Latest from The Spokesman-Review
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.
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.
BIRDING — Snowy owls migrating from the arctic to northern states stand out in a crowd, or even on a rural fencepost. Numerous sightings are causing a stir about whether this is a boom year for the white-feathered visitors.
Read on for some perspective and interesting details via Inland Northwest Birders from long-time bird observer Bud Anderson of Bow, Wash., a spokesman for the Falcon Research Group:
View Snowy Owls in the Upper US, 2011-12 in a larger map
BIRDWATCHING — Inland Northwest birders have been buzzing this month about the early arrival of snowy owls as they migrate from the arctic to northern Washington and new places in North Idaho.
This reporting caught the eye of a Jesse Ellis, a researcher in the Zoology Dept. at University of Wisconsin - Madison, who got interesting results by tabulating all of the snowy owl reports across the country as of Thanksgiving weekend.
"I know there have been many Snowy Owl reports there in the past few weeks, and people are speculating there's an invasion there," Ellis said. "Well, it's everywhere. A few days ago I started mapping reports in WI and MN, and that quickly expanded to ND, SD and MI. Given the good coverage in the Pacific NW, I decided to add those states as well."
The sightings on the map (above) are plotted the point to the nearest population center mentioned in posting by affiliated birders.
On Sunday a different snowy owl was photographed along Wolf Lodge Creek and the northeast end of Lake Coeur d'Alene feeding on a dead bird.
"This makes two of these guys in our immediate area which isn't one of the regular places Snowy's turn up," said North Idaho birder Doug Ward. "Hopefully this spells a banner year for these remarkable birds."
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Mayors of major U.S. cities received a letter from a major bird advocacy group this week asking them to stop the epidemic spread of feral cats that threaten national bird populations as well as scores of other wildlife.
Letters were mailed to mayors of the fifty largest cities in the Unites States by the American Bird Conservancy urging them to support responsible pet ownership and oppose Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs that promote the feeding of outdoor cats.
“Cat overpopulation is a human-caused tragedy that affects the health and well-being of cats, our native wildlife, and the public,” says Darin Schroeder of ABC. “Numerous published, scientific studies have shown that trap, neuter, re-abandon programs do not reduce feral cat populations, and that outdoor cats, even well-fed ones, kill hundreds of millions of wild birds and other animals each year in the U.S., including endangered species. Birds that nest or feed on the ground are especially vulnerable to cat attacks.”
There's no disputing that. But cat lovers have been living in denial forever.
Good luck in your attempt to use logic and facts to save millions of birds a year, ABC.
BIRDWATCHING — Ospreys were late to arrive in the Inland Northwest this year, and some of the fish-eating hawks are hanging around longer this fall, possibly because they got a late start producing their young.
According to Coeur d'Alene Audubon Society Records, ospreys usually arrive to North Idaho in mid- to late-March. This year the first sighting was April 4, probably owing to the lingering wintery conditions.
Normally, the ospreys begin leaving in late September and are usually gone by late October, as they migrate to far-flung summering areas. (See below) But area birders have been reporting late-stayers this week:
- "I saw an osprey Nov. 1 on the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge," said refuge wildlife biologist Mike Munts. "It was a first for November of the species for me."
- "Observed a very late pair of osprey (near Spring Valley Reservoir on Monday), said Terry Gray of Moscow, noting that they were near a nest with a fledgling that appeared to be ready to fly. When he saw them last, they were leaving the reservoir about noon: "They were catching the thermals and were almost out of site."
See a revealing video, including slow-motion aerials and underwater footage, of the remarkable way ospreys fly and dive for their food.
("WA data are probably biased toward the west side of the state," says INW birder Charles Swift.)
WHERE DO OSPREYS GO?
Here's a blurb from Out & About on the S-R Outdoors page, Feb. 13, 2005:
COEUR D'ALENE OSPREY IN CUBA
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.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — The Big Year, a humorous film based on the more tedious true story (and book of the same name) is flying high at movie theaters across the country. The movie follows birders devoting 12 months to setting a record for logging as many bird species as possible ACROSS NORTH AMERICA.
The flick is getting all sorts of reviews by birdwatchers. I like this Inland Northwest Birder's comment by Catherine Albright Temple of Clarkston:
Caught the movie "The Big Year" this afternoon. Very enjoyable, feel good movie. My husband noticing that I was really getting into it leaned over and said " Don't even think about it!" :)
The cast includes Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin.
"The release of this type of film with this type of talent indicates that birders have finally arrived," says Woody Wheeler, a West Side naturalist, on his Conservation Catalyst blog.
"In the last decade, bird-themed films like Winged Migration, March of the Penguins and the Parrots of Telegraph Hill surprised the film industry with their popularity," he writes. "These films demonstrated that there is a large market sector, or demographic, that cares about birds and natural history."
Although its about a special breed of birdwatchers, the film has a potential audience that might surprise the uninitiated, Wheeler notes:
- According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 48 million Americans consider themselves "birders.”
- The purchase of optics, feeders, bird guides and other supplies has become a major industry.
- Birding books have been best sellers, including The Big Year by Mark Obmascikand the Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley.
Northwest birders have zeroed in on where the movie was filmed. Here's a note posted today by Inland Northwest Birder Thor Manson in Oliver, British Columbia:
…Most of it was filmed in B.C. The inland drier looking scenes were filmed in the Okanagan Valley. For example, the scene where they are supposed to be at Patagonia Lake State Park in Arizona is actually a place called the Vasuex Lake Nature Center, which is about 5, or 6 miles north of the town of Oliver.
The pelagic departure scenes were filmed in Tofino, which is on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and the scenes that are supposed to represent Attu were filmed around an area called Tombstone Territorial Park, which is located not too far from Dawson City, Yukon.
The Big Year show times in Spokane:
Here's one of the more favorable reviews by movie critics:
Oct. 12, 2011 Full Review
WILDLIFE — "Falconry and game hunting, a conservation alliance," is the title of a program to be presented by Spokane falconer Doug Pineo on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The program is sponsored by the Spokane Audubon’s Society which meets at Riverview Retirement Community, Village Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave. near Upriver Drive.
Pineo's involvement in falconry dates back decades, and he was involved with the movement that brought the peregrine falcon back from the brink of extinction. He recently retired a shoreline specialist with the Washington Department of Ecology.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Distinguished wildlife photographer Paul Bannick will present a free multimedia presentation based on his book "The Owl and the Woodpecker" TONIGHT (Sept. 26), starting at 5 p.m. in the Wolff Auditorium, Jepson Center, Gonzaga University.
The event is sponsored by Gonzaga Environmental Studies.
BIRDWATCHING — Inland Northwest birder Nancy Miller of Viola, ID, photographed this hummingbird this week — possibly a sub-adult male Anna's hummingbird, experts say — feeding on her geraniums in a different way than she's noticed before:
"This one does something I’ve not seen them do – sits on the stem of the flower and gets nectar from any buds drooping within reach."
WILDLIFE WATCHING — In the spirit of ongoing bird migration, Colbert area birdwatcher Tina Wynecoop shares this poem she clipped from a newspaper while working near the mouth of the Skagit River in 1969.
While hitchhiking to Seattle, two Indians gave
me a ride from La Conner to Mt. Vernon in a pickup truck.
On the way I told them I was an artist, and showed them
a folio of bird drawings I had with me.
The Indians looked at them with some interest,
then the one driving asked me to draw a picture of a Bluejay for him.
He told me that the Bluejay is the only bird that will help another
bird of a species different than its own.
I asked the Indian how they did this.
He said that Bluejays will always surround a hungry bird, even an Eagle, and feed it.
I said I would give him a picture of a Bluejay the next time I saw him.
Then the Indian sitting next to me who had been silent, turned and said, "I can hear the Bluejays talk."
I asked him what they said.
He replied, "Right now they are talking to an owl they've got riding between them in a truck.
~ Charile Krafft (1969)
WILDLIFE WATCHING — The drawdown of Banks Lake for spillway construction that will last into next year is a pain for boaters (see post below), but it's considered an opportunity for birdwatchers.
The drawdown is exposing muddy banks that are attracting shorebirds.
Although better viewing is expected as the heatwave deteriorates, here's a Banks Lake birding report from a recent outing by Doug Schonewald of Moses Lake:
There were a plethora of shorebirds at the marina at Coulee City, mostly Westerns, Least, and a few Bairds. There is so much lakeshore exposed that it is hard to decide where to look for shorebirds, especially since the water has not been drawn down to this level in nearly 20-years. It should only get better in the next few weeks.
Steamboat Rock had a few migrants. MacGillivrays, Wilson, Chipping Sparrows, the like. Nothing rare, but enough to keep up interest.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — I had a chance to soak in some of the conversation recently when a handful of wildlife biologists gathered around a picnic table for dinner at the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge.
And I was all ears.
The "bat lady" told of how she was installing new equipment to monitor bat sounds at night and help determine what species are flying around parts of the refuge in the night.
Bird talk dominated the session.
Did you know that mountain quail stand out among western birds because the female lays eggs in two nests? The male incubates one nest of eggs while the female incubates the other. If they're both successful, they bring their broods together.
Most of the woodpeckers, however, share the job of incubation. The female deposits the eggs in the nest and she and the male trade off shifts every eight hours or so.
Across the bird world, males are more likely to assume the job of incubating the eggs, as in penguins.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Thanks to local angler Tom Turnbull for sharing this rare moment as he put down his own rod for a moment to watch as a red-necked grebe taught her brood to catch their food. In his words:
I was fishing on Hauser lake a couple of weeks ago when I saw a red-necked grebe teaching her chicks to fish. She had caught a small fish, and she put it in front of her chicks. When they failed to catch it, she would dive, retrieve the fish and present it to her chicks again. Finally, one of the chicks caught the fish in its beak. I was fascinated.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — A five-year project has succeeded in returning the Western bluebird to Washington’s San Juan Islands. The bird had historically inhabited the islands, but changing land use practices and a paucity of nesting sites meant the species had not nested there for over 40 years.
Biologists with the Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project captured and translocated 45 breeding pairs of Western Bluebirds from an expanding population at Fort Lewis Military installation, Washington, and another four pairs from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The birds were kept in aviaries on San Juan Island prior to release to acclimate them to their new surroundings.
Read on for details about the project and the several cooperating groups from the American Bird Conservancy.
WILDLIFE WATCHING— One of the young eagles monitored on a popular Seattle-area EagleCam has died, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reports.
The fledgling eagles were just learning how to fly when one was found dead near the nest tree Tuesday. There were no visible injuries to how the bird died.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents have taken the dead eagle and a necropsy is planned to determine the cause of death.
Wildlife officials say the surviving young eagle appears fine and has mastered basic flying 101. The young eagle may leave the nest soon or continue using it as a temporarily feeding and roosting site.
The EagleCam live video streams an eagle nest egg perched atop a 200-year-old Douglas Fir tree in Seattle.
Thousands of regular viewers have watched the eagles from when they hatched about four months ago to when they took their first flight just days ago.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's network of eagle cams has become an obsession to some eagle fans and an important way to educate the public and get the involved in efforts to protect the rebounding population.
BIRDWATCHING — Living in a hummingbird migratory route has its benefits for close-up bird observation.
When the activity was peaking at her feeder, Abagail Alfano of Pine, La., put a sugar-water solution in a red plastic cup and didn't have to wait long before she had a swarm of feathered friends.
She said they lit light as a feather on her hand.
Went on a walk on the Centennial Trail yesterday and saw a lovely number of species, but what was great was the number of birds on nests we also found. We parked at the access point near the YMCA off the Pines Street Exit off I-90 and walked downstream.Active nests we found: Black-headed grosbeak, cedar waxwing, American Robin, cliff swallow, eastern kingbird, and European starling (boo!). We also saw a lot of birds provisioning chicks or saw chicks: American robin, cedar waxwing, and several times pygmy nuthatches.The place was so crowded with cedar waxwings, seemed like we saw a different pair, or an adult with a chick every couple hundred feet; they were fun.We also saw an interesting behavior. Near the Eastern kingbird nest, a male bullock's oriole came right up to the nest with the adult kingbird right there, and it appeared as if the oriole tried to stick its head in the nest. The kingbird chased it away. And we had a fun time watching a Bewick's wren bask in the sun, and sing it's cheerful song.Great little place for a lunchbreak!
CRITTER WATCHING — I take no responsibility for this:
Two robins were sitting in a tree. "I'm really hungry," the first one said.
"Me, too," said the second. "Let's fly down and find some lunch."
They swooped to the ground and found a plot of plowed ground full of worms. They ate and ate and ate and ate until they could eat no more.
"I'm so full I don't think I can fly back up to the tree," the first robin said.
"Me either. Let's just lie here and bask in the warm sun," said the second.
"OK," said the first.
They plopped down, relaxed and soaked in the rays.
But as they dozed, a big fat tom cat sneaked in and gobbled them up.
As he sat satisfied and licking his lips, he thought, "I love baskin' robins."
WILDLIFE WATCHING — While it might seem to harbor a different sort of foul to the uninitiated, the Colville Sewage Treatment Plant has been a hot spot for birders looking for passing waterfowl and shorebirds.
But some birders who recently violated the no-driving rule at the plant apparently have made the plant operators reluctant to allow ANY further birdwatching at the site.
“Recently, a group of birders asked to be let in the gate and were told to walk in,” reports Tim Durnell, a serious birder from Rice, Wash. “A short while later they were seen driving inside the gate around the ponds, a huge liability issue with the folks who manage the STP.
“Apparently these birders were probably not from this area because they asked for directions to the mouth of the Colville River. Still, according to the guy in the STP office, because of the actions of a few, the rest of us could lose our privilege of birding inside the gate.”
The Colville STP is a shorebird treasure and it would be a travesty to lose access to this resource, he said.
If birders can regain the confidence of plant officials, he requests that other birders be sure to park outside the gate, walk in and stay near the gate while birding.
By the way, the ponds were showing no mud yet and there were the usual geese, ring-billed gulls, ruddy ducks, and coots, Durnell said Thursday.
WILDLIFE RESEARCH– Biologists and a team of volunteers are herding Canada geese into pens and clamping leg bands on about 1,000 young birds in Eastern Washington for a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife study of goose population trends.
The teams were herding geese at Qualchan Golf Course this morning starting at 4:30 a.m.
They planned to trap and release geese later in the day at Gonzaga University and Liberty Lake.
In its fourth year, the study seeks to understand nesting declines, hunter harvest patterns and the birds’ use of urban and rural habitat, said Mikal Moore, state waterfowl specialist.
Since the study began, biologists have banded 2,523 geese from eight areas in Eastern Washington, Moore said. Of that number, 406 were observed with neck collars and 359 marked geese were taken by hunters.
The roundup is timed during the molt. Since the adults can't fly, the volunteers can herd the families into pens. After the goslings are inspected and banded, they're released.
Read on for details about the banding, the study and what birdwatchers and hunters can do to help the research.
BIRDWATCHING — The delightful killdeer we see making short sprints ahead of us as as walk along streams, fields and open farm and ranch country are programmed to build their nest in the uncommon comfort of gravel.
So it's no surprise that graveled driveways or parking lots seem like prime locations for them to hatch a brood. They are technically shorebirds, but are not totally linked to water.
The photo above was snapped Tuesday by S-R reporter Mike Prager after he nearly stepped on the eggs while interviewing a homeowner near Davis Creek and the Pend Oreille River. The photo shows how well a batch of killdeer eggs blends in with the granite gravel used in the driveway.
The giveaway that a family's in the making is the noisy broken-wing act the adult performs when an intruder comes near the nest. The bird gets its name from one of its calls: kill-deeah, kill-deeah. Sometimes it just blurts a rising dee-dee-dee.
Unlike robins, which hatch helpless, killdeer chicks are almost instantly ready to go. They hatch with their eyes open, and as soon as their downy feathers dry, they start scurrying about, following their parents toward cover where they quickly begin searching the ground for something to eat.
A killdeer chick has one black line across its throat and chest. An adult has two.
WILDLIFE — Deer were dropping their fawns in the last week of May. The four robin chicks jumped out of their nest behind our house on Saturday and have been hopping around the house all weekend.
A couple of hikes in Lincoln County Sunday revealed more little critters. A hen turkey flattened to the ground as though her legs had vanished when I rounded a bend on the trail at Twin Lakes. When she realized I was still coming, she wheeled around and started trotting away. I knew she had chicks nearby, but was surprised to see about eight of them flush from behind her — the size of quail and they flew very well up into a stand of aspens.
Then the hen circled around and gave me hell from a distance of about 10 feet.
I was outta there.
Later in the day, while hiking down Crab Creek, I spotted at least two broods of mallards and two teal broods. Parents did a good job of broken-wing decoying (top photo) to keep me moving down the trail and away from the ducklings that quickly hid in the shoreline grass.
In the turkey photo, above left, notice the chick flying above, and the one behind the hen on the ground getting ready to flush and fly strongly.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Tim O'Brien of Cheney devoted this morning to a hiking and driving birding forayMount Spokane. While we all enjoy seeing and hearing birds when we head to the state park, it's fascinating to see the detail and diversity trained eyes and ears pick out of the forest and meadows.
WILDLIFE — My day has been crawling with wildlife.
6 a.m.: Going out to get the newspaper, I see a robin chick has just broken out of its egg in the nest behind the house. Naked pink and squirming with a little shell still on its shoulder. It's only 43 degrees.
8 a.m.: While running the dogs near Airway Heights, my young English setter locked on point and then looked back at me as if to seek advice. He was 20 yards from a pack of milk chocolate brown fur-ball coyote pups just big enough to run away through the tall grass. We went the other direction.
5 p.m. I'm back from a waterfowl viewing trek through the Slavin Conservation Area wetlands south of Spokane. Turns out my wife and I and the two dogs brought some wildlife home with us.
A quick comb and brush job on the dogs fetched at least 20 ticks.
Meredith and I have each plucked a couple off ourselves. I found one crawling up the bathroom wall. I think I flicked one off accidentally into the wild turkey and Thai stir-fry I prepared for dinner.
I'm thinking we'll open a nice bottle of Merlot for the final tick check of the day.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — "Remember the goofy snipe hunts you were encouraged to partake in at summer camps?" asks birding guide Woody Wheeler, in his Conservation Catalyst blog.
"Often they took place at night and involved a large sack, a club and a flashlight," he reminds us, and the "victim" wasn't a snipe, but rather the gullible 'snipe hunter.'
Wheeler recommends a different sort of snipe hunt that involves sleeping during the night. Then leave the bags, clubs and flashlights home and head out in daylight to a marsh or moist field with a good pair of binoculars.
While their camouflage makes them diffuclt to see, the high-pitched "whoop, whoop, whoop," sound of a male in its courtship flight often gives it away during April and May in the scabland areas west of Spokane. It sounds a little like Curly's call to action in the Three Stooges movies.
"During breeding season (now), Wilson’s Snipe make a haunting winnowing sound, often heard at dawn and dusk," explain's Wheeler, who lives in Seattle. "This sound helps them establish territory and attract potential mates. It is made by the wind whistling past their outstretched tail feathers after they first fly up and then descend rapidly."
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Canada geese are in the full swing of raising their families around the region.
S-R photographer Dan Pelle captured his family unit basking in the sun along the banks of the Spokane River on Upriver Drive and Crestline this week.
Three goose pairs were seen with at least 17 young birds in this area.
WILDLIFE — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration usually is in the business of defending sea creatures, but last week it was asking for advice about getting rid of some, according to a KING 5 TV report.
Washington state law allows for the destruction or relocation of osprey nests under certain circumstances, as long as there are no eggs involved.
That gives NOAA oficials precious little time to deal with a nest an osprey pair is building in the upper structure of a NOAA ship that's scheduled to set sail in a few weeks.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — As a hunter and conservationist, I could see this coming.
When I starting seeing wildlife photographers and birdwatchers giddy with the proliferation of recorded bird songs and electronic devices and then the advanced technology of smartphone apps — an eventual train wreck seemed like an obvious possibility.
The Seattle Times has published a good report on the growing use of the smartphone's field access to the internet and recordings to flush out species for better viewing and photography.
The technique is controversial among some experts who say it can stress male birds that believe a recorded song signals a rival invading their territory.