by Mary Jane Butters S pring has arrived! The budding, greening world outside awaits you. If you're looking for a reason to get outside, try a nesting and twigging expedition. Exploring a mall probably satiates the same nesting urge, but outside, the air is cleaner and the decorating goods you bring home are free. If you venture near a barnyard, you might find a nest made entirely from horsehair. Near a bog, you might find a soft, fluffy nest built from the cotton of a cattail. If you're in sagebrush country, watch for nests made from shredded sage bark. In a forest, look for mossy nests. Winter winds are hard on nests and once they've fallen to the ground, birds become nest engineers all over again.
As you look for nests, watch also for branches to perch them on, once you bring them home. Keeping your collection tucked away in boxes or sitting on a shelf doesn't do it justice. For permanent storage, tack the branches you gathered on your walls and then perch your nests on the branches. It's a fashionable way to bring the outdoors in.
Watch also for colorful mosses and lichen-covered bark. Placed on a table as a centerpiece along with some daffodils and maybe a nest or two, the colors will be vibrant, but natural and earthy. Over time, if you collect enough bird nests, you can use them for place settings. Using colorful pieces of paper cut in egg shapes, you can write the names of your guests, one for each nest, on your paper eggs. During the holidays, you can nestle your nests on your Christmas tree and adorn them with tiny bulbs placed inside.
With Easter coming soon, nests are a natural. This year, avoid the glitzy store-bought looking plastic nesting materials sold for Easter baskets and borrow ideas from nature's nest-builders. Think like a bird and fill your children's baskets with grasses, pine needles, cattail cotton, etc.
And this year, in honor of birds, visit the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, located near Cheney. An Easter or springtime visit to Turnbull makes a wonderful family outing. If you're entertaining visitors, it's a great way to show off the delights of our region.
Every spring, the refuge comes alive with wildflowers and visiting birds. At least 200 species of birds live at the refuge or migrate through, stopping to feed and rest. If you decide you'd like to start gathering bird nests, don't expect to bring home anything from Turnbull, however. Since it is a National Wildlife Refuge, it's illegal to take anything.
Turnbull is a preserve of 15,600 acres in all, with 2,200 acres open to the public. It is located in one of the few preserved remnants of an unusual region known as the Channeled Scablands. The scablands were created about 15,000 years ago during the Great Ice Age floods. Glaciers dammed what is now called the Clark Fork River on the Montana-Idaho border, filling a huge lake and creating a "bowl" in what is now Missoula.
Over time, those ice dams broke and huge walls of water flooded eastern Washington, scouring the soil, exposing the underlying rock and creating channels and depressions that would later became shallow lakes.
The scablands were settled in the late 1800s, and pioneers began to change the landscape by cutting trees, creating hayfields and plowing the ground. Sportsmen, naturalists and conservationists wanted to preserve some of the scabland ecosystem. In 1937, a total of 15,600 acres was set aside as a national wildlife refuge named after Cyrus Turnbull, who lived with his family on the refuge site, earning his living as a hunter, selling waterfowl in nearby towns. The refuge is open daily and costs $3 per car for admission. You can't camp overnight, hunt, boat or fish at Turnbull, but there are eight miles of nicely groomed trails. A 5-mile one-way paved auto tour, with pull-outs, also winds through Turnbull. There are wheelchair-accessible boardwalks into the marshy areas with close-up views of both wildlife and stunning wildflowers. There's even a small gift shop staffed by volunteers that's open during the summer months.
To find the refuge, drive through downtown Cheney, staying on 904, then turn left (south) on the Cheney-Plaza Road and follow the signs to Turnbull. About four miles later, turn at the refuge entrance sign. The auto tour loop and the headquarters are straight ahead.