We had hoped to be thankful for snow this holiday season, but the weather just didn't cooperate. The only candidate ski location that we considered that had any snow at all was West Yellowstone. There they have marginal conditions high on the plateau. With thousands of cross country skiers from around the country, its a crowded space. We instead chose a different plan focused on what we do still have in Idaho, wildlife.
The trip started as we headed down to Karyn's parents house in Twin Falls Idaho for Thanksgiving Day lunch. We took the old highway through the Hagerman valley in the hopes of sighting a recent rare bird for Idaho, the Whooper Swan. We didn't have much time, but we thought we would give it a chance. We were rewarded with a great view just off the road. The swan on the right is the Whooper. This is a new life bird for me. The Idaho bird experts originally thought it could be a captive bird that got away, but the growing consensus in the Idaho birding community is that it is indeed a native bird, a rare vagrant. This bird is free flying, many captive birds have their wings clipped. Of course, there is no way to know for sure.
After the family lunch, Karyn and I headed north of Ketchum Idaho to search for the Phantom Hill wolf pack. No luck. Due to the lack of snow and recent hunting season, the elk and the wolves are likely still roaming high in the mountains. We returned to the land of the pretty people (Sun Valley Idaho) for a Thanksgiving dinner buffet. The food was great and the people watching even greater. Preferring natural species over the painted ones, we headed back into the hills to camp for the night.
We were up early in the morning to search again for the Phantom Hill wolf pack. Still no luck. Heading up over Galena Pass toward Stanley Idaho we did find the first canid for the day, this cross phase Red Fox.
There is at least some snow on this North facing slope above 8500 feet. Crossing Galena pass at 9000 feet above sea level, you can see just how little snow there is. The valley below should be buried this time of year. This valley sits at over 7500 feet. It was beautiful to see the fog sitting down in the valley while it was clear above.
The fog in Stanley eventually cleared. We watched a Beaver in Valley Creek before finding the second canid of the day, a beautiful coyote. Its interesting to note the behavioral differences between coyotes here and in Yellowstone. In Yellowstone coyotes are not very afraid of people. Most likely as they have never been shot at. Here in Idaho, where people shoot at anything that moves, the coyote is very wary of anything human. We were nearly a mile away and this coyote was still running from us for the cover of the trees.
We had hoped for a 3 dog day by catching sight of the Basin Butte wolf pack, but we struck out here as well.
Between Banks Idaho and Horseshoe Bend Idaho we were on the look out for Bald Eagles. This time of year they are often sighted along this stretch of river. Sometimes you can see 5 or more in a 20 mile stretch of river. Karyn spotted this adult on a carcass in the river. We pulled as far off the road as possible and bailed out to get the photos. We watched this adult feed for 5 or 10 minutes before flying off.
30 seconds after the adult left this juvenile, probably a second year, arrived to take over the feeding.
While we failed on our quest for wolves and a 3-dog day, we had a great time with some great sights. I write a lot on this blog about the anti-wildlife stance of our state and local officials, but Idaho is still a great place to see wildlife. I am thankful for that.