Wildlife Viewing in Early Spring
by Dennis Weaver
It's Time to View Wildlife in the West
In early spring, the snows are drifted deep in the high country forcing the deer and elk to the foothills. You'll find them congregated on the south and west-facing hills exposed against the snow or bare slopes. Often, you will see them by the hundreds.
This time of year, you'll also find smaller mammals and birds. You'll see eagles roosting in stark trees, sage grouse and Hungarian partridge scurrying though the sage or on the edge of fields, and pheasants hunkering in cattail marshes. In the northern states, there is still ice on the ponds, but once the ice leaves the marshes, ducks and geese will stage by thousands waiting for the Canadian and Arctic prairies to open.
In Eastern Idaho, there are great places to drive and see wildlife this time of year. In mid-February, we traveled to Salt Lake City from Idaho Falls and saw hundreds of deer along the road. They are congregated along I-15 in two areas: the Portneuf Canyon just south of Pocatello, Idaho, and for a 10-mile stretch just north of the Utah-Idaho border. In both locations, there are some secondary roads where you can meander and watch for animals. Stop at one of the tiny towns in the area like Malad City or McCammon and ask one of the locals for suggested drives.
In the Idaho Falls area, visit the hills above Heise and then continue up the secondary road into the canyon of the south fork of the Snake River. In the morning and evening you will see hundreds of mule deer and an occasional whitetail. We drove up the unpaved canyon road the other evening and saw lots of deer, an occasional bunny scurrying through the sage, and ducks, geese, and swans along the river. You're your camera handy; the lava bluffs and cliffs in the canyon are striking. Bring your binoculars. You may see deer within 30 yards of road, but most will be 100 to 200 yards away. Please stay on the road. Hiking around deer will spook them, and they will use needed energy fleeing from you. In many areas, including this one, the Department of Fish and Game has forbidden off-road trespass to protect the animals.
In early February, we drove from St. Anthony on Highway 20 -- the highway that goes from Idaho Falls to West Yellowstone -- west to the little town of Hamer on I-15 and Camas National Wildlife Refuge. In an afternoon's drive, we counted 16 moose and nearly two dozen eagles, and we saw hundreds of elk and antelope. In the wildlife refuge, we saw pheasants, Hungarian partridges, porcupines, a lone coyote, and well over 100 whitetails.