Refuge Notes Archive

January 28, 2019

I am writing this just after the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.  We are finally back at our posts and trying to catch up with the work that we left behind.  The Refuge roads have now been plowed of snow but still could be icy so we are asking visitors to use caution when driving on the auto tour route.

Bald eagles are using the typical roost areas on the Refuge since late December.  We have not been conducting our usual weekly counts, but will start this week.  We will try and post updates on the Southeast Idaho Refuge Complex Facebook page as we are getting numbers for those whom are interested.  As for other birds Great horned owls are getting active and rough-legged hawks have been abundant in the area.

The water outlook is certainly lagging behind what we would like to see this time of year.  Current information from the Crab Creek snotel site is 5.5 inches of water equivalent, 28 inches of snow depth and that puts it 90% of average.  We are slightly behind what I would like to see but very comparable to last year at this time.  The biggest difference so far with last year that we have a good amount of snow on the Refuge while last year we hardly had any.

In terms of wildlife viewing at the Refuge, fair numbers of elk and white-tailed deer using the Refuge with the deer visible from the auto-tour route and the elk usually visible from the frontage road or Interstate.   Also, a young moose with a noticeable limp has also been hanging around the southern end of the auto tour route since the end of December.

November 14, 2018

As of last week, we still had well over 100 Sandhill Crane, 30 to 50 Trumpeter swans, and of course Canada geese using the open water available on Sandhole Lake.  The cold nights (single digit temperatures) has been closing the only open water available.  Sandhole Lake is now more than 90% ice locked and is the only wetland with any water in it at this time.

We have seen evidence of rutting activity by white-tailed deer on the Refuge.  Deer numbers are not high and they seem to be scattered across the Refuge and we are not seeing them consistently in any one location.  There are some bigger bucks out and about so there is a chance to see them any time of day this time of year.  A couple of moose have been using the Refuge from time to time, so if your timing is right a sighting is possible.

Recent weather patterns have kept us dry for the most part.  The scattered rain showers that were rolling through SE Idaho recently for the most part missed the Refuge.  Some snow hitting the mountains in the Camas Creek watershed, but 3 inches currently at the Crab Creek snotel site.  Hopefully much more to come.

We have not notices any bald eagles using the headquarters trees yet this season, but with the recent cold weather, they should be coming to roost soon.  Will post updates on our web page and the Southeast Idaho Refuge Complex Facebook page when we start counting eagles in the roost trees.

October 16, 2018

Fall is starting to set in quickly this year and with the recent overnight temperatures in the teens starting to see the effects.  All the surrounding mountains are white with snow which is always a welcome sign as it may mean runoff next spring.  On the Refuge itself, it had been a dry summer but recently have received some rain but could use more.  We are still running a couple of wells and holding some water in Big, Redhead and Center Ponds.  We will likely stop all pumping in the next couple of weeks.

Waterfowl still migrating through the area with a variety of ducks, (mostly dabbling still at this point) geese, and still good numbers of Sandhill cranes utilizing the shallow water in our wetlands.  It would appear most of the songbird migration has moved well to the south of us, on the warmer climates.  Still hawks and owls in the area, with red-tailed hawks by far the most frequent sightings.

White-tailed have been more active and visible around Refuge headquarters as of late.  Their breeding activity should come into full swing in the next month or so.  Deer numbers appear to up from recent years.  Elk numbers remain about the same and still provide viewing opportunities. 

Refuge staff is completing some work before freeze up.  18 black cottonwood trees were planted to start replacing some of our shelterbelt habitat.  We plan on getting some native grass seed in the ground this week, and we will also be doing some work on the south end to the auto tour route.

Brian Wehausen, Refuge Manager

June 21, 2018

After an early start to flows in Camas Creek, I find it amazing that we are still receiving water into the Refuge to date.  Spring rains have kept the ground moist enough to allow runoff and that has been fantastic.  All major Refuge wetlands still have water in them and are looking good.

It is that time of the year when new life is all around.  Many of our nesting bird species can be found with newly hatched broods.  A drive around the marsh will allow you to see many of these sites.  The Canada geese may already look half grown by now, but most to the ducks and grebes are recent additions.

In addition, deer fawns and elk calves are also new to the area this time of year, so pay attention when you see an adult female as there is a good chance a young one is close by.

The Friends of Camas continue to improve upon the pollinator garden around the office and there are plenty of colorful plants providing a nice view.  When you visit the Refuge stop by and check it out and look for butterflies, especially in the afternoon.  There are also some bird feeders in the garden and they are being frequented by mourning doves, black-headed grosbeaks, goldfinches, lazuli buntings and some magpies.

Camas Refuge is also hosting the Xerces Society event about Monarch butterflies on Saturday, June 30.  The workshop is family orientated and wants to promote citizen science.  If you would like to know more feel free to call the Refuge Office at (208) 662-5423.

Plenty of wildlife to see at the Refuge and a nice weather morning is a perfect time to make the trip.  All the rain and water has produced plenty of hungry insects like mosquitoes so be prepared with bug spray if you need it.

Brian Wehausen, Refuge Manager

May 17, 2018

The water situation this spring has been fantastic for the Refuge and currently most of our wetlands have some level of water in them.  The wetlands around the auto-tour route are full to capacity or close to it.  With this amount of habitat, the birds we have are pretty spread out with lots of elbow room.

The flows in Camas Creek will start slowing down as much of the snow has come out of the mountains.  The Crab Creek Snotel site is now at zero for snow and water equivalent.  Spring rains are helping out and future storms could keep the creek moving if they are significant enough.

Most of the waterfowl that you are seeing are going to stay here and nest on the Refuge.  Recently we have been seeing goose broods showing up on various ponds.  In the next few weeks we should also see broods from early nesting waterfowl and sandhill cranes.  Songbird migration seems to be making a push and birding in the tree belts really should be getting interesting over the next two weeks.

If you like to see the Refuge with lots of water, now is a good time to come and see the landscape.  Lots of wildlife are using the habitat around the auto-tour route.  Looks for hawks and owls especially around the wetlands.  With the creek starting to slow down, our wetland levels will begin to back down depending on weather conditions, so come now!

April 9, 2018

The weather in March has certainly provided Camas NWR with some nice water to work with this year. The rains created some strong pushes of water through the Camas Creek channel and the Refuge has been able to fill wetlands with Creek water. At this time, Big Pond, Redhead Pond, Center Pond and Toomey Pond all have significant water. Rays Lake also has seen a large amount of water for this time and is holding quite a few birds. Still plenty of snow in the high country, so Camas should have a good water year.

Recent sightings of waterbird species include: trumpeter and tundra swans, Canada geese, snow geese, mallards, northern pintails, gadwall, American wigeon, Northern shoveler, Green-winged teal, Cinnamon teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Lesser scaup, Ring-necked ducks, Bufflehead, Rudy duck, Common merganser, Red-breasted merganser, Eared grebe, American coot, Sandhill Cranes, Great-blue heron, Ring-billed gull, killdeer, American white pelican, American avocet and Black-necked stilt.

Raptors in the area include: Bald eagle, short-eared owl, Great-horned owl, Red-tailed hawk, Swansion hawk, Peregrine falcon, Amercian kestrel, Northern harrier, and burrowing owl.

Likely more species in the area if you take the time to look for them. Refuge staff will be busy moving water onto various areas of the landscape by checking and maintaining the water control structures.

March 20, 2018

As I write this today is the first official day of spring.  Even though the temperature does not feel a lot like spring, signs of what is to come are definitely showing up.  The early spring migrants to our areas are making themselves known as we have been seeing Sandhill cranes, snow geese, Canada geese, mallards, northern pintails, short-eared owls, robins and more.  The best of spring migration is still to come, but if you are looking for snow geese now is the time to be out looking because they are surely arriving.  Peak numbers should be in the next week or so.

The Bald eagles have pretty much left the roost trees and the red-tailed hawks have now claimed the shelterbelt for their nesting territory.

Intermittent flows from Camas Creek began reaching Camas NWR on March 15th.  Beaver Creek also began flowing through the town of Dubois on March 14th.  However, with the cold night temperatures we will not see steady flows until temperatures warm up a bit.  The Refuge will begin adding water to its ponds today and will utilize wells to start and switch to Camas Creek water as soon as it becomes available on a consistent basis.

In the last couple of weeks our water year has started to look better.  Some nice storms have provided moisture not only in the mountains but also on the plain.  As of March 20th the Crab Creek Snotel site is reporting 46 inches of snow depth with 11.3 inches of water equivalent. If you will remember last month on this date Crab Creek Snotel was only reporting 5.6 inches of water equivalent.  The last month has been good to us and more moisture is forecasted, so we hope it will continue.

It is that time of the year where interesting things can happen every day if you are out and about to see them.  Great time to visit Camas NWR and experience the spring migration as it will be kicking into high gear shortly.

February 20, 2018

The number of Bald Eagles using the roost tree at the headquarters site has been down from previous years, likely due to the very nice and open winter. Our weekly counts have been running between 15 and 20 eagles but also 10 to 15 Rough-legged hawks using the trees as well. This cold snap could potentially increase numbers this week.

The Refuge continues to have no snow and really has not had any all winter. Road conditions are dry and travel around the Refuge has been good.

The water outlook is certainly lagging behind what we would like to see this time of year. Current information from the Crab Creek snotel site is 5.6 inches of water equivalent and that puts it 70% of average. Last year at this time there was 7.4 inches of water equivalent for 120% of average. Having little precipitation on the desert this year will really hurt our water supply if we do not get more moisture in the mountains within the next month or so.

In terms of wildlife viewing at the Refuge, coyotes have been extremely active lately and can be heard and seen even during daylight hours. Fair numbers of elk and white-tailed deer are using the Refuge with the deer visible from the auto-tour route and the elk usually visible from the frontage road or Interstate. As far as birds go, there are good numbers of rough-legged hawks, occasional sighting of a prairie falcon and red-winged blackbirds already showing up. Also, Trumpeter swans are still in the area, mostly seen in the local farm fields feeding and every so often with see them on Sandhole Lake.