By Director Jim Rychwalski

Sandhill Crane silhouette Photo Credit: Dick Walker
Sandhill Crane silhouette Photo Credit: Dick Walker

One of my passions in life is to travel. Recently we took a trip to the Idaho panhandle and Lake Pend Oreille in late October staying in Hope. It is the largest lake in Idaho and the 38th largest lake by area in the United States at 1,150 feet (350 m) deep in some regions, making it the fifth deepest in the United States. When I choose a destination I always try to plan it being close to National Parks or National Wildlife Refuges with plans to visit. In this case it was the Kootenai National Refuge in Bonners Ferry 20 miles south of the Canadian border. The 2774 acre refuge provides habitat for more than 220 species of birds, 45 species of mammals, and 22 species of fish. Although our list of sightings was limited due to the time of year there were large flocks of Canadian Geese, American Wigeon, American Coots, Mallards, and golden eye along with Bald Eagles and Clark’s Grebes on the lake along with several birds in the refuge too numerous to list in this article. In the refuge one of the five hiking trails leads to Myrtle Creek Falls where the Black Swift is reported to reside.

Aside from taking in the scenery and wildlife I find that I always walk away with some interesting new information that continues to peak my interest in the great outdoors. In this case it was some facts about avian migration and Sandhill Cranes.

Ducks vary in their flying abilities. Mallards will fly 400 miles without stopping if necessary while pintails can fly well over 2000 miles nonstop. Waterfowl often fly very high when migrating over long distances. Pilots have reported seeing flocks of Mallards at 21,000 feet. Ducks have been clocked at over 60 mph; however, their average flight speed during migration is about 35 mph. Sandhill Cranes of which there are five subspecies according to most authorities fly at 30-50 mph, travel approximately 350 miles a day with some traveling over 10,000 miles annually at altitudes of 3,000 – 5,000 feet. Young cranes are called colts, adult females mares and adult males are roans.

Two other interesting facts on the area. I was not aware that there are a small group of woodland caribou found in the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and northern Washington. Also the Kootenai tribe of Idaho operates a Twin Rivers Sturgeon and Burbot hatchery in Bonners Ferry. Sturgeon are an amazing fish possibly having persisted over 250 million years. The Kootenai River population is small with a few individuals known to exceed 350 pounds and 10 feet in length. While they may live as long as humans, females require about 30 years to mature. The sturgeon was federally listed as endangered in 1994. Another fish hatchery we visited was run by Fish and Wildlife in Clarks Fork where they propagate king salmon, Kokanee salmon and Gerrard Kamloops which is a genetically superior strain of redband rainbow trout.

With over 550 national refuges, 58 national parks along with state parks and being so enamored with the mysteries of the natural world and my ongoing desire to understand the intricacies of nature my only frustration with all this is that my bucket list continues to grow.