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Sandhill Crane Festival set with birds, speakers

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Organizers have assembled a collection of field trips and speakers while nature is supplying the wildlife for the 16th annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival.  Sign up in advance on the website; many activities fill quickly.

Events kick off Friday (April 5) with boat tours on Potholes Reservoir and a “biking for cranes” tour.

Saturday’s events include tours of burrowing owl/ground squirrel habitat, tours that feature geology shaped by prehistoric flooding, tours of prime crane viewing locations, and dozens of lectures at Othello High School. Lecture topics this year will cover everything from crane biology to wildlife photography.

  • Idie Ulsh, master birder and former president of Seattle Audbon, will be the banquet speaker on Saturday night during the silent auction. 

Vendors, children’s activities, and the opportunity to view raptors up close and in person will be also available throughout the day on Saturday. More tours will be available on Sunday.

The Othello farming community plays a central role in supporting crane migration each year. Cranes and other migrating birds feast on corn and grain left over from last year’s harvest, and some fields are left open through the migration season to allow birds the chance to rest during their travels.

Celebrities flock in for Othello Sandhill Crane Festival

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The headline attraction at the annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival has already arrived for the April 5-7 series of programs, field trips and banquets based out of Othello and the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.

More than 1,000 sandhill cranes were at the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge last weekend, said Spokane outdoor photographer Craig Goodwin.

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

Spring gets slow start for birders near Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge

WILDLIFE WATCHING — As spring returns to northeastern Washington, Mike Munts, wildlife biologist at the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge has resumed his periodic updates on refuge wildlife watching.

“It has been a bit of slow start,” he reported Sunday. T”he lakes and ponds are just starting to break up but the river has mostly thawed and Hatch Lake on the drive out from Colville is opening up so it should not be too much longer here.

“Temperatures have in the 50s the last couple of days and birds are starting to trickle in.”

One notable species seen this weekend is a white-winged crossbill.

Click continued ready for Munts' list of birds seen on the refuge in the past two weeks:

Clouds of snow geese darken skies in Montana

WILDLIFE WATCHING — More than 50,000 snow geese have been resting at Freezeout Lake near Great Falls, Mont., on their annual spring migration.

Snow geese are the only waterfowl I know of that are hunted during spring migrations as part of an effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reduce the overpopulated birds and reduce the damage they've been doing for years to their arctic nesting areas. 

But because the geese travel in such large groups with so many wary eyes, the are difficult to hunt, and their populations have not been brought under control. 

Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson caught a relatively small group of the migrants in the air at Freezout that filled his frame.  Here's his observation:

They are back in force! Worth the trip if you like seeing large amounts of Snow Geese.
The hardest part for us is all of the other “Watchers”. We probably saw 25 or 30 other cars on a weekday.
The neat part about this image  is that when I took it, I could have taken 6 or 7 shots across and had the same amount of geese in the frame. Wow !

Idaho sets rules for falconers to take wild peregrines

WILDLIFE — Idaho will allow up to two peregrine falcons a year to be taken from the wild by selected falconers under rules adopted by the state Fish and Game Commission Tuesday.

Rules allow the take of nestling or juvenile wild peregrine falcons during open seasons from 2013 through 2015. The capture season runs May 1-Aug. 31.

Read on for more details and history.

Migrating waterfowl making a buzz at Turnbull

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Migrating waterfowl are providing plenty of noise and action for birdwatchers visiting Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge this week.   Here's today's report from Mike Rule, refuge wildlife biologist:

For the past week there have been over 100 white swans on Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge's Cheever Lake. Mixed in are a few hundred northern pintail, wigeon, and mallards.  Common golden-eyes , hooded mergansers, buffleheads, ring-necked ducks, and  a few canvasbacks were also observed.  

Last year's nesting pair of trumpeter swans and their off spring have been hanging out in Middle Pine Lake.  Common snipe have been winnowing the last two mornings. 

In case you're not familiar with the northern pintail, it's a subtly-colored puddle duck species that ranks high in eye appeal and aerodynamics.  Here's a tip of the hat to The Designer, and to Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson for the photo reminder.

Snowy owls to be detailed in owl researcher’s program

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The life history of the snowy owl will be described in a free program by Denver Holt, founder of the Owl Research Institute, Tuesday (March 12) at the Lutheran Church of the Master, 4800 N. Ramsey Road in Coeur d’Alene, sponsored by Coeur d’Alene Audubon Society.

Read on for good background on this arctic visitors to this region supplied by the Institute and the Audubon Society:

Great gray owl lives large over field mice

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The great gray owl, widely distributed in the boreal forests of the north, also is found in a narrow swath of home range that runs south through far Eastern Washington, the Idaho Panhandle and Western Washington.

But seeing them is rare.  I know birders who'd drive hundreds of miles to watch a great gray owl.

That's why Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson knew he was privileged to spend hours on three different occasions last week — shooting thousands of frames from his cameras — with a couple of the owls as they fed in a Montana forest meadow.

This particular bird kept flying and landing near me. She would then sit quietly listening. Often, she would look directly toward the snow and then lose interest.
Every once in a while, she would not lose interest. She would silently fly and dive into the snow on the ground. She would go completely under the snow – Just her wing tips would stick out. Then, she would right herself and enjoy the fruits of her hunt. Sad for the mouse, but it is the circle of life.

She was probably 20 feet away on this dive. One cool thing, check out the bottom half of the beak – cool curve!

Even though great grays are huge owls, they have a taste for small rodents. They locate hidden prey with the help of large facial disks that funnel sound to their ears.  Using their heft, they've been known to dive for a rodent with enough force to crash through a snow crust that's thick enough to hold a 180-pound person. 

Whooo are the first love birds of the season?

WILDLIFE — At least one bird species in the Inland Northwest was way ahead of the crowd on the procreation front, as I mentioned in today's Outdoors column.

But birdwatcher reporting from Pend Oreille County Wednesday said they a raucus bunch of hungry nestlings proved that common ravens weren't far behind.

Idaho may allow falconers to capture peregrines

FALCONRY — For the first time in more than 40 years, up to two falconers in Idaho may once again get limited opportunity to capture and keep a wild peregrine falcon — a species federally listed as endangered from 1970-1999.

The Idaho Fish and Game Department proposes to allow the capture of two juvenile peregrines from the wild for falconry purposes in 2013 and has developed a set of draft rules for public comment through March 11.

The American peregrine falcon has continued to rebound since being delisted to the extent that in 2004 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorized the capture of nestling peregrines from the wild for use in falconry.

In 2008, the Fish and Wildlife Service also allowed capture of post-fledging first-year peregrines – hatch year or “passage” birds.

States have the authority to manage the capture of up to 5 percent of annual production. Based on Fish and Game surveys, the most juvenile peregrines that could be taken from the wild in Idaho in any given year would be two birds.

Montana, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Arizona also allow the capture of peregrine falcons.

The peregrine has been used in falconry for more than 3,000 years, beginning with nomads in central Asia. Captured wild migratory peregrines were used regularly by North American falconers from 1938 to 1970 when the species was added to the federal list of threatened and endangered wildlife and plants.

Until 2004, nearly all peregrines used for falconry in the United States were captive-bred from the offspring of birds captured before the Endangered Species Act was enacted.

The successful recovery program involved a collaboration of Boise’s Peregrine Fund along with state and federal wildlife agencies. Falconers provided the needed expertise through a technique called “hacking,” the release of a captive-bred bird from a special cage at the top of a tower or cliff ledge.

Golden eagle flying free without research “backpack”

WILDLIFE — This male golden eagle has worn a GPS “backpack” for eight years to provide information about home range size and habitat use in Eastern Washington, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Facebook page.

Now at least 13 years old, he was recently recaptured by the agency's raptor researcher who removed the equipment to let him spend the rest of his life flying “free.”

Robins flock in profusion near Walla Walla

WILDLIFE WATCHING — I've seen flocks of American robins off and on around Spokane this winter, but nothing close to the locust-like congregations found earlier this month near Walla Walla.

Carl Kjellstrand sent these two photos from the Walla Walla area and noted that the robins dimmed the afternoon sunlight.

Pine grosbeaks go for the meat

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Spokane Valley birders Marlene and Bob Cashen carefully watched a new bird on their block over the weekend to make this observation.

Saturday, February 16th, we had six female Pine Grosbeaks in our yard in Veradale — definitely a new yard bird for us.  They were not actually eating berries but rather were extracting and eating the seeds from within the berries and discarding the pulp.  In the picture you can see how the berries have been opened up and the seeds removed. 

Well owl be! Planning pays off for photographer

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Some wildlife photos happen spontaneously, the product of being ready to capture a surprising moment. 

Other great photos are the product of planning, such as this great horned owl image by Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson:

We knew where this guy was, so we packed up the camera gear, tripod, light stands, lights, Radio controls and did a 5 mile hike in 8 inches of snow to get to where he was roosting.
A three second burst of images and it was all over….

Photographer details golden eagle at mealtime

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson came across the king of the Big Skies feasting on roadkill this week.  He has some keen observations:

Did a really nice hike today. We ran into this guy along the way. This is a Golden Eagle. Goldies are often confused with young Bald Eagles.

When young, Bald eagles are also brownish. Two easy ways to determine a Golden Eagle (other than size – Goldens are larger) is the Donald Trump hairdo (notice on the neck) and the long pants.

Goldies have feathers right down to their toes. Bald Eagles wear Capri pants (shins are showing).

Another fun thing with these guys, when they gorge themselves (like this one did), they actually eat too much and can't fly. When disturbed, they scamper along the ground until they find a log or stump to sit on.

Guidelines seek reduction in bird deaths caused by powerlines

WILDLIFE — Countless birds, large and small, are killed in collisions with powerlines that crisscross the country.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working with the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee on guidelines utilities, compiled in an updated booklet called, Reducing Avian Collisions with Power Lines: State of the Art in 2012

This manual, originally published in 1994, identifies best practices and provides specific guidance to help electric utilities and cooperatives, federal power administrations, wildlife agencies and other stakeholders reduce bird collisions with power lines.

Heron has a plan for catching fish; What’s next, PowerBait?

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WILDLIFE WATCHING — Anglers take note: Patience and a good choice in bait reward this fishing bird with a good meal.  

This short video is worth watching.

Ospreys don’t stop fishing after leaving for winter

WILDLIFE WATCHING — While bald eagles have move into the Lake Coeur d'Alene area for a winter feast of kokanee, the ospreys that put on a fishing show all summer long in the area left the area by early November and are migrating to warmer climates.

Last winter during a visit to Mexico, I observed dozens of osprey perched near a village on the Pacific Ocean side of Baja.  Indeed, they find as much bounty in saltwater as they do in Inland Northwest waters.

The video above shows detailed and instructive footage of ospreys fishing, including the underwater sequence of an osprey taking a flounder.

Ospreys normally begin returning to the Inland Northwest in late March.

See eBird data for Idaho for Osprey.

See eBird data for Washington for Osprey.

(“WA data are probably biased toward the west side of the state,” says INW birder Charles Swift.) 


Here's a blurb from Out & About on the S-R Outdoors page, Feb. 13, 2005:
An osprey hatched along the lower Coeur d'Alene River is basking in the tropical warmth of Cuba this winter.
The osprey is one of 20 hatchlings that were captured last summer in North Idaho so they could be introduced to South Dakota. Wayne Melquist, a North Idaho wildlife biologist and osprey expert, attached GPS devices to four of the 20 birds before they were put taken out of state as part of a migration research project.
The birds were put in man-made nests, called hack boxes, and fed until they fledged on their own.
“These birds didn't have any parents to tell them where to go for the winter, but that's true no matter what, since the parents naturally leave for the winter before their young do,” Melquist said.
Of the four chicks with transmitters, one is in the New Oreleans area and one got to the coast and then made a beeline for Cuba. Melquist is not sure at this point whether the other two are alive.

Snowy owls showing up high and low

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Reports of snowy owl sightings have been coming in from all over.  Snowshoers reported two of the arctic migrants making a brief pit stop on the towers on top of Mount Spokane.

Another observer found one hanging out at Reardan Ponds at the town of Reardan.

The Mount Spokane High School bird is hanging around the school long enough to letter in some sport.

They've been seen locally from Lincoln County to the Rathdrum Prairie.  

Snowy owl hanging out near Mt. Spokane High School

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Local birders have been watching a snowy owl for the past few days in the Spokane Valley. After a long winter migration from the arctic, it's taken a shine to the Mt. Spokane High School area.

“The Snowy Owl on Mt. Spokane Rd continues to feed successfully in the field across from Mt. Spokane High School,” Terry Little said after his Friday outing, noting that the owl perched once on the school. “It is also beginning to perch atop a small silver barn behind the house across from the school.”

On Saturday, Ron Dexter said the snowy owl was still hunting from the Highway 206 light and power poles right in front of the High School. “It appears to be a juvenile female—heavily barred on wings and front,” he said. “It is not disturbed by auto traffic. It is hunting a CRP parcel on the south side of the road.”


Talking wild turkey: snoods, wattles and the difference between white and dark meat

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The wild turkey is nothing like the fat, flightless Butterball you might be roasting today for Thanksgiving dinner.

Thank God.

The wild turkey is a fascinating survivor and a challenging quarry for hunters. It can run like the wind and fly with shocking power and speed. 

While it's delicious on the dinner table, it's a lean machine that must be prepared accordingly.

Get details about wild turkeys, including defininitions of snoods, wattles and the reason a turkey has white and dark meat on the eNature blog.

Even experts hesitate to guess age, sex of snowy owls

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Getting personal with wild birds is tricky.

Verifying whether a swan is male or female requires a hands-on fairly invasive peel-it-back and look.

Western Washington raptor biologist Bud Anderson offers these observations to people he's heard declaring the age and sex of snowy owls that are migrating into Washington and catching attention:

Here is some recent information on ageing and sexing snowy owls from www.frontierscientists.com, an Alaskan website. Note the article by Mat Seidensticker.
“Birders usually want to know: Is it Male or Female? Denver Holt, an owl researcher who has spent the last 20 years studying the Snowy Owl up in Barrow, is cautious about identifying the sex.
“The more experience you get the more questions you have,” Holt says. Yet the Journal of Raptor Research Dec 2011, Vol. 45, No. 4: 290-303 has just published an article “Sexing Young Snowy Owls” by lead author Mathew T. Seidensticker, co-authored by Jennifer Detienne, Sandra Talbot, and Kathy Gray, and Holt.
Seidensticker and fellow researchers based their paper on a study of 140 owls from 34 nests (at Barrow). Specifically they looked at a secondary flight feather #4 on the left wing. Then they compared their predictions with blood tests. The model that correlated their data said they were 98% correct, actually they were 100% right. In short what the secondary feather #4 told them was: the female owl had a marking that they called a bar because it touched the feather shaft, while the male had a marking they called a spot or blotch that did not touch the feather shaft.”
So I think that it is really important to understand how challenging it can be to age and sex these birds in the field. If Denver Holt is cautious, I would be too.

Snowy owls could once again be common sights

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Birders have been reporting more and more observations of snowy owls showing up in Washington. Although they routinely venture this far during their winter migration from the arctic, Last year's big number of snowy owls across the northern tier of states was recognized as an irruption.

It could be happening again this year, experts say.

Read on for insight posted on Inland Northwest Birders by raptor biologist Bud Anderson in Western Washington:

Snowy owls brightening the Washington landscape

BIRDWATCHING — The first snowy owls of the season are being reported in Washington as their annual winter migration from the arctic is underway.  The mostly-white owls have been spotted from Seattle to Asotin County this week, bringing back memories of last year's “irruption” of birds that saw snowy owl sightings soar across the northern tier of the United States.

Birder David Woodall found a snowy owl in Asotin County Thursday morning off Halsey Road near a stubble field perched on a “Hunting by Permission” sigh.  When he posted the sighting, Keith Carlson pointed out that's a hot spot for the birds each year.

“There is something magic about this location,” he said. “The first Snowy of last year's Asotin County irruption was in this same location. On 31 March of 2007, we found a Snowy at this location.”

The Davenport area of Lincoln County also is a perennial host for snowy owls.

Turnbull cygnet makes first short flight

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The ducks that were hatched this spring have been flying for months. But ducks and even geese aren't the largest of all native North American wildfowl. 

The trumpeter swans that hatched in mid-June at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge have required the entire summer and several weeks of autumn to grow, muscle up and feather out enough to flap their 15- to 20-pound bodies into the air from a dramatic running-on-top-of-the-water takeoff.

Carlene  Hardt has been following the Turnbull trumpeters closely this year and she has captured good photos of their development.

“The cygnets have all their flight feathers and could fly anytime,” Hardt reports this week. On Sunday, one of the cygnets made a very short flight with the parents! The other two have not shown any interest so far but I am sure they will soon.

“The parents leave for about an hour each day. I wonder if they leave them so long to encourage them to learn to fly so they can follow!”

Even the adult turmpeters were flightless during a portion of the summer. They swam closely with their offspring at Middle Pond near the refuge headquarters while they molted their feathers.

Trumpeter swans are typically gray when they hatch. Cygnets steadily lose their gray plumage and molt in pure white feathers by the time they are one year old. The change is not complete in the Turnbull birds.

Cygnets require 110-120 days from the time they hatch to the time they fledge — a moment that appears to be arriving this week at Turnbull.

Once they get the hang of it, these trumpeter swans will be able to fly between 40-80 miles per hour. They are susceptible to collisions with wires, especially when they migrate, but they offer an irresistible reason to crane our necks skyward for a look.

Click “continue reading” to see the difference in the Turnbull cygnets' wing development from the third week of August to the first week of October, as shown in Hardt's photos.

Ever seen one of these little guys?


According the website, this is a yellow warbler seen in Moses Lake. 

Sprague lands high speed air show for eagle-eyed hawk watchers

BIRDWATCHING — While the new commander at Fairchild Air Force Base is looking into options for bringing back the big Air Show, area birdwatchers are finding their own aerial displays of high-speed flying.

You simply have to know where to look.

Check out this Tuesday report from local birder Jon Isacoff:

Quick run to Sprague sewage lagoons today.  A pleasant surprise was a PEREGRINE FALCON that bombed shorebirds and waterfowl several times, losing a chase with with a Wilson's Phalarope.  Shorebird species present:



Spotted Sandpiper

Greater YL

Lesser YL

Baird's Sandpiper

Long-billed Dowitcher

WIlson's Phalarope

Where’s the love after birds fledge from nests?

BIRD WATCHING —  Bill Bender of Spokane treated his Facebook friends this summer to a 22-day photo documentary of the hatching and fledging of two hummingbird chicks. They were hatched in a nest built on a wind chime on the deck of his South Side home.

One of the birds left the nest on day 21, leaving the second chick to hang around one more day before fledging, with mamma rarely seen, he said.

Do birds form tight families that stick together through winter?  Some do, including the trumpeter swans that hatch at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

But species that stick together after the nesting season are rare.

Most young birds are on their own soon after they leave the nest. In fact, in many bird families, the parents migrate south long before their youngsters do, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

In the case of most species of hummingbirds, the female raises her offspring until they are out of the nest and able to feed themselves. A few weeks later, she disappears. The youngsters are left alone to fatten up for their long migratory flight to a place in the tropics where they have never been before, the federation says on its website.

They linger at the natal feeding grounds for several more weeks, sucking up as much nectar, sugar water and tiny insects as possible before heading south.

Ospreys to be featured during Festival at Sandpoint

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Ospreys are going to grab a little of the spotlight Sunday (Aug. 5) during the popular Festival at Sandpoint musical extravaganza.

Biologist Janie Fink, founder of Birds of Prey Northwest, will present a program with live raptors during the Festival’s Family Day Concert.

The Festival's two-week concert series is held at Memorial Field, right below the nests of two osprey pairs that have delighted Festival-goers for decades. When the light poles were replaced last fall, nesting platforms were included on two of the new poles and a webcam was focused on one of the nests.

Birdwatchers have had the privilege to watch online video streaming as the osprey family advanced through courtship, nest building, egg laying, hatching and rearing of the young birds.

At Sunday’s Family Concert, featuring a day of activities for kids and a performance of “Pinocchio” by the Spokane Youth Orchestra, Fink will be giving a 30-minute program on Idaho raptors. She’s bringing live birds that her center is rehabilitating after injury — including an owl, eagle, falcon, hawk and osprey — for kids and adults to see up close.

The Family Concert activities begin at 4:30 p.m.; admission is $6.