Winter weather draws big numbers of bald eagles, waterfowl to Wendell, Hagerman area – Go see them!
On a sunny Saturday in January right before sunrise, I drove along 1500 East near Wendell, heading toward the Westpoint Store & Café and the entrance to Box Canyon Reserve, a unit of Thousand Springs State Park.
Park Ranger Dave Landrum told me he’d seen about 80 bald eagles in this area the week before when it was about 5 below-zero. “The colder temperatures seem to be the best time to see the eagles,” Landrum says.
It’s always such a thrill for me to see a single bald eagle flying overhead, so the thought of seeing lots of eagles gets me all excited. “Look for gorillas in the trees,” is what one wildlife biologist used to tell me when looking for bald eagles in cottonwood trees along an Idaho river. And it’s true … they look dark and huge in the trees when perched in deep cover.
In the first few minutes, I saw more than 20 eagles in cottonwood trees on private lands behind the restaurant. I turned right at the corner on 3300 South to try to get closer, and I got a photo of 12 eagles perched in single tree. It was a mix of mature bald eagles and immature birds that had yet to acquire the classic mature white-head-and-dark-coat coloration.
I went back on 1500 East and went south toward the Snake River canyon rim to 3500 South, turned right, and drove along a farm with pivot sprinklers on both sides of the road. I saw 12 more birds in three cottonwood trees on one side, and two immature eagles perched on a pivot. Gordan Hardcastle, a professional photographer who travels to the Wendell/Hagerman area frequently to photograph eagles and waterfowl, said he saw 50-60 eagles on that pivot last February.
So if you like to look at bald eagles, photograph them or watch them fly, we heartily recommend that you take a driving trip to Wendell (take exit 155 on I-84 and head for Hagerman) and the Westpoint Store/Café to get started. Hardcastle recommends several hiking routes to get close to eagles in a recent article in the Times-News, including hiking into Box Canyon Preserve. It is a beautiful place to explore at any time of year, with the 11th largest freshwater spring in the United States.
When you’re out there watching for eagles, be sure to pull completely off the road when parking or park at the Westpoint restaurant and walk over. Please respect private property, and be courteous of the dairy farm located nearby. Bring a long camera lens or a pair of binoculars for best viewing. It’s hard to get close to the eagles because of private property, and it’s best to give the eagles plenty of space so they don’t spook.
While you’re in the vicinity, drive over to the Hagerman Wildlife Management Area to see a huge number of ducks, geese and other waterfowl. Hardcastle photographed snow geese and wood ducks in the area last week. He likes to catch them in flight, which is very difficult to do with a big lens, but his photographs, regularly posted on Facebook, are spectacular!
The Wendell/Hagerman area is a wonderful place to go bird-watching right now, and the birds are so easy to see close to roads that you don’t need to hide a cold blind to see them. In fact, the area registered the highest bird count anywhere in Idaho during the Christmas bird count.
Sarah Harris, president of the Prairie Falcon chapter of the Audubon Society in the Twin Falls area, shared their bird list with me from the Christmas count. They counted large numbers of birds, shown below, and 101 species. If you’d like to get started on your personal bird list, what a great place to go! “It’s a great place to see birds with great habitat diversity,” Harris says.
The list includes over 14,000 Canada geese, 25,000 mallards, 800 gold-eyes, 3,000 American coots and many more! Be sure to bring your binoculars, your camera and dress warm!
Westpoint Store/Café makes excellent breakfast burritos! They also serve lunch and dinner. It’s a local favorite hot spot, off the beaten track. Happy birding!
|American White Pelican||4|
|Great Blue Heron||104|
|Black-crowned Night Heron||11|
|Bald Eagle 80|
|Lesser Black-backed Gull||1|
|Eurasian Collared Dove||737|
|Great Horned Owl||9|
|Northern (red-shafted) Flicker||177|
|Dark-eyed Junco (all forms)||447|