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Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Missing pet pigeon flies to school of young owner

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.

Montana may curtail hunting of sage grouse

HUNTING — Here's some disturbing news from Montana, which we might have considered to be the "last best place" for sage grouse:

With preliminary results from Montana’s spring surveys showing a continued population decline of the state’s largest native upland game bird, wildlife officials will seek to close sage grouse hunting for the 2014 season.

Read on for the details that will be presented to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission meeting in Fort Peck on Thursday, May 22.

Bird photo: The blues that will brighten your day

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.

Learn to distinguish Eurasian collared-dove from mourning dove

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.

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:

  • Eurasian collared-dove, click here.
  • Mourning dove, click here.

Audubon program explores electronic tools for birding

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.

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.

Volunteers invited to Turnbull Refuge planting party

PUBLIC LANDS — Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge and Spokane Audubon Society will host a community work party 9 a.m.-noon on Saturday, May 10. This is part of an ongoing community effort to restore native riparian habitat to benefit birds and other wildlife species.

Hundreds of native saplings will be ready to plant, and fencing to build at the project site to protect the trees from deer, elk, and moose browsing. Everyone is welcome!

The Refuge will also host a potluck lunch.
  • Where: Turnbull NWR Headquarters, 5 miles south of Cheney on Cheney-Plaza Road: turn left on Smith Road and drive 2 miles on gravel road to headquarters.
  • Clothing: Long-sleeved shirt, work pants, sturdy boots or shoes, gloves.
  • Equipment: (If you can) shovels and pliers.

Great horned owlets most vulnerable now

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.

Feathers are flying on the grouse prairies

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.


Researchers play chicken with sage grouse radios

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.

Video: sharp-tailed grouse mating dance inspired Native Americans

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.

Observe other grouse that inhabit Washington in the following videos:

Readers photos capture the outdoor moment

PHOTOGRAPHY — Readers have shown their talents, outdoor savvy, enthusiasm and good humor with the photos they've submitted to our Outdoors Reader Photos Page.

The flurry of squirrel photos triggered by the submission (above) by Phil Hough of Sandpoint was a hoot.

Check out all of the great photos here, and get ready for May!

Two-day-old bald eagle chicks active in nest

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.

Birder counts woodies galore

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The sight of a wood duck will brighten anyone's day.  That's why Wayne C. Weber of Delta, British Columbia, is probably wearing sun goggles this week.  Here's his birding report from April 15 in northcentral Washington:

While birding in northern Okanogan County, I made a brief stop at Nighthawk, on the Similkameen River west of Oroville. From the bridge across the Similkameen, I noticed quite a few Wood Ducks in the river and perched on the banks, so I stopped to make an exact count. In three counts of the Wood Ducks, the number kept going up; my final count was 91 birds!  Most of these were perched along the riverbank from the bridge downstream for about 400 yards, and a small number were actually swimming in the river. There were about equal numbers of males and females.

This is easily the largest group of Wood Ducks I have ever seen in Washington. (The previous high count for Okanogan County in eBird was 20 birds!) Although I’m sure a few Wood Ducks breed along the Similkameen River backwaters near Nighthawk such as Champneys Slough, I suspect that this was a migratory concentration.  Whatever the reason for this aggregation of Wood Ducks, it was impressive!

Pheasants chicks available for raising, releasing

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. 

Bird thought it was flying into dust storm: Boink!

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.

Goose on the lookout — for what?

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Canada geese generally nest on the ground. However, they also will nest in cliffs and high in trees, usually by taking over an existing nest, such as one built by a great blue heron. 

This goose, however, appears to be a (large) duck outta water.

Reports Jim Kershner, who snapped the photo Tuesday on the South Hill Bluff trails overlooking Hangman Creek:

Yes, that's a Canada goose sitting way up on a snag. No, I have no idea why. I don't think the goose knew either.

Live raptors featured in Audubon program Tuesday

WILDLIFE – Raptor expert Kate Davis of Montana-based Raptors of the Rockies, will present a free program on hawks and owls at the Coeur d’Alene Audubon meeting, 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 8, at Lutheran Church of the Master, 4800 N. Ramsey Rd. in Coeur d’Alene.

Davis says she’ll be bringing a few of the 15 species of orphaned or injured raptors that serve as the educational team at her raptor ranch in the Bitterroot Valley.

Army Corps to cull fish-eating birds on Snake River

WILDLIFE — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this spring plans to kill birds at some Snake and Columbia river dams to help protect juvenile salmon and steelhead, the Lewiston Tribune reports.

The agency unveiled a plan last week that will allow as many as 1,200 California gulls, 650 ring-billed gulls and 150 double-crested cormorants to be killed. The birds gather at the dams and feast on the migrating salmon and steelhead which bunch up there.

The action will occur at McNary Dam on the Columbia River and Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams on the Snake River, according to the story moved by the Associated Press.

The corps said birds are typically the single largest cause of juvenile salmon and steelhead mortality. A 2009 study estimated that between 4 percent and 21 percent of smolts passing through the dams were eaten by birds.

The corps has long used non-lethal methods to scare away birds.

The plan has critics.

Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said there are better ways to protect the fish, such as removing the dams.

“The birds are fundamentally not being killed to save the salmon,” he said. “They are being killed to keep the dams in place that are endangering the salmon.”

Bruce Henrickson of the Army Corps in Walla Walla said the agency has been encouraged by the National Marine Fisheries Service to consider killing problem birds. He said hazing with water cannons, fire crackers and wires strung above the river that disrupt flight paths will continue to be used.

Read on for more details.

Snow geese make for cool visit to Slavin trails

WILDLIFE — Many hikers sense that this is prime time to hit the trails in the Slavin Conservation Area — one of the open spaces preserved through the Spokane Conservation Futures Program.   But they're not exactly sure why.

The trained eyes and ears of birder Jon Isacoff documented 45 species of birds this morning at Slavin, which is just south of Spokane off U.S. 195.

His observations and lists offer insight to the sights and sounds that tingle our senses during a visit.

Nice bright morning at Slavin Ranch.  All the usual waterfowl was there.  Highlight was 6 SNOW GEESE, generally tough to find in Spokane County.  Other noteworthy recent arrivals (at location): CINAMMON TEAL and RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER.  Was unable to locate the Northern Pygmy Owl reported at this location on eBird earlier this year. 

Full checklist below.


Collectively speaking, ‘herd’ of curlews begs for revision

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Timing of the Othello Sandhill Crane Festival for this weekend once again appears well-timed for seeing a variety of bird species migrating through the Columbia River Basin.

Here's a report posted today by a language-building birder from Electric City, Roy A. Myers:

There were 37 long-billed curlews in the alfalfa field in the SE corner of the US Hwy 2/ WA Hwy 155 intersection north of Coulee City, Grant County yesterday at 11:45. That's 7 more birds and eight days earlier than the flock I saw in the same spot about this time last year.

By the way, I think something needs to be done about the collective noun for these birds. The traditional "herd" lacks flavor and style. I did find "a salon of curlew" in one New Zealand reference, which is better.

How about "a ridiculous" or "a schnoz?"

I vote for "salon."

Top 10 ways to help birds this spring

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Spring migration is kicking into high gear as birds move, sometimes for thousands of miles, from wintering areas to settle into their breeding territory.

Birders know the beauty and excitement of the migrations also must be balanced with concern for the birds during this vulnerable period. Dr. George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy, says, “Spring is a deadly time for birds for three big reasons. Scientists estimate that 300 million to one billion birds die each year from collisions with buildings, many during arduous migrations in unfamiliar environments. Up to 50 million die from encounters with communication towers and up to six million may die each day from attacks by cats left outdoors. These deaths occur year-round, but many occur during spring and fall migration.” 

“Some studies suggest that perhaps as many as half of all migrating birds do not make it back home,” he said, “succumbing to various threats on either end of the journey.”

One in five Americans engage in bird watching.  That's enough people-power to have an impact in reducing the fatalities.

Read on for ABC's list of 10 ways to hep birds this spring.

Arriving bluebirds search for housing; you can help

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Birders are spreading word daily of spring arrivals to the Inland Northwest and bluebirds are some of the most  delightful to the eye.

The Idaho Fish and Game Department says the public can help make up for the loss of dead trees bluebirds and other cavity nesting birds need for pulling off broods this season by putting up bird nesting boxes in appropriate areas.

The department and offers volunteer-built bluebird houses for a donation of $5 at the Coeur d'Alene office, 2885 W. Kathleen Ave., as well as detailed plans for people who'd like to build their own bluebird boxes to the specific dimensions that have been found to be best for the birds.

  • Any nest boxes that already have been put up in a previous year should be cleaned out now in preparation of this year's arrivals.

Studies have shown that bluebirds are already looking for nest sites and are most likely to adopt a nest box that's in place by late March.  However, some of the birds will be looking for nest sites as late as mid-May, says Phil Cooper, IFG spokesman for the Panhandle.

Two species of bluebirds live in Idaho: the western bluebird and the mountain bluebird, which is Idaho's state bird.  Both are slightly smaller than robins.

Thoreau said, "the bluebird carries the sky on his back,"  Cooper said, noting that  the males of all the North American bluebird species sport brilliant blue backs. 

  • The mountain bluebird male has a very bright blue back and is pale blue below.  The female is mostly gray with a trace of blue on the wings and tail.  Mountain bluebirds are larger than western bluebirds.
  • The western bluebird is less brightly colored.  Males and females both have rust on the breast.

Read on for more details about bluebirds and bluebird nest boxes in this region:

Photo: Owls blend into the woodwork

WILDLIFE WATCHING — You say you've never seen a Western screech owl in the wild?

No wonder, says Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson.

Pend Oreille Valley Tundra Swan Festival booking tour seats

WILDLIFE WATCHING —  The 2014 Tundra Swan Festival is set for March 22 in the Pend Oreille River Valley and the main attraction is already flocking in.

Bus tours hosted by the Kalispell Tribe are planned to Calispell Lake to view some of the thousands of swans resting in the area’s open waters as their spring migration kicks into high gear.

Participants will re-gather at the Camas Wellness Center in Usk for lunch and a presentation on the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act by Forest Service District Ranger Gayne Sears.

Cost: $10 or $5 for kids under 13.

Sign up by Friday, March 14. Info: 509 447 5286

Weather change: birds shifting gears from survival to procreation

WILDLIFE WATCHING —  This morning's sunshine — capping the past week of weather extremes —  seems to be bringing on an epidemic of spring fever.

A Mount Spokane landowner said he noticed the first bluebird of the season flying past his window this morning.

Within an hour, he emailed the photo (above) of wild turkeys that have been frequenting his yard for weeks. But today, love was in the air.

Just snapped this pic, first time this season I’ve seen them spread their feathers. There were 13 of them feeding and all of a sudden they started chasing one another in circles and back and forth, finally one stopped long enough to get a pic. Guess spring is really here!!!

Also, Melissa Rose in Ferry County reports:

We could sure tell the difference going out side this morning up here. While there had been very little bird sound/activity all winter this morning we experienced a riot of both!"

And this just came in from Spokane Audubon member Kim Thorburn

Yesterday morning when feeding the chickens, I caught a glimpse of an unusual bird hop up from the ground.  Expecting western bluebirds any moment, I went to inspect and found a lovely male spotted towhee.  While they breed in Riverside State Park nearby, I've only seen one previously in my yard during a fall migration.  He's also a bit early.  He spent the day foraging with the ga-zillion dark-eyed juncos underneath the feeder, escaping to our slash piles when necessary.  This morning, he's sunning himself atop our Colorado blue spruce, a favored songbird roost tree.
The western bluebirds (a pair) did arrive yesterday at 4:00 PM.  There was also a killdeer along the 9-Mile Reservoir in Riverside State Park.

Tundra swans are pouring into the region, hitting all of the open water from Lake Spokane to the Colville Valley and Pend Oreille River.

And this report just in from Ron Dexter, also in the Mount Spokane foothills:

This morning as I returned from getting our morning paper, I found a male Western Bluebird perched upon our 7 ft tall carved bear. I looked around and found the female on the TV antenna. I went into the house and walked over to the front window where I read the paper, and there on a Serviceberry bush just outside the window was our first of the year Say's Phoebe. The mate usually shows up in the next week or two.
Spring has sprung, I guess.

Wildlife refuge cameras catch cats in the act of poaching

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A Florida research project on endangered species in the hammocks of North Key Largo uncovered an unwanted cast of video stars: Cats perched atop man-made woodrat nests.

"The cats are doing the things that cats do when they hunt," Jeremy Dixon, manager of the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge says in a story by KeysInfoNet.

"It's not the fault of the cats," Dixon said. "It's the fault of owners who allow their cats to trespass into the refuge, or people who dump cats on North Key Largo."

My stand on the issue of domestic cats that are let loose to kill birds and other critters:

Loose-running domestic cats kill for fun. These cats are not wildlife. They should be licensed and required to abide by seasons and quotas just as human hunters.


Biologists have high hopes for wild-hatched condor

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Groups tracking the reintroduction of the endangered California condor celebrated last year when a record four birds hatched near the Arizona-Utah border.

This year has brought increased enthusiasm with the possibility that a condor hatched in the wild will produce the first second-generation wild bird.

Eddie Feltes of The Peregrine Fund says he and others are keeping their fingers crossed.

Breeding is underway for the condors in the Arizona-Utah flock and the captive flock at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.

Biologists are watching from afar as adult condors incubate an egg in the Arizona-Utah flock nesting at Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

The captive flock is expected to produce up to 20 birds this season. 

13 trumpeter swans scoping open water at Turnbull Refuge

WILDLIFE WATCHING — For 22 years through 2009, only one trumpeter swan reliably returned to Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge each winter or spring — whenever enough open water was exposed by ice thawing at the headquarters-area ponds.

Now the legacy of Solo, the lone male trumpeter that finally found love in 2009, lives on in at least a baker's dozen.

Nesting is likely.  Broods usually hatch around Father's Day.

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

We watched 13 swans  flying down the creek in front of the office this morning .  They landed on Winslow Pond and Middle Pine.    There were

5 cygnets  and 9 adults. 

Four of the adults are likely the 2 breeding pairs from last year.  The age of  other  5 adults is unknown. They could be any combination of the 9 swans fledged in 2009, 2010, or 2012.   We potentially have four unaccounted for breeding age swans from Solo's 2 broods.  Hopefully we'll get another nesting pair established this year.

This same group was seen for a couple days in mid-January during a short thaw.


Bird migrations kicking into gear

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The spring bird migration often subtly comes to our attention. Other times, it's obvious even to the casual observer.

Here's a head's up from the weekend by birder Terry Gray in the Palouse:

Today in east Moscow there were many American Robins (300+) and many RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS (100+) moving through.  Some of the male blackbirds were already perched on top of cattails singing for the girls!

Shape your birding knowledge with this chart

WILDLIFE WATCHING — This chart, courtesy of the Spokane Audubon Society's monthly newsletter, helps you put your birding knowledge into perspective.