A day with the eagles at Camas

Living the Wild Life

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Photos by Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

Hiding behind some large cottonwoods on the shore of the ice covered Mud Lake I watched as 14 immature Bald eagles played tag as three Rough-legged hawks harassed them. A pair of mature balds watched the action from their perch as they appeared to be chaperoning the activity.

On my way to Mud Lake, I had taken the Old Butte Highway from Sage Junction to 1900 North to look for some Golden eagles and observed three of them perched on power poles and rock outcroppings. While driving 1900 North to Mud Lake, two mature balds were on a cattle feed yard, feeding on afterbirth from a recent drop of a calf.

Later that evening I sat near the headquarters of Camas National Wildlife as mature Bald eagles flew into the row of large cottonwoods to roost for the night. Before I left 21 would show up, chattering with each other about their day. Last year between 40 to 55 would show up each night in their traditional resting area.

“With no snow and warmer night temperatures, the eagles are not coming in like they have done in the past,” Brian Wehausen, manager of the refuge, said last week. “We had 30 one cold night but most evenings we have from 15 to 20 but we are still going to have the activity next week.”

The Third Annual “Come to Roost at Camas” activity will be held February 24, by the entrance to the refuge where spotting scopes will be set up for visitors to watch and study the eagles as they come to roost for the night. The activity along with free hot chocolate will begin at 4 p.m. and will last until dark. Birding experts along with members of the Friends of Camas will be available to explain what is happening as you observe the eagles.

“Last year was bitter cold but we still had over 100 visitors attend,” said Wehausen. “The Friends of Camas organization have worked hard to get ready and I hope we will have as many come this year to enjoy to eagles that come in.”

If you and your family would like to spend an afternoon watching eagles and other wildlife, you can take the same route I did. The Old Butte Highway runs just east of the freeway from Sage Junction to Dubois and the portion from the junction to 1900 is a good gravel road. About a mile south of 1900 the road becomes paved. Turn west on 1900 and about seven miles it will take you straight into the Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area.

The pocket of immature eagles is usually in the cottonwoods running along the canal on the southeast corner of Mud Lake. Hiking along the bank of the canal one has the opportunity to view other birds and wildlife. It is a little early for the snow geese migration, but sometimes they will show up early and rest on the Mud Lake ice.

As you make your way to Hamer and Camas NWR, watch closely as you pass the thick windbreaks along the roads as Great-horned and Long-eared owls can be found in some of them. During the day I spent with the eagles last week I saw nine Great-horned and two Long-eareds.

Another activity your family may like is to get to Camas early enough to take the auto-route through the refuge where multiple species of birds and wildlife may be seen. With the ponds waterless, this time of the year has less wildlife activity but I increase those chances by taking a few hours to hike the roads closed to traffic. With over 100 elk, deer and coyotes along with birds can make these hikes very rewarding.

Next Saturday afternoon and evening will be a great opportunity for many to witness our national bird as well as other wildlife and to visit with lovers of wildlife while getting fresh air and a little hot refreshment.

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