In the Air Over the Snake River Birds of Prey NCA
“Let me know if you want to get a closer look of any of those” the pilot chattered over the headphones. I thanked him and let him know I would if I needed to, but with my camera clicking away at the beautiful canyon formations below me, I felt like any lower in altitude would be almost intruding on the others who flew these currents high above the Snake River.
Twenty minutes out of the Caldwell airport, my pilot had flown me south along the Snake River, upstream from the irrigated agriculture and exurban subdivisions of this southwest corner of Idaho. The transition from human habitation to one more primitive, more suitable for birds of prey was sublime. While the exact lines of the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area were certainly indistinguishable from the air, with an image of the various maps I’ve studied of this place over the years, I could sense we were now in the airspace frequented by the NCA’s many ferruginous hawks, prairie falcons, golden eagles, and other raptors.
On a previous trip to the NCA, our party had hiked out to a vista point upstream of Swan Falls dam, and glassed nest after nest on the far canyon wall- spying the homes of golden eagles and other birds that make their homes high above the Snake River- an ideal launching point for the hunting grounds of the NCA’s steppes next door famous for their robust populations of Townsend’s ground squirrels.
The evening before my flight featured a visit to a meeting of the Snake River Raptor Volunteers. The NCA’s friends group, “SRRV” has been active replanting the NCA with native forbs and shrubs to restore habitat for the raptor prey base, and serving as the advocate for this important area of the National Conservation Lands. In 2014, they hope to expand their efforts, and are actively seeking volunteers to help them amplify their work on the NCA.
With the glare of the morning sun reflecting off the river below, we headed back north toward the airport. Switching from my camera to my smart phone to capture a few frames I could send out over the internet upon landing, it struck me how lucky I was to experience this landscape in a manner as close to that of a raptor as I could ever hope.
Please enjoy these photos from my flight last week. I hope you’ll take the time to learn more about this important part of the National Conservation Lands. Thanks go to LightHawk for the aerial support and to the Idaho Conservation League for logistics assistance.