The bald eagle, our national symbol, is a magnificent bird that is always a pleasure to watch.
When it comes to seeing bald eagles in the winter, Eastern Idaho isn’t the first place that comes to mind. I checked the internet, and although there are several lists of “10 Best Places to See Winter Bald Eagles”, no place in Idaho makes a list.
That is what makes Camas National Wildlife Refuge unique. While you can get lucky and spot a bald eagle or two just about anywhere, at Camas National Wildlife Refuge north of Hamer, you can see 30-50 birds on a given evening as they come back in to roost in the large cottonwoods north of the headquarters.
I asked my friend and refuge manager, Brian Wehausen, just how many birds he has been seeing this year and he replied that on a recent count, 38 eagles were spotted. He said that this is likely a low year due to warmer than average temperatures. He also mentioned that a high of 120 bald eagles were counted one evening about three winters ago. He said that this number correlated well with a localized jackrabbit “explosion” in Eastern Idaho that provided easy dinners for these birds of prey.
Where these birds come from is somewhat of a mystery. Wehausen suggested that they might be birds that summer in the Greater Yellowstone area. However, they could be coming from much further than that. Until researchers start radio tagging these birds, their summer homes will remain a mystery.
By sunrise, the eagles are on the move toward their hunting and scavenging areas which can be as close as the Hamer calving and lambing grounds where they feed on afterbirth, or east to the Snake River where they can fish and find plenty of ducks. Just before sunset, they return to their roost trees where they will spend the night.
Even at a distance it is awesome to watch as these, some of the largest birds in North America, fly in on wings that can span over seven feet. As the eagles return to the trees, the first ones back welcome newcomers with vocalizations, adding to the experience.
This coming weekend, there will be an organized affair to watch the eagles as they return to their roost trees on Camas NWR. The group, Friends of Camas NWR, will hold their fifth annual, Come to Roost at Camas, event from 4:30 PM until dark on Saturday, February 15. The Friends of Camas group will have spotting scopes set up and all the free hot chocolate you can drink. This is an outdoor event so dress warmly, especially in the footwear department.
The Friends of Camas NWR group has been in official existence since 2016, but they date back much further than that. They currently have over 40 members. Their mission is to foster environmental education, conservation and scientific study on the refuge for the benefit of the resources and enjoyment by the public. To that end, they have won grants to establish a covered learning center and a pollinator garden and gazebo near headquarters. Besides the Come to Roost at Camas activity, they also sponsor a fun day in the fall called, Birds, Bugles and Brunch. They provide guided tours to listen for bugling elk and to identify birds as well as an all you can eat brunch of pancakes and more.
So, show off your red, white and blue by coming out to Camas National Wildlife Refuge (take the Hamer exit off I-15 then go east to the tee then north. Follow the signs and you will find the activity on the left side of the road just before you reach headquarters) and take advantage of this unique Idaho opportunity to see our magnificent national bird.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!
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.
I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.
"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), it 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:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
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
TAX DAY is coming! Here is a chance to do something good with a bit of your tax return and make the day less painful.
Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!
On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.
Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf. You can donate any amount you wish, it all helps to support the wildlife you love.
If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.