BOISE, Idaho – Pelicans splash in a shallow eddy in the Snake River near Three Island Crossing State Park in Idaho and take you by surprise because of their large size.
Just downriver toward Hammett, great blue herons croak like crazy as they land in the tall trees in their rookery. They look like LifeFlight helicopters landing on the top of a hospital building.
If you’re quiet and look in tall, brushy trees on the edge of a farm field near Grand View, you might see a barn owl or maybe a great-horned owl.
The Snake River cutting across southern Idaho is long and wide and flows through marshlands, sagebrush country, agriculture lands and basalt canyons, offering hundreds of miles for bird-watching in late winter and spring.
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You can drive or hike along it, float it, or just pull up to a boat ramp parking lot and sit and scan the skies in the comfort of your heated rig.
Whatever you do, now’s the time to grab the binoculars and head for the river.
“We’ve got golden eagles working the area,” said Brittany Jones, manager at Celebration Park, south of Nampa, Idaho. It’s one of the top locations along the river for bird-watching.
It’s also one of the easiest places for bird-watching.
“Life listers come down here to see the lazuli bunting,” said Tom Bicak, director of Canyon County Parks, Recreation and Waterways.
The bird arrives at Celebration Park in late spring, breeds in the area and lures birdwatchers who want to add it to their lifelong list of birds they’ve spotted.
Late winter and early spring is a transition period where some wintering birds, mostly waterfowl, are leaving southern Idaho and heading north. A few spring and summer migrants are arriving, especially those that want to get a jump on nesting.
Raptors in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area will be swooping along the Snake River canyon’s cliffs in courtship dances.
“This area is rich in bird species,” said Toni Holthuijzen, senior ecologist with Idaho Power. “The Snake River and adjacent upland habitat provides a wide variety of upland and riparian habitats.”
WHERE TO GO
A 205-mile Snake River Water Trail flowing through Idaho and Oregon has dozens of access points to get to the river and look for birds.
The so-called blue trail goes from Idaho’s Three Island Crossing State Park at Glenns Ferry to Oregon’s Farewell Bend State Park at the headwaters of Brownlee Reservoir outside Huntington, Ore.
Here are some easy access points to start looking for birds:
• Three Island Crossing State Park in Glenns Ferry. It is easily reached off Interstate 84. It has camping, picnic and hiking areas near the river.
• C.J. Strike Wildlife Management Area and C.J. Strike Reservoir between Bruneau and Grand View.
• Bruneau Duck Ponds in the C.J. Strike Wildlife Management Area along the Snake River near Idaho state Route 78 and across from Bruneau Dunes State Park south of Mountain Home, Idaho. The state park also is a good place to see an assortment of birds from owls to shore birds.
• Sportsman access sites all along C.J. Strike Reservoir, such as the Bruneau River, Jacks Creek, Cottonwood Campground and the bridge below C.J. Strike Dam.
• Borden Lake area (northwest of the dam) off Strike Dam Road is another good spot for hiking.
• The area around C.J. Strike Dam at North, Scout and Locust parks and the highway bridge right below the dam.
• The boat ramp immediately east of the Idaho state Route 76 crossing on the Snake River at Grand View.
• Riverside Avenue in Grand View, Idaho, goes right along the river for a short ways and offers views of islands.
• The Ted Trueblood Wildlife Management Area is off Idaho state Route 67 just north of Grand View.
• Swan Falls Dam in the Snake River Birds of Prey area is south of Kuna. Swan Falls Reservoir is upstream of the dam, then the river is downstream of it, which makes a variety of riparian habitats.
• Celebration Park, south of Nampa along the Snake River in the Birds of Prey area. The park caters to bird watchers and has a deck at its headquarters where visitors can see across the canyon and watch golden eagles. A list of birds is on the deck. The park also has easily accessible picnic areas, docks, trails and restrooms. Staff members will help visitors locate and identify birds .
For information, go to canyonco.org/parks and click on “Celebration Park.”
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Information: The Oregon-Idaho Snake River Water Trail’s website is an excellent source for information on access to the river. Go to snakeriverwatertrail.org. The site offers maps and descriptions of 11 sections of the Snake River from Glenns Ferry to Farewell Bend State Park.
Other locations: Idaho Power has an access map online at idahopower.com. Under the tab “Our Environment,” select “Wildlife Habitat.” On the page that opens, select “C.J. Strike Area.”
Floating: Outfitted float trips on the Snake River through the Birds of Prey area are available. Rafts, canoes and kayaks are used. Go to ioga.org and click on “Rafting,” then “Snake,” and then “Snake River - C.J Strike Dam to Walters Ferry. ...”
Closures: Wildlife management areas might have seasonal closures from Feb. 1-July 31 to protect nesting birds. If that is the case, it is still possible to watch birds in those areas from outside the wildlife area boundaries. Signs mark the closures. Spotting scopes come in handy in this case.