BONNERS FERRY — For outdoor enthusiasts in Boundary County, one awaited sign of spring arrived Monday, April 1. The gates opened to the auto tour road that threads its way through the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge, and it was quickly filled with people in cars, on bikes, and on foot.
The day was welcomely warm and the sun lit up the landscape as it shook off the last vestiges of winter, dotted with the occasional stubborn sheet of ice clinging to the edge of a water way, or a patch of snow in shady areas.
The opening of the road was delayed this year due to our unusual, late, lingering winter, and the people have been eagerly awaiting. With spring making its grand entrance, it has brought with it many of the seasonal feathered friends.
“There are some swans out there today, so that is kind of neat and there has been a snow goose around,” said Talina Richards, Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge administrative support assistant. “There were probably over a thousand pintail ducks sitting in the shallow waters right off the county road and there was a Eurasian wigeon, which is a little bit unusual for this area.”
The red-winged blackbirds are scattered around the fields of the refuge, singing their spring songs, along with the usual Canada geese in and around the water.
“I expect in a couple weeks our hummingbirds will be here,” said Richards, who always puts her hummingbird feeders out on Earth Day, which is April 22.
Refuge enthusiasts and visitors will need to take advantage of the tour road while they can, as it will be closed down during the heart of summer.
“Expect it to be closed July and August,” explained Richards. “We are going to be replacing the Myrtle Creek pump and to do that, we have to break into the tour road to replace pipes, so we are completely closing it to all traffic — no cars, no bikes, no people.”
There are upcoming events for people to take advantage of the treasures that the refuge offers, including monthly Bird Walks. Interested people can meet at the refuge office at 9 a.m., rain or shine. They suggest bringing binoculars or scope, field guide if you have one, snacks and good hiking shoes. The walks last from one to two hours and the first one begins on April 20.
The Friends of the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge are also putting on an event on April 19 at the Ed Barn, from 7-8:30 p.m., called Kootenai Valley after the Glaciers. The event will feature a slide presentation by Carla Burnside, a Zone Archaeologist for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and will explore how the Kootenai Valley has changed since the end of the Pleistocene, about 12,000 years ago.
With winter doldrums behind, the auto tour road through the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge is an ideal place to watch spring emerge. For more information or events: www.fws.gov/refuge/Kootenai