Thursday, June 20, 2013

Swan Falls Dam

Towards the end of March we made a trip out to Swan Falls Dam. Swan Falls was one of our favorite places before we started birding, and was actually one of the places that helped us get interested in birds. Swan Falls is part of the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (kind of a mouthful, we usually just call it the Birds of Prey area) which is famous for having the highest density of nesting Prairie Falcons in the world. There are as many as 700 breeding pairs of raptors from 15 different species nesting in the area each year, and 9 other species of raptors use the area as hunting grounds in the winter. We couldn’t visit the area without being impressed by all the raptors, and as we tried to learn more about them our fascination grew and extended to other types of birds, eventually turning into our full-time obsession.

Swan Falls Pano

Swan Falls Dam on the Snake River, Ada and Owyhee county border. March 24, 2013.

When we visit Swan Falls there are a few key places we usually check. The first is a pullout along the way with a short walk to Dedication Point (point A in the map below). This is a scenic viewpoint on the cliff edge that provides fantastic views up and down the canyon. Burrowing Owls are occasionally seen in the area, and its probably the best place to look for White-throated Swifts during the right time of the year. Any of the raptors that nest in the area can be viewed from this lookout.

Next is the overlook at the dam (point B in the map below). I don’t know if there’s a specific name for this overlook, but it’s a wide pullout right as the road turns to descend the canyon. The big specialty here is a Sage Sparrow that has bred in the area for a number of years. Afterwards we head down to Swan Falls Park (point C in the map below). The river above the dam is mostly current free, and usually has a good mix of waterfowl. The trees in the park are good to check for variety of songbirds, flycatchers, woodpeckers, and more, depending on the time of year.

Last we usually follow the river downstream until the road ends (point D in the map below). There’s a pretty good riparian corridor that’s good for Bushtits in the early spring. There are quite a few camp sites along the river, and several more mature tree stands that are good to check.

Swan Falls Map 2

Map of the Swan Falls Dam area. (A) is Dedication Point. (B) is Swan Falls Overlook. (C) is Swan Falls Park and Dam. (D) is the camping areas and riparian corridor downstream from the dam.

On this trip there were some interesting waterfowl upstream from the dam, and in the park area on the north side of the river. In the park there was a lone Snow Goose. Most Snow Geese had finished moving through the area, but every year there are a few stragglers that show up in odd places.


Snow Goose at Swan Falls Park, Ada county. March 24, 2013.

Across the dam we found an Eared Grebe swimming around near the bank of the river. This guy was right on time for arrival in Ada county. According to eBird they typically show up in the last week of March.

EAGR bar chart

eBird bar chart for Eared Grebe in Ada county.


Eared Grebe at Swan Falls Dam, Ada county. March 24, 2013.

We also saw a Clark’s Grebe swimming upstream from the dam. This guy was a bit on the early side. They typically arrive in Ada county about two weeks later in the year.

CLGR bar chart

eBird bar chart for Clark’s Grebe in Ada county.


Clark’s Grebe at Swan Falls Dam, Ada county. March 24, 2013.

Other waterfowl included a lot of the regulars, such as Canada Goose, American Wigeon, Mallard, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, and Pied-billed Grebe.

From the dam area we headed downstream. We saw a good number of Prairie Falcons, our first of season Osprey, Turkey Vultures, several Northern Harriers, and a Red-tailed Hawk.

Swan Falls below dam

Swan Falls downstream from Swan Falls dam, Ada county. March 24, 2013.


Prairie Falcon downstream from Swan Falls dam, Ada county. March 24, 2013.

Swan Falls below dam 2

Beautiful scenery downstream from Swan Falls dam, Ada county. March 24, 2013.


Northern Harrier downstream from Swan Falls dam, Ada county. March 24, 2013.

On the way out to the dam we spotted a large flock of gulls hanging out at a farm pond. Mostly Ring-billeds, with a couple Californias mixed in. Even though they were “just” Ring-billeds, it’s still fun to see the sky full of birds.


Ring-billed Gulls south of Boise, Ada county. March 24, 2013.

On the way home we drove under a major flyby of migrating ducks. The sun was setting so it was a little difficult to see well enough to ID all of them, but based on the calls we heard the largest numbers were Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, American Wigeons, and Mallards.

Duck flyover 1

Massive duck flyover south of Boise, Ada county. March 24, 2013.

Wave after wave after wave just kept coming in a long string that stretched as far as we could see. There must have been tens of thousands of ducks passing by in the 30 minutes we watched them passing overhead.

Duck flyover south of Boise, Ada county. March 24, 2013.

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