“Last Monday, we had about 500 mallards join the approximately 1500 trumpeter swans in the corn field,” Josh Rydalch, a Regional Wildlife biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game told me on Thursday. “The swans are tall enough to get the ears off the standing corn and I guess the ducks will be able to get the leftovers.”
I spent Monday morning at Deer Parks Wildlife Management Area walking the cleared trails through the corn field and the “cover-crop” field watching hundreds of swans flying from the Snake River into the fields. A few were feeding, but most were loafing in the disced fields where they were safe from predators. I did not see large flocks of ducks because they came in later after I had left.
As I watched the small groups of trumpeters continually flying into the fields, seven or eight ring-necked pheasant cocks started calling back and forth. A minute or two later, I heard the high pitch call of Tundra swans as three of them dropped in to join their larger cousins. As soon as the tundras landed, the pheasants quieted down. About 15 minutes later, the cocks started calling again and two more tundras came in.
I felt it strange that before I could hear the tundras, the pheasants could hear them, and it seemed they responded back to them. In my visit with Rydalch, I asked him about it.
“I haven’t noticed that before, but I know that different species interact with one another,” he replied. “It is getting close to the time for the pheasants to start their courtship and the swan’s calls may sound close enough to be a competitor for them.”
On a trip to Deer Parks, you cannot miss the huge flocks of songbirds, made up mostly of red-winged blackbirds that have spent the winter there. These flocks include American goldfinch, several species of sparrows and other finches as well other blackbirds. When these flocks fly from field to field, their flight patterns can be very entertaining.
The crops planted on the management area are a mixture of corn fields and the cover-crop made up of 11 different plants that appeal to a host of wildlife. Sunflowers, buckwheat, crimson clover, vetch, flax, peas, and even radishes, rutabaga and turnups are planted. These plantings are cooperation with the Idaho Fish and Game, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the farmer that works the agricultural fields.
“We try to appeal to a wide variety of wildlife including moose, deer, pheasants and all migrating waterfowl,” commented Rydalch. “We have a tremendous abundance of mice and other rodents which attract raptors and other predators. I would really like to see more sandhill cranes and snow geese show up here.”
As the manager of Deer Parks, Rydalch is trying to manage it to benefit all forms of wildlife and to allow people to enjoy it. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game personnel have pushed trails along the safety perimeter around the headquarters for the use of horse back riding, hikers and cross-country skiers.
“By making the trails through the management area, our goal is to keep people on the trails and not to disturb the wildlife,” Rydalch pleaded. “The wildlife has become used to people using the trails and are comfortable with visitors there. Every time we leave the trails, we push the animals, causing them to use too much of their reserves. Even the swans, when they are disturbed, will fly off, causing them to not pay attention to where they are flying and may strike the powerlines. We have had 11 confirmed powerline strikes so far this year.”
In the next few weeks, we should see a lot more waterfowl, songbirds and other wild animals show up at the Deer Park WMA to entertain us. As the snow melts exposing more rodents, raptors will show up. As conditions allow, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game will knock down the standing corn and cover-crops to help feed the migrating birds.
It is an exciting place to visit, so take your family and friends; stay on the trails and give the wildlife plenty of room to roam. Stay safe and hopefully we will see some sunny days to start the melting soon.
Living the Wild Life is brought to you by The Healing Sanctuary.