Cataldo Migrant Bird Drive


Distance: 16 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Driving time: 30 minutes

Season: Year-round

Maps: Coeur d’Alene National Forest Map

Info: North Idaho Audubon Society, (208) 682-3413


Access: From Coeur d’Alene, drive east on Interstate 90 for 23 miles. Take Exit 39 to Old Mission State Park.

Attractions: Variety of habitats that attract numerous bird species during spring and autumn migrations along quiet backroads with safe vehicle pullouts. Vast wetlands attract waterfowl, shorebirds, osprey. Prairie and mixed woodlands, which display brilliant colors in October, hold species ranging from wild turkey and meadowlarks to woodpeckers and great horned owls. Visit Old Mission State Park, open 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Comments: Birds can be found on route year-round, but heaviest concentrations are in April-June and September-November, especially after storms.

Driving time is 30 minutes, but bird watchers spend hours.

Wetlands in Mission Flats and Cataldo slough are mixed blessing. For decades, tailings laced with lead and other heavy metals from Silver Valley mines were dumped in river, then dredged and dumped in Mission Flats. Researchers know contamination kills bottom-feeding swans each year, but impact on other birds is not documented. Migrating shorebirds may not spend enough time here to be affected. Meanwhile, contamination prevents massive development that surely would occur, otherwise leaving wetlands for birds.

From Cataldo Mission, (mileage references begin from here) head east on paved road that bends north over I-90 before curving west on dike road that parallels highway.

Wetland to right attracts migrants such as American pipits and garden variety waterfowl such as mallards, herons, song sparrows, red-tailed hawks. Tall reedlike grass, called phragmities, turns green in August and forms feathery plumes. Coeur d’Alene Indians used stalks for arrow shafts.

Area just before log yard on right is known for waterfowl such as grebes, wood ducks plus large numbers of violet-green swallows. Recently few swallows were seen at 9 a.m. By 10:30 a.m., sky was full of them.

At nearly 1-1/2 miles, come to junction. Turn right onto Canyon Road. Killdeers and red crossbills seen near log yard. Continue driving past cottonwood bottoms. Ruby-crowned kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers spotted here in migrations.

By now, you’ve probably noticed owl decoys atop power-line poles. Washington Water Power Co., for some reason, tries to discourage bird nesting in this standout birding area. Weird. Owl decoys deter not only ospreys but also smaller birds.

Cross Coeur d’Alene River. Just after 3-1/2 miles into route, cross tracks in Cataldo and make sharp right turn onto Latour Creek Road. At 4-1/3 miles, note private ponds on both sides of road that can attract various birds, including catbirds, black-headed grosbeaks, cedar waxwings. Turn around here and backtrack, turning left at stop in Cataldo to follow Canyon Road back to log yard at 7-1/4 miles.

Continue straight (west) on Canyon Road. Mission Flats on left spiked with nest boxes for Canada geese. Good place to summer resident soras and American bitterns. Look for northern harriers, identified by white rump patch and sweeping side-to-side flight pattern.

At 8-1/3 miles, see Cataldo slough, popular in spring with kingfishers, herons, tundra swans, ruddy ducks, other waterfowl. Bird-watchers rally each spring when a few great egrets make annual appearance here for couple of weeks. Bald eagles are in area in fall. North side of road has yielded sightings of greater yellowlegs, long-billed dowitchers, turkey vultures.

Just past slough, find habitat for wild turkeys and elk.

At 9-2/3 miles, turn left on River Road, cross I-90 and continue straight onto Tamarack Ridge Road. At 10-3/4 miles, pavement ends in prairie habitat. Snag in woods to right attracts species ranging from meadowlarks and pine siskins to kestrels. Watch also for bobolinks and horned larks.

At 11-2/3 miles, road reaches Coeur d’Alene River. River itself produces few bird finds, but ponds on right are more productive. Note osprey nest on power pole next to road. Also snag is well-drilled by woodpeckers.

At nearly 12 miles, turn right onto River Road, drive short way to vast hay lands - seasonal wetlands that flood in spring to attract swans and virtually all other waterfowl known to area. Hardwood stands along road attract ravens, great horned owl, ruffed grouse, pileated woodpeckers.

At 13-31/4 miles, loop returns to pavement. Turn left on River Road to stop sign and take left on Canyon Road. At 16 miles, return to I-90 at Exit 34.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map: Cataldo Migrant Bird Drive

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN - Routes: Classic Trips in the Inland Northwest

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