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Volunteer honored for bringing global audience to Tri-City bird nests

Jason Fidorra, a wildlife biologist from the Washington State Department of Wildlife, holds three owlets taken from a nest for banding. A webcam installed by volunteer Dale Schielke in their nest box has allowed the public to follow their growth.
Jason Fidorra, a wildlife biologist from the Washington State Department of Wildlife, holds three owlets taken from a nest for banding. A webcam installed by volunteer Dale Schielke in their nest box has allowed the public to follow their growth. Courtesy Dale Schielke

Across the world, people can click onto their computers to watch big-eyed, fluffy gray baby screech owls growing up in a nest near West Richland.

Another webcam is trained on a West Richland family of baby kestrels. At a third nest box, viewers are waiting for nine eggs to hatch wood ducklings.

Those windows on nature and other work have earned Dale Schielke of Richland the honor of being named the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Volunteer of the Year.

He “embodies the conservation vision of the department,” said the nomination prepared by the department.

“His devotion and follow-through have allowed him to make a positive, long-term and lasting impact on wildlife populations and on a generation of young hunters, anglers and wildlife appreciators,” the nomination said.

He may be best known for maintaining webcams in nest boxes near the Yakima River. See live video and recordings at rrgcwoodducks.org/in-box-cameras.

Dale always has a smile even when he is slimy, wet and tired after a big trap day at Ringold.

Nomination for Volunteer of the Year

But he’s also a dedicated volunteer on other projects.

He helps coordinate hundreds of volunteer hours at the state’s Ringold Springs Hatchery.

“Dale always has a smile even when he is slimy, wet and tired after a big trap day at Ringold,” the nomination said.

In exchange, the Richland Rod and Gun Club receives 2,000 rainbow trout for the Lunker Lake youth fish pond program at the Tri-Cities sportsman’s event, with Schielke among volunteers helping the kids who show up to catch a fish.

He coordinates the tagging for that event and for annual spring fishing days for special needs and other children at the Columbia Park fishing pond, with more than 1,200 kids receiving rod and bait and advice from volunteers like Schielke on how to catch a fish.

He’s also helped interest students in wildlife during the three decades he’s worked through the Richland Rod and Gun Club to put up more than 400 nest boxes throughout the Tri-City area.

The work benefits the wood duck population, which uses the nesting boxes. But it also gives youth he works with in elementary and middle school classes and Scouting groups a chance to get involved with nature — building and installing nest boxes and then waiting to see if birds, usually wood ducks, move in.

Wood ducklings leave the nest about 24 hours after they hatch to find food, but screech owl and kestrel babies stay longer as their parents feed them in the nest.

The wood duck mother he’s following with a webcam inside a nest box may be the last for this spring, unless he finds another next box still being used that is close to a source of electricity.

He expects her ducklings to hatch in early June. Wood ducks do not feed their young in the nest, so they usually follow the mother, jumping from the nest the morning after they hatch.

But the screech owls and kestrel babies stay in the nest longer.

It’s the first time he’s followed a screech owl family in one of the nest boxes on a webcam, so he does not know exactly what to expect. However, the three owlets are testing their wings and he expects them to be ready to leave the nest soon.

Schielke has caught kestrel chicks on webcam for several years now. The young of kestrel, which are small hawks, remain in the nest for about 30 days.

As they get larger, the male and female parents drop food into the nest, with the chicks fighting to each get their share.

The chicks are just starting to darken up a little, so Schielke anticipates they may grow for another couple of weeks before leaving the nest.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

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