Southern Idaho is a fantastic place to be for the spring birding season.  I hate to travel out of the area this time of year for fear that I might miss the first arriving Long-billed Curlew, Lazuli Bunting, or Virginia Warbler.  From the Snake River Plain to the South Hills and Albion Mountains, it has been quiet for too long.  Winter snows have a way of hushing the landscape.  But now, the country is greening up; the sky is blue, lightly holding cumulous puffs; and boisterous birds are everywhere!

Birders find many specialties in Castle Rocks State Park, near Almo in Cassia County

Thank goodness for Idaho’s public lands and rural back roads, where a birder can pursue the objects of his obsession, making random and sudden stops, jumping out like a wild man to photograph a perfectly perched Yellow-headed Blackbird, or to ?glass? a Swainson?s Hawk, doing so while resting assured that he is probably the only SUV for miles in either direction.  My favorite Southern Idaho back road birding routes include the obvious: Thousand Springs Scenic Byway and City of Rocks Back Country Byway, but also a route that stair-steps north along the Snake River to the falls below Lake Walcott, and the wide open spaces of Highway 24 from Minidoka to Dietrich.   You just never know what you’ll find.

Back road birding yields this perfectly perched nest of young Red-tailed Hawks

I do recommend parking the car safely and striking out on foot in these hot spots: Lake Walcott State Park’s giant trees, Castle Rocks State Park‘s Almo Creek Wetlands, Hagerman Wildlife Management Area’s Oster Lakes, and Silver Creek Preserve’s willow thickets.  These are just a few places I could burn a couple of hours watching birds, but just about any secluded locale with varied natural habitat will do.

A Lazuli Bunting heralds spring atop a Serviceberry in bloom

The out-of the area birder should definitely look to count these Southern Idaho specialties for spring and summer: Pinyon Jay, Gray Flycatcher, Virginia Warbler, Juniper Titmouse, and Black-throated Gray Warbler.  Essential to the birder’s tool-kit is the Idaho Birding Trail booklet, published by the Idaho Fish and Game, and a good road atlas, such as the popular Delorme series.  I also like to throw in a couple of trail bars and some peanut M&M?s.  Do you want a guide?  Consider Castle Rocks? International Migratory Bird Day events on May 11 or Birding Big Day on June 1.

GUEST BLOGGER: Wallace Keck, Superintendent; City of Rocks National Reserve