Sandhill cranes, snow geese and other birds arrive at Market and Mud Lake - East Idaho News

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Sandhill cranes, snow geese and other birds arrive at Market and Mud Lake

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While enjoying a rare sunny morning last Sunday, I heard the distinct call of a sandhill crane near the South Fork of the Teton River in the Hibbard area. Then about 20 minutes later, a small flock of 23 snow geese flew over my home heading northwest toward the Mud Lake area. Both of these species of migrating birds were about two weeks later than their normal date to migrate through the area.

Monday morning after a snow storm, I traveled to the Market and Mud Lake areas but drew a blank of finding either species. But on Wednesday, I saw about 20 cranes from Camas National Wildlife Refuge to Market Lake. I also saw two small flocks of Snow and Ross’s geese fly near Mud Lake but did not find any on the ground or the ice. To find food, the sandhill cranes were with or near cattle where they picked out grain from the straw and hay due to the fields being covered with snow.

On Wednesday, I also visited two traditional greater sage grouse leks where I had counted over 60 birds a year ago but found no birds on the road or the leks from Dubois toward Kilgore. Instead, their leks and the surrounding sagebrush were covered with three to four feet of snow. A ground blizzard out of the north was trying to drift the road closed.

A large herd of elk bedded down about a quarter of a mile from Interstate 15 just north of Hamer. | Bill Schiess,

In my travels, I continued to see herds of elk and deer near the freeway. I had to stop to allow a herd of deer pass me as they ran down a road toward me. I encountered the carcasses of six elk and two deer that had been hit by vehicles, but the effort of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and some land owners have been successful keeping them off the roads. Of course, they are wild animals and will go where they want to, but the feeding projects and now the crusted deep snow are keeping most of them safe.

East of Mud Lake, I also encountered hundreds of Bohemian waxwings feeding on Russian olive berries, then flying down to the melting snow along the road to drink water. To digest the berries, the birds need to consume large amounts of water and they will sometimes stay too long drinking when a vehicle is coming. There were several dead birds littering the road where they had been hit as they continued drinking too late to avoid the vehicles.

great horned owls
A great horned owl incubating eggs near Highway 33 is one of three found Wednesday. | Bill Schiess,

Probably the only normal observations that I made on my trip on Wednesday were finding three great horned owls sitting on their nests. March is the month that these large, beautiful birds start nesting and incubating the eggs. I am sure there are still snowstorms that will dump snow on the Moms as they protect their future kids and I will watch for a chance to get a picture of them.

The weather-persons keep telling us that the average temperatures are about 20 degrees colder than normal and that the melting has been slow. That has been good for farmers, but not so good for migrating wildlife. Most migrations are two to three weeks behind their normal time and this may mean that many of them will fly over and pass us on their way north. I also hope that the sage grouse has found some cover and food to survive this bitter cold winter as they are already in danger of disappearing.

I also keep reading stories about how the snow pack is still not enough to make up for the drought that we have been in. That reminds me of the biblical story of the seven years of drought followed by seven years of plenty; maybe that is what the new cycle may be.

In the meantime, be safe and watch closely for the wildlife on the roads. I not only had a deer-jam by Hamer, but encountered a turkey-jam. Near my home, 31 turkeys crossed the road and I did not want a 10-pound bird to come through my windshield.

Be safe and if you find anything of interest, contact me. Once the melting gets rolling, we will probably have waterfowl, songbird and shorebird migrations that will be phenomenal.

snow geese
A few Snow geese of a flock of 42 near Mud Lake on Wednesday. | Bill Schiess,

whitetail deer
A small herd of White-tailed deer just east of Mud Lake last Wednesday. | Bill Schiess,

Bohemian waxwings drinking water created by the melting snow near Mud Lake. | Bill Schiess,

Living the Wild Life is brought to you by The Healing Sanctuary.