Maybe Just a Little Early, But Still Successful


WC and Mrs. WC set out to eastern Idaho, chasing early spring migration. It’s possible we were just a tad early.

Canada Goose on Ice, Camas WMA, Idaho

Canada Goose on Ice, Camas WMA, Idaho

These are, after all, waterfowl, not ice fowl.

But we were tempted to try out new camping arrangements and chase birds because of reports of large numbers of Short-eared Owls in Eastern Idaho. Long-time readers know that we participate in a long-term Short-eared Owl survey which, as it turns out, mostly scientifically documents there aren’t any Short-eared Owls where we survey. So we headed out to see some.

We spent the first night at Mud Lake. We had it to ourselves. And that night were treated to the sounds of waterfowl, cranes and swans. A Great Horned Owl gave us a twilight serenade and at and at least three Long-eared Owls chimed in. There are worse ways to spend the night than listening to owls.

When light returned in the morning, we saw some other birds, too. Thousands of Snow Geese; in the sky, on the ground, moving, sitting, squawking.

A Small Part of a Big Field Full of Snow Geese. Note the blue phase specimens, Mud Lake, Idaho

A Small Part of a Big Field Full of Snow Geese. Note the blue phase specimens, Mud Lake, Idaho

Snow Geese in Flight, Mud Lake, Idaho

Snow Geese in Flight, Mud Lake, Idaho

The Red-winged Blackbirds certainly thought it was spring. Pretty much every marsh and wetland had males announcing their territories, and there were flocks of hundreds of other Red-wings moving through.

Red-winged Blackbird Male, Carey, Idaho

Red-winged Blackbird Male, Carey, Idaho

Killdeer were busy pairing up, and even starting to show nest diversion behavior.

Killdeer, Mud Lake, Idaho

Killdeer, Mud Lake, Idaho

But the focus of the trip – other than evaluating alternatives to tents – was Short-eared Owls. The target area for the owls is a well-known marsh. There were dozens of Northern Harriers present, who use much the same hunting techniques. Each had to be checked. As light failed – and failed early, it was a cloudy day – so did hope.

Northern Harrier Hunting Late, Market Lake, Idaho

Northern Harrier Hunting Late, Eastern Idaho, Idaho

But when the light had faded to the bare minimum for photography, sure enough, at least seven Short-eared Owls appeared, and two of them cooperated by getting close enough.

Short-eared Owl, Eastern Idaho

Short-eared Owl, Eastern Idaho

The light was a lot lower than it appears in these shots; this is ISO 15000

Most trips for a target species don’t work out. WC couldn’t tell you how many times he has attempted to photograph Northern Goshawks, for example, usually without seeing a single bird. So even a modest success – decent photos in low light – feels pretty good.

And the equipment evaluation part was pretty useful, too. The ground, WC has noted, get a lot harder as you get older. Tents get more and more difficult to clamber in out of. More on that in a future post.

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2 thoughts on “Maybe Just a Little Early, But Still Successful

  1. We’re involved in the SEOW survey also, and just love that you made a trip over to our end of the state! Great pics! Also…we’ve been readers of your blog every morning for the last few years…part of our morning routine! Keep it up!!

  2. We have just purchased a Vango tent with an tunnel type arrangement and have tried it once. It’s easy to put up, requires less stooping than our previous tent but is designed for cool weather camping which may be a problem for Aussie summer camping. Look forward to reading what you have come up with.

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