Sandhill Crane in the field along the road at Market Lake WMA
Owing to the wondrous reports of migration birding in Eastern Idaho, and of course the regular reports of Idaho rarities seen there, I had to check it out for myself. I was not disappointed. I was also anxious to meet some of the Eastern Idaho hotshot birders and bird/nature bloggers like Bill Schiess, Cliff Weisse, Darren Clark, and Steve Butterworth. Again, I was not disappointed. Harry Krueger from Boise also joined us in the birding bonanza. I had a blast birding with these guys. They were good people and they were so concerned about me seeing every bird that they often went out of there way to make it possible. My tally had 113 species. Five life birds. Sixteen first-of-year birds, eleven of which were state-birds for me. Had it not been for overcast weather and a chilling windy downpour Saturday afternoon, it might have even been better.
The birds that made my list of highlights include: Olive-sided Flycatcher, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Common Grackle, American Redstart, Swainson's Thrush, Black, Common, and Forester's Terns, a Black-and-White Warbler, and a Northern Waterthrush. The numbers of Wilson's Warblers blew me away, and the locals tell me that usually there are more this time of year. The locations are fabulous for birding and worthy of annual pilgrimages, especially during spring and fall migration.
Male and female Ruddy Ducks at Market Lake WMA - I just love that blue bill!
Both Camas NWR and Market Lake WMA both have vast marsh lands with some open water right along the roads for easy access for birders of all physical abilities. The numbers of birds in the air and on the water gave me a bit of sensory overload and I had to calm down my rapid heart beat and my darting eye balls to focus on one bird at a time.
Common Grackles on the side of the road in Hamer, ID near Camas NWR
- life birds for me and not very "common" in Idaho
Both locations also have clusters of trees and shrubbery which is an oasis and a magnet for birds migrating across the southern Idaho desert. Another cool feature about both birding hotspots are the human-planted windrows. They are made up of straight lines of cottonwoods, russian olives, willows, and pea bush, usually with space in between each row of trees/shrubs which makes for easy walking. We'd split up and each slowly walk down the path at the same pace between the tree and shrub types, with a couple guys on the flanking the outsides of the windrow. Some birds would gently move in front of us, while others paid us little attention as we passed by. When we saw something special, we could alert the group and all enjoy the bird. This method insured that we didn't miss much either. If you go to these locations and only look at the marshes, you are missing out. Don't forget to walk the windrows! The area around the Camas NWR headquarters is really good too. Lots of large trees just full of birds.
To get an idea of what a great place for birding these locations are, check out eBird. Go to the "View and Explore Data" tab, click on "Bar Charts", Select "Idaho" and click on the "Hotspots" button, then click "continue". This brings you up the entire list of Idaho eBird hotspots. Check the boxes for Camas NWR and Market Lake WMA. You might even throw Mud Lake into the mix as it is also close by. This generates a frequency of occurrence bar chart showing that 247 species have been reported to eBird. I didn't even see half of what is possible! I'll bet there are 50 more species that have not yet been reported to eBird for these locations.
My focus on birding rather than photography, combined with the poor weather and lack of light prevented me from getting many photos. I only ended up taking 20 shots of three birds there. Oh, well. All the more reason to go back!
Some nice birding tools that helped me enjoy this trip include: the Idaho Birding Trail website from the Idaho Fish and Game, The Idaho Bird Guide: what, where, when; and my DeLorme Atlas of Idaho.
Thanks again to Bill, Cliff, Darren, and Steve for showing us a great time birding in Eastern Idaho!