This summer, I was chosen by the Bureau of Land Management as the 2019 Artist-in-Residence for the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (NCA).
The NCA contains the largest concentration of nesting raptors in North America, and one of the largest concentrations of nesting prairie falcons in the world. It also boasts the highest recorded density of ground squirrels, which is why so many raptors nest there.
For the residency, I wrote poetry about the sagebrush steppe ecosystem along the Snake River and the birds of prey that live there.
I also provided a writing workshop and gave a poetry reading at the M K Nature Center.
I went with biologists for day trips to observe birds of prey throughout the summer. On one trip, I observed scientists banding ferruginous hawk nestlings. (I also got to hold one.)
Subsequent trips with BLM staff allowed me to observe golden eagles, prairie falcons, and ospreys nesting along the Snake River, and red-tailed hawks, Swainson’s hawks, ferruginous hawks, and burrowing owls in other parts of the NCA.
My favorite experiences were getting to see nesting golden eagles, and seeing a kettle of dozens of Swainson’s hawks stirring the sky.
Most of the NCA was covered in non-native Jim Hill mustard plants this year. BLM staff call them tumble-mustard for their similar ability to take over a landscape.
Seventy percent of the NCA has been taken over by non-native plants like cheatgrass and Jim Hill mustard after being burned by wildfires.
The increasing wildfire cycle, which is normally every 50-100 years, has shortened to every 3-5 years, and the native vegetation can’t return before the cycle starts over again.
Luckily, ground squirrels are not picky about what they eat. In fact, one of the biologists told me they sometimes cannibalize their dead.