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Snow’s gone from area, but not snowy owls

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Most people interested in birds know there was an unusually high number of snowy owls that migrated south from the arctic to winter along the northern United States this season.

People were devoting a great deal of effort into taking advantage of the opportunity to see the majestic owls.

But two Spokane birders stumbled into one the other day, a winter leftover among spring migrants.  Here's their photographic proof above, and the report below.

 My husband and I were driving home from taking pictures of the upper falls when the sun was coming up on Saturday, April 14, 2012. As we turned on to Lincoln Road we always watch the power poles because we sometimes see a red-tail hawk sitting there. However, this time we noticed a female Snowy Owl on the pole.

We hurried home to change out lenses. Then drove back to where we saw the Snowy Owl. We spent time earlier this year looking for Snowy Owls over around the Davenport, Washington area without any luck the last few years. This year the Snowy Owl came to us.

Snowy Owls come down to our area in the winter and go back north to the colder area in the spring. This bird is probably a female as adult males are totally white. Picture was taken with a Canon T1i with a 400 mm Canon L lens. We used a tripod.

Jamie Dahlke
Spokane, WA

Bald eagles raising fluff-ball chicks under web cam

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A pair of bald eagles are back raising a brood for the world to see.

Three eggs have been hatched, and the real work has begun.

beautifully positioned web cam over a bald eagle nest at the Decorah Fish Hatchery in Iowa is catching the attention of millions of viewers. The web cam gained fame last year as people logged on to watch the chicks hatch, grow and fledge.

The site linked above has video clips of the eggs being layed by the female eagle as well as the hatching events. 

Also this year, the Raptor Reseach Project is tracking one of last year's eaglets fitted with a GPS device and offering online map updates.

Read on for more details and links.

Swallows return in time for Wenatchee festival

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The first violet-green swallows were spotted near Wenatchee Thursday morning, later than usual but with time to spare for the 35th annual Ardenvoir Swallow Festival on April 14.

See details from last year's festival events here.

Kerri Walters, 51, a longtime employee at Coopers Store and manager of the adjacent cafe, was deemed Swallow Queen, according to a story in the Wenatchee World. 

To win, she accurately predicted the swallow’s Thursday arrival time. They were spotted at 9:01 a.m. by the town’s Official Swallow Spotter Tim Olinghouse.

Most years, the birds arrive sometime in March from Mexico and Central America. But a warming climate — helping to produce earlier food sources further south — could be delaying the birds arrival time, swallow watchers have speculated.

As queen, Walters will wear the crown made of beer cans and ride in the official Swallow Fest parade.

Waterfowl love the wetness soaking the region

SPRING MIGRANTS — The region's wet spell is putting a damper on a lot of activities, but waterfowl are in their element as they pause during their spring migrations in the Inland Northwest's wealth of flooded fields and wetlands.

Ducks, geese and swans have so many options, they're fooling even experienced birders in their back yards.

John Stuart of Newport, fresh in from a birding trip in his neck of the woods, was disappointed over the weekend to see the 1,500 tundra swans had left Calispell Lake in Pend Oreille County.

“The migrating Tundra swans, usually a big noisy deal on Calispell Lake, sort of pulled a switcheroo on us, thanks to the weather,” he said in a report to Inland Northwest Birders.  He assumed that because the lake had risen 3 feet in a couple days — and swans necks being only so long, they could no longer reach the submerged comestibles and had to take their leave.”

But soon after he put out the report, he heard from other birders and set the record straight Wednesday afternoon:

Apparently my story of the Swans at Calispell Lk. was not as black and white as I supposed.  Terry Little found a big crowd there on Friday (30th) and Jon Isacoff found a couple thousand on Tues (3rd), while we saw none on Sunday.  But Jon found a guy at Riverbend (about 10 miles north) who said the swans had been up there feeding on the larger than usual flooded field.  So apparently the birds were finding some alternative feeding areas without leaving the area.

So the rain eliminated one area for feeding but created at least one new one.

Floodwater sewage a threat to Spokane River birds

WILDLIFE — Local birding enthusiast Tim O'Brien of Cheney offered some field observations — and commentary — to expand on a newspaper story about the heavy amounts of rainfall the area is receiving and its affect on the Spokane sewage treatment plant — and the Spokane River.

Birds are influenced by the sewage overflow into the river, and O'Brien lists some of the ways. 

Click “continue reading” for his report to the Inland Northwest Birders.

Ospreys migrating back to Spokane area

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Tundra swans are flocking to the region, enjoying the  fields and sloughs flooded with our record March wetness.

But while the swans will continue north in their spring migration, other birds are moving in to say all summer and raise broods in our midst.

Among the recent arrivals:

Brad & I found our first osprey of the year on the dike road between Silver and North Silver Lake in Spokane County on March 28.

—Fran Haywood, Spokane birder

Local birder welcomes return of wood ducks

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Area birdwatcher Ron Dexter, who lives in the Mount Spokane foothills, has the welcome mat out for colorful migrants that return each year for his hospitality.  Ron posted this delightful update this morning:

Each spring, we look forward to the arrival of Wood Ducks on our ponds. The first pair arrived about 10 days ago, then a few more every couple days. Yesterday, I counted 17. They are very flighty and try to sneak in to our duck feeding area twice a day. Our regular pond birds are Mallards of course. We fed approximately 40 through the winter. We have 4 domestic ducks. A spring fed water supply keeps an open space in the ice for them to bathe, etc. Two pair of Canada Geese arrived about 2 weeks ago to fight over the nesting platforms.
The Wood Ducks, however are our favorites. They checkout all of the nest boxes and eventually each will lay 10 or 11 eggs. Sometimes two will lay eggs in the same box. I have counted as many as 22 eggs in one box. 19 of those were hatched by one Wood Duck. The eggs all hatch within a 24 hr period and when the coast is clear she calls the kids out of the nest box. Believe it or not, they jump to the water or ground below no matter the distance. They actually spread their arms and legs like a sky diver and bounce like a cork when they hit the ground. Within a few hours, mama duck  takes the young on a quarter mile hike through tall grasses down to the creek.
Last year one mama got quite used to us and kept her young on the pond for 2 weeks which we throughlly enjoyed. She hides them in the cattails most of the time, but the brave or naughty ones dart our and around the pond looking for something to eat.      Ahhhh, spring is arriving

Hunters post a sign of the times

CONSERVATION — Behind the words on the sign is a tradition of hunters and anglers paying billions of dollars in license fees, federal duck stamp fees and excise taxes on their hunting and fishing equipment to fund wildlife conservation efforts.

Most other recreation groups contribute little or nothing in comparison.

Sign up: Pend Oreille Valley Tundra Swan Day

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Organized outings and access to experts are among the benefits of visiting festivals celebrating the arrival of migrating birds.

Tundra Swan Day in the Pend Oreille Valley, set for March 17, is a good example of locals sharing a wildlife spectacle in their backyard

Based near Usk in the Kalispell Tribe's Wellness Center, the day includes a tour to see tundra swans gathering at Calispell Lake, plus lunch and short presentations by several speakers on topics ranging from swans to wolverine research in the area.

Preregister for the tour here. Cost: $10 adults, $5 youths under 13, includes lunch.
Info: (509) 447-5286.

15th annual Sandhill Crane Festival set at Othello

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Another great assortment of field trips and programs is being organized for the 15th annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival, March 23-25 based from Othello, Wash., and the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.

The festival highlights the spring migration of large, lanky and gorgeous sandhill cranes that pass through the Eastern Washington gleaning food from the region's agricultural fields and resting on the protected refuge lands.

The Northwest Profiles TV segement above, produced by KSPS-TV, is a nice introduction to the festivals.

Check out the schedule of events that should be posted soon on the festival website, and sign up for events and field trips early. 

Great American Bird Count this weekend in a yard near yours

BIRDING — It's not too late to get your feeders cleaned and filled and gear up with binoculars and field guides so you can participate in the 15th annual Great Backyard Bird Count Friday-Monday (Feb. 17-20).

The annual four-day event engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the U.S. and Canada.

Each checklist submitted by you citizen scientists helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are doing – and how to protect them and the environment we share.

Last year, participants turned in more than 92,000 checklists online, creating the continent's largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever recorded.

“This count is so fun because anyone can take part — we all learn and watch birds together — whether you are an expert, novice, or feeder watcher.  I like to invite new birders to join me and share the experience. Get involved, invite your friends, and see how your favorite spot stacks up.” 

-Gary Langham, Audubon chief scientist

Click here to see my guide to choosing a field guidebook to birds.

Robins moving in big flocks through Spokane Valley

WILDLIFE — Many robins stay in the Spokane area year round, but a little mild weather in February can bring them around like fans to a rock concert.

Here's this morning's report from birder Joanne Powell in the Spokane Valley at Greenacres:

About 9 a.m. I was looking out at my backyard and hundreds of robins appeared, hung around for about 10 minutes then moved west. I went to my front porch and at least 300 robins were perched in the bare deciduous trees lining N. Hodges Rd. They seem to be moving west very slowly so keep an eye out.

Pheasant photo triggers memories of morning walks

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY — The one-in-a-million pheasant photo by Coeur d'Alene wildlife photographer Tim Christi sparked some pleasant memories after the S-R published it in the Outdoors section.

I received this letter last week:

“My late husband used to rise earlyl in the morning to surveyhis world before beginning his day. He often encountered a pheasant whom we nicknamed The President.

“My husband and the bird would engage each in his own language regarding who actually belonged on this sunny corn-producing hillside by the river. More often than not, they shared a joy of a new day and the joy of being part of it.

“The President shared his land for several seasons.  We knew him by a slightly crippled gait as he nibbled on young corn blades and pecked at the pumpkins.

“We will enjoy the memory via your magnificent picture.”

Angie Williams, Deer Park, Wash.

Insecticide-tainted bird seed is case for better monitoring

BIRDWATCHING — Responsible bird enthusiasts regularly clean their feeders to help prevent the spread of disease that can kill masses of birds. But even the most conscientious feeders can be deadly if the seed they buy is poisonous.

Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. recently admitted guilt in charges of distributing insecticide-tainted bird seed, potentially subjecting itself to $4.5 in fines to be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

See news story here.

The American Bird Conservancy is spotlighting this case as an example of the need for regular monitoring to assure the safety of the nation's bird seed supply.

The stakes are high. U.S. Fish and Wildlife surveys indicate that one in five Americans considers themselves among the birdwatchers who spend a total of $36 billion dollars a year on bird food, equipment and birding related travel.

The bottom line: With tons of bird seed put out each year to make birding convenient, huge numbers of wild birds are at risk if bird seed isn't safe.

The ABC did its own tests and found that most bird seed from popular outlet is pesticide free.

But read on for the conservancy's release of details on the shortfalls of EPA rules and the chilling disregard for bird safety by Scott officials.

Snowy owl vote: The eyes have it

WILDLIFE — Hypnotizing.

Could you ever get tired of looking into a snowy owl's eyes?

The nifty image above was captured over the weekend by wildlife photographer Jaime Johnson of Lincoln, Mont.

See a video with some details of this season's snowy owl irruption.

Distinguishing swans from snow geese is black and white

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Should a hunter ever be excused for killing a trumpeter swan he misidentified as a snow goose?

Probably not.

Here are three notable reasons from Rich Myhre of the Everett Herald:

  1. Because of their white color, trumpeter swans look a little bit like snow geese. But trumpeter swans are entirely white, while snow geese have black wing tips.
  2. Trumpeter swans measure 6-8 feet from wing tip to wing tip, while snow geese measure only about 3 feet.
  3. Most important, snow geese can be hunted during waterfowl season, but there is never a legal time to shoot trumpeter swans.

For additional information about identifying swans, go to www.trumpeterswansociety.org.

QUIZ: What’s the term for a group of snowy owls?

BIRDWATCHING — You've heard of a murder of crows, a pride of lions and a exhaltation of larks, right?

What is the term for a group of snowy owls?

A. Blizzard.

B. Parliament

C. Congress

D. Hoot

E. Forum

Click “continue reading” for the answer.

Pygmy owl catches nordic skier’s eye

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The diminutive pygmy owl stands less than 7 inches tall, and it's easy to miss.

Birder Teri Pieper of Twisp used her eagle eyes to spot this little guy as she skinny-skied behind friends who had swooshed past the owl in the brush just above their heads without seeing it. She was skiing near Sun Mountain Lodge on the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association trails.

The pygmy owl is an aggressive little bird that preys on rodents and other birds as large as a mourning dove.

Video: Where sharptails feast during winter

WILDLIFE WATCHING — This short video clip shows sharp-tailed grouse feeding recently in Okanogan County. 

Grouse species are well adapted to feeding on nutritious buds and berries in trees of the ground, as you can see by these birds clinging effortlessly to flimsy brush as they eat.

The video was shot by Khanh Tran of Portland.

A closer look at the rare northern hawk owl

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Birdwatcher/photographer Ron Dexter, who lives north of Spokane, snapped this sweet image of the northern hawk owl that's been catching a lot of attention in the Spokane area for the past two weeks.

The bird has been hunting mice and voles along Prewett Road in west Spokane County.

“This is only the 4th hawk owl seen in Spokane County since 1993,” Dexter reports. “It hunts early in the morning, rests through the middle of the day and begins hunting again around 2 p.m.”

Count ‘em yourself: 11 snowy owls in one photo frame

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Wildlife photographer Sandy Milliken of Post Falls isn't missing the opportunity to capture images from this season's snowy owl irruption.

With her radar out for the best opportunities, she recently traveled to Boundary Bay just south of Vancouver, British Columbia, to capture “thousands of snowy owl photos” as she put it.

Get the details in my Outdoors section feature story about Milliken.

The two photo's with this post are highlights of Milliken's expedition, especially the one above featuring 11 snowy owls in one frame, including the heavily barred owl that looks grayish in the background.

Here are more links to check out related to snowy owls:

See Sandy Milliken's flickr photo site.

WSU tends migrant snowy owl with broken wing.

VIDEO: WSU tending “Tundra,” the snowy owl with broken wing.

Snowy owls give Oregon surprise visit.

MAP: Snowy owls making a scene across the country.

Snowy owl dazzles birders along Lake CdA.


UPDATE: See video of snowy owl being treated at WSU

BIRDS — A video released by WSU Veterinary School today offers insight into a migration spectacle as well as the treatment being offered for a migrant snowy owl injured in November by a collision with a car near Davenport.

Snowy owls are making news as they've showed up in ones and twos all over the northern United States this winter as they migrate in larger than normal numbers from arctic homes to winter hunting grounds.

The beautiful, white birds are a common winter attraction in this region, especially in Lincoln and Stevens counties. But their easiness around civilization can be detrimental when they leave the tundra.

Snowy owls spend most of their lives in treeless habitats, where they’ve evolved to launch their rodent hunts from the ground or low perches such as fence posts.

Many snowy owls migrate thousands of miles over wilderness only to meet doom in a vehicle collision as they cross a road.

Washington Fish and Wildlife police officer Curt Wood picked up an injured snowy owl from the roadside just northeast of Davenport on Nov. 25. (This is the owl in the photo and video with this blog.)

The bird was taken to the Washington State University Veterinary School, where it’s being treated for a fractured wing and dislocated elbow.

“It’s probably not going to be releasable,” said school spokesman Charlie Powell. “It’s a little too warm during summer to keep him comfortable, but snowy owls are very easy to place in zoos, so it will be in good hands.”

A few days later, officer Wood picked up another ailing snowy owl, also near Davenport on the Sunset Highway. He had to make a stop in Wilbur first, so he let the local third-graders get a close look at the migrant before bringing it in to the Ponti Veterinary Hospital.

Wood said the kids were intrigued by the white owl.

Unfortunately, the Ponti clinic staff said they were unable to save the bird.

Audubon presents documentary on ivory-billed woodpecker

BIRDING — Ghost Bird, a documentary about the search for the ivory-billed woodpecker — thought to be extinct until researchers scored some earth-shaking video — will be presented Wednesday, 7 p.m., at the Spokane Audubon Society general meeting program.

See Ghost Bird trailer here.

These monthly meetings and free programs open to the public are at the Riverview Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave.

See detailed directions.

If you're interested in local birding, you should check out the SAS website. Members have just posted a delicious assortment of winter-spring field trips in the surrounding area.

Asian duck drawing crowds in California

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A duck normally only seen in Asia has somehow turned up in California, drawing excited bird watchers from all over the U.S. and Canada to a wildlife refuge in the state’s Central Valley, the Associated Press reports.

Wildlife officials say a male falcated duck, a bird common in China, was first spotted at the refuge on Dec. 8.

Since then, thousands of birders have observed it paddling among mallards, pintails and geese, said Lora Haller, who works at the Colusa Wildlife Refuge’s visitor center.

Most falcated ducks breed and live in China, and smaller populations live in Japan, North Korea and South Korea. The ducks can also sometimes be found in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, Haller said.

The celebrity bird has a silvery plumage with iridescent green and bronze on its head. “Falcated” or “curved and tapering to a point” refers to the male duck’s long wing feathers near the body that overhang onto the tail.

California condors show progress in reintroduction

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The recovery program to restore the California condor in Arizona has reached its 15th anniversary this month with reason to celebrate.

More than 70 condors are flying wild in the southwest skies.

The Peregrine Fund breeds condors at its World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise and releases them to the wild at its release facility in Arizona. The fund monitors and treats them for lead poisoning and other problems.

Ross’s gull brings more reports of good things to see

WILDLIFE WATCHING — More reports are coming in from birdwatchers traveling to Palmer Lake in Okanogan County to enjoy the rare chance to see a Ross's gull.

Check out this Christmas eve report:

So I'm not much of a gull guy, but Washington's second documented Ross's gull was 97 miles from where I live, so I figured I'd better head for Palmer Lake.

I must admit, I got more pumped about the male pileated woodpecker working the trees on the lake side of the No Trespassing apple boxes mid way up Palmer Lake and the convocation of eagles (multiple juvenile bald and a first year golden with white tail band and “wrist patches” just like in Sibley's) that were feeding on a carcass in the field just north of Loomis.

But sure enough, the Ross's was flying back and forth at the north end of the lake at 12:09 pm on 12/24/11. Distant but unmistakable views - the contrast between light gray upper wing and dark gray underwings was very cool. Any biologists care to speculate why this bird has reverse countershading?

A big thank you to the Tweeters who posted locations, the birders who had tracked the bird down this morning, and especially to Mr. Heinlein for finding it and letting us know.

- Roy Myers, Electric City, WA

Ross’s gull not the only attraction in Okanogan County

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The rare occassion of a Ross's gull showing up in Washington has become one of the most notable winter attractions to the Loomis area in a long time.

Birders from east and west of the Cascades are flocking to Okanogan county to get a peek at the bird, which has been regularly feeding on a submerged deer carcass along the shore.

But the gull isn't the only wildlife worth seeing near Loomis, as you can see from these photos by birder Kenneth Trease.

To see one of the best and most creative photos I've seen of the gull, check out the “local rarities” photo posted today by Spokane birding photography ace Tom Munson on his wildlife website.

Check out this report by Spokane birder Gina Sheridan:

 On Wednesday (12/21/11), Kim Thorburn, Garrett MacDonald, and I made the long haul up to Palmer Lake. The beautiful ROSS'S GULL entertained the entire bevy of birders present with a great show.While enjoying the Ross's Gull, a TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE flushed out of the riparian tree border by the lake.

 In the quaint community of Loomis, a herd of Bighorn Sheep were nonchalantly roaming around. A couple of the rams had impressive racks, and it was real treat to view them at such close range. In addition, there were a least 20 EURASIAN COLLARED DOVEs and several CLARK'S NUTCRACKERs adorning the town's trees.

After an afternoon drive over the entire Cameron Lake Road route in search of an Okanogan Snowy Owl, we were disappointed to find the entire Timentwa Plateau totally raptor-less.

Fortunately, we did find a handsome pair of PACIFIC LOONs at the foot of Chief Joseph Dam (Okanogan/Douglas County).

Rare Ross’s gull spotted in Okanogan County

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A rare sighting of a Ross’s gull has been reported on Palmer Lake in Okanogan County by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologist Jeff Heinlen.

The Ross’s gull (Rhodostethia rosea), an East Siberian arctic species that normally winters at sea, has been  documented only one previous time in the state— in late November and early December of 1994, near McNary Dam on the Columbia River, the agency reports.

“This is like a holiday present for bird watchers,” said Heinlen of Omak. “This is arguably the rarest bird currently in the state, and definitely worth a trip to the area to catch a sighting.”

Closer to home, a “gull bonanza” is underway at Lake Coeur d'Alene, according to Coeur d'Alene Audubon Society members. Hundreds of herring gulls, as well as glaucous, lesser black-backed, Thayer's, Mew and ring-billed gulls have been reported from Wolf Lodge Bay south to Blue Bay. 

Read on for details about the Ross's gull from a WDFW media release.

Use local calendar to make a date with wildlife

BIRDING — Consider it a perfect gift to yourself or someone else who’ll enjoy daily reminders of the feathered friends found in the region.

The Spokane Audubon Society's Birds of Eastern Washington 2012 calendar features local birds photographed by the group's members

Cost: $12 if ordered by mail through the SAS website.

Or pay just $10 if you pick it up in person while attending the club’s informative monthly program:

Winter Birds of Spokane, Wednesday ( Dec. 14), 7 p.m., presented by SFCC biology professor Gary Blevins at Riverview Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave.

See detailed directions.