The new blind at Market Lake Wildlife Management Area north of Roberts is winning over birdwatchers.
The blind, an area where spectators can conceal themselves and spot birds, went into action on World Migratory Bird Day in May and has seen steady use since.
Built on the west side of Interstate 15 overlooking a pond, the Market Lake blind is a little off the beaten path from the main wildlife management area’s attractions. The 5,000-acre area is managed by Idaho Department of Fish and Game as a stop-off point for migrating and breeding birds, particularly waterfowl.
“I’ve certainly encouraged people to use it,” said Mark Delwiche president of the Snake River Audubon Society of the blind. “I’ve visited it several times as a guest. It’s very nicely done and it’s a great place to look at birds that are using that little pond. It’s really a nice resource.”
Brett Gullett, wildlife biologist with Fish and Game who helps manage Market Lake, said the blind was built after the department obtained the property from Ducks Unlimited.
“That piece of ground, 342 acres, we just acquired in the last couple of years,” he said. “It was purchased with a North American Waterfowl Conservation Act grant. That money was targeted because of the importance of this area for wildlife conservation.”
Gullett said the grant was awarded especially to help trumpeter swans, white-faced ibis and Franklin’s gulls. After the land was purchased, the blind was built with funding from the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Fish and Game.
Besides helping out the birds, the recent land acquisition helps spread visitors out during peak visitation times in spring and fall.
“We get 19,000 visitors a year to the Market Lake Wildlife Management Area and we have two spikes in usage: In the spring where it is mostly bird watching and wildlife photography and of course the fall with the hunters. In the winter when everything is frozen up, it’s really slow,” Gullett said.
Audubon members give the new blind a thumbs up.
“I hope people discover it, it’s really nice,” Delwiche said. “It gets you out of the weather. You have the sun at your back. It can be nice and comfy in there. And the birds all seem to not pay any attention to you when you’re inside there.”
Snake River Audubon board member Carolyn Bishop, who goes birding at least weekly, says the blind is useful for taking wildlife photos. Gullett said it features several windows at different levels, handicap accessibility and will accommodate about 20 adults. “I’m sure we can get a group of 40 fifth-graders in there for a field trip,” he said.
“The blind is great for taking pictures,” Bishop said. “I have a truck that I usually take pictures from, but the blind is nice.”
Both Bishop and Delwiche said now is the time to start looking for shorebirds migrating south before the fall.
“I think it’s the adults we’re seeing right now,” Delwiche said. “I was there last week and saw plovers and sandpipers and a few other wading shorebirds that were on the mudflats up at the marsh.”
Market Lake Wildlife Management Area was established in 1956. It gets its name from its use as an easy place to find food.
“Before it was altered for farming, market hunters would come up here and collect as many ducks and geese as they could and bring them back to Idaho Falls and sell them,” Gullett said. “It was before there were regulations on selling wildlife. This would have been in the 1800s and early 1900s.”
He said now one of his main tasks is battling invasive plants that crowd out useful plants that migratory birds need and alter the wetland system. One such plant is Russian olive trees.
“The first people who homesteaded this place planted Russian olives to have firewood,” he said. “You come out here and you see all these Russian olives everywhere. They are kind of invasive. That adds to the perching of the magpies. That makes it easier for magpies to prey on waterfowl nests. So we are removing those. Plus they use a lot of water. We’d like to have an open grassland and sagebrush system that leads to the wetlands.”