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.

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