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Early morning hikes provide beautiful opportunities to photograph shorebirds

Bill Schiess,

Several early morning hikes along with one in the evening stroll into the back ponds of Camas National Wildlife Refuge looking for flocks of shorebird paid off for me this week. Hiking the roads closed to non-official vehicles to Ray’s and Sandhole Lakes provided some breathless experiences for an old man.

As I approached Ray’s Lake early in the week it was covered with Canada geese and a large flock of White pelicans but by the end of the week the water was disappearing fast, leaving large mud flats for the shorebirds. Mixed flocks of sandpipers along with phalaropes and American avocets were busily picking aquatic worms and bugs out of the soft mud in the shallow water.

While hiding in the thick willows I watched a flock of sandpipers fly in to join the scattered avocets, killdeers, yellow-legs and even sparrows chasing and feeding on flying insects. It was not long before I heard the lonely call of a Long-billed curlew and watched as it performed acrobatic maneuvers through the air before landing in front of me.

Bill Schiess,

I don’t know what the relationship is with curlews and the other shorebirds, but the smaller birds gave the curlew a wide berth as it appeared to clean each feather. Often it would raise its long bill straight into the air, holding it aloft for up to 30 seconds. It was very noisy and did not stay long before flying high into the air to join a flock of sandhill cranes circling high overhead.

Several flocks of geese and a few ducks came back to the shallow lake before I decided to make a trek to Sandhole Lake.

On my hike to the new body of water a flock of Gray partridge scared the jeepers out of me when they flushed. They not only scared me, but they flushed a herd of about 30 elk out of the tall veggies around Sandhole Lake. The elk in turn flushed the geese and ducks off the water which dominoed the flushing of avocets and a few Black-necked stilts from the muddy shoreline.

Bill Schiess,

I found a nice hiding place and sat down in an old elk bed of crushed reeds and young willows. It was nice to sit on a matt of soft material without a prickly pear spine finding its way into my backside. The shorebirds and waterfowl returned, digging in the shallow muddy water only a few feet from me.

While enjoying the shows put on by the birds, I heard a bugle of a lone bull elk that came to the water for a needed drink. After he got his drink instead of going back to fight over the cows he decided to look for his favorite bedding spot. I heard him working closer and closer to me and wondered if I was in his bed. Not wanting to share it with him, when he was about 30 feet away I stood up and yelled at him. I got a couple of parting shots of him as he ran away with his antlers mowing the tall weeds as he departed.

Bill Schiess,

As I walked back to the truck I thought of the Friends of Camas hosting their annual “Birds, Bugles and Brunch” this Saturday, September 21, from 8 a.m. until noon at the Camas National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. What a perfect time to hold the activity with the shorebirds showing up, the elk bugling but it was still too early for brunch, but I did have snacks to celebrate my surviving yet another scary but rich experience in the wilds of Idaho.

I hope that I will continue “living the wild life” for a few more years with experiences that make my heart beat a little faster from time to time.

Bill Schiess,


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