In search of birds at Market Lake
Two Great-blue herons seemed to be taking turns plunging head-first into Pond #3 at Market Lake, harvesting small perch, mud catfish and chubs as two of us watched and waited for migrating shorebirds to show up.
My friend, Wylie, and I had visited Camas National Wildlife where we had seen a few White-faced ibis, a few ducks, a couple flocks of Canada geese and four Spotted Sandpipers.
At Market Lake most of the action we saw were the herons and a man-made bird, a drone, flying around the backwaters on the east side of the ponds. We waited for the operator of the drone to show up and was told that he was checking out the effectiveness of a contracted spray job. He told us the Idaho Department of Fish and Game were trying to kill some of the marsh vegetation and the contractors would have to come back as the spray job did not get the job done.
We discussed to lack of certain birds as the White-faced ibis, Franklin’s gulls, Snowy and Great egrets that nested in large colonies several years ago have almost disappeared from the Market Lake Management Area marshes.
The ponds were almost birdless except for a few pelicans, cormorants and a Trumpeter swan with her two babies along with a few coots and a smattering of ducks.
During the last two weeks I have visited Market Lake five times and have only seen a few shorebirds on one of those trips when in years past we have enjoyed hundreds of shorebirds there. Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, avocets, Black-necked stilts and several species of sandpipers are usually numerous during the last of July and August.
One evening I met Darren Clark, one of the most renowned birders of Southeastern Idaho, as he was taking pictures of the Mama swan and her two ugly ducklings. He told me that most days searching for migrating shorebirds were a bust but once in a while he finds some small groups of phalaropes, yellow-legs, willets and an occasional large group of ibis.
In discussing the lack of birds with professional birders, wildlife experts and common ordinary folks, everyone has an opinion but no knowledge of what is going on. Some say the late frosts; some blame too much water this spring; others think the summer has been way too hot, and some think it is just one of those years.
Friday morning I drove out to Market Lake and Camas NWR and saw my first large flock of ibis of this summer feeding in an alfalfa field but I found great hope that something may be normal in the bird world.
At the headquarters of Camas I saw about a dozen Wilson’s warblers that usually starts their migration through southeastern Idaho in mid-August through September. Mixed with them were Lazuli buntings and Bullock’s orioles.
I visited with Ferrell Down, a local resident who works for Camas NWR, and he told me that a lot of bird have been missing this year.
“We only had about a dozen snow geese show up this spring and our Burrowing owls did not come back and we don’t have any Short-eared owls here either,” he said. “We have a program to capture ducks and band them, but we don’t have enough ducks here to even do that. It has been a weird summer.”
It will be interesting for us to watch to see if the migrations are just late because of the heat or if they do not happen at all this year. In the meantime, I and others will continue to watch and record what is happening as we watch to see what shows up and when.