A hunting great egret, like this one at Market Lake WMA, is the picture of stealth and beauty.
Most birds are pretty, whether brightly colored or intricately mottled for camouflage. There are some birds though, that are really standouts. Painted buntings, golden pheasants and Mandarin ducks all come quickly to mind as exceptional, even for birds. There is another bird gracing the marshes at Market Lake Wildlife Management Area right now that can fit into that category as well: the great egret.
Rather than flamboyant colors, great egrets are large stately birds dressed in all white feathers forming smooth contours. The elegance is accented by long yellow-orange bills, yellow eyes and long slender black legs. That is likely enough to be eye-catching just about anywhere they fly. However, during the springtime, they also grow additional delicate and showy plumes, called aigrettes, on their backs. The aigrettes are so stunningly lovely they nearly drove the entire species to extinction in the 19th century. Egrets were killed by the wagonload during the breeding season so their plume feathers could adorn ladies’ hats.
Great egrets almost never seem to be in a hurry. They are predators, but instead of chasing their food, they prefer stealth and stillness, waiting for prey to come to them. They will stand perfectly still, neck outstretched, bill pointed down and move forward almost imperceptibly until they see a potential meal. Then they strike with the speed of a viper.
Great egrets augment their beautiful lines with graceful unhurried flight. With only two wing beats a second their speed is deceptive as they can cruise at 25 miles per hour. They tuck their heads back creating a stylish loop in slender necks that rests on their chest. They seem to almost float on great white wings while the showy black legs trail straight out behind.
It is fairly easy to confuse the great egret with two other white-colored egrets, the cattle egret and the snowy egret, which can also be seen in Eastern Idaho. As the name—great egret—might imply, this king of egrets is much larger than the cattle or snowy egret. The cattle egret may also have patches of tan on the head, back and chest during breeding. The snowy egret has black legs but very yellow feet and a black bill—just the opposite of the great egret.
Once the slaughter of egrets was stopped in the early 1900’s, populations rebounded quickly. Great egret populations are now considered stable or perhaps even growing a little. However, most great egrets live on the east coast. As of 2006, Idaho had only about 26 documented breeding pairs. The closest breeding pair at that time was likely at American Falls Reservoir.
Besides the aigrettes, breeding rituals among great egrets are interesting. The male builds the nest, a huge thing up to three feet across and a foot deep. He then woos an interested female and remains with her through the breeding season.
Seeing a great egret in Idaho at any time is a real treat. If you see one in breeding plumage next spring, you will likely agree that it is one of the most handsome of birds.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), The Best of Nature is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho