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Watching Solitaires gather for water during the cold months

Living the Wild Life

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“They are like a herd of mosquitos,” Wylie, my Monday traveling buddy, said as a flock of Townsend’s solitaires buzzed us as we sat by a water guzzler in the desert north of St. Anthony. “I just had one almost hit me!”

We sat near the man-made water hole as 30 to 40 solitaires, a few American robins and some chipmunks came in to drink. Their need for water, the only source for several miles around, made them less afraid of us and at times they appeared to want to chase us away. The lack of snow and rain for the past several weeks made this water source critical to their survival.

The guzzler had been built years ago and was hidden in a juniper grove near the White Sands Road that runs from the Red Road to the Sand Creek road. The cold temperatures had frozen the water in the small drinking tank but deer and moose had kept a small opening in the three-inch thick ice by licking it. The birds would fly in from dining on juniper berries for a needed drink while the chipmunks would gather undigested seeds from the bird droppings between drinks.

We stayed long enough to get a few pictures and to watch the interactions of the wildlife with each other before walking along the big game trails the resembled spokes of a wheel with the water being the hub. With several hunts going on, we observed vehicles of all kinds hurrying along the sandy trails.

The western provinces and northern territories of Canada are where most of the Townsend’s solitaires nest and then they will migrate south to the western states to spend the winter feeding on dried berries. Hawthorne, chokecherry and juniper berries are some of their favorites in the Upper Snake River Valley.

They are usually loners by nature and will aggressively protect their favorite berry bush from other birds and animals. The juniper that Wylie was sitting under appeared to be one solitaire’s bush and it did not like him there. The bird’s usually soft call became a chastising voice until we walked away as it’s agnostic attacks ceased.

Watching from a distance we observed solitaires chasing solitaires and their larger cousin, the robin. But while they were at the water, there was no aggressive action.

I know of two water guzzlers in the desert north of St. Anthony and after the cattle are moved off the range and during the heat of the summer, they are critical to the survival of wildlife. They are utilized by all wildlife and are designed to collect water from rain, melting snow and even dew in underground tanks. The water then moves to a small ground level drinking tank that is controlled by a float to stop the water from overflowing. Pavers are placed around the drinking tank to stop the large animals from damaging the system.

Trail-cams are placed near the drinking tank to record the activities around the system. With Wylie and I visiting the tank several times, I am sure we have been recorded and identified so we have been on our best behavior while enjoying the wildlife. We are thankful for those that built and manage the system so that we can enjoy the wildlife that visit there.

If you hunt or just enjoy traveling in the desert and happen to come across a guzzler; enjoy it for a little while but leave it as you found it. If you find Townsend’s solitaires there, observe them and enjoy viewing their habits; they are fun to watch.