The day ended with one of the severest mountain thunderstorms WC has experienced. WC is not shy about driving in marginal weather, but this storm forced WC to pull off the road three separate times. At one point, there was 1-2 inches of marble-sized hail on the surface of U.S. 20, and it was a lot like driving on a layer of ball bearings. In a torrential rainfall and hailstorm, with winds gusting to 40 mph and near-constant lightning flashes. The drive down from Camas Prairie was in a long caravan of washed-out campers and boaters, moving in and out of the edge of the storm. That same storm spawned a tornado near Hammett, Idaho, later that evening. A very uncommon occurrence in Idaho.
But the day started promisingly enough, under bluebird skies and light breezes. The westerly end of the prairie produced some very good birds.
The mosquitoes have arrived – after all, this is mostly a marsh – but happily so have the bug-eating birds, bless them.
Camas is near the easter limit of this species range. Usually it’s Western Kingbird that is more common, but this trip it was mostly Easterns. Like tropical flycatchers, these birds are smart enough to cruise the front of an automobile, eating bumper- and hood-bugs.
The very handsome Tree Swallows compete with Mountain Bluebirds for nest boxes. WC estimated it’s about two-to-one along the back roads at Camas, in favor of the Tree Swallows.
The southern margin of Camas Prairie is grazed sagebrush, with the habitat still somewhat intact. In good enough shape to support some of the sagebrush-obligates, like this Sage Thrasher. He wasn’t cooperative enough to give WC a decent photo in good light, though.
In the early spring, there are amazing numbers of Horned Larks in Camas Prairie. You have to winder what they eat, with almost all the ground but plowed roadways under many feet of snow. The numbers thin out as spring advances; presumably, most of the birds move up slope to alpine habitats.
For the third consecutive trip, WC had extended views of Short-eared Owls. Also uncooperative, flying out of the morning sun, but still a delight to see them
While all three Idaho species of blackbird – Brewer’s, Red-winged and Yellow-headed – breed in Camas, Red-wings outnumber their cousins three or four to one. There aren’t many place in Camas Prairie where you don’t hear Red-winged Blackbirds singing.
WC suspects the Redwing’s eggs are hatched, because the females were out and about. This pretty lady had just finished a bath.
This report would be incomplete without mention of the Camas Lilies, which are in spectacular bloom.
The unusually extensive fields of lilies has been noticed by both Outdoor Idaho and the Idaho Statesman, both of which suggested folks should drive out to see them. And folks did. WC’s quiet, deserted backroads were jammed with gawkers, some of them wading out into the marsh to get that perfect selfie among the lilies. Needless to say, the birds were boogered.1
WC endeavored to escape the crowds by heading west, into the extensive sagebrush in the eastern part of Camas Prairie. Alas, the road was not dried out and WC was forced to turn around. And in turning around got stuck. It was probably karma. Getting unstuck involved jacking up the rear end of the SUV and putting rocks under the wheels for traction. It worked, eventually, but the mud – a classic Idaho mix of ancient lake bottom and cow pies – adheres like superglue to everything it touches. Happily, the thunderstorm described earlier arrived after WC had gotten back to better roads.
Despite the crowds, getting stuck and drenching thunderstorm, an excellent day at an excellent destination. But don’t you visit it; WC is sure you wouldn’t like it. And it’s getting crowded.
- A technical birding term, which WC should not need to define. ↩