Valley of the birds: Birders flock to the Hagerman area in winter

Birders flock to the Hagerman area in winter

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comJanuary 29, 2014 

  • MORE NOTES ON HAGERMAN VALLEY BIRDING

    Hagerman Bird Festival: Although registration is already booked for the festival, you can still see what it’s all about at facebook.com/HagermanBirdFestival.

    Map: For a map of Hagerman Valley attractions, including some birding areas, go to hagermanvalleychamber.com.

    Notes

    Many bird-watching areas have free access, but those in Idaho state parks require a daily $5 motorized entry fee or an annual state parks pass. It’s $10 and tied to your motor vehicle registration.

You can’t look in any direction along the Snake River and across assorted ponds and marshes near Hagerman without seeing lots of birds.

Lots and lots of birds, especially during winter. The quacking, honking, tweeting and whistling make an avian symphony.

From tundra and trumpeter swans on little remote farm ponds to massive concentrations of waterfowl at wildlife management areas to cottonwood trees that look like eagle condos — the area attracts tens of thousands of waterfowl and other species.

Hagerman Valley has lots of open water and a mixture of habitat from wetlands to upland sage in a sheltered canyon that attracts wintering birds.

“These birds need open water,” said Delores Smith of Hagerman, an avid birder and coordinator of the annual Hagerman Bird Festival on Feb. 14-16.

The first festival, which features field trips and classes on bird watching, proved to be so popular that all available space for its clinics and trips sold out.

You can put the festival on your radar for next year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go bird watching in Hagerman Valley anyway.

Birds concentrate in the valley because of the abundance of spring water that is constantly in the high 50s, even during winter.

While other places in southern Idaho are laced with frozen lakes and reservoirs, Hagerman Valley has creeks, ponds and lakes that remain unfrozen. The Snake River, which flows nearby, provides miles and miles of open water, too.

The canyon also has several natural areas protected and administered by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation and Idaho Power. The areas provide shelter and protection for migrating waterfowl and upland birds and song birds in sagebrush and brushy areas along streams.

That’s why it’s a perfect place to have a winter bird festival or plan a winter bird-watching weekend.

FIRST, GETTING THERE

Get to Hagerman Valley by driving about 90 miles east of Boise on I-84 and taking Exit 141. Hagerman is south along the Snake River on U.S. 30.

From Hagerman, here are some birding spots:

HAGERMAN WMA

U.S. 30 cuts right through part of the Fish and Game wildlife management area, which is about 3 miles south of town.

It doesn’t get any easier than the WMA ponds for watching birds. There’s a highway rest stop with a bird-watching blind. You’ll see large concentrations of waterfowl from there.

Fish and Game says that the WMA has walking trails “for the more adventurous visitor.”

Check out the Riley Creek Pond viewing blind, which offers the opportunity for an up-close look at waterfowl.

Larger ponds and lakes harbor thousands of diving ducks and geese.

Smaller ponds and wetlands have thousands of puddle ducks.

The trails winding around Oster Lakes allow visitors to view more waterfowl, songbirds and other wildlife.

The southernmost Oster Lake Trail provides a panoramic view of the Snake River, Gridley Island and Hagerman Valley.

While driving the roads south of Hagerman, keep a lookout for heron rookeries. You might ask locals for specific directions.

BANBURY SPRINGS AND MORGAN LAKE

Banbury Springs is part of the Thousand Springs natural area and has a variety of birds. It is an oasis on more than 150 acres along the Snake River.

It is administered by Idaho Power, and it includes several natural springs emerging from the canyon wall, a small lake and a variety of upland and stream habitat.

The area, which is known for upland birds, songbirds and waterfowl, is for the more adventurous bird watcher. It is designated foot access only and is accessible by a moderately strenuous walk on an old road down into the canyon.

Idaho Power recommends getting there from I-84 by taking Exit 155 at Wendell and driving 3.3 miles on 2950 South (Hagerman Highway). Turn left and drive south on 1500 East for 5.5 miles. Turn right and drive west on East 3500 South (Bob Barton Highway) for about 1.1 miles.

THOUSAND SPRINGS

Thousand Springs State Park has several destinations for bird watching, including Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon Springs Nature Preserve, Ritter Island and Niagara Springs.

They are scenic natural areas within a short driving distance of each other, southeast of Hagerman, and they contain a mixture of wetlands and upland sage lands and streams.

You can drive south out of Hagerman on U.S. 30 and turn east on the Vader Grade.

Continue to 1500 East and turn south. Look for the signs to Idaho state park natural areas, such as Ritter Island and Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon.

To get a clear view of the locations, go to parksandrecreation.idaho.gov and click on Thousand Springs, and then maps and brochures.

EAGLE TREE

One bird watcher counted 143 bald eagles in this locally famous spot in the middle of farmlands southeast of Hagerman. The grove of cottonwoods is located on the right traveling south on 1500 East, just before you get to the corner of 1500 East and 3300 South streets at West Point.

You can also reach 1500 East by taking the I-84 Exit 155 and driving the Hagerman Highway west. This is also another way to access Ritter Island and Box Canyon state park units.

The best times to see the most eagles are dawn or dusk.

There’s not much parking, so make sure you park safely on the side of the road.

NIAGARA SPRINGS WMA AND STATE PARK

This is a huge area for bird watching with lakes, the Snake River and upland bird habitat.

Over 5,000 ducks and several hundred Canada geese winter along this portion of the Snake River.

Golden eagles, prairie falcons, American kestrels, red-tailed hawks and northern harriers all nest on WMA lands, and osprey and bald eagles are occasionally seen patrolling the Snake River in the winter and spring.

Get there by continuing past the Hagerman exit on I-84 to Exit 157. Go south for about 7 miles.

As you approach the WMA, you’ll come to the rim of the lava rock Snake River Canyon.

After a sharp left turn, the road descends to the canyon bottom and the WMA entrance.

The state park unit is about another mile.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service