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Prairie grouse are in the mood this month

WILDLIFE WATCHING — April is like party time for prairie grouse, as Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson reminds us with this photo of a dancing male sharptail.

Johnson shot the image above this week in Montana from a blind at the site — known as a lek — where males congregate to display and win the opportunity to breed with nearby females.

Columbian sharp-tailed grouse have declined dramatically in Washington, where there are efforts to protect habitat and revive their numbers.

 

Researcher brings program on hummingbird banding project

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A researcher with the Intermountain Bird Observatory at Boise State University will be in Coeur d'Alene to present a program on a hummingbird banding project.

The program is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 14, at Lutheran Church of the Master, 4800 N. Ramsey Rd.

Jessica Pollock, research biologist, will discuss banding these tiny birds and what studies have revealed about their biology and habitat.

Pollock has been banding hummingbirds for 10 years in Idaho and British Columbia.

The program is sponsored by the for the Coeur d'Alene Audubon Society.

Tonight! Raptor expert’s program a real hoot

WILDLIFE WATCHING — An award-winning raptor expert, artist and photographer will focus on birds of prey in a free fully feathered program TONIGHT, April 8, in Spokane.

Kate Davis of Raptors of the Rockies will use her stunning images along with her Teaching Team — a falcon, hawk and two owls — for an educational evening that will conclude with a primer on Communication In the Dark and "hooting up an owl."

Davis has been providing educational programs to schools and the public with live birds of prey for 27 years. She keeps 18 non-releasable and falconry birds at the facility at her house on the banks of the Bitterroot River in Western Montana.

These birds are the subjects and source of inspiration for her photography, drawings, paintings, etchings, welded steel sculptures, and writing, with five books published to date.  Raptors of the West Captured in Photographs won the National Outdoor Book Award in 2011. Her latest book, American Kestrel: Pint-Sized Predator just hit the stands with 100 photographs, six chapters and plans for building kestrel nest boxes.

The program, sponsored by the Spokane Audubon Society, starts at 7:30 p.m. at Riverview Retirement Community, 2117 E. N. Crescent Ave. Social gathering starts at 7 p.m.

Wild turkey suppression planned on Spokane’s South Hill

WILDLIFE — A meeting to enlist volunteers in curbing the growth of wild turkey flocks on the Manito Park area is set for 6:30 p.m. tonight (March 30) at Spokane’s South Hill Library.

Candace Bennett, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department conflict specialist, is organizing a “wild turkey Easter egg hunt” over several weeks to treat eggs in some wild turkey nests so they don’t hatch.

The number of wild turkeys has grown to nuisance levels on the South Hill, but what's out there will mushroom significantly if all of the nesting hens are allowed to pull off new clutches this spring.

 

A Little Bird Told Me

 On the surface, attraction seems to be mysterious and hard to predict. What is it exactly that takes, puts them together two individuals and makes them into a couple? It’s surely something deeper than superficial appearances and it has to more than some random spark of sexual chemistry. So what draws us to the mate we choose?

Apparently, according to the book I’m reading, it’s all in the voice.

She speaks. He listens. He speaks. She listens. They get closer. Then comes a little preening, a little flirting and before anyone is fully aware of what’s happening, it’s just a short hop to building a nest, hungry little mouths to feed and the constant juggling of daily chores and endless live-or-die decisions.

This is probably the time to point out I’m reading a book about backyard birds of the Northwest, and the writer was describing the courting rituals of male and female goldfinches, but it seems to me the process is not dissimilar to the route most of us take when we find “the one.”

The writer, Bob Waldon, addressing the mating habits of the male goldfinch in Feeding Winter Birds in the Pacific Northwest, writes, “He bonds to his mate by learning the notes of her song and playing them back to her.” To paraphrase: She sings, he sings, they sing. And then it’s down to business.

China Bend climbing area closed for eagle nesting

CLIMBING — A portion of the China Bend climbing area has been closed to protect nesting eagles, Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area officials announced Wednesday.

The closure shuts down an area upstream from Kettle Falls to all public use until July 15.

The area includes Park Serviced lands at the west end of the cliff formation known as the China Bend climbing area’s “Main Wall.”

A map of the closure is on the park web site: nps.gov/laro.

Photo: meadowlark brightens the prairie

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The Western meadowlark has a way of brightening anyone's day during a walk through the Eastern Washington prairies.

Not just with its brilliant spring breeding plumage, but also with its song:

Thanks to Ferry County photographer J.Foster Fanning for the photo (top) and the reminder that there's more than one reason to get outdoors this month.

Idaho reports thousands of snow geese dead from disease

WILDLIFE DISEASES — Thousands of migrating snow geese have died in southeastern Idaho, apparently from avian cholera.

The carcasses of about 2,000 migrating snow geese were collected this weekend by Idaho Fish and Game Department workers. The birds died while stopping at Mud Lake and Market Lake Wildlife Management Areas on their way back north to their nesting grounds in Northern Alaska. 

The will be incinerated so that other predatory and scavenger birds do not ingest the deadly bacteria, wildlife officials said. 

Results are not yet back from the IDFG Wildlife Laboratory to definitively confirm avian cholera, but symptoms seem to indicate the disease.   According to the United States Geographical Survey Health Laboratory, humans are not at a high risk of infection from the bacteria causing avian cholera.

According to an agency media release posted today:

The carcasses of a small number of snow geese were first reported at Camas National Wildlife Refuge near Dubois, Idaho.  Closer inspection  on Friday found higher numbers of dead birds at the Mud Lake WMA Area near Terreton, Idaho and a lesser amount at Market Lake WMA near Roberts, Idaho.  The migratory birds were on the return leg of their migration from the southwestern United States and Mexico to their breeding grounds on the northern coast of Alaska.  It is unknown at this time where the geese may have picked up the suspected bacteria.  “Outbreaks of avian cholera have occurred sporadically in the region over the past few decades,” said Upper Snake Regional Supervisor Steve Schmidt.

According to Schmidt, “The important thing is to quickly collect as many of the carcasses as possible, to prevent other birds from feeding on the infected birds.”   In the case of Mud Lake WMA, biologists observed about twenty eagles in the vicinity of some of the carcasses.  Because of a delayed incubation period it is uncertain where these eagles might be located,  if  and when the avian cholera affects them.

Report dead birds in their locations to 208-525-7290.  

While there is little possibility of humans contracting the disease, the public is asked to not handle dead birds because of the potential for unintentionally distributing the disease to other wildlife.

Photos: snow is lacking, but not snow geese

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.

Birds of prey class Saturday at Sandpoint

WILDLIFE WATCHING — North Idaho College at Sandpoint is offering a “Birds of Prey” class taught by ornithologist and author Brian Baxter on Saturday, March 14.

The class starts at 9 a.m. with a short review in the classroom on families, distinguishing characteristics and birding tips. Two field trips will follow to study habitats, tracks, migrations and observe birds of prey.

Baxter has degrees in both forestry and wildlife biology, and has been teaching outdoor education programs for more than 20 years.

Othello gears up for Sandhill Crane Festival

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The headline attraction at the annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival has already arrived for the March 27-29 series of programs, field trips and banquets based out of Othello, Wash.

Founded in 1998, the festival highlights the spring return of migrating sandhill cranes that stop over to rest at the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge and feed at surrounding farm fields.

Of course, plenty of other birds, including long-billed curlews and waterfowl, are enjoyed by viewers on festival field trips.

Sign up in advance, since many of the trips and sessions will fill up. Info: (866) 726-3445.

The festival is an excellent wildlife experience indoors and out. For example:

Field trips include a Potholes Reservoir boat birding tour and other birding tours at Lower Crab, the Columbia Refuge plus several tours geared specifically to seeing sandhill cranes.   One of the crane tours is for bicyclists.

Seminars by experts touch on more than 35 different topics such as songs birds sing, native plants for the garden, dragonflies, sage and sharp-tailed grouse, pollinators of the shrub-steppe, butterflies, trumpeter swans, burrowing owls, Ice Age floods, ground squirrels and one not to be missed — arachniding.

  • A film about raising a young sandhill crane also will be screened.

Banquet speakers include:

  • Friday, Roy Lowe — Seabird conservation on the Oregon Coast.
  • Saturday, Scott Burns — Cataclysms on the Columbia: The Great Missoula Floods.

Birders witness eagle v. swan encounter at Reardan

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.

Bald eagles Marching into quality family time

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bald eagles are mating and getting their families started. This video clip from a Hanover, Penn., web cam aimed at an eagle nest shows an eagle pair making a quick change of guard as they incubate eggs in cold February weather.

Good parenting examples, eagles.

 

Tundra swans flocking to region’s open water

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!

Photo: Great gray owl lives large

WILDLIFE WATCHING — With huge size and disproportionately large head, the great gray owl is a standout in the region's woods.

The bird's range — mostly in boreal forests — includes an area near Republic, Wash., as well as a fork of habitat south through far-eastern and North Idaho and a swath of Western Montana.  Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson says considers himself very lucky to have great grays nesting just a few minutes from his home.

The largest owl in Montana - very social, they don’t seem to mind our presence. Hands down, our favorite type of owls.

Canyon wren, RVers enjoying Riverside State Park

HIKING — The report from local Audubon Society birders out for a hike in Riverside State Park today is like music to my ears.

Fran Haywood was near the Bowl and Pitcher when she was serenaded by the cascading call of a canyon wren — one of my favorite songsters.

  • Click here for more information about canyon wrens and a link to hear their song.

Fran's observations:

Went to Riverside State Park in Spokane.  Walked across the swinging bridge and along the trail to the left where I found several singing Canyon Wrens. One was on the rock slide just before the trail drops down towards the river. Funny, how there songs seem to be coming from above where they actually are. They really like the slide areas.

Also had flocks of Pygmy Nuthatch.  Many people enjoying our spring-like weather with 5 RV's in the campground.

Canyon wrens also were heard calling along the Little Spokane River Natural Area on Monday, reports Rick Eichstaedt.

Bill to help get kids outside gets hearing in Olympia

OUTDOOR EDUCATION — A Senate committee will hold a hearing today, Feb. 11, at 1:30 p.m. on “No Child Left Inside,” a bipartisan bill (SB 5843) that provides $1.3 million for programs to get kids to away from their screens and back outdoors. 

A media release from the bill’s introduction by Sens. Ranker (D-Orcas Island) and Parlette (R-Wenatchee) note's that Washington’s NCLI has inspired federal legislation of the same name. 

Scheduled to testify at today's hearing are:

  • Oak Rankin of Darrington, whose community was devastated by the Oso landslide in 2014. This bill would enable funding for programs such as the Darrington Youth Outdoor STEM Pilot Project  which helps students learn about local natural resources.
  • Joshua Brandon, a veteran and program manager for Project Cohort, a program designed to support veterans’ mental health, in part through outdoor activities. The legislation’s grant program encourages funding for programs that tap veterans for program implementation or administration.
  • Courtney Aber who heads up YMCA’s BOLD & GOLD programs (Boys Outdoor Leadership Development & Girls Outdoor Leadership Development)
  • Martin LeBlanc of IslandWood, the Bainbridge Island-based outdoor education organization
  • Marc Berejka from REI

Audubon clubs present birding programs

WILDLIFE WATCHING  — Audubon Society chapters in Spokane and Coeur d'Alene have interesting programs open to the public this week:

Tuesday, Feb 10 — African Safari photos and stories will be shared by Janet Callen and Darlene Carlton, who recently completed a 12-day wildlife-rich safari in Botswana. 

  • 7 p.m. at Lutheran Church of the Master, 4800 N. Ramsey Rd in Coeur d’Alene.

Wednesday, Feb. 11 — Bird banding studies around Spokane: Lindell Haggin will discuss what’s involved with bird banding and what we are learning about the birds of our area. Haggin assisted with bird banding research on the Little Spokane River for 10 years, giving her insights into which birds bite the hardest and which species have the most attitude!

  • 7:30 p.m. at Riverview Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave. in Spokane.
  • See directions to the meeting location.

Join the crowd to count backyard birds

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Birders are signing up to contribute 15 minutes of their favorite hobby to science.

The Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb.13-16, involves birders of all levels of experience to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species,online.

Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose.

Check it out. 

BTW, kids can really get into this. Grab a field guide to birds or Google what you see and feed the brain for natural science.

Eagles still lingering at Wolf Lodge Bay

WILDLIFE WATCHING —Bald eagles at Lake Coeur d’Alene for their annual gathering to feed on spawning kokanee are dispersing, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist says.

Carrie Hugo, who has surveyed eagles in Wolf Lodge Bay almost weekly since early November, counted 28 eagles Friday – 27 adults and one juvenile.

The peak count this winter was 140 on Dec. 23.

A record 273 bald eagles was counted at Lake Coeur d'Alene on Dec. 29, 2011.

Winter tips for feeding birds

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Feeding wild birds is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the U.S. While a handout can help birds find the calories needed to survive the winter, improper feeding can spread disease or increase birds' exposure to predators.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game encourages bird enthusiasts to keep a few things in mind to help assure successful bird feeding.

"The location of your feeder and what food it offers is very important for attracting birds," said Deniz Aygen, IDFG wildlife program coordinator. "To attract a variety of birds, many bird watchers use a variety of feeders and foods in several different locations."

Additional suggestions for successful bird feeding include:

  • Place feeders near cover to protect feeding birds from weather and predators. Move feeders if you notice birds striking windows.
  • Birds can be particular about what and where they eat. Sparrows, juncos and doves typically feed on the ground or on a flat platform, while other birds prefer an elevated feeder. Some ground-feeding birds prefer corn, milo or millet, but sunflower seeds are also a popular food. Adding finch or thistle seed can attract pine siskins, goldfinches and house finches. Insect-eating birds, such as woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches feed on suet or peanut butter mixtures.
  • If possible, provide water nearby. Specially designed heaters are available to prevent freezing. Once water and food are offered, try to continue through the winter, but don't be concerned if you miss a few days, since feeding birds are mobile and are probably visiting other feeding stations besides yours.
  • Keep feeders and feeding areas clean. Clean feeders regularly by scrubbing with soapy water, followed by a quick rinse in water diluted with a small amount of bleach. Store seed in tight, waterproof containers to prevent mold and to deter rodents.

Reardan Audubon Lake expanding for birds, birdwatchers

CONSERVATION — A non-profit land trust has stepped up to secure wetlands important to migrating waterfowl and other birds in Lincoln County along U.S. 2 west of Spokane.

The Inland Northwest Land Trust has purchased 150 acres adjoining the 277-acre Reardan Audubon Lake Wildlife Area, a nature preserve in Reardan managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Spokane-based land trust plans to sell the channeled scablands property to the state agency when funds become available. The deal assures the area's wetlands, vernal pools, alkaline mud flats and basalt features will remain undeveloped for wildlife.

Garry Schalla, INLT executive director, said state wildlife officials were given an option by the owner last year to buy the land, but the state needs about two years or more to apply for state funding through the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.

“INLT was the lead organization in the original 2006 acquisition, so when Audubon and WDFW called on us, we were glad to help out,” said Chris DeForest, INLT conservation director. The deal was closed Jan. 15.

The area originally was dubbed Audubon Lake decades ago after bird watchers started tuning in to the large variety of bird species that pass through the Reardan area, especially during spring and fall migrations.

The wildlife area is a stop on the Northeast Washington Birding Palouse to Pines Trail developed by Audubon Washington. It's also a notable feature on the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.

The 80-acre main lake and wetlands on the north side of Reardan are at the headwaters of Deep Creek and Crab Creek.

“Although most of our work is to help private individuals conserve their own land, this will eventually be a public preserve,” Schalla said. 

The Land Trust plans to clean up the site and work with state and local agencies and organizations to design a trail system that gives birders and school groups access to viewing the wildlife while shielding sensitive areas, he said.

Bird photographer offers tips on getting the picture

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Professional photographer Ron Smith will give a free presentation on Wednesday, Jan. 14, on tips for photographing birds.

The program, sponsored by the Spokane Audubon Society, starts at 7:30 p.m. at Riverview Retirement Community, 2117 E. N. Crescent Ave. Social gathering starts at 7 p.m.

Smith has worked in camera sales and printed large-size prints for a professional lab. He taught photography to children at SFCC summer school, and adult classes at night. Ron ran a  wedding and portrait business for over 25 years, so when he retired, he thought he would try his hand at photographing something that didn’t smile: wildlife and birds. He quickly discovered that birds aren’t the easiest of subjects!

Bald eagles still hanging out at Lake CdA

WILDLIFE WATCHING —  Today's weekly winter survey of Lake Coeur d'Alene bald eagles — possibly the last of the season — tallied 93  eagles at Wolf Lodge Bay feasting on spawning kokanee.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist Carrie Hugo counted  87 adults, 5 immature, 1 unknown.  That's plenty of birds for good viewing and photography.

The landslide that blocked SR 97 yesterday was quickly cleared.

 

Pacific Coast sea bird die-off puzzles scientists

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Scientists are trying to figure out what’s behind the deaths of seabirds that have been found by the hundreds along the Pacific Coast since October.

Mass die-offs of the small, white-bellied gray birds known as Cassin’s auklets have been reported from British Columbia to San Luis Obispo, California.

Julia Burco of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife tells the Salem Statesman Journal that the birds appear to be starving to death, so experts don’t believe a toxin is the culprit.

But why the birds can’t find food is a mystery.

Researchers say it could be the result of a successful breeding season, unusually violent storms or changes in ocean chemistry.

Bird carcasses have been sent to a federal lab in Wisconsin for more research.

  • Meanwhile, scientists are still gathering information about the sea star wasting syndrome that's been killing masses of starfish along the Pacific Coast.

Birds a lot of hot air when temperatures dip

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.

Wind energy company fined $2.5 million for impact to birds

WILDLIFE — Another step in the developing bird crisis… Call it Gone with the Wind:

Company to pay $2.5M for protected birds killed at Wyoming wind farms
PacifiCorp Energy, a subsidiary of Oregon-based PacifiCorp, will pay $2.5-million in fines for the deaths of 38 golden eagles and 336 other protected birds at its wind farms in Wyoming's Converse and Converse counties between 2009 and this year.
—Portland Oregonian

Waterfowlers should be on watch for avian flu

HUNTING — Although it's mainly a West Side issue at this point, all Washington waterfowlers should be on avian influenza alert after two birds have been documented with the disease this month.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking for the public's help in monitoring for the disease.

Meanwhile, hunters should review the following common-sense precautions, which are always recommended to reduce the risk of contracting any wildlife disease:

  • Do not harvest or handle wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead.
  • Wear rubber gloves while cleaning game or cleaning bird feeders.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game.
  • Wash hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes immediately after handling game or cleaning bird feeders.
  • Wash tools and work surfaces used to clean game birds with soap and water, then disinfect with a 10 percent solution of chlorine bleach.
  • " Separate raw meat, and anything it touches, from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid contamination.
  • " Cook game birds thoroughly. Meat should reach an internal temperature of 155 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill disease organisms and parasites.

State wildlife managers ask that anyone who sees a wild bird that is sick or dead call WDFW at (800) 606-8768. They are particularly interested in waterfowl and birds such as eagles, hawks, falcons, ravens, and gulls that prey on them or scavenge their carcasses.

ISP boots eagle watchers off SR97 along Lake CdA

UPDATED 9:35 a.m. with further response from ISP

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bald eagle numbers continue to increase at Lake Coeur d’Alene in time for the annual Eagle Watch event Dec. 27-31.

However, an Idaho State Police trooper gave the boot to some eagle viewers and photographers parked in turnouts along State Route 97 on Monday.

Parking along the highway has occasionally presented a hazard, said Lt. Chris Schenck, ISP spokesman in Coeur d’Alene.

"We're still going to allow people to park there, but they must be off the highway and cannot cause a traffic hazard," he said. "Safety is our concern. We've had some near misses there in the past."

The eagles congregate in the Wolf Lodge Bay area from November into January to prey on spawning kokanee. Families and photographers from around the country flock to the area to see eagles perched in trees and swooping down to snatch the land-locked sockeye salmon from the water.

During the peak of the eagle gathering between Christmas and New Year, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Idaho Fish and Game sponsor an the Eagle Watch event based out of designated parking areas at the Mineral Ridge boat launch and the Mineral Ridge trailhead.

The areas will be staffed by eagle “ambassadors” to answer questions about bald eagles, explain their lifestyles and habits and assist visitors with high-powered spotting scopes for five days, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., starting Saturday, Dec. 27.

Eagle watching occurs at several areas, from boats and at Higgens Point accessible from Coeur d'Alene.

Most eagle viewers traditionally have driven 8 miles on Interstate 90 east of Coeur d’Alene to take the Wolf Lodge Exit toward Harrison. Several SR 97 turnouts along the lake are frequently used by photographers en route to the Mineral Ridge area.

 But on Monday, some of them were evicted from roadside turnouts.

“An Idaho State Police officer showed up at Wolf Lodge Bay this morning and demanded that all the photographers move their cars from the turnouts along the water’s edge on the south side of the lake,” Matt Shelley said Monday. “People regularly use these turnouts to park, avoiding the mile-long walk from a parking area about one mile farther south.  

“Apparently a number of the locals, some of whom are out virtually every day, were parked well beyond the white fog line (marking the edge of the highway). They objected to the officer’s order and were told they could move their cars or they would be cited or go to jail.  

“Everyone left, including the ISP officer, but, of course, a new batch of eagle watchers who had not received the edict came along and once again filled the turnouts.”

"We had complaints of people in the roadway," Lt. Schenck said. A few cars were illegally parked, so the officers chose to clear out everyone, he said.

People cannot be posing a hazard to traffic as they park or walk along the road, he said.

BLM officials regularly warn eagle watchers to stay off SR 97. Apparently the thrill of watching the eagles makes them forget they’re on a state highway, they say.

“Each year hundreds of viewers travel to the Mineral Ridge area to take in the eagles, so the BLM would like to remind travelers to be extra cautious when driving, parking or walking along State Highway 97,” said Suzanne Endsley, BLM spokeswoman in Coeur d’Alene. “The travel way is not restricted, and pedestrians should be respectful of drivers by not walking in the center of the road or using the shoulder to scout for eagles,” she said in the media release for Eagle Watch week.

 “People were not sure why this has suddenly become an issue,” Shelley said. “That long walk from the parking area is a fairly tall order given the heavy tripods, 600mm lenses and other equipment needed to get good shots of the eagles.”

 “But in this case the officer said no parking at all was allowed in the turnouts.”

Spokane Valley photographer Craig Goodwin said he talked to some of the photographers that had been evicted.

"No cars were over the white line," he said. "Things apparently got pretty heated with threats of arrest because of the pushback from the photographers. The closure forced many more people to walk the shoulderless road. Probably not the best day in policing history."

 Said Shelley, “People watching the eagles must park in the turnouts, not in the road, which I don't believe anyone would argue with. But the officer touched a nerve with the local eagle watchers, understandably, by effectively closing the turnouts to parking.”