Spring has sprung at Deer Parks Wildlife Management area for a musical fowl feeding frenzy
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Deer Parks Wildlife Management Area west of the Menan Buttes is a hub of activity with nearly 1,000 Trumpeter swan, thousands of migrating ducks, hundreds of Canada geese, a few Sandhill cranes and huge flocks of blackbirds, all trying to find enough to eat.
As I got out of my truck at the sportsmen’s access at Butte Slough, west of the “R” Mountain (the North Menan Butte) Monday, the bird chorus was almost deafening. The trumpets of the Trumpeter swan, the honking of the geese, the talkative blackbirds, the quacking ducks and a few sandhill cranes announced their early arrival. The high pitch of a few Tundra swans immediately following added to the beautiful music.
Deer Parks WMA is owned by the State of Idaho and is designed as an area for the once threatened Trumpeters to winter. Wheat and sunflowers are planted to be a food source and this year the wheat became buried in the snow so Fish and Game personnel plowed the snow to facilitate melting.
With the recent warming temperatures, the rest of the snow melted, exposing the grain just as the geese and ducks started coming on their early migration. Mallards and Northern pintails showed up about two weeks ago with wigeons and a few Northern shovelers came during the last week. The snow has melted on both sides of the East Butte Road, exposing frozen potatoes on the Wilcox fields where hundreds of swans, geese and ducks are now feeding.
“We had about 2,000 trumpeters at Deer Parks after we pushed the snow off the wheat,” said Josh Rydalch, manager at the wildlife management area. “I knew as soon as the snow left some of the potato fields that were not harvested last fall, that they would find them and move to them.”
Adding to all the activities of the waterfowl, up to eight immature Bald eagles are looking for a free lunch when one of the waterfowl dies. Last Monday, the eagles found a dead trumpeter in a field and they spent the day fighting over it. Each time an eagle flew over the field of feeding birds, most of the ducks and geese would take flight, almost darkening the sky.
“This winter was hard on the birds and there is a lot of carnage out there,” Rydalch said. “If you walk out through the fields, you will see a lot of carcasses.”
My favorite viewing area is to drive to the sportsmen’s access on the Butte Slough just south of the North Butte parking lot and hike to the edge of the trees near the bird’s feeding area. I can hide in a small bush and watch and photograph all of the activities from there. This is best done in the morning while the snow is still frozen. If you wait until the afternoon, you need to wear waterproof boots as snow, water and mud will be in abundance.
One of my favorite experiences of the week was when an eagle captured a vole and flew to a tree near my hiding spot to eat breakfast. It was not long before a Black-billed magpie decided to steal the eagle’s meal, but the eagle quickly ate it before it could be stolen.
We have not seen any snow geese migrate through the Idaho Falls area, but they have been in American Falls for the last three or four weeks. With the snow melting fast and starting to create ponds west of Idaho Falls, they should be coming through within the next two weeks. I will try to keep you informed where they are so you can join in the festivities.
This week I did have a rare sighting of a Spotted Towhee at Market Lake in the first windrow of trees. The ice is getting thin at that management area and we should start getting a lot of birds there. Spring has finally sprung and it is about time.