WALTERS FERRY, Idaho — Pelicans splash in a shallow eddy in the Snake River near Three Island Crossing State Park 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.
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 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.
Golden eagles work the area around Celebration Park, south of Nampa, park manager Brittany Jones reports. 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 bird watchers who want to add it to their lifelong list of birds they’ve spotted.
Coming and going
Late winter and early spring is a transition period in which 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 Idaho-Oregon Snake River Water Trail 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.
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.
• Bruneau Duck Ponds in the C.J. Strike Wildlife Management Area along the Snake River near Idaho 78 and across from Bruneau Dunes State Park south of Mountain Home.
• The Ted Trueblood Wildlife Management Area is off Idaho 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 will help in locating and identifying birds for visitors. For information see canyonco.org/parks and click on Celebration Park.
• Farewell Bend State Park is about 25 miles northwest of Ontario, Ore., off Interstate 84. It has camping, picnicking, hiking trails and a boat ramp.