Caravans and Cranes at Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge

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For several weeks we’ve been noticing the steady stream of migratory birds passing overhead and stopping in the fields nearby our house. Mostly we’ve seen Canada geese, but the other day to our surprise a sandhill crane stopped right at the edge of the yard. It visited with us for a few hours then flew west toward the Idaho border. This inspired us to do the same, taking a trip to the site of the largest nesting area of sandhill cranes in the world.

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Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge lies just across the Salt River Range from Star Valley, and the drive through Caribou National Forest  follows a spur of the Oregon Trail called the Lander Cut-off. From Star Valley Ranch on Highway 89 we headed west to Freedom, then north for a few blocks to pick up Idaho 34. We passed no other vehicles once we crossed into Idaho, and we spotted some great wildlife like bald eagles and turkey vultures as we headed toward the refuge.

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We were surprised to find the Lake has very little open water; instead, it’s a actually a large shallow marsh with bulrush and cattail as far as the eye can see. We took a right on Grays Lake Road and headed to the Visitor’s Center, which isn’t staffed until summer but still has indoor exhibits during the spring and fall. From there we took the short drive behind the Visitor’s Center up to an overlook that gives a sweeping view of the marsh. Bring binoculars is a must (though there is a free viewing scope for use), and with them we could watch dozens of sandhill cranes feeding in the marshes.

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The other must-see spot for us was along Highway 34 which follows the southern edge of Grays Lake. At Bearvertail Point, open water becomes visible and there is a wide shoulder where we pulled off the road. Here we saw various geese and ducks floating in the water, and the kids liked being a lot closer to the action this time around.

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Five of Hearts kept a detailed list of the birds we could identify on the spot and notes on those we couldn’t, and at the end of the day we were pretty pleased with all that we had seen 🙂

1. Red-winged blackbird
2. Magpie
3. Bald Eagle
4. Canada goose
5. Turkey vulture
6. Goldfinch
7. Mountain bluebird
8. Mallard duck
9. Robin
10. Sandhill crane
11. Red-tailed hawk
12. Snow goose
13. Trumpeter swan
14. House finch
15. Crow
16. Long-billed curlew

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7 thoughts on “Caravans and Cranes at Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge

  1. Pingback: Bonding While Birding: A Family Big Year | Fives on the Fly

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