Signs of spring popping up in eastern Idaho

Snow geese mass at Market Lake Wildlife Management Area. Snow goose migration is often the first harbinger of spring in eastern Idaho. Terry Thomas / news@postregister.com

Long ago I used to be fooled by March, thinking that spring had arrived.

That may be because I hail from a warmer climate, having grown up in that tropical paradise called Salt Lake City, where crocuses were blooming last weekend. Nowadays, I recognize March for what it is, the end of a winter that will yield, but usually kicking and screaming and not until April’s showers drive it away.

With that said, March still brings the indisputable signs of spring. I saw my first redwing blackbird over a week ago. The snow is almost gone from yards and streets and temperatures have been far more pleasant, hardly dipping below freezing some nights.

Springtime wildlife watching is almost upon us.

Mid-March in eastern Idaho is heralded by the arrival of the snow geese, which are usually found somewhere in the fields west of Idaho Falls and north to Highway 33 and roost on any available open water in flocks of thousands. Market Lake and Mud Lake Wildlife Managements Areas and Camas National Wildlife Refuge at Hamer are places to look for roosting masses of these brilliant white birds.

It seems that the snow goose migration opens the floodgates for other spring migrants. By the first of April waterfowl, sandhill cranes and shorebirds will be filtering in to local waterways in increasing numbers. Look for these species anywhere there is standing water, including in fields flooded with runoff.

Birders tell me that songbird migration typically peaks on Memorial Day weekend. However, migration is a process, not a point in time, and begins soon. The more often you are out and about with your binoculars, the more likely you are to log a lot of species and even some rare sightings. Along with songbirds, look for burrowing owls and other raptors.

Sage-grouse breeding and the associated dancing on areas known as leks, also begins in mid-March. This is an early morning adventure and may require some travel, but it is worth the effort. It’s a bucket-list event, and one you will want to repeat each year. Probably the easiest place to see sage grouse is along the Red Road north of the St. Anthony Sand Dunes. After April 30, you can explore other roads in the area but sage-grouse breeding will be winding down by then.

Sharp-tailed grouse will also begin breeding displays by the first week of April. They may be harder to find, so try to go with someone who knows the location of a lek. Before the Henry’s Creek Fire, there were many leks east of Idaho Falls. It will be interesting to see if the fire changed things.

Spring comes a little more slowly to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. In Grand Teton, the inner loop, Moose-Wilson and Signal Mountain roads all open to motorized travel April 30. Antelope Flat road may open earlier, depending on snow conditions. In Yellowstone, over-snow travel is closed for the season. During the next month and a half park service personnel will be busy clearing roads for the summer traffic. I have posted the opening dates of the individual roads on my website, nature-track.com.

The secret to enjoying early spring is not to waste a single day of it. Each time you go out, new experiences await and no two will likely be the same.

Terry Thomas is a wildlife biologist and naturalist with 30 years of experience. “The Best of Nature,” a collection of more than 100 of Thomas’s best nature essays is now available. Pick up your copy at the Post Register or order one through his website, nature-track.com


Terry Thomas is a wildlife biologist and naturalist with 30 years of experience. “The Best of Nature,” a collection of more than 100 of Thomas’s best nature essays is now available. Pick up your copy at the Post Register or order one through his website, nature-track.com