Swamp Tails: Snk'mip Marsh's Spring Birds
Kootenay-area bird expert Gary Davidson opened our eyes recently to the great variety of birds on hand at or near to the Snk’mip Marsh Sanctuary, both the birds resident here year-round and those returning from winter sojourns (for example Osprey, they fly here all the way from Central and South America).
We were excited to see a bald eagle sitting contentedly on a nest of sticks in a large cottonwood tree that towers over the marsh at the south end, located close to the rail-trail. If you want to see it, walk down to Snk’mip from Bonanza Road, to the picnic table overlooking the marsh from the north. With your binoculars you can get a good view of mama or papa eagle sitting on the nest (males and females take turns incubating the eggs).
Gary explained that the incubation period for the Bald Eagle is 34 to 36 days. The average number of eggs laid is one to three, but after they hatch usually only the fittest eaglet survives as it will out-compete its nest-mates for the flying food service delivered by its doting parents.
This voracious fledgling will remain in the nest for another 85 to 95 days until it is ready to fly. The parent birds do not force the eaglet out of the nest but wait until little Betty or Bertie is ready to fly on her or his own. Imagine that first swooping flight: down over the marsh with a long glide over the lake and a big circle back to the nest.
Bald eagles were just one of the species we spotted. Gary’s watchful eye has also encountered, at the Snk'mip Marsh Sanctuary: Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Turkey Vulture, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Varied Thrush, American Robin, Pine Siskin, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and Red-winged Blackbird.
We didn’t see the famous white swans of the marsh as they are primarily winter visitors but Gary has seen them many times in past, they are Trumpeter Swans. He explained that by now they have left our area for their nesting territories further north. Once nearing extinction, a concerted recovery effort has re-established Trumpeter Swans and they are doing well in this part of the world.
As we chatted in the spring sunshine, beautiful little woodpeckers drummed away, reminding me of the three that insist on pounding on the walls of our house (cedar siding). Gary explained that they are not deliberately trying to drive us crazy nor are they trying to drill holes into the house — drumming is a woodpecker’s way of singing. They are saying “This is my territory, ladies, and I’m the best-lookin’ woodpecker in these parts!”