Latest from The Spokesman-Review
WILDLIFE WATCHING — My Sunday Outdoors story on nest boxes for cavity-nesting birds struck a chord with Dick Thiel of Spokane:
Wrens and flickers are my favorite; flickers are so entertaining and wrens so busy and such beautiful singers. Here's my latest wren palace, made from the slab ends from a portable mill a friend near Lake Eloika used to harvest last year's downed trees. Heavy, but comfy.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — A blizzard of wings — snow geese with their white bodies and black wingtips — darkens the sky above Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson recently as the spring migrations storm through the region.
These excellent images were captured at Freezeout Lake near Great Falls.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — The skies of the Inland Northwest are full of life and death drama, even for prey species that range from 10-22 pounds. Here's a field report posted today by Spokane Audubon Society birder Lindell Haggin:
On Friday, I was with a couple people from Inland Northwest Land Trust. We were surveying the new addition to Audubon Lake at Reardan (access is by invitation only). We had noticed Tundra Swans on the pond off Bisson Rd. as we entered and thought we would finish up by getting another view of them from the property. When we took a longer look, we counted about 22 Tundra Swans on the pond.
We were just about to move on when we heard a thud to our right. By the time we looked we saw two Tundra Swans about the land on the lake and one that slammed into the ground and tumbled over two or three times. We couldn’t understand how it had misjudged the landing so badly. Then we looked up and saw a Golden Eagle flying just above the swan. The fallen bird was about 150 meters away across a marsh. It struggled to its feet and righted itself with difficulty. When I looked with binoculars I saw blood streaking its back. It finally sat down, unable to move towards the water.
When we looked up a second time we saw there was a pair of Golden Eagles circling. We left the area hoping that the loss of life was not wasted. A very powerful event.
Updated with field report.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Recent unseasonably warm weather has invited birds into the region, including tundra swans that are finding open water from eastern Washington into the Silver Valley of North Idaho.
Their migration farther north isn't likely to kick into high gear for awhile, but today there are a couple hundred tundra swans back at Killarney Lake along the Lower Coeur d'Alene River.
Update Feb. 22:
Jay Groepper got the news above and made a beeline with his bike to check out the migration. Here's his report:
Just got back from the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes. Saw about 200 swans from Blackrock to Harrison on the trail and 600 to 700 on Killarney lake. Thanks for the tip!
WILDLIFE WATCHING — For being light a fragile, birds are incredible at surviving cold that drives humans indoors.
Birds are warm blooded, which means their bodies maintain a constant temperature, often around 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Since they can't just throw a log on the fire, birds have several ways of coping with bitter-cold temperatures.
Puff up: The Hungarian partridges featured above in an image by Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson have fluffed out their under-feathers to trap warm insulating air that acts like a thick down coat that can be quickly streamlined for flight if needed.
Take cover: Many birds also seek shelter from the elements, whether it's in thick brush or possibly — as in the case of a nuthatch or chickadee, perhaps — in the cavity of a tree or a bird box.
Huddle up: Some flocking birds will huddle, bunching together to share warmth, and try to minimize their total surface area by tucking in their head and feet and sticking up their feathers.
Fatten up: "Big birds, like geese and grouse, do what we do," says physiologist David Swanson at the University of South Dakota. "They put on insulation." Their insulation often involves growing an extra set of insulating downy feathers. Birds can also put on fat as both an insulator and energy source: More than 10 percent of winter body weight may be fat in certain species, including chickadees and finches. As a result, some birds spend the vast majority of their daylight hours seeking fatty food sources, making feeder food even more precious for surviving a frosty night.
Shake it: Small birds that can't clope with putting on extra weight simply shiver. Chickadees are masters at shivering — but not the tremble that mammals use to generate heat. According to a story in Audubon Magazine, birds shiver by activating opposing muscle groups, creating muscle contractions without all of the jiggling typical when humans shiver. This form of shaking is better at retaining the bird's heat.
Down time: Some winter bird species undergo a more moderate version of the torpor hummingbirds use to survive through the night. Black-capped chickadees reduce their body temperature as much as 22 degrees Fahrenheit from their daytime level in a process called regulated hypothermia.
- Check out the Audubon Guide to Winter Bird-Feeding
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist, counted 34 bald eagles today in the Wolf Lodge Bay area of Lake Coeur d'Alene. That's up from 18 eagles counted last week during her weekly survey. Two weeks ago she counted only four.
Bald eagles traditionally show up from early November into January for a winter feast of spawning kokanee.
However, last year by the second week of December Hugo had counted 57 eagles and in 2012 the count was well over 130 eagles.
The 2013 bald eagle count at Lake Coeur d’Alene peaked at 217 on Dec. 30.
Hugo said she plans to survey areas on Lake Pend Oreille to see if the lake's revival of kokanee at has siphoned off some of the eagle interest in Lake CdA.
- A record 273 bald eagles was counted at Lake Coeur d'Alene on Dec. 29, 2011.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bald eagles are finally showing some interest in their traditional winter feast of spawning kokanee at Lake Coeur d'Alene.
Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist, counted 18 bald eagles today in the Wolf Lodge Bay area. That's up from four eagles counted last week during her weekly survey.
Today's tally of 13 adults and five immature eagles is down considerably from last year at this time when Hugo counted 57.
In 2012 during this week, she counted 121 bald eagles — 84 adults and 37 immature.
The 2013 bald eagle count at Lake Coeur d’Alene peaked at 217 on Dec. 30.
For years, the eagles have provided a popular wildlife-viewing attraction as the birds are lured to the northeast corner of the lake from mid-November into January to feast on the spawning kokanee that stack up in the bay.
- A record 273 bald eagles was counted at Lake Coeur d'Alene on Dec. 29, 2011.
The next cold snap could send more eagles this way.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — As researchers perfect the methods of placing tiny numbered bands on the legs of hummingbirds, the diminutive birds have been revealing new information about their lives.
- Hummingbirds can live longer than 10 years as opposed to the two or three once thought likely.
- Astonishing migrations have been found, with one bird caught in Florida showing up a few months later and more than 3,500 miles away in Alaska.
About 225 hummingbird banders work in the United States. The skill is unique, requiring years of apprenticeship.
Their steady stream of capture and recapture data is offering new insights into what for many is a delightful backyard visitor with an overabundance of personality.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Eastern blue jays have been trickling across the Rockies to the West for years. Birders are resigned to the invasion, saving them driving miles for an addition to their life list.
Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson captured the feeding ways of this pair of blue jays on video near at his home feeder near Lincoln, Mont.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bald eagles and loons will take a big hit while blue jays are among the species that could prosper as the earth's climate heats up. But overall, the outlook is grim.
Half of all bird species in North America — including the bald eagle — are at risk of severe population decline by 2080 if the swift pace of global warming continues, the National Audubon Society concluded in a study released Monday.
- See the report: 314 Species on the Brink.
“The scale of the disruption we’re projecting is a real punch in the gut,” said Gary Langham, chief Audubon scientist.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — As many times as I've seen common nighthawks swooping and scooping bugs out of the sky with their distinctive staccato chirps, I've never seen one resting on the ground.
Check this instructive photo from Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson.
"We often times see these birds in flight, but don’t get the chance to see them landed very often!
"They have huge mouths, their small beak makes it look small – but it goes back to their eye!"
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Birder/photographer Ron Dexter has made sure improvements to his property in the foothills of Mount Spokane haven't spoiled the neighborhood for some of his most colorful neighbors. In posting these photos, Dexter said:
A pair of pileated woodpeckers has nested in a snag in the woods behind us at least 3 times now. The loggers were careful to not knock the snag down, so the woodpeckers may add more holes in the future.
These are the largest woodpeckers in the United States, possibly the world. Their length is up to 18" and wingspan up to 30". An ornithologist dissected one and counted approximately 2,500 carpenter ants in the stomach. So you can see, they help save the forests and maybe your house.
They chop out large rectangular holes in trees to get to the ants and grubs, but their nest holes are shaped like a raindrop as you can see in the photo. They actually spend the majority of their feeding time on the ground or on fallen trees, snags or stumps that contain grubs, ants. etc.
I see and hear them every year in our woods. They are in the area year round.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — The Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge is celebrating its 75th anniversary with various activities to help introduce the public to an area that's been wildly upgraded in recent years.
This is a great time to visit the refuge. See upcoming events, including the first ever bicycling event at the refuge. I have a details story coming up in Sunday Outdoors.
Earlier this month, refuge biologists Mike Munts led a birding tour.
We did the bird tour for the refuge 75th anniversary today (June 7). Ten people came out for a great day of birding. We saw/heard 82 great birds during the day.
- A total of 206 bird species have been documented at the refuge over time, Munts said.
- Another birding tour is planned for Saturday, June 28.
Following is the list of species the group identified:
- Canada Goose
- Wood Duck
- Cinnamon Teal*
- Ring-necked Duck
- Common Goldeneye
- Hooded Merganser
- Ruddy Duck*
- Double-crested Cormorant
- Pied-billed Grebe*
- Turkey Vulture
- Bald Eagle
- Red-tailed Hawk
- American Kestrel
- American Coot
- Spotted Sandpiper
- Wilson’s Snipe
- Mourning Dove
- Common Nighthawk
- Black-chinned Hummingbird
- Calliope Hummingbird
- Rufous Hummingbird
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Northern Flicker
- Pileated Woodpecker
- Western-wood Pewee
- Willow Flycatcher
- Dusky Flycatcher
- Hammond’s Flycatcher
- Pacific-slope Flycatcher
- Say’s Phoebe
- Eastern Kingbird
- Cassin’s Vireo
- Warbleing Vireo
- Red-eyed Vireo
- Black-billed Magpie*
- Common Raven
- Tree Swallow
- Violet-green Swallow
- Northern Rough-winged Swallow
- Bank Swallow
- Barn Swallow
- Mountain Chickadee
- Black-capped Chickadee
- Chestnut-backed Chickadee
- Red-breasted Nuthatch
- White-breasted Nuthatch
- Pygmy Nuthatch
- House Wren
- Pacific Wren
- Marsh Wren
- Golden-crowned Kinglet
- Western Bluebird
- Swainson’s Thrush
- Hermit Thrush
- American Robin
- Varied Thrush
- Gray Catbird
- European Starling
- Cedar Waxwing
- Orange-crowned Warbler
- McGilllivray’s Warbler
- Nashville Warbler
- Common Yellowthroat
- Yellow Warbler
- Yellow-rumped Warbler
- Townsend’s Warbler
- Chipping Sparrow
- Lark Sparrow
- Song Sparrow
- Dark-eyed Sparrow
- Western Tanager
- Black-headed Grosbeak
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Western Meadowlark*
- Brown-headed Cowbird
- Red Crossbill
*Birds Munts saw at Horsethief Lake after the field trip
WILDLIFE WATCHING — The annual osprey viewing and banding boat cruise on Lake Coeur d'Alene is set for July 12, the Idaho Fish and Game Department just announced. If you want to go on this popular wildlife educational activity, sign up quick. Last year it sold out in a day.
- Reservations can be made by calling the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, (208) 664-3194 or online at cdachamber.com.
The osprey is a fish-eating hawk common to northern Idaho. At least 100 pairs nest annually in the Coeur d’Alene Lake region including the lower reaches of the St. Joe and Coeur d’Alene Rivers, says Phil Cooper, IFG educator. Here's more from Phil:
Adult osprey along with the young of the year birds begin their annual migration in mid-September, traveling all the way to Baja California, Central America, and many all the way to South America. The adults return in late winter/early spring to the area where they originally hatched.
The University of Idaho and the Idaho Fish and Game Department have been studying and banding ospreys at Coeur d’Alene Lake for over 25 years. The work is done to determine survival and mortality rates and to further define the migration patterns and wintering areas of the population.
To conduct this research, young of the year pre-flight osprey are briefly taken from nests just before fledging. A band with a unique number is gently applied to one leg, and the 6-7 week old birds are safely placed back in the nests.
You may be wondering what the adult osprey think of the process. The adults take flight when the research boat approaches. They make their displeasure known with loud, screeching calls intended to scare the biologists away and to tell the young osprey to lie down flat in an effort to hide. Yet, these brave biologists have over 30 years of experience banding osprey and they can understand ‘osprey’ language. Knowing the osprey are only using scare tactics, they go about their work and get away from the nests in no time flat.
The banding process goes very quickly. After the leg bands are applied and the biologists move away, the adults immediately return to the nests to find their young safe and secure…but sporting new leg bands.
None of us know if having a leg band is a status symbol or an embarrassment in the osprey world, but the bands allow for the gathering of some remarkable information to help biologists learn about the species and to protect osprey populations.
Would you like to learn more about this bird, common to our area in the summer? How about coming along and watching osprey research?
An Osprey Boat Cruise has been scheduled for Saturday, July 12. The trip will run from 9am –11am, boarding begins at 830.
The cruise will be leaving from the west end of the CdA Resort boardwalk. Parking is available at the new covered parking under Front Street, on nearby streets, and in the pay lot at the North Idaho Museum. The cost of the trip is $15 for adults, $35 maximum per family. Children under 12 are free when with a paying adult.
Space is very limited and reservations are required. Reservations can be made by calling the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce at 664-3194 or online at cdachamber.com.
Wildlife Biologists will be in a small boat that will travel alongside a Lake Coeur d’Alene Charter Cruise boat. Well known Wildlife Biologist and renowned osprey researcher Dr. Wayne Melquist will take young of the year birds from osprey nests and band them, while the passengers on the cruise boat watch and take photos.
Speakers on the cruise boat will include wildlife biologists and avian experts, including Beth Paragamian representing Idaho Fish and Game. They will be on board the cruise boat to provide fascinating biological information on ospreys and other wildlife species. A limited number of binoculars will be available for loan, however, bringing your own along with a camera, sun hat and sun screen is advised.
Invited guest speakers also include the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s CdA Lake Management Team, and a Cougar Bay Osprey Preservation group.
The annual event is sponsored by the Natural Resources Committee of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce. Cooperators include The Nature Conservancy, the Idaho Fish and Game Department, the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the University of Idaho, the Audubon Society and the Coeur d’Alene Resort.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — While hiking on a U.S. Bureau of Land Management area south of Sprague in May, Pat Killien discovered a red-tailed hawk nest perched in a 30 foot basalt wall.
"I could look down from above or below and be within 15 feet or so of the nest," he said. "There was a single chick that I estimated to be 7-10 days old."
Seizing the opportunity to watch and learn, Killien returned each week for a good hike — and to observe the chick's growth. His last trip was Monday, 40-some days after the chick had hatched. As he expected, the nest was empty.
"They normally fledge between 44 and 46 days," he said. "When I was there at (37-41 days old,) it was quite antsy and looked like it might just jump out of the nest at any moment.
"I never saw an adult near the nest except for the first time. I was hiking near the wall where the nest is located and an adult flew out from the wall in front of me and hung around in the area. That's what tipped me off to the possibility of a nest and I quickly found it.
"From below you couldn't see anything in the nest so I walked around and came out on top of the wall directly above the nest and saw the chick. In all my trips out there, the adults never came near. They circled high overhead and screeched but that was all.
On the last visit (Monday), I saw a hawk fly a bit and land, something the adults never did. That could have been the chick. The adults were hanging around today circling overhead but I didn't see three hawks at one time so can't be certain the hawk that landed was the chick. He had to be in the vicinity, though, as the adults were constantly overhead."
Killien plans to return next year in April for a repeat performance.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Gather the kids, make a plan for exploring the "jungles" around the house and pitching a tent in the backyard and join the group across the country on June 28 for the Great American Backyard Campout.
The annual promoted by the National Wildlife Federation encourages people of all ages to camp in their backyards, neighborhoods, parks and campgrounds, as a simple way to reconnect with nature!
“From wildlife watching tips and games to campfire songs and recipes, NWF gives people everywhere the resources they need to experience the wonders of wildlife right in their own backyards or neighborhoods with a simple yet memorable summer Campout,” said Maureen Smith, chief marketing officer for National Wildlife Federation.
Once the sun sets, a new array of wildlife emerges to explore America’s backyards. To help with your campout, here are some fun wildlife watching tips for observing nocturnal wildlife such as owls and moths.
- Pick areas where night-flying insects are abundant, such as over water, or near flood lights. Light and water attract the insects that certain animals feed on at night. Here are five common nocturnal wildlife species to watch for.
- Get your binoculars, bird book, and some flashlights and go out in the woods at night to search for owls. Owls are nocturnal, so the best time to look for them is at night.
- Watch for bats at sunset. At sunset, bats come out to look for mosquitoes and other bugs to eat. They like to fly over open areas, often over water. To help increase your chances of seeing bats, build or buy a bat house.
- Go mothing. Put out fruit at a simple tray feeder or smear it on a tree in the late afternoon or early in the night. At nighttime, check the feeders for moth activity.
- Observe bugs at night by hanging a bed sheet in the backyard and shine a white light directly on it. Insects are a big part of the nighttime backyard show. Depending on the season, the sounds of crickets may be loud! Moths of all sizes are attracted to patio or spotlights in the warm weather.
- Hunt for nightcrawlers with a flashlight.
- Use your ears; if you hear birds, frogs, or mammals calling, slowly walk towards those sounds for a better chance of seeing them. Always remember to keep a respectable distance from the birds and mammals you are viewing.
Are you in?
WILDLIFE WATCHING — "It was 37 degrees and raining at our home this morning," reports Western Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson, without a hint of complaint. " The best part of rainy June days is that the Western tanagers show up in force! I lost count at 30+ tanagers on our feeders this morning!"
Western tanager plumage resembles the colors of a flame. The species certainly stokes my enthusiasm to head out with a spotting scope.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson has helped me re-define my notion of "smooth."
CRITTER WATCH — Here's my favorite birding story of the day, courtesy of the Associated Press in Montana:
Everyone has heard of homing pigeons, but Montana fifth-grader Tara Atkins apparently has a “schooling pigeon.”
The pet bird named Foresta had disappeared Tuesday from Tara’s home in the Elkhorn Mountains near Montana City, but it was back in her arms Wednesday after it showed up at her school about 5 air miles away in Helena.
“This pigeon has never been to town before,” Atkins’ mother, Krys Holmes, said. “We got her as a baby, and she just hangs out at home.”
The bird caused a ruckus when it arrived at Central-Linc Elementary, first sitting on teacher Rob Freistadt’s head, the Independent Record reported.
Staff members and a police officer tried for an hour to corral the bird that Principal Vanessa Nasset said was just “sky-bombing everyone.”
Nasset asked Tara for help catching the bird after a parent remembered she had a pet pigeon.
Tara recognized Foresta by her distinct coloration and the blue band around her leg.
But as Tara tried to catch her pigeon, the school bell rang and students poured outside, delaying the capture again.
Fellow fifth-grader Owen Cleary finally caught the bird by throwing a blanket over it while it sat on his head.
Holmes said she doesn’t know how the bird ended up at her daughter’s school.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Perhaps only a bluebird could sing the blues on a spring morning like a Lazuli bunting.
Thanks for getting our day off on the right note, Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — The Eurasian collared-dove is an exotic species that's unprotected in Washington and Idaho and can be shot by licensed hunters year-round where hunting/shooting is allowed. They're delicious, too.
- See today's outdoors column on this imported and not necessarily welcome species.
- See an eBird chart that graphically shows the spread of ECD sightings across North America in two-year intervals.
But it's important to be able to distinguish the collared-dove from the similar mourning dove, which can be hunted only during designated September seasons.
Eurasian collared-doves are larger than mourning doves and slightly lighter in color. Aside from the diagnostic black collar on the backs of their necks, they also have a squared tail as opposed to the pointed tails on mourning doves.
See more diagnostic features and listen to recordings that distinguish their different calls at the following Websites:
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Though not as essential as binoculars and a scope for birding, computers and other devices are becoming handy to have at home and in the field to enhance birding efforts.
The Spokane Audubon Society will explore electronic birding from apps to the Web during it's monthly meeting, 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 14, at Riverview Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave.
- See directions to the meeting location.
Bring your devices and questions. Alan McCoy, who's participated in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count for 30 years, will help participants explore the possibilities.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Great horned owlets are huge-bodied birds for their age, and they don't often make graceful first flights from their nests.
Tome Kearney of Spokane snapped a photo of this owlet in his backyard this week as it was fledging. For perspective, each of the landscaping blocks it's standing on are 4-inches high.
The birds often will spend a day or more hopping around the ground and up to fences, rooftops and low branches as they gain strength and confidence to fly.
They are most vulnerable to dogs, cats and other predators at this time.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Dancing and strutting isn't enough for sharp-tailed grouse during the spring mating season that's underway. The males duke it out pretty good to show dominance for breeding the females that are walking around nonchalantly watching the show.
Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson captured this action this week from a bind in Montana.
WILDLIFE — My Sunday Outdoors stories about the fascinating grouse species of the West were packed with information about these novel birds, but a ton of details litter the editing room floor, so to speak.
For example, before they placed GPS transmitters on valuable sage grouse released in Washington last month, Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists practiced and fine-tuned the fitting process on a chicken at the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area shop (photo above).
"The group learned how to place the GPS transmitter/harness assembly onto a bird, and adjust for proper transmitter location and harness tension," said Juli Anderson, Northeastern Washington Wildlife Area Complex manager.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — In paying tribute to Washington's seven grouse species in my Sunday Outdoors feature stories, I mention that the mating display of the sharp-tailed grouse inspired some traditional dances of Native Americans.
See for yourself above.
- See slow-motion video of a sharptail male dominance battle.
Observe other grouse that inhabit Washington in the following videos:
WILDLIFE WATCHING — "I love the little wings and the open mouth," says Spokane Valley pastor and photographer Craig Goodwin, back from a North Idaho birding adventure. "The eaglets are two days old."
Goodwin says he's found great bird photo situations including great blue herons and waterfowl in the past few days.
"There is some pretty amazing birding out there right now."
A Web cam trained on a bald eagles' nest has become an Internet sensation in recent years, giving millions of viewers an intimate glimpse of doting parents raising their young. T
he Decorah Eagle Project in Iowa is one of the best eagle Web cams out there. See them bring in squirrels, fish — whatever — to feed their young. On Sunday, the world saw one of the parents shield the fragile young during a lightning storm. Fascinating.
Currently the eagles are raising three chicks, with the third-hatched noticeably smaller than the other two, but gaining strength daily. Check them out.
WILDLIFE – The Inland Northwest Wildlife Council will be distributing pheasant chicks to people who have facilities to raise 25 or more birds for around six weeks before releasing them into the wild.
The council provides the day-old birds in lots of 25 and charges a fee to cover costs:
- 40 cents a hen
- $2.25 for roosters
- $1.50 for half roosters, half hens.
Starter feed is available, 50 pounds for $20.
The first shipment of chicks from Little Canyon Shooting Preserve in Peck, Idaho, will be April 29 and continue every Tuesday until late June, said program coordinator Larry Carey.
They will be available for pickup at the council office, 6116 N. Market.
Chicks must be reserved in advance: 328-6429.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — This natural bird art is the best reason I've seen for putting off window washing.
Former S-R editor Phil Gruis posted the extraordinary photo, noting that the bird wasn't around so it apparently survived the impact.
An artist at work.