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The Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary

Read Up On North American Wildlife

Wild animals who have been injured or orphaned could never be called “lucky”, but those in the McCall area at the time of their accident might at least consider themselves fortunate. For the past 23 years, the Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary has been dedicated to the care and rehabilitation of Idaho’s wild animals, large and small.

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Since their primary goal is rehabilitation, Snowdon is normally off-limits to visitors. The less contact these animals have with humans, the better, and the staff try and keep interaction to an absolute minimum. For the curious public, there are occasional open houses, and “The Dome”: an educational center at the sanctuary’s entrance, with pelts and information about animals from bears to wolverines.

We were invited to take a rare peek behind the gates, and meet some of the animals currently under care. There was Luta, a beautiful red-tailed hawk who’s been in captivity her whole life. She doesn’t know she’s a hawk and wouldn’t survive long in the wild, so is one of the refuge’s permanent guests. The same goes for Ollie, a magnificent Great Horned Owl whose right eye was put out after a run-in with a truck.

Snowdown had recently been in the press thanks to Boo-Boo, a bear cub orphaned during the wildfires that ravaged Idaho in 2012. All his paws were burnt, but he was expected to make a full recovery. In fact, during our visit, he was already up and about, and we couldn’t even find him in his large enclosure at Snowdon… “Probably up a tree” explained Carolyn, who was acting as our guide. We did spot two other orphaned bears, as they were running away: sisters, who were slated to be released before hibernation season.

Snowdown is a non-profit corporation supported entirely by private donations and grants. Their facilities are small, but they manage to re-release almost every animal brought into their care. It’s an enterprise worth supporting — visit their website to help contribute and, if you can make it to one of their infrequent open houses, make sure to do so!

Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary – Website
Location on our Idaho Map

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September 24, 2012 at 6:20 pm Comment (1)

Bald Eagle! USA! USA!!!

American Bald Eagle T-Shirt (Novelty!)

After our moose encounter, we didn’t have to wait long for Mother Nature to rear her head once more. Minutes before we entered the Snowdown Wildlife Sanctuary outside of McCall, a bald eagle swooped down from a tree and soared over the stream in front of us.

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It was the first time I’d ever seen our national bird, and I immediately remembered the lessons of my youth. This might surprise any non-US readers, but it’s a fact that in every school across the country, American children are drilled on the proper reaction to seeing a Bald Eagle. So as it soared over my head, I jumped into the air, pumped my fist, and screamed “Home of the Brave!” Behind me, fireworks. In front, amber waves of grain.

Jürgen was impressed, I could tell.

After I had calmed down, I went straight to the internet and researched Bald Eagles. When bragging about the encounter (and, oh, did I plan on bragging), I wanted to have more to say than “eagle was pretty”. So please, friend, take a seat and allow me to dazzle you with my EagleFacts!

On average, Bald Eagles live up to twenty years. Along with Golden Eagles, they’re the largest raptor in North America, with an average adult wingspan between 5.9 and 7.5 feet. Females and males are similar in appearance, but the ladies are larger by up to 25%. They build the largest nests of any bird, and return to them year after year, continually adding material to them. These nests can reach thirteen feet in depth, and eight in width. The eagles mate for life and can fly faster than 40 miles per hour.

Bald Eagles live all over America, but are sensitive to human presence and prefer remote areas with plenty of access to rivers and lakes. This explains why they are so often found in wild, remote Idaho. They mainly eat fish (which they rip apart with their talons), but will attack and eat anything they can manage, including raccoons, small reptiles and geese. They’re not preyed upon in the wild, and so are considered apex predators.

First a moose, and now a Bald Eagle. And all within our first few weeks in Idaho. We’d spot Bald Eagles a few more times during our stay, but I’ll never forget that first encounter.

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Updated!!! We spotted a Bald Eagle Couple near Driggs!

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Landing Bald Eagle

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September 23, 2012 at 3:58 pm Comments (0)

Moose Sighting in the Payette River

Moose Candy Dispenser (Funny)

On a whim, we decided to return to McCall from Warren by looping around the east side of the Payette Lake. We’d done the western road a few times, and wanted to see something new. And we certainly did: there, standing knee-deep in the North Fork of the Payette River, were two moose.

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Two young moose, a bull and a cow, were chilling on the far side of the river, probably 50 feet away. They raised their heads, registering our presence, and then went right back to eating and drinking, utterly unconcerned. We stayed for fifteen minutes watching them.

Of course, the first thing I did when I got home was get on the internet and read up on moose. The ones we spotted must have been young, because they weren’t as large as fully-grown adults. Bulls can reach seven feet in height, and weigh up to 1500 pounds. Next to bison, moose are the largest land mammal in North America. The ones we had seen weren’t that big, and the bull still had velvet on his antlers.

I also learned it was good that a river had been separating us. Moose can get surprisingly aggressive, particularly when their young are involved. In fact, more people are attacked by moose than by wolves and bears combined! They’re herbivores, with no interest in munching on human bones, so won’t pursue if you run away. Against predators, though, they fight ferociously; battles pitting wolves against moose can last days.

Perhaps the most surprising thing I learned about moose is that they’re not considered endangered at all. I had always just assumed that they were among the rare creatures we’re duty-bound to protect, but they’re so common that they can even be hunted. The non-resident license to kill a moose currently runs at $2100. Funny, since that’s about the same price I would pay to save one.

Location of our Moose Sighting


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September 19, 2012 at 1:38 am Comments (3)

McCall – Idaho’s Four Season Getaway

McCall Hotels / Vacation Rentals

Whether you’re walking down Lake Street, driving along the Warren Wagon road, cruising by the surprisingly busy airport or sipping a cocktail while overlooking the majestic Payette Lake, one thing is never in doubt: life in McCall is pretty sweet.

Boating in Idaho

We only had the opportunity to see the early-fall side of McCall, but the town is a premiere destination in any season. There’s a ski resort just minutes away, a state park within walking distance of the town center, a 27-hole public golf course, and the picturesque Payette Lake. McCall is a playground for the wealthy of the Pacific Northwest, and definitely has the vibe of a well-to-do resort town.

We spent a few days lounging around McCall, sunglasses on and collars flipped up, pretending to be wealthy playboys on vacation. The town is only about 45 minutes north of Cascade, and there are plenty of reasons to visit: cozy cafes like the FoggLifter and Moxie Java, and a wide selection of restaurants such as Chapala (Mexican) and Red Pavilion (Chinese), both of which share an unbeatable view of the lake.

Just past McCall’s marina, a peninsula juts into Payette Lake. This is Ponderosa State Park — an 1000-acre escape which, given its proximity to town, is more wild than you might suspect. In fact, our most exhilarating brush with Idaho’s nature happened within the Ponderosa’s confines.

Highway 55 cuts through town, skirting along the southern side of the Payette. Beautiful, but for an even better view, try taking the Warren Wagon road up the western edge of the lake. You’ll be amazed at how large it is — by the time you’ve reached the northern shore, McCall has completely vanished from view, leaving only a pristine panorama, unblemished by signs of humanity. Complete the loop back to McCall by turning onto East Side Drive, for more incredible views.

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September 14, 2012 at 12:24 am Comments (0)