Is it any wonder about 1,000 ducks, a couple hundred geese and one heavily gazed-upon swan flocked to a single lake in Reardan on Saturday afternoon?
After all, the 80-acre lake, just north of Highway 2, has been a favorite spot for birds for decades, especially during October’s migrating season. And to think, not one feathered friend received the general flier announcing the big event – the dedication of Reardan’s Audubon Lake.
But dozens of zealous bird lovers had the date circled on their calendars, arriving early on the south side of the lake, equipped with their expensive scopes and binoculars. State and local politicians attended, as did Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife representatives and land development officials.
Several spoke during the 45-minute dedication, recognizing everyone for their hard work and the cooperation it took to transfer private property to a public trust.
But the woman the birders focused on the most was Susan Eastman, the former owner of the 277 acres of lakes, wetlands and shrubby scablands, who sold the land to the WDFW.
“This is what life is all about, providing these type of things for our children and grandchildren … people who really appreciate this kind of living,” Eastman said.
The Eastman family owned the land for about 30 years. Four years ago, Susan’s husband, Rod Eastman, died. When the “For Sale” sign went up, bird-watchers feared they would lose one of their favorite sites, where at least 250 species of birds and other wildlife have been spotted, according to the WDFW.
Developers wanted to buy the land, with the intention of building subdivisions.
A grass-roots campaign began, spearheaded by local Audubon members and Land Trust members. They raised $51,000, and when the two-year option period was expiring, the Land Trust got a loan to buy the land until the WDFW formally acquired the property.
Eastman said the $151,000 she received is about one-third the amount she could have gotten from developers.
“It’s always nice to think about having the money,” said Eastman, who is a nurse at Lincoln Hospital. “But this will go on forever.
“We have watched forever the white swans coming in. They’re phenomenal. We haven’t been avid birders, but we do believe in it.”
The Eastmans also got a kick out of the birdwatchers.
“They jump up and down,” Eastman said. “And they come because they know there’s a bird that is going to be here. They’ll have a three- to four-day window where (the birds) stop over, and they know that.”
The area, known as Reardan Slough, is north of town. It is a favorite spot for migration for birds that nest in the Arctic and winter in Central and South America, said Gary Blevins, president of the Spokane Audubon Society.
Howard Ferguson, WDFW district wildlife biologist, said the department has applied for state grants to pay for enhancements such as parking, toilets, trails and blinds. WDFW also hopes to do grassland restoration on about 80 acres on the north end where native Palouse grassland is nearly wiped out. “There is wonderful wildlife here, but let’s not recreate it to death,” Ferguson said.
As for the first improvement, a gravel-lined dirt road on the south side of the lake was finished last week by residents who removed junk cars, old logs and bricks.
In keeping with the spirit of the project, the road was named “Audubon Way.”