Swan route

Public tour taps spring migration

The spring migration of tundra swans through the Inland Northwest is imminent, and tourism officials in Pend Oreille County planning a tour to share the spectacle of the swans’ annual flight to northern breeding grounds.

On Saturday, the Pend Oreille River Tourism Alliance and the Natural Resources Department of the Kalispel Tribe are putting on a special swan viewing and education event.

“They are on their way,” said Susan Harris of the tourism alliance. “There will be a lot (of swans).”

The free outing starts at 10 a.m. and is to members of the public who sign up in advance. The tour is intended to build public interest in Pend Oreille County as a wildlife viewing destination.

Some of the birds may be seen in the region as early as February, but the largest number normally appears as ice recedes on the region’s lakes. Harris said about 200 birds were seen earlier this month in the Pend Oreille River, and that some had started landing at Calispell Lake where they forage on submerged grass and other food.

Calispell Lake, a few miles southwest of Usk, attracts one of the largest congregations of the large, noisy birds. They typically mingle with flocks of migrating geese along the lake’s western shore within sight of West Side Calispell Road. The sound of the flocks can be a thrilling outdoor experience.

The tundra swan migration normally reaches its peak at the end of March. Thousands of 10- to 22-pound birds will appear in many local waterways, but they are shy to humans and will remain at a distance. Binoculars are needed for a good view.

Snow and ice still cover many or the region’s lakes and marshes, but the swans have a long migration to reach breeding grounds in western Alaska so they can’t slow down too much for cold regional weather.

One study at Calispell Lake in the early 1980s showed that the migration peaked there on March 27 or 28. In a typical year, the numbers start to dwindle by the first of April, biologists said.

Other good places to look for tundra swans this month include Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge south of Cheney, Reardan Ponds at Reardan, the Colville River Valley near Chewelah and Swanson Lakes Wildlife Refuge south of Creston. In some years they may appear behind the Cheney rodeo grounds.

Some birds also show up along the Lower Coeur d’Alene River, where swan carcasses have been found after birds succumbed from heavy metals poisoning.

The tour event to Calispell Lake begins at the Camas Wellness Center, 1981 N. LeClerc Road, which is on the east side of the Pend Oreille River and can be reached by taking the bridge at Usk, about a mile northeast of the intersection of Highways 20 and 211 in southern Pend Oreille County.

Participants will load onto buses or take private vehicles on the short trip to Calispell Lake where they will be given temporary access to private property.

A similar event last year attracted about 50 people, but this year, signups already have reached 100.

A free lunch is planned at the Camas Wellness Center after the tour with a series of speakers.

•Another annual birding event this week:

Sandhill Crane Festival in Othello, with seminars and field trips, Friday-next Sunday.

Check it out: (509) 488-2802; othellosandhillcranefestival.org.

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