Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tundra swans make whistle stop

                                                             Swans congregate south of Rose Lake/Ralph Bartholdt

Sunday Morning with the late-Charles Kuralt once had a segment on the Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge at the California-Oregon border .
The segment showed the plethora of shore and water birds including ducks, geese and swans that use the area for a winter holding and feeding ground. It ended with the overwhelming, and solemnic sounds of the birds quacking, whistling and honking, a sound that could be heard for miles.
Spring in North Idaho brings a similar orchestra.
The chain lakes of the Coeur d’Alene River from Cataldo to Harrison  is a year-round duck and goose factory, but in March these birds are accompanied by Tundra Swans. Thousands of the gabbling, bugling, clucking, rattling and squealing swans mix with the already numerous Canada geese and migrating fowl to make for great bird watching, or just a nice listening stop.
The birds can be easily observed and heard along State Highway 3 near the old Blue Lagoon roadhouse at Lane, and south to Medimont.
Tundra swans usually overwinter in the central Rocky and Western States with Utah’s Great Salt Lake Basin being a hotspot. In spring they begin their migration north to Alaska and the Canadian tundra. Spring observers have reported as many as 3,000 swans a day on the chain lakes.
Here’s a link that shows the difference between tundra swans and trumpeters :

-Ralph Bartholdt

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Local housing notes

Interest rates fell last week, according to the Idaho Housing Finance Association website

The rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage is down to 4.6 percent, according to IHFA. Freddie Mac listed the average 30-year rate at 4.76 percent while 15-year mortgage rates were reported at 3.97 percent.
Appraisers report challenges, writes Kim Cooper, a local real estate broker, Realtor and the spokesman for the Coeur d'Alene Association of Realtors.
"With rates like these many of us would like to refinance but are unable to do so due to market declines in recent years," said Cooper in a Sunday column in the Coeur d'Alene Press. "If you bought during the peak years of 2005-2007 and had a low down payment you may not have enough equity to meet the debt to equity bank requirements to qualify for a lower interest rate.

"Appraisers who rely on information and statistics report it challenging to find good, comparable properties within recent sales data," Cooper said. "Even if you have the nicest home on the block it may not appraise high enough to get you the loan you want."
Commercial activity is warming up, and homes priced higher than average are also seeing buyer activity, Cooper said.

The average price of homes listed in the Coeur d'Alene MLS in the first two months of 2011 is $154,253, down 9 percent from  $170,440 last year. 

Fewer homes in the $200-300,000 category sold in the first two months of this year compared to last year, according to figures compiled by the Coeur d'alene Association of Realtors and the sale of homes priced higher than $1,000,000 have also fallen behind last year with one sale reported so far in 2011.

For more of this article visit
-Ralph Bartholdt

Friday, March 18, 2011

Latest proposal on Rocky Mountain wolves

Whether gray wolves in the Rocky Mountain states have recovered to sustainable population levels and no longer need Endangered Species protection has been an ongoing controversy here.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service and several plaintiffs in a lawsuit recently agreed that numbers in states including Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have reached sustainable numbers.
The agreement could mean de-listing of wolves in those states and returning management to state wildlife departments.
With numbers three times those originally sought, wolves in the Rockies were de-listed a few years ago.
State wildlife agencies took over management which included hunting wolves.
After a year of state management another lawsuit sent the issue back to federal district court in Missoula where U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy reinstated federal protection for wolves.
The latest proposal would de-list wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, but afford protection for wolves in Washington, Utah and Oregon where small populations exist.

More here:

-Ralph Bartholdt

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

North Idaho population climbs

Kootenai County is the third most populated county in Idaho, according to the latest census figures.
With over 138,000 residents, Kootenai County filled the number three spot behind Ada County, home of Boise, which has 205,671 residents and Canyon County's 188,923 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Overall, Idaho's population increased by 21 percent, or 273,600 new residents, in the last decade.
According to the figures, Post Falls, the state's 10th largest city, added 10,377 people since 2000 and boosted its population to 27,574.
Coeur d'Alene is in seventh place with a population of 44,137, according to the figures. Rathdrum's population is 6,826 and Spirit Lake has 1,945 residents.
-There are 8,977 vacant homes in Kootenai County, either bank or real estate owned.
-Rathdrum has 134 vacant homes
-Coeur d'Alene has 1,824
-Post Falls, 887
-Hayden, 113
-Sandpoint, 554
-Kellogg, 299

-Ralph Bartholdt

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Home sales jump in parts of Kootenai

Home sales jumped in northwest Kootenai County and the Silver Valley in the first couple months of this year and showed a significant drop in the southern Panhandle compared to last year, according to recent figures.
Sales doubled in the Silver Valley, according to figures released by the Coeur d'Alene MLS, and jumped by 275 percent in Rathdrum and the Twin Lakes area, writes Kim Cooper, the spokesman for the Coeur d'Alene Association of Realtors.
The increase in number of sales doesn't translate into a hike in prices, Cooper wrote in Sunday's Coeur d'Alene Press. And the percentages exaggerate the real numbers.
In the Silver Valley, the number of sales in January and February of 2011- as compared to January and February of 2010 - increased from 8 to 16.
Combined sales in Rathdrum and Twin Lakes increased from 4 in 2010, to 15 this year, Cooper said.
Prices seem to be trending upward in Hayden, where figures show a 36 percent increase in sales and a 10 percent price increase.
Most areas covered by the MLS showed price declines including Post Falls and Coeur d'Alene.
The biggest price decline was in Benewah County where five homes sold in the first two months of this year.

Read Cooper's article here:

-Ralph Bartholdt

Turkey time in NI is a month away

                                                            Long beard maestro Al Shaw and a fan/Ralph Bartholdt

ST. MARIES— Al's sons are grown and have their own families.
But there was a time when spring had Al in the woods with a boy sitting between his knees on the damp ground. A few yards away, at the edge of the alley that the firs made towering over a strip of greening grass, clover, and the needles of Ponderosa pine sat another son with his back against bark and a shotgun tottering on his knees.
There might have been a shhh on Al's lips and then a scratch on a slate call, and maybe a putt putt from the reed in his mouth as a shadow crossed and uncrossed the bridge of his nose.
There was a bunch of those boys. Four sons, maybe five.
He had them hunting, or at least joining him on a hunt, as soon as they were old enough to pack a lunch.
Al moved to Idaho from Massachusetts more than 30 years ago to attend the University of Idaho for a teaching degree.
The first time he had an opportunity to gun for toms was in the 1970s and he's still at it.
He likes talking to the birds, luring them in, coaxing them and seeing what happens.
He has taken his share of long beards, he says, and although his sons have moved on, there is another brood of Shaws.
Small ones.
Another generation.
Which means this spring may have Al out in the woods again with a grandson sitting quietly between Papa's knees in that first light as a hen decoy bobs in a gust where the grass mixes with pine nuts and the slate call says peep peep. The reed call in Papa's mouth will make that cackling sound of a bird coming off a roost and then the soft yelps.
A gobbler calls back. Where is he?
The sun wedges through the trees.
The boy's eyes big.
He is quiet.
Papa on the call and then the tom, face blue as turquoise, waddle like pomegranate, fans a tail and drags a foot like a receiver.
The wind comes up.
Papa, his cheek on the smooth of stock, an eye squinting, whispers.
Cover your ears.

-Ralph Bartholdt

A hunter must be 10 to 15 years of age on April 8 to hunt in
the general season youth hunt (April 8-14, 2010 and 2011).
Two turkey tags - one general and one extra tag -
may be purchased for the spring turkey season that starts April 15. -- Idaho Fish and Game regulations

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Longer Days

                                                                            Ralph Bartholdt/Skookum Photography
     The road bumps up an incline like a roller coaster with the chains underneath clinking and rattling on a rail.
     Passengers are jostled, the driver of the car or pickup considers suspension and what this road might jar loose, or fracture.
     The vehicle moves through low light under canopies of yellow pine, past glades snow smattered with deer raising their heads and skewing their ears as they eat greening shoots.
     Mud makes a rubbing sound in the disc brakes, cakes in the fenders and speckles the paint.
     Drivers and passengers shield their eyes now to the sun, its last sharp rays, setting over a lake - what else but one of North Idaho's many lakes - and then the car stops.
     Sunset time from up here is electra.
    Winter is almost gone and the days are getting longer. We know this instinctively. That is how we made it to March. For this is the best month.

 Here's how it works:

Hold on! Another North Idaho spring is rattling the bush.

-Ralph Bartholdt

Idaho's Circuit Breaker Property Tax reduction

     Qualified homeowners in Idaho are eligible for the 2010 property tax reduction program, also called Circuit Breaker.
     By enrolling, property owners may get a tax reduction of $1,320 on their homes and up to an acre of land, according to the state tax commission.
     Although the state administers the program, home owners must apply at their county assessor's office.
     The application must be filed with your assessor by April 15.
     Seniors unable to register at the Kootenai County Assessor's Office should call (208) 446-1500 to make an appointment for a home visit.
For more information, or to dowload brochures and application forms go here:

See what others say about Idaho's Circuit Breaker here:

-Ralph Bartholdt

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pain in the Gas

                                                                                Bad gas. Prices in NI spike/Ralph Bartholdt    

    The recent 18-cent increase in the average gas price countrywide marks the second-largest increase in a one-week period since 1990, according to news reports.
    The other major spike happened in Sept 2005 when prices took a big 7-day jump in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
    The latest increase puts the average Idaho price at $3.28 a gallon, about four bits lower than elsewhere in the nation.
    That's a good thing, but it cannot downplay the super price hike and what it means to commuters and budget watchers across the nation.
   Why pump prices are playing catch-up with rising oil and wholesale gasoline prices are included in the following AAA link.
    The auto association notes that the buyers of oil and gas futures are responsible for skyrocketing prices at a time when the impact of unrest in the Middle East and North Africa is minimal.

    The jump in local gasoline prices took me by surprise as I visited my favorite North Idaho gas station, which for more than a month had kept its prices well below the $3 per gallon mark until last week.
    This station, I must add, didn't play price games by posting on its reader board one low price - while the small print dictated that consumers who paid with a debit card at the pump actually got gouged because they didn't pay cash inside.

Here's a look at the best prices in the Greater Coeur d'Alene area:

-Ralph Bartholdt

Monday, March 7, 2011

Short Sales Not So Short

They aren't called short sales because they are easy.
And the moniker does not reflect the length of time it takes to finalize the "short sale."
In fact, the name comes from the phrase "selling short," which means in this case that a property is being offered for less than what the owner owes.
Problem is that the owner, if he/she has a mortgage, isn't the only one who must agree to the short sale.

More on this here, in North Idaho Janna's SCHARF REPORT:

-Ralph Bartholdt

Idaho F&G collaring, tracking elk

Collaring elk and tracking their movements is part of a plan by Idaho Fish and Game to help biologists better understand elk and wolf interactions, including how many elk and what age structure of elk succumb to wolves in the St. Joe River drainage of North Idaho.
So far, the department has collared 21 cow elk - most of them from the Avery, Idaho area, according to Idaho Fish and Game.
"We’ve started a project to collar elk in the St. Joe in order to get a better handle on the extent of wolf predation on elk in that area," Jim Hayden, North Idaho's regional biologist, said.
The remainder were caught using a corral-type trap set up near Calder. 
"Our hope is to have 25 collared elk per year over the next 4 years," Hayden said. 
The department will follow the elk monthly, mapping seasonal migrations as well as survival. 
"We did a similar project in the Joe in the late 1990s, giving a solid comparison of how things have changed since then," he said.

The department's annual spring public meetings are this week:

Wednesday:       IDFG Office, 7 to 9 PM
Thursday:          Sandpoint Fairgrounds Building, 7 to 9 PM
Saturday:           Eagles Hall 8 AM

The Commission meeting for setting the 2011 big game seasons is Thursday, March 30th in Boise.  A public meeting will be held the evening of the 29th for further public input on seasons statewide.

-Ralph Bartholdt 

Friday, March 4, 2011

A NI shop specializing in toy trains

                                                           Mrs. C at her toy train shop in Spirit Lake/Ralph Bartholdt

A former book keeper for a construction company, Helen Campilli, and her husband, a maintenance foreman, decided to open an antique and toy train store when they retired.
For the past 15 years, the store, called C's Train & Antique Shop, has operated on Spirit Lake's Maine Street.
She runs the store alone now, selling mostly Lionel trains, sets, kits, cars and accoutrements to clientele from northern Idaho and Spokane.
Sets include Thomas the Train, Harry Potter and UP and cost from $170 and up.
"I have a larger selection than anyone in Coeur d'Alene and Spokane," Mrs. C., as she is known by local residents, said.
"They come to me."
Her steam engines are die cast.
"There are cheaper models, but I don't sell them," she says.
Business in the train siding isn't brisk, and it is mostly word of mouth, she said.
There was a guy who came down from Canada who was gambling at the Chewelah casino, Mrs. C will tell.
He told his wife that since he was in the states, he wanted to find a train store.
"The man beside him gambling looked over and said, if you want a train store go to Spirit Lake, Idaho," she said. "That's how I get most of my business."
Word of mouth.
Antiques are also on sale at her shop, but she doesn't sell many.
Her business advice: "Trust in the Lord. That's all I do. One day at a time. It's up to the Lord."
After 15 years, she still enjoys it.
You will find her in her store in a historical building that once served as a theatre in this small, historical whistle stop along Highway 41. She might be alone, or engaging long-time customers, newcomers or travelers who stop at C's Train & Antique to investigate this anomaly: A train store?
Yes, it's that.
Lionel mostly. Brand new in the box, or used, but looking and running like new (she has a repair shop that does excellent work, she says.)
Keeping the doors open and the faux steam from the tiny stacks smoking is her job.
"It keeps me out of the rocking chair," Mrs. C says.

—Ralph Bartholdt

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Spirit Lake's ceramic songster

                                                      Spirit Lake potter, Brad Sondahl, in his studio/Ralph Bartholdt

 Venture far enough down Spirit Lake, Idaho's Maine Avenue in the direction of the lake, you'll see one of the town's many gems.
Brad Sondahl opened his pottery shop on the corner in the town's oldest building - a former railroad house -a couple decades ago after earning an art degree from a Midwestern college.
In addition to his homemade ceramics, Sondahl, a banjo and guitar picker, creates music in the shop.
Here's an example:

-Ralph Bartholdt

North Idaho's snowiest spot

                                                  North Idaho's Fourth of July Pass in winter/Ralph Bartholdt

Lookout Pass, the small ski hill on the Montana edge of the Silver Valley, got enough snow this week to turn other area ski resorts white with envy.
With a summit elevation of close to 6,000 feet, the family place - in operation since the 1930s - was named as the nation's snow bowl deluxe after receiving a hefty 6-plus feet of new powder this week.
The ski area offers 540 skiable acres and a lodge that is the second oldest in the Northwest. The hill first opened with a homemade rope tow and targeted passengers on the Milwaukee Railroad.

More here:

-Ralph Bartholdt

Uncle Bud

Bud Frasca, owner of Northwest Classic Tackle at 9751 N. Government Way in Hayden./Ralph Bartholdt

Bud Frasca grew up an elbow nudge away from trout rivers with names like Batten Kill and Au Sable.
He worked in New York’s famous William Mills and Son fly shop – around the corner from Ground Zero  - where he learned the nuances of fishing for trout with bamboo and flies.
The former book publisher and later, mortgage broker, came West decades ago at the behest of a friend and immediately fell on the opportunity that its waters provided.
He fished the big name rivers and many of the region’s unnamed streams and the spring creeks that aficionados flock to like gourmands to duck liver.
Retirement brought him to Idaho where he operates his Northwest Classic Tackle shop on North Government Way in Hayden. For many years he has imparted his passion and love of flyfishing to anyone who jingles the bell above the door.
This month’s column in Northwest Sportsman Magazine is dedicated to Bud.
Grab a copy at your grocer’s magazine rack and head over to say, Hi.
He has a story for you.

-Ralph Bartholdt

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Scharf Report: If you want to buy, do it now

An increase in interest rates and loan costs has put an exclamation point in home buying.
As interest rates and loan costs bump up, anyone interested in buying a home in North Idaho should act soon.
The 30-year fixed rate average is hovering at 5 percent after lounging in the mid to upper 4 percent rate for a long time.
For more of the story, read the Scharf report here:

Big drop in Idaho home prices

Idaho saw the biggest drop in real estate prices nationwide, according to a report by Bloomberg, a national business news service.
The price of homes in Idaho dropped 16 percent compared to this time last year, according to the report.
That means a home priced at $200,000 fell to $168,000 on average.
Prices in Arizona fell 13 percent, and home prices in Oregon dropped 10 percent over the same period according to the report.
The nationwide drop in home prices was the largest since the third quarter of 2009, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
The sale of foreclosed homes accounted for 37 percent of transactions in January, 2011, according to the Bloomberg report, and up to 36 percent of December's transactions.
Foreclosures drive down prices because lenders don't want to hold onto houses, getting rid of them as fast as they can, according to IHS Global Insight, an economy watchdog.
North Dakota had the biggest price gain, at 5.1 percent, according to the report. And house prices in Alaska jumped 2.6 percent.
Almost a third of the existing home sales in January were bought with cash, according to a National Associations of Realtors report. That was the highest cash-sale share since 2008.
The percentage of homes in foreclosure climbed to 4.63 percent in the last quarter of 2010. Homes in foreclosure sold at a 28 percent discount compared to properties that were not in distress.
The inventory of U.S. homes for sale rose to a record in mid-2010 as buyers waited for better deals, according to the Bloomberg report.
About one in four mortgaged U.S. homes is underwater, meaning their mortgage balances exceed current value, according to the report.
The U.S. median home price was $169,800 in the fourth quarter, according to the National Association of Realtors.

- Ralph Bartholdt