Friday, May 29, 2015

May 2015: Raptors

Step unit over the barbed wire into the Cartier Slough Wildlife Refuge

I have an addictive personality.  When I find something I like, I tend to do it all the way.  Seems that bird watching is something I like.  Housekeeping is something I don't like.  I do more bird watching than housekeeping.

I had a few hours today between a faculty meeting and a rehearsal and the weather cooperated with me.  The rain stopped just as I was ready to go out looking for birds.  I discovered another wildlife management area about twelve miles from my home.  It's called Deer Park Wildlife Mitigation Area.  It was put in this part of Idaho as part of the greater Palisades Reservoir Project.  I don't know how that works but apparently they had to take care of things that would be displaced with the filling of the reservoir.  Something like that.  So they made the Deer Park WMA.

Deer Park is a WMA divided into three sections.  One section is north of the road by Beaver Dick Park, another section is out on the Archer Highway at Twin Bridges and the other is west of the North Menan Butte.  We call it the Butte, but it's really a volcano.  Buttes are actually sedimentary features.

I didn't have a lot of time today, and I discovered that Deer Park is mainly a walk in preserve.  I did a little walking in, but I didn't really have time to walk very far.  It turned out that this trip was mainly about raptors.  I talked the Hot Chick into taking a drive with me and so we went.

The section of Deer Park I was able to go to was steppe land adjacent to a marsh.  I walked through the marsh to the Butte Slough and saw a couple of turkey vultures circling.  That's always a cool sight, but it usually means that something is dead or dying.  Unlike other raptors, vultures have a keen sense of smell.  Most other raptors have a keen sense of sight.

Turkey vulture circling above Butte Slough

I headed back to the car and kept hearing a hawk calling.  I looked around and finally found it at the top of a cottonwood tree.  It kept calling and I kept waiting for it to fly and come my way.  Finally it did and it was a spectacular red tailed hawk.

Red tailed hawk in a cottonwood

In flight

There was another hawk flying near there, but I haven't identified it yet.  I got a few pics of that one as well.

Unidentified hawk

As we headed down the road to other access points for Deer Park, I saw an osprey with a fish or a small mammal, sitting on a piece of farm equipment.  Had to stop for that too.

Classic osprey look

Every time my camera focus beeped, the osprey would look toward me.

As we drove off, about a hundred yards from the osprey was a large raptor.  I haven't identified it yet.  I'm reluctant to call it a golden eagle because I don't think it was big enough even though it resembled one.  It may have been a marsh hawk.  It may have been another kind of hawk.  I'll let you decide until I can identify it for real.

Large raptor

Don't know what kind it is

We drove past all the access points for Deer Park and turned down a road for a turnaround.  The road crossed over a very old dam on the slough and as I stopped before the dam, I looked out my window and saw a commotion of birds near the water.  They were having a feeding frenzy on insects right at the waters edge.  I later identified them as American cliff swallows.  There were hundreds of them.  They were quite beautiful.

American cliff swallows

I added two pictures because I liked them so much

As we were heading home, I took the Hot Chick to see Cartier Slough.  I got out a couple of times and crossed the fence to see what I could see.  The first thing I saw was that same wildflower I saw last time.  I decided to identify it this time, however.  It is Gooseberry Leaf Globemallow, Sphaeralcea grossulariifolia.

Gooseberry leaf globemallow

Further in, there is an access point across a small concrete dam.  I went in there and walked for half a mile or so along a dike.  As I walked in I saw a wild iris in bloom.  This time the wind wasn't blowing and I was able to get a good shot of it.

Wild iris

a stand of them

And another one

This was there too

Finally, as I walked out, I noticed a V-shaped wave travelling across the water.  I looked at the point of the V, expecting a duck but just like yesterday, I ended my day with a beaver.  Turns out there are beaver all over the place.  I suppose it's fitting because Cartier Slough is next to Beaver Dick Park.  Richard Leigh was a colorful, local trapper/mountain man.  His nickname was Beaver Dick.  Turns out there are many things named for him and his wife all through this area and in the Teton Range.  Fitting that there would be lots of beavers near his park.
Another beaver
As addictions go, this is a good one.  I've really enjoyed spending time at the wildlife refuges in the area.  They are so close I don't have to plan a big trip to go out to see them.  Just grab the camera and hop in the car and drive ten minutes.  This is a great part of the country to live in.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

May 2015: Cartier Slough Wildlife (again)

Abandoned piece of farm equipment from the homestead days.  I imagine there are critters that make their home here now

Last Tuesday, I just drove around the flanking road of the Cartier Slough as a fact finding mission,  I then went home and researched the place and discovered there were about a mile worth of trails through the Wildlife Management Area.  I also discovered there is another larger Wildlife Mitigation Area called Deer Park just sought of the Cartier Slough.  Guess I'll be going there next.

Yesterday (Wednesday) my boys were both playing with friends and the Hot Chick was playing with her quilting friends which left me as a lone man at home.  That wasn't working for me, and since we had a break in the monsoon, I decided to go back out to the Cartier Slough and hike it a bit.

The Cartier Slough used to be a homestead, and the trails through it are the remnants of the old wagon roads.  I parked next to the first parking area and climbed the wooden steps over the barbed wire fence and entered the Cartier Slough Wildlife Management Area.

At the abandoned piece of farm equipment, I headed to the right on the spur trail and walked toward the water.  When I had gone about a hundred yards, I saw a willet, and then another and another.  They began squawking noisily and flying around frantically.  One was sitting on a fence post immediately in front of me and kept opening it's wings and squawking, trying to intimidate me.  I had obviously found their nesting area.  Then the birds started dive bombing me.  Definitely the nesting area.  I stopped where I was, didn't go any closer to where nests might be, stayed long enough to snap a few photos and then slowly made my retreat.  I will say that when they dive bombed me it felt an awful lot like being in a Hitchcock movie.  It was a little scary and a lot exhilarating all at the same time.

As this was playing out, a large hawk flew by with nesting materials in it's talons, completely unconcerned by the old man bugging the willets.

The sentry

Hanging out

Trying to intimidate me

Then they started dive bombing me

It was hard to get a clear shot

This guy was unconcerned 

As I beat my return out of the willet area, I saw some bleached bones the porcupines had not found yet.  Probably a deer.


The old wagon road

As I passed along the old wagon road, I noticed there were spur trails all along heading from the steppe to the water.  I imagined the wildlife was going to be closest to the water so I headed that way and walked parallel to the road but closer to the slough.  Several times I pushed through a break in the willows and went right to the waters edge.  I saw a wildflower I have never seen before and have not yet identified.  I also saw four beavers swimming.  One of them was courteous enough for me to get close enough to take a few pictures.

Unidentified wildflower


Best beaver picture

Cartier Slough

Same location, opposite direction

In between storms

I headed along the path and was headed to a marshy area where I felt sure to be rewarded with some great blue herons, all the while not noticing the sky was beginning to darken.  I was about a mile from my truck at this moment.  I happened upon a wild iris and was excited to finally get a photograph of one.  I had seen wild iris at a Father and Sons Campout many years ago, before I started photographing wildflowers, and had wanted to get a picture of one ever since.  I finally had my shot, or so I thought.  As I was photographing the iris, I had my first indication that the weather had changed.  I was so intent on getting to the end of the trail I hadn't looked up, only at trail level.  I was also watching closely for moose.  I didn't want to surprise one of those all alone on the trail.

The wind had picked up, making it impossible to get a clear shot of the iris, and the rain started again.  I turned around at the iris, not making it all the way to the marsh where I hoped to get a picture of a great blue heron.  As I hiked out, the weather became less friendly all the time and I tucked the camera into my shirt and beat a path to the truck.  The sky was spectacular.  I'll be back at the Cartier Slough.  Really enjoyed my time there.

Sunset through the steppe

The sky was spectacular

Golden hour lighting through a rainstorm

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

May 2015: Birdwatching

Cartier Slough Wildlife Management Area

Like I need another hobby.  I've taken up birdwatching.  It's not that this is anything new, I've always been interested in birds and have always enjoyed trying to identify them, until now I haven't gone out specifically to view them.  I always have spotted them while I was doing other things.  I always had the intention of bird watching but the time was never right.

So one of my friends and colleagues has been a bird watcher for a long time.  I have admired his photographs of birds for many years.  He won a blue ribbon at the fair for a flock of ibis' in flight against the moon.  Really cool picture.  He also has a closeup of a sandhill crane that is stunning.  I decided to take a little more interest in the hobby.

My friend, Omar has been going out to a place called Camas National Wildlife Refuge for years.  It is a bird sanctuary about thirty miles from my home and I never really knew about it.  He showed me some pictures he had taken out there and I decided I needed to go.  I've already blogged about it a couple of times, then I saw there was a wildlife refuge really close called Mud Lake.  I took the Hot Chick there and then I blogged about it.

On Saturday we decided to go out to Sand Creek Wildlife Management Area to spot more birds.  I got skunked.  No birds, just a bunch of humans fishing.  I didn't see any birds and they didn't catch any fish.  Karma.  We also went out to Chester Marshes Wildlife Management Area and didn't really get much there either.  The ponds at Sand Creek are closed to humans because they are a sensitive nesting ground for some endangered species.  The ponds open on July 1st.  We'll be able to go back and hopefully see the elusive great blue heron that I've been trying to photograph for a long time.

When I drove home from work today, I was in a torrential downpour.  Not a good day for birding.  Or was it?  I looked across the steppe toward the Camas National Wildlife Refuge and it appeared there was no rain there, even a little sunshine.  I couldn't convince anyone in the family to go out and hang with me so I went myself.  I had a nice time, but my initial instincts were right.  It wasn't a very good day to go birding.  I only saw a few birds, but the ones I saw were really cool.

The first bird I saw was a bald eagle with bulrushes in it's talons, heading toward the nest.

Bald eagle in nest building mode

Same bald eagle, same bulrushes, my blog my rules

I don't know why I looked over at the canal bank when I did, but I saw a willet.  I didn't know what it was at first and I had to wait until I got home to identify it, but it was a willet.  Long legs long slender beak.  Pretty cool bird.  It was gloomy and overcast, and the bird nearly blended in with the dirt it was standing on.  I saw the bird only by chance.




I drove all through the preserve and saw a few owls, but none close enough to get a picture of.  I saw a sandhill crane in flight but never close enough.  I saw a pheasant and when I stopped to photograph it, my wipers went off and it spooked the bird and it ran off like a roadrunner.  It was kind of funny.  I snapped a couple of pics of it, but I didn't have the camera set a motion, so they ended up blurry and unusable.

It was getting dark pretty fast and the rain was coming and going, so my time at Camas was short and mostly unproductive.  Not a waste of time though.

At the last pond, I saw several families of Canada geese swimming together.  The parents were teaching the young.  That was awesome.  I normally don't take pictures of Canada geese because I have seen so many of them in my life that they don't seem as cool as they once did.  But when I see them behaving as a family, I dig that.

Canada geese teaching their young

and the neighbors

As I drove home, I noticed a sign that said, "Cartier Slough W.M.A." by a place called "Beaver Dick Park".  Wildlife Management Areas are all over the place around here and I never knew.  I can't turn around without running into one.  They are everywhere.  I discovered that Idahoans like birds.  Who knew?  I took the drive around Cartier only as a fact finding mission because it was getting dark fast.  It's a beautiful slow spot in the river and is full of habitat for not only birds but also big game.  I saw two whitetail deer bound away and numerous rabbits.  I didn't see many birds, but the first one I did see was another willet.


Another view

As I drove around the preserve, I discovered the remains of an elk and a whitetail deer.  The carcasses were mostly intact but both of them were missing their heads.  A headless deer three feet away from a headless elk.  I had stumbled upon a poachers camp.  Stuff like that irritates me.

Poached elk

I looked up Cartier Slough W.M.A. when I got home and found that there are no interior roads in the refuge but there are a few trails.  It is heavily overgrown and the literature suggests seeing it best by way of canoe.  I may take them up on it.  I love to canoe.  The literature said that was the best way to see the waterfowl.  That means it's time to buy a canoe.  Great, another hobby!

Cartier Slough

Rainwater collecting in pits in the lava rock

Cottonwood tree in silhouette 

Sunset in Idaho

Sometime in the next month I intend to take the hiking trails into the interior of Cartier Slough.  It was a beautiful place and I want to see more of it.