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It was once an endangered species, but the birds were out in full force this week and what a treat it was

Living the Wild Life

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Photos: Bill Schiess |

The nightly gathering of mature bald eagles near the headquarters of the Camas National Wildlife Refuge is well known, but if you have not seen these gatherings each night you should view it.

It sometimes looks like a bombing raid during World War II, only this is the avian-bombers coming into rest after a busy day of trying to find food.

I watched 47 mature birds fly into the large cottonwoods on the refuge Monday night and as I was leaving. I also observed seven others on power poles with another six in trees from the refuge to Hamer. I also saw four others flying toward the refuge as I drove the frontage road from Hamer to Sage Junction.

Earlier in the day, I observed 11 immature and two adults resting in the large cottonwoods along Camas Creek east of Mud Lake. Once again, the Rough-legged hawks were attacking the young balds as they came into roost.

There are other small roosts of eagles along the South Fork and the Henrys Fork of the Snake River, including one southwest of the Menan Buttes, another near Heise and Chester. But a message from the Wasden’s of Hibbard informed me of a large group just off 4000 West in Madison County.

“We have from 10-20 bald eagles in a tree near our home and since you like to photograph them, you are welcome to come down our lane to watch them,” the message read from Joanna.

I messaged her back and told her that I would be there the next morning and what a treat it was.

Most of the birds were playful immatures, playing tag with a frozen fish. A few matures were in the process of dating and at times the whole bunch would take flight, dive-bombing each other.

“There are wing marks all over in the snow without them landing,” said another neighbor. “It is really interesting to see them because they are so agile and huge.”

I spent three hours watching 27 of them that were in four different trees as they migrated back and forth.

Somewhere in the willows and sloughs not visible from the road was a trove of frozen fish that the kid-eagles would pick up and drop, only to be snatched in the air by another kid-eagle. But when one of the adults snatched the frozen toy – it became food. Playtime was over.

It reminded me of being a kid that was too busy playing to come in for dinner until Mom took the ball away and sent the neighbor kids home.

When the kid-eagles were resting in the trees, the adults began their flights and talon-holding. What a wonderful three hours of wasted time. Shane Wasden later told me the eagles had been there for about three weeks.

If you go out to Camas or know of the gathering place for roosting eagles, take your earbuds out, turn off the radio and listen to them tell each other about their day, where to find food, or even argue. When you observe a group of them gathered during the day, watch them as they show off for each other, solidifying their relationships that will last a lifetime. It may include lessons you need to learn.

On the way to Camas NWR, I noticed two dead elk that had been killed colliding with vehicles on State Highway 33 near the railroad tracks. The ravens, magpies and eagles will be working on them and we don’t want to have one of those big birds come through your windshield.

On the way home I saw three herds of elk and even had to stop to let a herd cross the road. As you travel the area roads, be careful, watch for animals and big birds. They are not fun when they meet the front end of your car.