A snow goose blizzard at Market Lake WMA. Snow geese only visit East Idaho for a short time each year and the show starts soon. Be sure not to miss it.
Sunday’s snowstorm was a reminder that winter has not given up the fight. We are expecting another blizzard though that actually heralds the arrival of spring. This blizzard is coming from the south on 100,000 wings.
Snow geese typically arrive at eastern Idaho wetlands about mid-March. They push the migration envelope because they are in a hurry to get home to the Arctic where breeding occurs. This is a 3,500-mile journey for these geese who just vacated wintering grounds in New Mexico and Arizona. Air distance to our wetlands is about 750 miles from Bosque Del Apache or Imperial National Wildlife Refuges, and these birds arrive tired, hungry and ready to rest and refuel. Without essential stepping stones like the Great Salt Lake in Utah, Mud and Market Lake Wildlife Management Areas and Camas National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho, and Freezeout Lake in Montana, that provide the much needed rest, the story of these medium distance migrants might be much different.
As their name implies, snow geese are essentially white. The tips of their wings are black, a feature readily noted when they are flying but inconspicuous when they are at rest on the water. The bill and feet of a snow goose are rosy pink and the beak has a black “smile line” rimming the edge like punky lipstick. Males weigh in at about six pounds and have a 40-inch wingspan.
There is a color phase of snow goose called a “blue goose” that has a darker plumage. Usually, the head and neck are mostly white but the rest of the body is slate gray. This color phase is common in the Mississippi and Central flyways but less common in the Pacific flyway.
Snow geese are beautiful birds, but their true magic happens because they like each other’s company. Snow geese pass through our area each spring in rather staggering numbers. Flocks of one thousand birds or more, flying in loose V’s, U’s, and oblique lines stretch across blue spring skies and at their peak may number 50,000 or more. By the time the flyway consolidates further at Freezeout Lake near Choteau, Montana, they may join another 300,000 snow geese.
Watching a flock of thousands of snow geese take off or land is like being inside a shaken snow globe with sound effects. White birds whirl around, circling repeatedly with enough chatter to literally drown out a passing freight train. All you can see and hear is birds in a wildlife encounter sure to impress even the most jaded of souls.
Snow geese spend the nights gathered in huge rafts on open water. About sunrise, the chatter between them escalates rapidly. Then, as if on signal by a conductor, the entire flock seems to take to wing at once, rising, swirling and then finally lining out toward their feeding location for the day.
After spending the day feeding in grain fields from Highway 33 to Highway 20 west of Idaho Falls, they reverse the process, returning to the security of the water in a procession called fly-in. Fly-in is not nearly as truncated as fly-out, the morning process, but by dark all the snow geese are back for the night.
For a brief time each spring, snow geese will grace our skies. They will remind us of the wildlife abundance that once blanketed this country and, as surely as summer is green, they will trail springtime along behind them.
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
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