Friday, November 26, 2010

Birding at Mud Lake

HAMER – Try this experiment – when you first arrive at either Camas National Wildlife Refuge or the Mud Lake Wildlife Management area nearby, find a safe place to park and cut your engine.

Step outside, close your eyes and just listen. You are surrounded by a richness of wildlife that creates a surround-sound experience you’ll never find in a home theater. Cranes, ducks, geese, hawks, teals, grebes, herons, and literally hundreds of other species populate the wetlands and create a beautiful noise.

Spring is the time to go while the migratory birds use the area as a rest stop on the way elsewhere. You’ll routinely see ducks, geese, cranes and smaller shore birds, but on a good day you might spot a loon, egret or heron.
Over two Saturdays we visited the Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area and the Camas National Wildlife Refuge, tucked in the high desert between Hamer and Mud Lake. In a single ambitious day trip you can visit one refuge in the morning and the other in the evening with a break for lunch in Mud Lake or Terreton.

While Kathleen drove the pickup we both scanned the sky and the ground, camera set at a very high shutter speed. Over there is a harrier hawk with a mouse in its grasp, on its way to feed the kids somewhere in the willows. Up above, a huge flock of trumpeter swans circles the water. Suddenly, two dozen Canadian geese lift off from a smaller lake.
Then, while I’m standing outside the truck, two sandhill cranes come right at us, then veer north. Four clicks with a long lens from close range – two turn out to be keepers.

Mornings and evenings are the best times for wildlife viewing, when the birds and other wildlife are more active and the sun is at a lower angle making for better photography. Both sites include permanent wetlands and dry lakes, but watch carefully for sandhill cranes and other large birds feeding in nearby fields.

The wildlife viewing trail at Camas is perfectly appropriate for any passenger car, but some of the dirt roads around Mud Lake get a little rough and you might want to consider either sticking to the easily accessible viewing area or taking a high-clearance vehicle.

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