Wildlife & Habitat
Spring at Bear Lake comes late, with some ice still on the refuge marsh through late April. The early migrants such as Canada geese, mallards and northern pintails arrive in early March. From mid-March to early April spring migration peaks as the ice slowly recedes and open water begins to show in the ponds. Ducks including canvasbacks, redheads and lesser scaup are abundant at this time. Sandhill cranes can easily be seen, usually as pairs preparing to nest. Canada geese begin nesting in April, and the peak of their hatch is May 10-15. April and May see the arrival of thousands of Franklin’s gulls and white-faced ibis. Large numbers of herons, egrets, bitterns, terns and grebes establish nesting sites in the marsh. Shorebirds such as the American avocet and black-necked stilt are some of the last to arrive.
During June the early duck broods of mallards and canvasbacks are already hatching out, quickly followed by redheads, ruddy ducks, cinnamon teal, shovelers and gadwalls. As June progresses into July, marsh vegetation increases in height, making it more difficult to see the various bird species. White-faced ibis nest on the refuge in large numbers; watch for their numerous small feeding flocks flying low over the marsh to flooded fields around the valley. Sandhill cranes nest near marsh edges, and crane chicks can be seen if you look carefully. Black and Forster’s terns, as well as Franklin’s gulls are frequently seen overhead feeding on insects and diving for small fish. Grebes (western, Clark’s, pied-billed and eared) are commonly seen in the canals and ponds. Double-crested cormorants, California gulls and white pelicans are also frequently observed within the refuge marsh.
Fall comes early in the high-elevation Bear Lake Valley. September brings hundreds of sandhill cranes that gather on the refuge to feed in refuge grainfields. Young ducks learn to fly by late September. Waterfowl, mostly from Canada, pass through the valley on fall migration from mid-September through mid-November. Freeze-up of refuge marshes is early, usually by mid-November. Most birds leave the valley after freeze-up to avoid the snowy, cold winters–notable exceptions are rough-legged hawks and bald eagles which winter in the area.