Snow geese mass at Market Lake WMA. Snow goose migration is often the first harbinger of spring in eastern Idaho.
Long ago I used to be fooled by the month of March, thinking that spring had arrived. That may be because I hail from a warmer climate, having grown up in that tropical paradise called Salt Lake City where crocuses were blooming last weekend. Nowadays, I recognize March for what it is, the end of a winter that will yield, but usually kicking and screaming and not until April’s showers drive it away.
With that said, March still brings the indisputable signs of spring. I saw my first redwing blackbird over a week ago. The snow is almost gone from yards and streets and temperatures have been far more pleasant, hardly dipping below freezing some nights.
Springtime wildlife watching is almost upon us. Mid-March in eastern Idaho, is heralded by the arrival of the snow geese. Snow geese are usually found somewhere in the fields west of Idaho Falls and north to Highway 33 and roost on any available open water in flocks of thousands. Market Lake and Mud Lake WMAs and Camas National Wildlife Refuge at Hamer are places to look for roosting masses of these brilliant white birds.
It seems that the snow goose migration opens the floodgates for other spring migrants. By the first of April, waterfowl, sandhill cranes and shorebirds will be filtering in to local waterways in increasing numbers. Look for these species anywhere there is standing water, including in fields flooded with runoff.
Birders tell me that songbird migration typically peaks on Memorial Day weekend. However, migration is a process, not a point in time, and begins soon. The more often you are out and about with your binoculars, the more likely you are to log a lot of species and even some rare sightings. Along with songbirds, look for burrowing owls and other raptors.
Sage-grouse breeding and the associated dancing on areas known as leks, also begins in mid-March. This is an early morning adventure and may require some travel but it is worth it. It should be a bucket list event if you have never seen it and once you have, you will want to repeat it each year. Probably the easiest place to see sage-grouse is along the Red Road north of the St. Anthony Sand Dunes. Once this road opens, you can see sage-grouse from the road. After April 30, you can explore other roads in the area but sage-grouse breeding will be winding down by then.
Sharp-tailed grouse will also begin breeding displays by the first week of April. They may be harder to find so try to go with someone who knows where a lek is. Before the Henry Fire, there were many leks east of Idaho Falls. It will be interesting to see if the fire changed things.
Spring comes a little more slowly to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. In Grand Teton Park, the inner loop, Moose-Wilson and Signal Mountain roads all open to motorized travel on April 30th. Antelope Flat road may open earlier, depending on snow conditions. In Yellowstone, over snow travel is over for the season. During the next month and a half, park service personnel will be busy clearing roads for the summer traffic. I have posted the opening dates of the individual roads on the nature blog page of this website.
The secret to enjoying early spring is not to waste a single day of it. Each time you go out, new experiences await and no two will likely be the same.
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.
If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.
Help Idaho Wildlife
Sadly, when we traveled across the state in October, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates.
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.
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), 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:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
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