As we pulled into the empty parking in the early morning sun, a red tail hawk flew by in dogged pursuit of a raven. I wonder what raven mischief raised the hawk’s ire. It’s a windy, windy day and they seem to get blown past us just as much as they are flying past. The parking lot is flanked by wetlands on the northwestern edge of Lake Coeur d’Alene. All of the songbird houses placed in the marsh are notably claimed by a pair of tree swallows. Its a wonder they don’t get blown off of their perches atop the boxes. A common yellow legs is intently feeding in the shallows up against the road.
We crossed a small wooden bridge over the creek adjoining the two marshes and headed north along the water toward the lake. This is the Cougar Bay Preserve, a Nature Conservancy refuge just minutes from downtown Coeur d’Alene. The trail curves along the edge of the marsh to my left, with the terrain sloping steeply upward in a pine forest to my right. Spring wildflowers are beginning to bloom on the forest floor.
A song sparrow has claimed his perch and is belting out his song with all his heart.
There some trees on the left, between the water and me, which help to obscure my presence from the waterfowl. The flighty wood ducks are so sensitive to human presence though, that my first sense of them is their raucous retreat to the air as they flush away across the marsh. A pair of common mergansers further off is more tolerant of me. Continuing about their feeding, they slipped quietly below the surface of the water, diving for fish, and disappeared.
A cover of coots close to shore is wary of me. They move just a little further away and resume their dabbling in the marsh grasses.
An osprey keeps flying over. There must be a nest nearby. We have seen nesting platforms all over this part of Idaho and every single one has osprey claiming it. They’ve just returned from their wintering grounds this week. En masse apparently! The osprey flew past me and vanished over the trees to the east.
A solitary pair of Great Blue Herons is working the far side of the marsh. I can only see them when they take to the air moving to a new spot. Their camouflage in the reeds after they land makes them invisible to me. The ubiquitous redwing blackbirds are keeping them company, calling from the tops of the cattails conk-la-ree! giving the marsh its characteristic sound.
In the open water streaming through the middle of the marsh, a flock of northern shovelers circles and lands. Their name-sake thick bills give them away. They are on the move disappearing into the reeds and then showing themselves again and again.
As the trail reaches the end of the peninsula it turns toward the top of the slope. At this bend rests a long-abandoned, rusty bulldozer whose story is dying to be told. How did it get here over this narrow trail and why was it left behind? I’m sure it provides a home for a lot of little critters today.
We climb a couple of switchbacks to the top of the hill. The osprey are still flying about, close to me now that I’ve risen into their realm. They pay me no mind as they go about repairing the nest for the new season.
The wide, mowed trail follows the ridge through the pine forest. The trees tell us that this is good woodpecker habitat, although we don’t see or hear much of them.
As the path snaked back down to rejoin the marsh-side trail, I stopped to watch a flock of wigeon. I was hidden by the trees and quietly watched as the flock appeared from the reeds one by one, gliding into the open water they kept coming, like out of a clown car. There were a dozen of them in all. The lead drake was calling as he swam – a squeaky sound, not unlike the noise my dogs’ toys make. No coincidence, I’m sure!
We rejoined the trail we came in on, walked back over the bridge, past the tree swallows on their boxes, and headed into town for breakfast. It was a delight of migrating waterfowl and signs of spring on an enjoyable hike. Every day should start so well.