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Announcing their presence

Unlike Deputy Barney Fife, I cannot claim to understand bird-speak.

But I have a hunch about what some of them are saying at this time of year.

“Don't rake your leaves.”

I'm guessing this because I noticed something the other night. Cats lose their stealth when moving through a yard covered with dry leaves.

And if I have noticed that, I would imagine the birds have, too.

Normally silent felines create crunching and rustling that all but blares “Here comes trouble!”

At least that's how I imagine a bird would view it.

Hunting dusky grouse can give you the blues

HUNTING — Hunting dusky grouse with a pointing dog is one part bliss and several parts misery and despair.

Duskies — the name given a decade ago to the former “blue grouse” east of the Cascades — are notoriously fickle about holding to a point.  

They might hold, as did the one pictured above, or they may not.

They might fly up in a tree and look at you or they may flush at the hint that you're coming their way and rocket downhill a quarter mile into the timber.

They like high ridges and openings at the edges of timber. Often the terrain is rocky.

It can be tough going — and tough shooting.

I liken dusky hunting to a chukar hunt with timber mixed in to increase the shooting difficulty factor.

I was one for three on Saturday with two other birds flushing a full 40 yards away from Scout's solid point.

Tough quarry. 

Oregon storms blast swallows; thousands dead

WILDLIFE — Barn swallows and violet-greens took a harsh blow from storms and high winds that hammered Western Oregon in the past week.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife veterinarians received multiple Monday about dead and dying swallows. 

Groups of 10 to 200 swallows were reported dead or near death in barns and other structures where they perch, the agency reports.  Mortality appears to be greater closer to rivers and standing water where the birds concentrate.

Colin Gillin, ODFW State Wildlife Veterinarian, estimates that thousands of birds have died. “This type of mortality event is unprecedented and considered a rare and unusual event,” said Gillin. “The effect on bird populations is unknown.”

A number of birds were examined at the Oregon State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and pathologists determined the swallows were thin and had not eaten recently with their cause of death most likely being weather-related starvation. Veterinarians believe that the four consecutive days of rain and wind prevented the swallows from feeding at a time when they would normally be preparing for winter migration.

September was the wettest on record for the Willamette Valley.

Swallows feed on insects during flight and inclement weather events can have an effect on young and weaker birds that cannot take in enough food to meet their energy requirements. Swallows are seasonal migrants to Oregon and migrate to Central and South America during winter.

Video: How hummingbird tongues function

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Like little jewels in the sky, hummingbirds capture everyone's attention when they “hum” by.

But only recently have scientists been able to study them closely enough to understand how their tongues function while feeding on flower nectar.

The hummer's tongue is about twice as long as it s beak.  The tongue is a unique “nectar trap” with two tubes and rows of flaps attached to a supporting rod that extends and then retracts compactly into the beak.

See how it works!

Video: Raunchy dancing? Forget MTV, go to Midway

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Miley Cyrus doesn't have anything on these birds!

Take a look at the twerking of the mating Laysan albatross on Midway National Wildlife Refuge.

If this tweeks your imagination, learn more about the birds on this tiny dot of an island in the Pacific.

Osprey lands prize catch

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Ospreys will be leaving this fall on their lengthy migrations to other parts of the world for winter.

But their athleticism shouldn't escape us while they're here in their nesting territory. Look at the size of the lunker — apparently a sucker — that this osprey snagged in the water and lifted to a utility pole.

Here's what North Idaho photographer Mark Powers saw:

I was walking to my barn along Cocallala Creek where it flows into the Pend Oreille River across from Laclede when I noticed a larger than normal fish atop what I refer to as the Dinner Pole.  The osprey was not too afraid of me because I presume he was not anxious to get airborne again with this fish.

One highlight from my weekend email

A reader took me to task for not knowing that ravens and crows are the same thing.

They aren't, of course.

We all make mistakes. And I was happy to write back and briefly point out his.

But I really don't get it. Wouldn't you make sure you knew what you were talking about before firing off a blistering rebuke?

Campers find creative ways to feed hummingbirds

WILDLIFE WATCHING — People camping and fishing in North Idaho are taking note and enjoying what appears to be a good population of colorful hummingbirds in the region.

The photos above where shot and compiled by Hal Blegen of Spokane, who was in the field for fishing last week, but equally fascinated by the creative ways campers were tending to the hummers.  Here's his report:

The hummingbird population up and down the North Fork of the Clearwater and Kelly Creek was thriving (during my recent fishing trip).  I found that a number of campsites had make-shift feeders. They were made from whiskey bottles,  plastic drink containers, empty fruit trays, and bottle caps,  patched together with tie wraps, duct tape and coat hangers. 

The curious thing was that they all seemed to work just fine.  There was no shortage of ideas or hummers, but finding enough sugar to keep them filled was a challenge. 

Burrowing owl quick as cricket to feed baby

BIRDING — A burrowing owl chick knows when it's feeding time; knows when the meal's only half finished; and knows when the cricket is consumed and it's time to quickly retreat into the vacated prairie dog burrow that's become its nursery.

Check out this short video by Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson for a ground-dwelling bird's eye view of the action.

Osprey cruise a unique local wildlife experience

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BIRD WATCHING —  Tickets for Saturday's osprey viewing cruise on Lake Coeur d'Alene sold out the day after the notice was published, proving word is out that this is a bucket list wildlife opportunity in the Inland Northwest.

The photos came from Carlene Hardt, who wrote this note after taking the cruise:

Thank you for writing about the Osprey Cruise on your blog! I didn't know they did this every year.  There was one Osprey family on their piling nest in Cougar Bay that we watched being banded. The chicks stay in the nest for 8 weeks. I was surprised by their camouflaged coloring and long wings. There were several guest speakers durning our 2 hour cruise.

It was a wonderful way to spend the morning.

While speakers told stories and offered information about these hawks that dive into lakes and river for their meals of fish, the people on the cruise boat could watch osprey expert Wayne Melquist band young osprey in nests along the lake.

Melquist would hold the birds up so people could see the osprey's sharp talons as he attached the band.

The banding day is scheduled before the chicks are old enough to be tempted to bail out of the nest at the approach of a human.

At least 100 osprey pairs nest each year in the Coeur d’Alene Lake region including the lower reaches of the St. Joe and Coeur d’Alene Rivers. 

Adult osprey along with the young of the year birds begin their annual migration in mid-September. The bands have helped researchers document their travel 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. 

Osprey-viewing boat cruise set for Saturday

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A boat-load of people will get a close-up view of wildlife biologists capturing and banding young osprey during a wildlife-watching boat cruise on Lake Coeur d'Alene on Saturday (July 13).

Space is limited, so sign up now for this event, which includes onboard presentations by osprey experts.

Make reservations through the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, (208) 415-0110.

Online reservations are planned, but the option is not yet posted on the Chamber's website.

Cost: $15 for adults, $30 maximum per family.

The trip will run from 9 a.m. –11 a.m.

Read on for more details about the cruise, the speaker and the birds.

Photo: Turnbull trumpeters tending to young

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Photographer Carlene Hardt and numerous other wildlife watchers have been watching trumpeter swans at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge south of Cheney as they raise their young that hatched last month.

Here's the photo and the note she sent this week after spending some time watching the family of two adults and four cygnets off the paved walking trail near Middle Pine pond.

The rules say I can't go off trail on Cheever so I will not be able to see the second family. 

Isn't it wonderful that there are two Trumpeter pairs and two new families! The cygnets are so adorable and I know they will grow up fast! I watched them imitate their parents eating and preening. 

Two trumpeter swan broods hatch at Turnbull Refuge

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Trumpeter swans are doubling the fun Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge this summer with two nesting pairs, each of which has hatched a brood of cygnets in the past week.

Just seven years ago, only one trumpeter called Turnbull home. I named him Solo in a column documenting his lonely two decades of seeking a mate.

In 2009, Solo, by then a geriatric swan age 35-48, attracted a viable mate. He sired the first brood of trumpeters on the refuge since his first mate was killed on her nest by a predator in 1988

Solo disappeared two seasons later, but his mate bonded with another male to produce a brood last year.  This year, it appears that one of the birds produced by the swans also has returned with a mate.

Here's today's report from Mike Rule, refuge wildlife biologist:

Both nesting pairs of trumpeters at Turnbull NWR have hatched.  The pair on Cheever Lake  hatched 3 cygnets  on June 13 and the Middle Pine pair hatched 4 cygnets on June 19 or 20.   The female of the Middle Pine pair is likely Solo's (the really old swan) mate who started the ball rolling again in 2009.

Sizing up a hummingbird nest

WILDLIFE WATCHING — How big is a hummingbird nest that held two chicks until fledging?
The chicken egg in the photo above tells the story.
South Hill resident Bill Bender followed the growth of the hummingbird family that nested on a bicycle-parts wind chime off his porch.  Here's his final report:
22 days from hatch to leaving the nest. Just for some perspective, here are pictures of the empty nest. Yes, that is a standard, store bought chicken egg, so that is how big the nest is. And the picture of the empty nest lets you know that the final nest was actually spread out larger, as the chicks got bigger. The original nest into which the eggs were laid was more like a cup, than the final soup bowl shape.
The other photo shows the two hummers at 17 days, filling the nest to overflowing just two weeks after they were so small they could hide at the bottom of the nest. One chick fledged at 21 days; the other a day later.

Harlequin duck, 17, returns to Glacier Park

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A male harlequin duck, known to be at least 17 years old, was recently identified in Glacier National Park by University of Montana researchers and Glacier National Park scientists.

  • The banded duck is believed to be the third oldest on record. The oldest known banded harlequin duck has a recorded age of 18 years and 10 months.

“Prior to these findings, harlequin ducks were reported to live up to only 10  years of age, which makes this finding a positive indicator of the health and longevity of harlequin breeding populations in Glacier National Park,” said Lisa Bate, Glacier Park biological science technician. “Research indicates harlequin ducks mate for life unless something happens to one member of the pair. This old male has returned the last three years with the same female.”

Researchers launched the study in 2011, using radio-telemetry and banding to learn more about the location of harlequin nests and factors affecting offspring survival.

Upper McDonald Creek is considered an important breeding stream for harlequin ducks, comprising 25 percent of known broods produced in Montana. The area also has the highest density of breeding harlequins in the lower 48 states.

About 40 pairs of harlequins in the park are known to be in Glacier Park.

Read on for more detals about the harlequins.

Video: Dusky grouse strut their stuff this season

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Dusky grouse males seemed to be especially testy during mating season.  One of the feathered bruisers even took on a Washington Fish and Wildlife policeman.

Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson was glad he was safely inside his vehicle when a different dusky made sure he knew whose territory he was in.  

Check out his short video and live in FEAR of grouse.

We decided to head back to where we had the encounter with the crazed Dusky Grouse a week ago. Realizing that lightning doesn’t often strike twice in the same spot – it seemed worth a try.
This time, we were prepared. The GoPro video was ready.
As we rounded the corner where we had last seen the grouse, there to our surprise was our little friend standing in the middle of the road. I stopped the truck and shut it off. The grouse came running.
It was almost a complete replay from last week. He flew to the roof of the car and tried to get in the Sun roof and drivers window (see image of grouse on roof looking into drivers window from the roof).  The window was only rolled down about 2 inches.
He eventually flew back to the ground and continued to circle the truck. I got out and hand-held the tiny GoPro video camera. He attacked the camera with a vengeance. He did manage to draw blood twice during the encounter! He targeted the fingers holding the camera.
I returned to the truck and we drove away in defeat. This little guy is cranky…
He was still standing in the road as we left.

Double the pleasure: 2 trumpeter swan pairs nesting at Turnbull

WILDLIFE — Turnbull Wildlife Refuge south of Cheney is in a family way this month with critters birthing and hatching young all over the place. (See list of 108 bird species documented at Turnbull in just two weeks at end of this post).

Fans of the late the trumpeter swan named Solo will revel in news that TWO trumpeter pairs are nesting at the refuge this year, up from one pair last year and no pairs for 22 years before 2009.

Solo was one of the original Turnbull trumpeters who lost his mate to a predator in the 1980s. He defended his territory at Turnbull through a 22-year drought without a suitable breeding partner before siring a family in 2009.  

The trumpeters are crowd pleasers because they're so visible. The nesting pairs are on Middle Pine and Cheever ponds. If all goes well and their cygnets hatch in June, the attentive parents will parade their families for all to see from the visitor paths all summer and into the fall.

Amateur photographer Carlene Hardt focused on the trumpeters for two years and recently published a nifty book of photos and trumpeter information, “A Swan and His Family.” The book, available at the Turnbull Refuge headquarters store, chronicles Solo's family life for several years.

Also worth checking out at the store is the booklet, “Discover Birds at Turnbull,” published after years of research by students at the former Discovery School.  The book has good information about a variety of Turnbull bird species with photos by local expert photographers.  

The book is a showcase for Turnbull's service in providing wildlife and nature education for up to 8,000 students who visit the refuge each year.

Meanwhile, don't forget all the other bird species found at the refuge.  Click “continue reading” for Tuesday's report report from Mike Rule, refuge wildlife biologist.

Hummers nesting in the yard; something to sing about

WILDLIFE — You're living well when hummingbirds chose your yard for their nursery.

This is the second consecutive year Bill Bender has had a nest off the back porch of his South Hill home.

The chicks are seven days old in this photo from the weekend.

At least two snowy owls clinging to Eastern Washington

UPDATED May 24, 2013

WILDLIFE WATCHING — While most snowy owls that migrated to the lower 48 states during winter are well on their way back to their arctic breeding grounds, at least one is still hanging out in Eastern Washington.

Last week, a snowy owl — standing out like a white beacon against the spring landscape — was reported by Inland Northwest birders in Whitman County.

Last month, Spokane author and naturalist Jack Nisbet reported seeing a snowy owl just north of U.S. Highway 2 in Lincoln County.

On Monday (May 20), Nisbet, traveling again in Lincoln County, snapped the photo above of a snowy owl — possibly the same one — 8 miles west of Odessa on Hwy 28.

Today (May 24), Carl Lundblad of Moscow made a repeat sighting of a snowy owl in Whitman County. It was in a field well south of Campbell Road two-tenths of a mile west of Farmington Road just south of Tekoa.

Some birders speculate the late-to-migrate bird could be sick or injured rather than smitten with the scablands or Palouse.

Snowy owls still clinging to Eastern Washington

UPDATED May 24, 2013

WILDLIFE WATCHING — While most snowy owls that migrated to the lower 48 states during winter are well on their way back to their arctic breeding grounds, at least one is still hanging out in Eastern Washington.

Last week, a snowy owl — standing out like a white beacon against the spring landscape — was reported by Inland Northwest birders in Whitman County.

Last month, Spokane author and naturalist Jack Nisbet reported seeing a snowy owl just north of U.S. Highway 2 in Lincoln County.

On Monday (May 20), Nisbet, traveling again in Lincoln County, snapped the photo above of a snowy owl — possibly the same one — 8 miles west of Odessa on Hwy 28.

Today (May 24), Carl Lundblad of Moscow made a repeat sighting of a snowy owl in Whitman County. It was in a field well south of Campbell Road two-tenths of a mile west of Farmington Road just south of Tekoa. 

Some birders speculate the late-to-migrate bird could be sick or injured rather than smitten with the scablands.

Oregon town still struggling with geese in parks

WILDLIFE — An infestation of Canada geese has been converting  portions of Bend, Ore., parks into latrines for years. Frustrated parks staff and health officials raised the ire of animal rights activists when they killed about a hundred geese a few years ago — probably some of the same folks who at turkey at Thanksgiving.

So the battle continues.  Read on how everything from vegetable oil to kayaks is being used to control the problem.

Floods, Flowers, Feathers Festival May 18 at Turnbull Refuge

OUTDOORS – Experts in wildlife, wildflowers and geology will combine their talents for a festival of nature walks, youth activities and educational information on Saturday (May 18) at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

The second annual “Floods, Flowers, and Feathers Festival” – completely free, including no entry fee into the refuge – will include nature hikes dealing with topics such as Ice Age Floods and Channeled Scablands, spring birds, wildflower and insects.

The refuge is 4.2 miles south of Cheney, off Cheney-Plaza Road.  Drive to the refuge headquarters.

Info: Turnbull Refuge, (509) 235-4723. 

Charm of hummers, raft of ducks: can you name that flock?

BIRDING — “I haven't seen any hummingbirds up here, yet, but I did find out what to call a group of them when they do arrive: a 'charm' of hummingbirds,” said Janis Woolbright of Woodland, Idaho, in an Inland Northwest Birders post last week.

“We don't have to resort to saying group or flock for all our different species,” she said, noting some of the chucklers in the bunch, such as a conspiracy of ravens.

Lists of collective nouns for birds and other wildlife are posted every now and then, but this one by the Palomar (Calif.) Audubon Society is one of the best organized.
But there's still room for expanding the list. 
I looked it over closely, and I saw no reference to the term that's been used frequently in headlines but which needs to be coined officially here and now: a blizzard of snow geese.

Birding workshop, family activities set for Migratory Bird Week

OUTDO – National Migratory Bird Week events organized by area Audubon Society chapters are for the birds––and people who want to learn more about them.

A three-day Learn-to-Bird Workshop starts Monday and continues Wednesday and Friday, 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m. at Spokane Falls Community College Science Building, Room 28/119.  A field trip will follow on Saturday.

Info: Gary Blevins, 533-3661, email GaryB@spokanefalls.eduor Kim Thorburn 465-3025, email kthorburn@msn.com.

Events set for Saturday include:

Turnbull Wildlife Refuge tree and native plant restoration work party, 9 a.m.-noon, followed by a group potluck. Meet at refuge headquarters south of Cheney.

Info: (509) 235-4723.

Lake Coeur d’Alene family birding fair at Blackwell Island Boat Launch, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., includes adult and family activities such as migration obstacle course, scavenger hunt, bird feeder projects, feather painting, 'bird friendly” coffee, guided bird walks, Bird Bingo and live owls.

Directions: From Coeur d’Alene, drive south on Highway 95. Cross the Spokane River and turn right to Blackwell Island.Info: Coeur d’Alene Audubon, (208) 769-5048.

Barney Fife School of Bird Interpretation


I guess it all depends on when you head out the door. But this morning seemed like an especially fine occasion for employing what we learned from Deputy Fife in a great episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” called “Opie the Birdman.”

Remember when Barney purported to understand bird language?

Here's hoping that all the ones we heard this morning were saying “I feel pretty good.”

Happy Friday.

Birder spots rare Baikal teal near Missoula

BIRDING — “As soon as I looked at it closer, I knew right away it was a Baikal teal,” said Western Montana birder Radd Icenoggle. “There have only been 11 or 12 of them spotted in the continental U.S. south of Alaska.”

He immediately going online Sunday night with his photo and observations of the rare sighting — in an irrigation ditch.

Like the storm that blew in last weekend, he created a flurry of activity among birders who wanted to bag a life-list bird they'd otherwise have to travel to another continent to see.

The male Baikal teal is unmistakable, with its striking green nape and its long-dropping dark scapular feathers. It breeds in eastern Russia and winters in eastern Asia.

Read on for the story from the Missoulian.

Grouse puts wildlife police officer in pecking order

WILDLIFE — Washington Fish and Wildlife police officers are accustomed to dealing with testosterone-charged males strutting their stuff.

But officer Curt Wood stood up to a bird-brained attacker to get these photos.  Here are the details from an edited version of the agency's Enforcement Division's weekly report:

While patrolling Lincoln County for turkey hunters, Officer Wood encountered a male dusky grouse that was strutting head on a primitive road.  Officer Wood pulled his patrol vehicle up to the grouse and stopped.  

Within seconds, the grouse jumped up onto the front of the officer's pickup and started strutting on the hood.  Officer Wood was able to get one picture with his cell phone camera before the grouse jumped back onto the ground in front of the truck.  

Wood got out of his vehicle and eased to within a foot or so of the grouse.  While the officer was snapping more photos, the grouse suddenly attacked Wood’s hand, sending his camera flying several feet.  

Wood was able to get a few more pictures (and a few more pecks to the hand) before he returned to his vehicle and tried to get out of there with his ego intact.  While driving away, he observed the grouse chasing his vehicle for quite a distance down the road. 

At last report, no charges have been filed.