Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ernie the Elk Roams Again?

Blog readers from the Treasure Valley probably know the story of "Ernie the Elk," a large bull elk that--for reasons known only to him--decided to live among a herd of cattle along the Boise Greenbelt.

Ernie became a popular attraction along the Greenbelt. For two years, he lived among the cattle.

Last fall, he returned to the foothills, where a hunter allegedly shot him. This set off a fury of letters and controversy in the Idaho Statesman.

Tonight, as I jogged along the Greenbelt, I thought I saw a ghost. A very large bull elk suddenly bolted into cover as I ran.

Has Ernie returned? Has another bull elk taken his place? Was this just a random elk passing through?

Of course, we'll never know for sure. Perhaps more important than the individual elk, though, is the fact that we live in a state where such wildlife sightings are still possible.

Running along the Greenbelt in Idaho's largest city, I've seen river otters and beavers and long-tailed weasels and mule deer. Herds of pronghorn and elk roam the foothills.

Farther afield, there are bighorns and grizzlies, even caribou.

You never know what you might see when you go out for a hike or jog.

It's one of the important reasons why we live here. But as more people call Idaho home, we have to find a way to conserve wildlife habitat, so that future generations can still marvel at bull elk on their jogs.

As for "Ernie"? I won't reveal exactly where I saw him, for reasons that should be obvious. But if you're along the Greenbelt this weekend, look carefully. There's a bull elk out there. --Matt Miller

Monday, June 28, 2010

Back Underground

Take a walk during the spring or early summer in many parts of southern Idaho and you'll see ground squirrels scurrying around.

And then, around this time of year, they disappear.

Where do ground squirrels go?
Much is made of Punxsutawney Phil's emergence each year; the groundhog's emergence from a den is viewed as a sign of spring. But, in warm areas (like southern Idaho), ground-dwelling rodents return to their dormancy--not when it gets too cold, but when it gets too hot.
Hibernation and torpor are ways of conserving energy. Finding food and staying warm in the winter requires a lot of calories: more than most ground-dwelling squirrels can muster.
Staying cool also takes a lot of energy.
For several species of Idaho ground squirrels, that means they are above ground for very short periods of time.
For instance, take the Columbia ground squirrels so common around Silver Creek. They emerge in mid- to late-April. And then, in early July, they return to their burrows for a very long dormancy. Sometimes they reemerge for a short period in the autumn. Other times they don't re-emerge until April.
It boggles our human notions of time to imagine a species that is dormant for 8 or more months each year of its life.
Yellow-bellied marmots in the cool Idaho Rockies will remain active through the fall. In southern Idaho, many go into dormancy beginning in July.
Idaho is home to 19 species of the squirrel family--9 ground squirrels, 5 chipmunks, 2 marmots, 2 native tree squirrels and 1 non-native squirrel. One of them, the aptly named Idaho ground squirrel, is only found in this state. To most, a "ground squirrel is a ground squirrel," but they can be fascinating animals to observe.
In fact, this spring I hosted two mammal watchers who traveled to Idaho (one from France) specifically to see different species of ground squirrels. Mammal watching may not be as popular as birding, but its enthusiasts are just as as passionate.
Take some time to check out the ground squirrels. But go now, because many will soon be back underground, hibernating for another eight months.
Photos: (Top to bottom) Columbia ground squirrel, Silver Creek; Idaho ground squirrel, Emmett; Piute ground squirrel, Snake River Birds of Prey area. Photos are by my friend Jon Hall, who has seen more wild mammals around the world than anyone. See his web site Mammal Watching for trip reports and stories from wildlife travels around the globe.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Flight of the Nighthawk

Peent, peent: It's summer, and the nighthawks fly overhead.

During the day, the common nighthawk blends in on the ground or tree branches where it rests. Come evening, these interesting birds put on one of the best aerial displays around.

For some reason, I think they look a bit like boomerangs as they glide over rivers, ponds, city parks and even downtowns.

As they fly, they gobble up mosquitoes, caddis flies and other insects.

Common nighthawks spend the summer in Idaho before migrating to South America for the winter. They are common and adaptable birds, but even they depend on a wide range of protected habitat on a migration stretching over two continents.

At dusk, they're quite easy to spot overhead, and even easier to hear. Their nasal peent carries well. (Listen).

We've all experienced those sounds or songs that transport us back to another time in our lives. For me, every time I hear the call of the nighthawk, I travel back to Penn State, where I worked for several years as a writer and editor at the performing arts center.

It's a muggy Pennsylvania summer evening: I'm tired after a day of deadlines and copy editing. Something stops me as I walk across the now quiet and deserted campus. There: overhead, nighthawks circle around Old Main, catching moths and other insects drawn to the lights.

Those pressing deadlines and publications and edits will wait, and in the last evening light there are only those birds, and their calls. Peent, peent. -- Matt Miller

Photo by Gavin Keefe Schaefer under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Recalling his first fishing trip to Silver Creek, Jack Hemingway wrote "I suspected there was something going on that I simply didn't understand"--a sentiment familiar to many anglers.

Spring creeks like Silver Creek are complex ecosystems. Even a careful observer can only hope to catch an incomplete glimpse of what's really happening.
That's why monitoring and research are such an important part of the Silver Creek conservation program. Spring creeks are not well studied. But at Silver Creek, a substantial monitoring program supplies biologists with a more complete picture.
From birds to vegetation, from water temperatures to flow rates, monitoring programs regularly assess the state of the creek.Beginning in 1997, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has monitored fish populations in Silver Creek every three years.

This year, USGS biologists, with assistance from the Idaho Department of Fish & Game and Conservancy interns and volunteers, are electro-shocking sections of the creek to conduct their survey. Electro-shocking sends an electric current through the water which stuns any nearby fish. Volunteers net the fish, which are then delivered to live wells.

Fish species are recorded, and each fish is then weighed and measured, before being carefully released back to the stream. Anglers and conservationists are always very interested to know the ratio of rainbow trout to brown trout. There has been some evidence that brown trout, a Eurasian species, have slowly been taking over as the dominant species.

During Monday's electro-shocking, biologists were surprised at the large number of healthy rainbow trout. But it's far too early to guess what the monitoring studies will find.Trout aren't the only focus of this study; biologists also record the presence of dace, sculpin and the other small fish species that often escape notice. USGS biologists are also recording large invertebrates as part of the monitoring survey.

These smaller species are an integral part of the Silver Creek ecosystem--and serve as indicators as far as water quality and the overall health of the creek.

The electro-shocking will continue through July. In early autumn, the Conservancy will receive the results of this year's monitoring. We'll post the information here, so check back for the most current information on Silver Creek's fish.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Camas Bloom

Nature Conservancy volunteer Ken Miracle sent these photos from his recent outing to the Camas Prairie and Centennial Marsh, located along Highway 20 near Fairfield.
The camas are in full bloom now, cloaking wet meadows in light blue. These beautiful meadows were also appreciated by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804; Meriwether Lewis described said one such meadow “resembles lakes of fine clear water.”

But the camas was more than a pretty flower for Lewis and Clark. They learned from American Indian tribes why camas bulbs were an important staple.

The bulbs were roasted in earthen ovens, and dried into cakes that could be eaten throughout the winter. Some tribes even cultivated camas. You can still ocassionally sample camas today, often at events like Camas Lily Days in Fairfield. A great place to check out the camas bloom is the Centennial Marsh, an area The Nature Conservancy helped protect that is today a wildlife management area owned by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
The Centennial Marsh is also a fantastic place for birding, especially during moist years. The marsh and surrounding areas contain large numbers of nesting waterfowl, shorebirds, sandhill cranes and raptors.

Ken Miracle photographed the avocet (above) and northern shoveler (below) last weekend.
The flowers are peaking, so check out the Camas Prairie this weekend for a "birds and blooms" outing.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Silver Creek Fishing Report, June 14

Submitted by Dayna Gross, Silver Creek Preserve manager

This spring weather has really given us a run for our money at Silver Creek. The usual pale morning dun (PMD) hatches are happening--- but throughout the day and seemingly at random. I saw an enormous PMD hatch (size 16-18) on upper Silver Creek (upstream of the visitor center) around five o’clock last night.

Other reports have the hatch happening around 10:30 or 11:00 am.

Baetis (size 20-22) appear throughout the day.

The word at the visitor center is that the brown drakes started last night. There was a thick hatch at the Picabo bridge about 10:30 p.m. and there were a few sparse flies near point of rocks.

I met up with the US Geologic Survey today, who just happened to be doing macroinvertebrate surveys at the the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's willows access and they said the creek was loaded with brown drakes.

I suppose that may be considered inside information, but when it comes to the brown drakes—take what you can get. Tonight may be the night!!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Waiting for Brown Drake, 2010

The brown drake hatch on Silver Creek is simply spectacular: It's the one time of the year when the fishing does not require micro-thin leaders, tiny flies and perfect casting. It's a great natural spectacle, with the large mayflies bringing so many trout to the surface it looks as if the water is boiling.

But the hatch is also notoriously hard to predict.

The past two years, I found myself at Silver Creek during the first week of June. Both times, I held high hopes of once again experiencing the brown drake hatch. And both years, I missed it.

As of today, the drakes haven't started yet. Maybe tonight? Or next week? It wouldn't hurt to check. Admittedly, you're likely to spend your evening not fishing, but waiting for brown drake. Still, there are worse ways to spend an evening.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Conservation Easement Protects Grizzly Habitat, Rural Economy

The above photo of grizzly bears was taken by Idaho Department of Fish and Game via a "camera trap," just south of the Canada border.

This photo was taken on a property, Boundary Creek, owned by Forest Capital Partners, a private forest management company. Bears and other wildlife use this property to move from the Selkirk to the Cabinet-Yaak mountains.

The Nature Conservancy very excited to announce that this property will be protected--for bears and for the rural community--by a conservation easement. The forest will continue to be logged, with conservation measures in place to ensure the bears are not disturbed when they're in the area.

This property is a spectacular place, a place where the wild things still roam, and where the rural economy is still sustained by the forest. This conservation easement ensures it stays that way.

Learn more about the conservation easement.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

June 2, 2010: Silver Creek Fishing Report

New this year, Idaho Nature Notes will feature regular Silver Creek fishing reports by our preserve manager Dayna Gross. Check our blog before heading out on your next trip.

This is opening week at Silver Creek Preserve!

We have had some spring weather which makes fishing challenging because of the wind, rain, overcast skies, and generally poor visibility.

It has been quite cold, but many spring hatches happen with warming temperatures throughout the day. This week we have seen a light pale morning dun hatch around 10:30 a.m. or later (size 14 and 18), when it starts to warm up.

With overcast skies, you can count on baetis, also known as blue-winged olives (size 22 or so) throughout the day. There is a super small tan midge all day long and pheasant tail nymphs are also bringing in fish.

Stories of large rainbows and browns caught on woolly buggers (brown and black) are making their way upstream from the Purdy’s RR Ranch. On the preserve, woolly buggers are also sure to generate some action and are a good back up if it appears there is no hatch activity.

Angler traffic has been steady on the preserve but quiets down around 4 pm. Word is out that brown drakes will be coming in 2-5 days…! But you know how that goes...

--Dayna Gross

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


There may have still been a chill in the air on Saturday, but at Silver Creek, it was still a nice day for fishing, and an even nicer day for a barbecue.

A large crowd hung around the visitor center, enjoying hot dogs and hamburgers, telling fish stories and learning a bit more about the Silver Creek enhancement plan. After the quiet spring days, it's always nice to have so many friendly faces back on the preserve.

Did you miss the opening day barbecue? Don't worry: There's still plenty of opportunity to have fun at Silver Creek this summer.

Free natural history walks are offered every Saturday, all summer long, from 9:30-11:00.

The visitor center is open daily from 8:30- 1:30 through October 31. Stop by and say hi!

We always welcome volunteers, for the day or week or hour. Please call 208-788-7910 for the latest opportunities. This year we especially need volunteers in June for fish monitoring.
To keep informed of the latest happenings on the preserve, become a Friend of Silver Creek by donating to our conservaiton work. You'll receive an annual sticker, patch, and a deal on a special “Friends” hat. We will host a thank-you fall barbeque for all Friends -- stay tuned for the date. Donate today.