As we move into the thick of the winter season, the Silver Valley and surrounding areas become ground zero for some excellent wildlife watching, especially for migrating waterfowl.
Whereas other animals can take different routes of migration, birds tend to follow nearly the exact same route from year to year, which, according to Phil Cooper with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, makes for good and almost predictable wildlife watching.
“Waterfowl tend to follow the same patterns from year to year,” Cooper said. “Migration of waterfowl will begin here in three to four weeks when swans start showing back up, and they are follow by the Sandhill Cranes who go through their spring plumage before continuing on up to Alberta.”
Several people get excited when they see the bevies of swans gathering in the marshy areas between Cataldo and the Rose Lake Junction, but there are a lot of other places for locals to go if they want to take in some wildlife watching.
According to Cooper, IDFG manages 32 wildlife management areas (WMA) around the state.
These sites have been established to protect wildlife habitat, and to provide opportunities for hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers.
The Coeur d’Alene River WMA near Harrison, is about one hour south of I-90 on Highway 97. It encompasses most of the lateral Chain Lakes of the Coeur d’Alene River and is a haven for migrating and nesting birds, as well as other wildlife.
Not just swans of cranes, but watchers should look for all species of ducks and geese, great blue herons, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, rails, kingfishers, snipe, mourning doves and wild turkeys.
More than 50 pairs of osprey nest on the lower Coeur d’Alene River, and an additional 30 pairs near the mouth of the St. Joe River.
The Snow Peak WMA is 30 miles south of Avery and has a surplus of Idaho's less common waterfowl, such as northern goshawks and pileated woodpeckers.
McArthur Lake WMA is adjacent to Highway 95, between Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry, and provides excellent goose nesting habitat and large numbers of pintails have been there for the last several weeks.
This is a fun and relatively inexpensive way for families and adventurers to get out and visit some of North Idaho’s more breathtaking landscapes and according to Cooper, there is plenty of opportunity for everyone.
“We have a lot of water up here in North Idaho,” Cooper said. “There is plenty of opportunity for anyone with binoculars or a spotting scope to get out and watch some wildlife.”
As mentioned, spring plumage will begin later this month and should run through April.
There are seven WMAs in the Panhandle and there is no charge to visit any of them.
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The Shoshone News-Press publishes Phil Cooper’s “In the Field…” column frequently and much of the information in this article came from his article published in April 2017.