Evening grosbeaks have come back early - East Idaho News
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Evening grosbeaks have come back early

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Last Monday, while checking out one of my favorite spring birding areas, the Texas Slough that runs through the Burton area west of Rexburg, I watched scattered flocks of over 100 turkeys when a large flock of songbirds flew in. The flock contained about 50 Evening grosbeaks and another 50 mixed Cedar and Bohemian waxwings that were feeding on Russian olives and Hawthorn berries near the canal.

About six inches of fresh snow covered the ground, and the turkeys were busy scraping away the snow to get to the seeds on the ground that the songbirds had knocked out of the trees. The waxwings stayed around only a short time because most of the berries had been eaten or knocked out while the grosbeaks picked what was left. I quickly recognized that many of them already appeared to be paired up for spring breeding.

On Wednesday, I returned and found only a small flock of grosbeaks that flew off; no waxwings showed up, but I found a lone tree with a mature pair of Bald eagles and two immature ones. One of the adults left before I could get a picture, with the two immatures following soon after. While taking photos of the lone mature bird, I noticed one of the young ones circle back and flush it from its perch. They headed toward the open water of the South Fork of the Snake River.

Four pairs of grosbeaks go through flirting techniques early in February, three to four months ahead of the regular breeding period. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

Along a section of the Texas Slough with open water, I was watching a pair of Green-winged teal when I saw several small birds working the mud and shallow pockets of water. Within 20 yards were 11 Wilson snipes feeding in the soft mud, searching for a few tidbits of food. While watching them, a male Ring-necked pheasant got nervous and came out of hiding.

With the unseasonable warm weather we have had in late January and early February, we are observing things I have never noticed before. It is uncommon for me to see large flocks of Evening grosbeaks that appear to have paired up already as I watch one pair feeding each other. I also have never seen a flock of 11 snipes before, but we usually find a pair or a single along that stretch of water.

The eagles, pheasants and turkeys are not uncommon, but it is time for the young eagles to leave the adults so the nesting rituals may begin. The male pheasants and turkeys have not started showing signs of their spring interest in the females – yet, but if the warm weather continues, who knows what we will see in a week or two.

A beautiful male Evening grosbeak poses for the camera. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

But February is not over. I don’t recall a February in which we did not have nights when the temperature dropped below zero. So far, the coldest temperature at my home has been a balmy 19 degrees. If a cool-down happens, will some of these birds be in trouble? Will the Evening grosbeaks tire of flirting with each other and find new partners? It will be interesting to watch and record whatever happens.

It has also been a strange year for ice fishermen on Ririe Reservoir, as well. This week, about half of the icecap melted near the Juniper Boat Ramp and the dam. Only a few folks have slipped out onto the thin ice, and they’re hoping for some freezing nights to give them a few days of ice fishing.

Scattered turkeys feed on berries knocked out of trees by grosbeaks and waxwings. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

Six years ago, the reservoir didn’t freeze until mid-February, and the ice fishermen got six days of excellent Kokanee fishing. If that happens this next week, I know I will not be the first one on the ice — I will wait for some open-water fishing.

Stay safe out there, and be careful, as we have too many good times ahead of ourselves in the great outdoors.

Just a reminder: The Great Backyard Bird Count is Feb. 16 through Feb. 19. On Feb. 24 is the “Come To Roost at Camas” to watch the Bald eagles come into the Camas NWR near Hamer.

An immature Bald eagle flushes an adult of its perch near the Texas Slough. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com
Wilson’s snipes feed in the shallows of the Texas Slough. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com
A male Ring-necked pheasant shows his beautiful colors. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

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