Saturday, March 6, 2010

photoblogging: Snake River

Ellie and I visited the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area near Kuna, Idaho—600,000 acres of mostly BLM land encompassing the Snake River gorge and surrounding plateau. This is high-desert country dominated by winterfat, sagebrush, and sparse grasses (along with, unfortunately, introduced Russian thistle or "tumbleweed", Salsola spp.) and supports a large population of Townsend's ground squirrels and black-tailed jackrabbits, which in turn support large numbers of raptors as well as a notable concentration of badgers.

View from the canyon rim.

The first step's a doozy.

Ellie, also shooting scenery.

Were I a serious photographer, I could have spent the better part of the day shooting this one sculpted volcanic rock.

The view downstream.

I managed not to get any usable hawk photographs, but we did see red-tailed hawks, ferruginous hawks, golden eagles, American kestrels, and of course several prairie falcons. The largest concentration of nesting prairie falcons is here in the Snake River NCA. (The largest wintering population, incidentally, is in the northern Sandhills around Valentine, Nebraska.) Prairies dine almost exclusively on ground squirrels when they are available, switching to horned larks and other birds at other times of the year. Other notable sightings included a number of ravens and Say's phoebes. And I feel obliged to take note of a population of what, in other circumstances, I would simply call pigeons; in this place, living on cliffs and surrounded by such deadly neighbors, I will accord them their formal name of rock doves.

Here, on or just outside the NCA, is a ferruginous hawk nest: bulkier than a redtail nest, in a mere twig of a tree that redtails would never use. This nest is conveniently located in the middle of a large prairie-dog town—"close to shopping", as a real-estate agent might say.

This is Mecca, a pilgrimage that every falconer should make at least once in his or her lifetime. I hope to make it back before too long.

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