Troy Naturalist Pat McLeod scopes for birds along the Kootenai River. Photo by Brian Baxter, The Montanian.
By Brian Baxter
In the pre-dawn hours the chorus begins. At first, it is only the pulsation of the westerly wind. Slowly, a few songbirds begin to chirp and then chime in with their songs. Companions pick up their signature tune. Now, other species are contributing to the concert as the sun melts the mist hanging over the wetland.
A quarter mile away, a small group of human beings intent on sharing the morning with the wildlife arrive. Their guide whispers to them, hoping to impress upon them the importance of a cautious, quiet approach. She implores the birders who range from complete amateurs to field ornithologists, to keep some space between each other, walk softly, and use the natural camouflage of the timbered edge.
As the birding party reaches an opening where the group can scan the riparian area, seemingly simultaneous actions occur. In the distance a mature Bald-eagle is flying southeast, and as the observers view that white-headed predator with binoculars they hear a splash of water as several male Common goldeneye ducks perform a mating display where they tilt their heads back and kick the waters surface. In a completely opposite direction, the alarming call of a Belted kingfisher almost startles the group as he dives for a catch. The action continues for several minutes, and then all is quiet again. Well, almost quiet.
On Saturday, May fourth, Northern Idaho College Workforce Training and Community Education of Sandpoint, Idaho is sponsoring a Spring Birding Workshop. All levels are welcome as the group learns together to scope for birds of prey, waterfowl, woodpeckers, and songbirds. Along with the instructor, the group will explore techniques of connecting habitat, flight patterns, sky silhouettes, identifying feathers, calls and tracks to clarify bird species. For more information, please enroll at: nic.edu/wtc or call 208-769-3333. Hours are 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., and the website is: www.workfor
For a little international flavor and a great birding experience, take about an hour and forty minute drive from Libby up to the quaint town of Creston, British Columbia. This years festival is scheduled for May tenth through twelfth, and guided tours are available by kayak, bicycle, van, and on foot. The keynote speaker this year is Dr. David Bird, and there is a photography workshop taught by Lyle Grisedale. There are also kids events, farm tours, and more. Registration opens April third, , and more information is available at: www.creston valleybirds.ca.
The beautiful Bull River Valley is the location of an expedition for the birds and bird lovers on Saturday, May 18. This spring outing will explore the area between the East and West Cabinet Mountains for both resident and migrating sky hunters, water lovers, drilling woodpeckers, and songbirds. This event is sponsored by Friends of Scotchman Peaks, and is a free program. The group will meet at 9 a.m. at the Venture Inn in Libby for coffee and briefly go over some basic birding tips. Participants will then head to the field for a day of road tour observation points, short hikes, and scoping out water bodies for bird life. A new addition this year is a short woodpecker walk into a fire damaged stand to search for drumming woodpecker friends. Sponsors ask that you please make sure to come prepared for the day with proper layers, lunch, water, spotting scopes, binoculars, cameras, sense of adventure and sense of humor. Wrap up is around 2:30 or 3:00 p.m. Find your wild place and sign up at: www.scotchman peaks.org/events or call 208-290-1281.
If you’re into birding by bicycle, check out the Smith Lake Bike and Bird which is an 8.5 mile route in the Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area. This bicycle outing will occur from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. on Saturday, May 18. Following the bike tour, participants are invited to the nearby Kila Pub for pizza and beverages. Space is limited, so please contact Laura Katzman at Flathead Land Trust by phone at 406-752-8293 or email her at lkatzman @flatheadlandtrust.org.
Additional area birding programs include an awesome display of live captured birds of prey at Libby Dam by well known birder Jane Veltcamp on May 25 at 9 a.m. until noon. For more information, contact Susan James at 293-5577. On June 15, the Friends of Kootenai Wildlife Refuge in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho will be offering a bird walk from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. Participants will meet at the KWR headquarters office at 9 a.m. Pacific Time. For more information see the website at www.friendsof kootenainationalwildliferefuge.org or call 208-267-3888. And on Sunday, June 23, expert birder Beverly Skinner will be guiding a Lost Trail Wildlife Refuge Tour beginning at 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Bev is a very knowledgeable naturalist, and knows the refuge extremely well. Contact her for more information at email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 406-858-2286.
As with any natural pursuit of wild things, whether it be for scientific research, clothing, food, photographs, or fun, it pays to think and move as wild creatures do. In birding especially, there are rewards for being silent. For in silence, there is the ability to listen and then to hear the calls of the wild. We are fortunate to live in an area with a myriad of resident and migrating avian wildlife. To see and hear these birds is indeed a privilege. To identify them is a lifelong pursuit. We are always learning. As Socrates said, “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”