Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) west of Menan Buttes near the confluence of the South Fork and Henrys Fork of the Snake River.
“We have about 2,400 swans and about 20,000 to 30,000 ducks on the management area,” WMU manager Paul Faulkner said. “Then about three weeks ago thousands of blackbirds showed up, with the sandhill cranes just starting to come.”
Adding to the flight chaos, were attacks by four bald and two golden eagles while a prairie falcon harassed the blackbirds and even a flock of song sparrows. Every time the waterfowl would move to a new field, a bird of prey would fly over or make a fake attack, causing the nervous feeders to move again.
The scene was part of a two-mile hike through the WMU last Wednesday as I hiked the farm roads and the trails cut through the stubble, unharvested wheat and corn fields. Solid trails from white-tailed deer from the river bottoms and the sagebrush made hiking through the newly drifted snow easy.
“There are no restrictions on Deer Parks for hikers, mountain bikes, skis, snowshoes and horses, but motor vehicles are not allowed,” Faulkner said. “You must park in our designated areas.”
As I hiked past the headquarters of the management area I noticed a pair of Red-tailed hawks working on gathering nesting material for the upcoming season. The falcon flew past me and harvested a vole, a much easier target than the flighty birds.
The migration of Trumpeters are just beginning as the migrating birds are joining the wintering residents before moving north. This migration will be the first of several as it will soon be followed by more ducks, then Tundra swans next followed by songbirds. No matter what the migration, visitors to Deer Parks will be entertained by action much like the air battles in World War II over England and Germany.
As I watched the show I could imagine huge bombers in formation with the smaller fighters slicing and dicing their way across the late afternoon sky. Flocks of crows and ravens joined in the aerial display while looking for a morsel of food.
Deer Parks WMU was created when willing sellers sold land along the Henrys Fork through funds generated by the mitigation of the land flooded by the creation of the Palisades Dam. The land is owned by the Bureau of Land Management and is managed by the BLM in conjunction with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.
Located approximately 25 miles north of Idaho Falls and in Jefferson County, access to Deer Parks is from both Idaho Highways 33 and Idaho Highway 48 by taking the county roads leading to the Menan Buttes. Schools and other groups are encouraged to visit the park.
While hunting and fishing are allowed, camping is not and travel is restricted inside the park. Access by boat is allowed on the river from the Menan Boat Ramp near the park.
Vehicle restrictions “are to protect area vegetation, minimize wildlife disturbance, and improve hunting experiences and success,” says the park brochure.
Hiking on established trails and canal banks can be an enjoyable experience during the spring and early summer as migrants visit the park. During this time most waterfowl, songbirds and wading birds common to the western United States can be observed in the park.
Want some cheap entertainment and an easy hike; make the short trip to the west of the Menan Buttes and enjoy the aerial displays, but watch out for the poop bombs dropping from the sky.