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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on place-based stewardship education. Since 2001, a partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department (KNRD) has supported this newsletter and allowed us to expand class offerings through EPA funding. Further staff support comes through Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA). Many thanks to our partners and to you, our readers, for your continued enthusiasm for "digging" into the natural history and culture of this part of the world.

Birding Along the Water Trail

By John Stuart

As you begin your float trip from the Oldtown/Newport area, here are some general bird habitat stories to keep in mind. Both the osprey and the now abundant bald eagles occupy the entire river corridor. These birds nests can be identified by their precise location in a tree or snag. Eagle nests are built in the large forks of either live or dead trees, while ospreys build at the very top of dead trees or on the pilings still in place in many parts of the river. Usually the eagle nests are quite large compared to the ospreys'.

There are several great blue heron communal nesting areas (rookeries) in the Box Canyon reservoir, so when you see a blue heron flying, keep an eye out for those.

The two main habitat items, groceries and shelter/nest spots, determine much about bird activity. Some of the most common brush species along the river are also fruiting plants which are favorites of many birds. They include hawthorn or thornapple, Cretaegus douglasii, serviceberry, Amalanchier alnifolia, roses, Rosa spp., chokecherry, Prunus melanocarpa, and mountain-ash, Sorbus scopulina.

Large cottonwoods and any standing dead trees are likely to be used by many cavity-nesting birds including four duck species: hooded merganser, bufflehead, common goldeneye and wood duck.

It is possible to find all six species of our local swallows along the Pend Oreille River. The tunnel builders come in two flavors. The bank swallows are gregarious and will gather in colonies in fine dirt cliff faces while the more loner rough-winged swallow pairs will tend to clean out single isolated tunnels in cliff faces that may be as little as six feet tall. Cliff swallows like to build on bridges and other human habitat items.

At RM 86 on the right bank is the US Forest Service Pioneer Park campground. You may want to walk around the area and check out the conifer forest birds. Day use fees may be required here and at Panhandle Park Campground and Edgewater Campground (both USFS) further downstream.

Many of the islands in the river are privately owned, but can be birded from your boat. Check out Indian Island at about RM 81 and another unnamed island at RM 82 for bobolinks in the grasslands. Just a bit farther downstream between RM 76 and 74 is a larger island adjacent to the right bank with grasslands as well. At RM 73 Left is the mouth of Davis Creek. Scouting up the creeks is a good way to get close-ups of birds without getting out of the boat. Quite often, birds are less spooked by slow boat movement than by people on foot. Almost directly across the river, on river right, is the mouth of Skookum Creek. Heavily vegetated shallow water streams are a good place to listen for the shy northern waterthrush.

When next to deciduous trees and tall brush, listen and watch for the mostly wetland-loving songbirds like the Bullock's oriole, American redstart, warbling vireo, red-eyed vireo, cedar waxwing and the ever-present yellow warbler.

At RM 72, you will duck under the Usk bridge, the only river bridge in the 50 miles between Newport and Ione, WA. The bridge is a favorite nesting platform for the very gregarious cliff swallows and at times the sky will be filled with them. Taking a break here at the gas station boat ramp, feel free to walk the public river road in both directions for many bird species. Here as well as in other places, the big Ponderosa pines are favorite hangouts for pygmy and red-breasted nuthatches and larger seed-eating birds like red crossbills.

Between Usk and Cusick are the remains of many sawmill pilings. A couple hundred double-crested cormorants have been nesting on them since about 1996. Pilings also hold a few osprey nests and many tree and violet-green swallows use them as nesting cavities. Great blue herons find the pilings excellent perches for their “Statue of Bird Liberty” poses.

Between RM 66-67 Left is the mouth of Tacoma Creek . Be on the watch in this area and anywhere on the rivfor river otters. This area has been restored by the Pend Oreille Public Utility District (PUD) for wildlife habitat. Moose, elk, deer and other smaller animals are common here.

From RM 65 to 62 is a long stretch of cottonwoods on the left bank, a good place to see eagles and their nests between March and July. Bullock's oriole will be a common bird in these big bushy trees.

On the left bank at RM 58.5, an exposed cliff houses an active bank swallow colony.

At RM 57 on the right bank is USFS Panhandle Campground; a good place to pull out to take a break and spy on a small cattail swamp with likely red-eyed vireo, American redstart and the ever-talkative catbird; also, possible dusky or Hammond's flycatchers.

RM 45 on the left bank is the mouth of Tiger Slough. Some of this is accessible by boat, with a mix of vegetation and private homes along the shore.

Check out creek mouths such as Cedar Creek at Ione, RM 37.5, on the left bank, for possible dipper and black-headed grosbeak. To exit the river, you can either return upstream to the Ione City Park or continue to the last take-out before Box Canyon Dam at Edgewater Campground (USFS) at RMx 37 on the right bank.


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