Fall Migration

Sandhill cranes flew so high they were almost invisible to the naked eye yet we could readily hear their distinctive calls as they winged toward warmer climes.

As we stood on a hill overlooking Wonder Lake, the reflection of Denali, the “Great One” shimmered in the pond below. Although 25 miles away, its snow encrusted slopes glowed in the sunshine. The notes of familiar yet far off calls reached our ears and we scanned the sky, first with our eyes and then with binoculars, until we located the source. Flying so high they seemed to eclipse Denali’s 20,310 feet, hundreds of sandhill cranes flew in loose vee’s across the sky. They were headed east, likely skirting the imposing Alaska Range before turning into a slightly more southerly route.

I had consulted the migration charts in Fairbanks at the state-run Creamers Field Migratory Bird Refuge and determined that these Alaska birds are not likely passing through Idaho and on to Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. It appears that most will head through Nebraska and then on to the Gulf coast. No matter, it was simply awesome to be on the beginning end of what is a massive migration from the north to the warmer wintertime homes in the Lower 48 or even further south.

When we had walked the trails at Creamers Field several weeks earlier, we noted an abundance of songbirds, especially in the boreal forest and flooded marshes. Some of these we recognized, like the yellow-rumped warbler, but others were unfamiliar and too fast to get an identifying image. From their abundance though, I suspected that migration had already started for them. Some of them had thousands of miles to go and without the giant wingspans of the soaring cranes, they would have to work hard to make it to their chosen southern homes.

Fall migration is a very different event than spring migration. Spring migration is all about urgency. The need to arrive at breeding grounds as soon as possible drives many bird species to follow the ragged edge of winter. Like gamblers betting everything on a single hand, sometimes the venture pays off, sometimes chance is against them. A late weather event may cover the ground in snow or ice, send temperatures plunging or rage against them with buffeting winds.

Spring migrators are compelled though, and the risk is worth it when they find prime nesting and brooding sites and start their families early in the season. This way, the young are in the best possible condition for their own first migration.

Fall migration isn’t pressing. It can be even leisurely. Birds work their way south as the grip of winter slowly advances and they can easily keep ahead, taking advantage of new habitats. There are places along the route where they refuel, and they may spend considerable time there.  They will get to their destinations but for most, they don’t need to hurry.

As you read this, we are in the middle of our own migration south. Our journey, while unhurried, does have an urgency attached as human commitments are still compelling, even in our new free-wheeling lifestyle. Our journey north has been amazing and we are planning to return, perhaps not in the spring, but hopefully, before too many summers pass.

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.

Readers Write:

"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:

Post Register

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