In the 1940s, when our tribe lived there, we called it Birdies Island. That was the name of the location that the tribe referred to as home. I was always curious to visit Birdies Island because the elders sounded so attached when they spoke of this special place and the time they spent there. Occasionally, over the years, I’ve searched the internet in hopes of finding more information about this place so close to the hearts of our tribe. I found no reference to it on the internet. One day I asked my mother to be very specific on how to get there, so I could locate it. I contacted the State and they helped me locate our prior home called Birdies Island.
What I found was that our Birdies Island is the same place that others now call Birding Islands. They described the place to me like this. “Just north of the small community of New Plymouth, Idaho lies the unique river habitat area known as the Birding Islands. The name depicts, to a large extent, what type of wildlife use the area. Many different types of birds, both game and non-game, can be found throughout the area. For example, great blue herons and night herons, snowy egrets, mallards, widgeon, Canada geese, and a variety of shore birds all utilize the wetlands of this area.” I can’t help but wonder if Birdies Island was our name for the place, that eventually evolved to Birding Island; or was it called that already and the oral history slowly altered the name.
How to Get There
Birding Islands Map
Payette River Wildlife Management Area’s (WMA) Birding Islands segment is located just northeast of the town of New Plymouth in west central Idaho’s Payette County. Birding Islands is accessible at three locations; the Birding Islands South access is the most popular. To reach it, take Interstate 84 to exit nine and travel 4.5 miles on State Highway 30 through the town of New Plymouth. Just past the New Plymouth Post Office look for the Birding Island South sign. Turn east onto Idaho Street and drive 0.5 miles to Holly Avenue. Turn north and follow Holly Avenue 1.5 miles to NW Second Avenue. Turn east and follow this road 0.7 miles to Payette River WMA’s Birding Islands South parking lot.
The BLM shared some general information with me, It is near the Idaho/Oregon border, scattered islands dot the Payette River. Large and small, wide and narrow, these islands and nearby mainland areas provide prime nesting habitat for Canada geese and other waterfowl. Recognizing the significance of this area to nesting waterfowl, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) purchased 50 acres of Payette River islands in 1960 (15 years after our tribe left the Island). Additional island and mainland acreage has been acquired over the years and today, Payette River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) totals just over 1,200 acres. Area management focuses on waterfowl nesting/brooding habitat and upland game bird nesting/wintering habitat. These and other management efforts benefit a host of wildlife present at Payette River WMA.
Birding Islands & our Family History
(recalled by Charlotte Simmons)
The tribe lived where it is known today to be called Birding Island. We always called it Birdies Island. Our house was right next door to the water area. This is where we had jewelry hidden in the walls. The family brought it from Pearl Stephenson’s family up the trail, hidden in the hem of their skirts. They hid it in the logs of the house at Birdies Island. It was a 3 room wooden framed house with a tar paper roof. We called it “The Big House”. There was a pot belly stove in the living room and a cook stove was in the kitchen. The front door was on the north side of the house and opened into the living room. There was a window in the living room, a couple in the kitchen and one in the bedroom. The bedroom was just big enough for a bed and a dresser. Grandpa and Grandma (Leander Creech and Pearl Stephenson Creech) lived in The Big House. Everyone else in the family lived in tents and tee pees on the west side of the house. The driveway was on the East. It had a wood pile on the south. The road to the place was on the north. What is known today as the WMA refuge, would have been on the east side of our house and the river was on the west side of the house. We had a big screened in coup that was about 16’ with wire so the birds could fly around. It was about 10 feet tall. The wire was on poles with a door into it. The birds couldn’t get out until you wanted them to go out. Sometimes they clipped the wings so the birds would get used to staying on the place and then when the wings grew back they would fly away but always return because that is where they started from. The more that came back, the more eggs we had. But at the time we lived there it was not a refuge. Often Grandpa (Leander Lewis Creech) and I (Charlotte Creech) went down along the river and gathered the wild eggs and hatched them out under setting hens that belonged to grandma and turned the birds loose on the island. The family did that all the time. The birds came back because we raised them. One day the house was burnt down. We figured someone stole the jewelry and then burnt the house down. Gilbert, Bruce, Grandpa (Leander) and Grandma (Pearl), and Ruth (mama) hunted thru the ashes for days with rakes looking for the jewelry or melted gold and found nothing. They figured it must have been stolen before the house was burnt down. After the house burned down, the tribe left the area. Twenty years later, the area was preserved as a bird refuge. I may have been born there, I don’t know for sure. I do remember being only 7 or 8 at the time and recall that these are some of the tribe that were there: Leander and Pearl, Art and Ruth, Joan, Tom, Dale, Nina, Charlotte, Chuck, Ray, Elsie and Al with all their kids, Alan, Jean, Bill-Clarence, and Gary, Kate, Frank, Gilbert, Bruce, Clyde, Fred and Annie, and LeRoy Hobson. This is where Grandpa raised the twelve wild geese that he called his boys, but that’s another story.
Whether or not, it was Leander Creech and the Delaware descendants care, nurturing, and protection of the birds that started this refuge that so many people enjoy today; we may never know for sure. What we do know for sure is that our ancestors, our tribe, has always been close to the land and the animals. The time we lived at Birdies Island was a special time, a time we shared with the birds. It may be called Birding Island now, but to the tribe it will always be Birdies Island.
(submitted by Deborah Dewey~Gravett)