Idaho's Non-Game Wildlife:
Clearwater Region - Bats to Falcons
North Central Wolf Center
The Lady is a Tramp - erůCamp Robber
"Clearwater Region - From Bats to Falcons"
The Clearwater Nongame Program
The new Clearwater Nongame Program is inclusive and collaborative. As regional Nongame Biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's (IDFG) Clearwater Region, I oversee this program - in cooperation with an interagency advisory board, which includes representatives from IDFG, Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests, Army Corps of Engineers, Potlatch Corporation, Nez Perce National Historical Park, Nez Perce Tribe, and Bureau of Land Management.
by Rita Dixon, Idaho Department of Fish and Game
The advisory board's main role is to help me propose and develop nongame priorities, tasks, and projects in the region. Our primary goal is to coordinate a region-wide program for nongame wildlife through science, education, information, and partnership. Since its beginning in May 2000, the program has continued to grow and to attract new partners.
Bats Recently the program secured the protection of bat habitat at two abandoned mines owned by the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL). These mines - the Luella and Jericho - were originally slated for closure by IDL because of the potential hazards open mine shafts posed to the public. IDL first contacted me and requested that I evaluate these mines to determine whether bats were living there. Dan Foster of the Nez Perce National Historical Park (a member of the advisory board and experienced in working with bats) assisted with mist-netting - and we caught big brown bats and long-eared myotis at the mine openings.
Consequently, I recommended that IDL install bat gates at both mines to protect them as bat habitat. Since then, IDFG has helped IDL acquire funding for the bat gates through the Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program. NRCS is a partner in the North American Bats and Mines Project, which provides national leadership and coordination to minimize loss of mine-roosting bats. Starting this fall IDL will measure the Luella and Jericho openings and begin the process of installing these bat gates.
Another Clearwater Nongame project - to establish a plan for monitoring the northern goshawk in this region - is a collaboration among IDFG, IDL, Potlatch Corporation, Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests, and Nez Perce National Historical Park. Pat Heglund, former Wildlife Biologist for the Potlatch Corporation, and I have worked together to develop goshawk management recommendations for our region. By bringing all concerned agencies to the table, we were able to discuss management options and organize how things would work on the ground. Basically, the Clearwater Nongame Program will monitor each goshawk nest found and measure specific site characteristics of the nest. The goal is to implement better management recommendations for goshawks in this region, as well as to gain a better understanding of goshawks' local ecology. These management recommendations are now in the final stages.
The Clearwater Nongame Program will also continue the work initiated by Frances Cassirer, IDFG, to monitor harlequin ducks in northern Idaho. This year, we completed two surveys in late July on the mainstem Lochsa River and key tributaries. Next year, I will join Jim Hayden of IDFG's Panhandle Region to organize a more extensive survey.
Beginning this fall, the Clearwater Nongame Program, in conjunction with the Palouse Audubon Society and Canyon Birders, will initiate a shorebird monitoring project at Mann Lake, just south of Lewiston. This work will be part of a larger effort, the International Shorebird Survey, to obtain information on the number and diversity of shorebirds that use such sites. Mann Lake provides important shorebird and waterfowl habitat, and shorebirds depend on such habitat - critical stopovers - to refuel for their extensive migration journeys.
From Woodpeckers to Rattlesnakes
Other proposed projects include studies of the distribution and population structure of white-headed woodpeckers, habitat use of bats in relation to riparian management zones, post-fire wildlife response to the Maloney Creek Fire, distribution and population structure of western rattlesnakes, and a survey for sand rollers (an elusive fish) in the lower Clearwater River. In addition, I will work with Partners in Flight to accomplish some of the specific tasks outlined in the Idaho Bird Conservation Plan, operate a ůmist-netting station for birds, and assist with the statewide effort to monitor peregrine falcons.
Reprinted from Windows to Wildlife, Fall 2000
"North Central Wolf Center"
Wolf Center Shows a Fading Part of the West
Idaho is known for its pristine beauty and the ease with which the averagetraveler can leave his or her home in the city and reach wildlife viewing opportunities within a short period of time. In every section of the state, unique viewing opportunities await the visitor.
by Rick Hobson, Wolf Education and Research Center
North-central Idaho is no exception. Highway 95 winds its way north from New Meadows through alpine valleys and desert canyons. Eventually, it stretches across the Camas Prairie, past the farming communities of Grangeville and Craigmont, to the exit for Winchester and the Wolf Education and Research Center (WERC).
On the Nez Perce Reservation, the WERC is a unique educational facility. Encompassing 20 acres of rolling timberland with meadows and streams, this site is one of the largest single-pack (wolf pack) enclosures in the United States. Surrounding it are 300 acres of Nez Perce tribal land, a fitting home for these "Wolves of the Nez Perce." By educating the public about their kind, these wolves serve as ambassadors for their wild cousins.
The WERC is dedicated to providing public education concerning the gray wolf and its habitat in the northern Rocky Mountains, and we present the rare opportunity to observe and learn about wolves in their natural habitat. WERC's mission does not end there, for wolves, whether in captivity or in the wild, do not exist in a vacuum. Wild wolves especially are part of a complex and diverse ecosystem, in which each animal and plant interacts with each other. Because the WERC resides on protected Nez Perce tribal land at the juncture of three national forest systems, an abundance of wildlife exists. This allows the WERC to educate about how wolves interact with their environment.
On a cool morning, standing on the observation deck of the Visitor Center, you have a chance to see a part of Idaho that has disappeared elsewhere. While a wolf howl echoes through the surrounding pines, the raucous cry of a crow adds a counterpoint. Wild turkeys guide their chicks along hidden paths, trying to remain unseen. A woodpecker taps out a beat on a tree as it searches for a meal. Insects hum and flit in the long grass of the meadow between the surrounding fingers of forested area, which seem to cup the site, keeping it safe from the more developed areas that lie beyond. Pine trees comb a gentle wind, scenting it with pitch and greenery and life.
Occasionally, larger animals can be observed. Now and then a deer bounds along the outside of the enclosure that is home to the pack. This elicits the ancient response from the wolves paralleling the path of prey within the enclosure, until the deer disappears back into the surrounding forest.
Other opportunities to observe wildlife abound in the immediate area. Winchester Lake State Park sits at the edge of a former mill pond, giving visitors a chance to observe waterfowl and other wildlife. A mile or so distant from the WERC and the wolves, campers can still occasionally hear the call of the pack, particularly on calm, moonlit nights.
The Park and the WERC cooperate in hosting informative presentations in the park's amphitheater. The Visitor Center increases public awareness of wolves and related issues with programs that educate, awaken, and motivate local as well as national residents.
For more information about the Wolf Education and Research Center, a 50 (c) (3) non-profit organization, contact the Center at P. O. Box 217, Winchester, ID 83555 or 208-924-6960, or visit www.wolfcenter.org. Starting October 16, 2000, until about late May 2001, all tours are by reservation only. Call Monday thru Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Pacific Standard Time). To get to the WERC from Winchester, follow the Winchester Lake State Park signs to Forest Lane. Instead of turning to enter the campground, continue on the dirt road and watch for signs to the WERC.
Reprinted from Windows to Wildlife, Fall 2000
"The Lady is a Tramp - erů Camp Robber"
As hunters head to the forest to stock up on game for the winter, they may find someone who is way ahead of them. Gray jays, a.k.a. Canada jays, whiskey Jacks, or camp robbers, will have been busy for months, storing up food to survive the long winter.
This quieter member of the raucous jay family is a familiar visitor to hunting camps. The gray jay gets its more disreputable nickname from taking food off camp tables or from hanging game. However, its more stable food items consist of insects, berries, fungi, carrion, and nestling birds (in season).
Gray jays store the less perishable items, -- berries, insects, and mushrooms - by coating them with sticky saliva from special glands. They then stick balls of this saliva-covered food behind flakes of bark, under tufts of lichen, in the foliage, or in forks of trees.
Storing food allows gray jays to stay the whole winter in the boreal region of Canada and the U. S., rather than migrating south. Their range extends south into the lower 48 states along the Rocky Mountains and Cascades. Gray jays in Idaho live in coniferous forests, especially where there are spruce trees. This bird is so well adapted to its habitat that there are no records outside North America, and only rare sightings outside its breeding range.
Another unusual thing about gray jays is that they nest during late winter, often when there is still deep snow on the ground. This means that the young jays are born before there is abundant food available. It appears that the stored food not only gets the adults through the winter, but the young through their early lives.
If you see one gray jay, you'll usually see at least one or two more. The pairs mate for life. They lay two to five eggs and incubate them for over two weeks, sometimes in sub-zero temperatures. After the young leave the nest, they stay together until June. Then the dominant young chases the other young from the area.
Gray jays make their presence known with a hawk-like whistle, a cha cha-cha, or maybe a chook-chook-chook. They move with silent glides from tree to tree, only occasionally flapping their wings. On a foggy morning, their gray coloring makes them seem almost ghost-like.
Gray jays occasionally mimic other birds, often predatory ones. According to one hunter, gray jays can also do a quite good cow elk call. How hunters use that is up to them.
Reprinted from Windows to Wildlife, Fall 2000
The Not-so-common Loon
One Idaho bird can dive 600 feet deep and stay underwater for longer than two mintues. The unmistakable black and white "checkerboard" pattern on its back for much of the year also distinguishes the common loon from all other birds.
by Jenny Taylor, Idaho Panhandle National Forests
Loons are rare nesters in Idaho. You may see one in the Idaho Panhandle or in southeast Idaho near the Wyoming border. You're more likely to see loons during spring and fall migrations throughout Idaho on large lakes or reservoirs, important staging areas for the birds to rest and fish.* Because no one is banding loons in Idaho, we can only guess where they are headed to from here. But loons banded in Montana, Washington, and Nevada wintered on the California coast and nested in northwest Saskatchewan.
Europeans call this bird the great northern diver, but "loon" is from a Scandinavian word meaning "clumsy." Loons are graceful and powerful swimmers, but have difficulty walking on land. Their legs are designed to work as rudders, not to support their body weight. This is why loons nest within a few feet of the water's edge. An island is the preferred nest location because it is fairly safe from predators.
Sometimes loons lay one or two olive-colored eggs on the bare ground, but usually they build a shallow nest of vegetation like cattails and sedges. The male and female both help build the nest, incubate the eggs, and feed the chicks.
If you are lucky enough to see a loon near its nest, you might see one or two dark brown chicks riding on its back. Both grebes and loons carry their young chicks on their backs to protect them from waves and wind. By the time a chick is a week old, though, it spends more time swimming than "hitchhiking." The parents continue to bring fish to the chicks for several weeks as the chicks develop their diving and fishing skills.
Loons have many kinds of calls. An alarm call - the tremolo or laughing call - rises and falls. If you hear a loon tremolo, you are probably too close, and the bird feels threatened. A loon is most likely to use this call when protecting its young.
Like most birds, loons molt (grow new feathers) twice a year. When loons molt in the fall, however, their appearance changes: they lose the black head feathers, the distinctive striped collar, and the bold black and white back. By winter, a common loon's crown, neck, and back are a subdued grayish brown. The front of its neck and belly are white.
Historically, loons nested on several Idaho Panhandle lakes, including Upper Priest Lake, Priest Lake, Round Lake, and Lake Pend Oreille. Some years no loon nests are found in Idaho. Upper Priest Lake and Lake Pend Oreille, as well as a couple of lakes spanning the Idaho/Wyoming border, are the only lakes where loons are known to have nested in Idaho in the last 10 years.
Montana has dozens of pairs of nesting loons. Why don't more loons nest in Idaho? The biggest threats to loon survival in the Rockies are fluctuating water levels, shoreline development and disturbance from boats and jet skis. Loons choose a quiet lakeshore protected from waves and human disturbance to build their nest. Waves washing up on shore can swamp a loon nest and cause it to fail.
Loons that try to nest on lakes with high levels of boat use generally don't succeed. An Alaskan study found 87% of loon chicks fledged (survived long enough to leave the nest) on lakes with low disturbance levels, compared to only 13% on high-disturbance lakes. Almost all Idaho lakes that are big enough for loons are used by boaters and jet skiers. It is a common misconception that only powerboats disturb loons. Canoes and kayaks don't create as much of a wake, but during the nesting season, they can displace loons too.
A lake controlled by a dam is a risky place for a loon to nest. Loon nests are easily flooded when the water rises, or left high and dry and vulnerable to predators when the water level drops. In many states, people have built "floating platforms" or "rafts" to help minimize the effects of water level changes for loons. Boards can be tied together to form a rectangular frame, which is filled in with wire or other mesh. Aquatic vegetation can then be placed on the mesh and the raft tied to posts or equipped with anchors long enough to reach bottom during high water levels. As the water level rises or falls, the raft floats along with it.
Ravens, bald eagles, skunks, and raccoons are a few of the animals that prey on loon eggs and chicks. Anything that stirs up lake bottoms, making the water murky or turbid, can interfere with a loon's ability to see and catch its prey. In other areas of the country, acid rain, heavy metals, and other pollution have caused loon population declines. On some eastern lakes, lead fishing tackle has been banned because it can cause lead poisoning in wildlife.
What Can You Do For Loons?
Mark the second Saturday of July (2001) on your calendar! That's when volunteers across the U. S. and Canada count loons to help biologists understand how the North American loon population is doing. Idaho's survey is sponsored by the Panhandle Loon and Wetlands Project, an organization promoting loon education and loon habitat conservation (see contact information below).
If you see a live loon with a wing marker, you can report the color and numbers to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lab in Maryland at 1-800-327-2263. If you find a dead loon, or any other dead bird, with a leg band, write down the numbers and report them to this lab. Such "band return" information helps scientists figure out where birds travel to and from.
By next summer you may see loon signs posted at public boat ramps in loon habitat. The purpose of these signs is to help people learn what loons look like and to encourage them to report loon sightings to local biologists. Several reports coming in from the same lake might indicate a loon nesting area. Public participation is a cost-effective way to gather data on loon distribution in our state.
To find out more about loons, participate in the July loon count, or support loon conservation efforts in Idaho, contact the Panhandle Loon and Wetlands Project at 208-265-8989 or P. O. Box 2218, Sandpoint, ID 83864, or the North American Loon Fund at LoonFund@hotmail.com. This fall, the Panhandle Loon and Wetlands Project will also loan out a "loon trunk" full of books, videos, and activities related to loons and wetlands. These trunks, as well as the signs at boat ramps, were paid for by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's Nongame Wildlife Program, the Panhandle Loon and Wetlands Project, the Selkirk Conservation Alliance, Coeur d'Alene chapter of the National Audubon Society, and the U. S. Forest Service.
*Idaho fish 'n' hunt editor's notation:
We've spotted loons and heard their lonely calls on Black Canyon Reservoir between Emmett and Horseshoe Bend.
Reprinted from Windows to Wildlife, Fall 2000
"Windows to Wildlife" is a quarterly publication produced by the Nongame Wildlife Program with the cooperation of the Idaho Watchable Wildlife Committee.
To submit an article, obtain a subscription, renew a subscription, or notify us of address change, contact the Editor at: Windows to Wildlife, Nongame Program, P. O. Box 25, Boise, ID 83707 208-334-2920
Copyright 2000 by Spring Creek Communications