Waking up at 4:45 a.m. in the morning with nothing planned for the day until 9 or 10 a.m. can be very rewarding and even exciting – for me that it.
A visit to a sharp-tailed or a sage grouse lek, or crawling up on a herd of bugling elk in the fall, or setting up to intercept thousands of migrating snow geese or swans is worth prying the mattress off my back.
With a predicted calm clear morning this week and with shorebirds migrating near the Market Lake Wildlife Management Area, I headed for the flooded fields south of Sage Junction on Highway 33. Shooting pictures into sunrise can be tricky, but I was hoping to catch silhouettes of birds moving from fields to some nearby ponds. I was not disappointed.
Scattered American avocets were working the shallows in the pre-sunrise light picking up snails and worms while nearby dabbling ducks were filtering out swamp-slime created by recent hot weather. A flock of 18 migrating avocets flew in preforming some beautiful coordinated aerial displays before settling down in the shallows.
On to the next flooded field the red-legged Black-necked stilts were hunting the flooded scattered grass picking up the small aquatic insects for an early breakfast – no big slimy nightcrawlers for them. As I was photographing them a flock of small shorebirds flew by.
“Wilson phalaropes,” I mumbled to myself as they landed in water much too deep for their feet to touch the bottom. They swam around mostly in pairs picking floating insects from the top of the water until a single male got too close to a pair; a brief fight would ensue with the single remaining single.
All of a sudden eight male Cinnamon teal came slicing and dicing along the water in hot pursuit of a single female. Once they landed all eight of the males chased the female creating a spray reflected in the yellow light. After each “water fight” one or two of the males would abandon the chase until only two remained. Eventually one aggressively beat the tar out of the other and the female and winner flew to a more secluded pond. Real life in real time.
By the time I had worked my way to Market Lake the sun was up waterfowl, raptors and songbirds dominated the active scene. Canada geese were everywhere, some with their newly hatched babes and as I stopped to watch two Forster’s terns, another early morning birder and photographer stopped to chat and compare notes. Her conversation was almost drowned out by the singing of the migrating Common Yellow-throats and the newly arrived Marsh wrens.
Continuing on through Market Lake, stopping occasionally and photographing displaying Norther harriers, more terms, gulls, a Great-horned owl hiding her baby as did a Sandhill crane; it was time for me to head home to cover an event at 9 a.m. And I made it home with time to spare.
Recently the birding world has celebrated World Migration Day and International Migratory Bird Day (why we need two the same week, beats me) to “connect people to nature through birds.”
Just waking up early and knowing what opportunities we have in Southeastern Idaho to enjoy, lights a fire in me to leave the house for a few hours. It beats the heck out of watching Good Morning America commentators and their guests arguing – at least the activities in nature are for real and are truthful.
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com
Natalia Hepworth, EastIdahoNews.com
Jameson Devine, EastIdahoNews.com
Shelbie Harris, Idaho State Journal