Woods ducks have crested heads that bob up and down.
When fall comes to Nampa, Idaho, west of Boise, so do birds. Ducks alone, including northern pintails, wood ducks, mallards, and green-winged teals, number 120,000, and they're just a fraction of the 250 species that visit Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge, an 11,860-acre desert oasis on Lake Lowell. A major stopover along the Pacific Flyway, the refuge welcomes feathered guests from Alaska and northern Canada. Some stay the entire winter; others touch down to feed before winging on to Mexico and South America.
Ducks hanging out lakeside can be seen through a spotting scope in the visitor center. "Look among the mallards for mergansers," says visitor services manager Susan Kain. "They've got Mohawks." Bald eagles perching in snag trees nearby are also easy to spy.
Hardcore birders stake out observation posts at dawn and dusk when the flock moves between its nighttime feeding grounds and daylight habitat. Other birds are right within reach: Kids love the plush Audubon replicas of the real thing that sing when squeezed. (208) 467-9278, www.fws.gov/deerflat.
Photography by Glenn Oakley
This article was first published in November 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.