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Audubon puts birdwatching on the map

Sun., Jan. 31, 2010, 12:20 a.m.

Palouse to Pines birding route map is sixth in a statewide series

Eastern Washington birding enthusiasts are flying high this week with the release of a colorful new birding trail map for the state’s far-eastern region.

“Palouse to Pines Loop,” years in the making, features 51 prime spots to find 215 of Washington’s 346 annually recorded species.

It’s the sixth in the series of Great Washington State Birding Trail maps produced since 2002. The series has been developed and funded by Audubon Washington, the Washington State Department of Transportation and individual contributors.

Birding trails, which are being featured in more than 30 states, are self-guided driving tours to places specific species are likely to be seen, said Christi Norman, Audubon Washington Birding Trail program director. The Washington maps contain information about habitat, bird species, access and best seasons for birding.

Featured spots on the Palouse to Pines Loop range from large areas such as the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area south of Creston, where sage and sharp-tailed grouse recovery is under way, to the pinpoint possibilities of the Davenport Cemetery.

“The cemetery is an island of big trees and vegetation in the open space of farm fields, so it attracts a variety of migrants,” said Lindell Haggin, one of several Spokane Audubon Society members who helped with the project. “Our club members all check it out when they’re in the area to see what’s passing through.”

Far more than a simple brochure, the publication is lavishly illustrated with original artwork by Washington wildlife painter Ed Newbold.

Directions to the birding hotspots in different habitats are detailed on the map, which covers a loop of main roads from the Clarkston area north to the Canada border and from Republic eastward to Idaho.

“(People) tend to drive through Eastern Washington on I-90, look at the scabrock and say, ‘Let’s get past this,’ ” Haggin said. “But they don’t realize the richness, beauty and wildlife they can find in these locations.

“This map can show them the highlights and we hope they’ll be more willing to stop in Eastern Washington and investigate further.”

Thirteen of the sites are in the immediate Spokane area.

“I’ve been birdwatching 40 years and almost every time out I see something I haven’t seen before,” Haggin said, explaining why birdwatching is among the most popular pastimes in America.

“I was showing somebody the dipper (water ouzel) that hangs around the (Spokane) fish hatchery when I saw white reflect in its eye. Then I realized it’s the nictitating membraine that covers its eye when it’s feeding underwater.”

Habitats can change even in the period of research for the map. The Telford area, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management west of Davenport, was torched by a fire less than two years ago.

“It still has a fascinating richness of wildlife,” Haggin said.

“Last May we saw hundreds of red crossbills there eating the pine cones, and now they’ve scattered all sorts of pine seeds, so they are sprouting, and the aspens are generating from roots. We hope the insects that begin working on the burned wood might attract black and white-headed woodpeckers,”

Kim Thorburn, another Spokane Auduboner, was in Olympia on Tuesday to be with Sen. Lisa Brown as she unveiled the new birding map at the legislature.

“In this economy, with the challenges our legislators are facing because of decreasing revenue, this map is a positive message of opportunity and economic value for being in touch with the environment,” she said.

Understanding habitats is the key to finding birds, she said.

Boreal owls and boreal chickadees tuck away in alpine forests year-round.

Pygmy nuthatches and white-headed woodpeckers favor old-growth Ponderosa pines.

Black terns and common nighthawks arrive in spring along with thousands of feathered migrants that come courting, including mountain bluebirds, yellow warblers, black-chinned hummingbirds – plus swallows, sparrows and shorebirds.

Common loons nest on only a handful of Washington lakes, some of which are identified on the Palouse to Pines Loop map.

American white pelicans visit in summer followed in fall by hundreds of tundra swans, and in winter by extravagant numbers of waterfowl.

Together with its local chapters, Audubon Washington produced the first map of the birding trail – the Cascade Loop – in 2002.

The Coulee Corridor followed in 2003, Southwest Loop in 2005, Olympic Loop in 2007, and the Sun and Sage Loop in 2009.

One additional route covering the Puget Sound area will complete the birding trail by 2011.

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