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Lake County has moved forward with its plans to replace an aging bridge near St. Ignatius, now that a family of resident American dippers has vacated.

Last month, local birdwatcher Eugene Beckes spotted the small, acrobatic birds flitting in and out of a nest they had built beneath the Mission Creek Road bridge over a stream near his property. After learning that it was slated for replacement, he contacted Lake County and secured a commitment from them not to proceed until the chicks "fledged," or left the nest.

The county did, however, install a temporary detour bridge alongside the old one. Beckes was worried that the noise would scare off the parents, leaving the chicks unattended. But the dippers proved resilient, and on Friday, Beckes spotted two newly hatched chicks.

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No more had emerged by Monday, he said, so "I took the nest out. There were no birds in the nest, indicating that they had fledged entirely."

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"They're still around," he added. He plans to take the vacated nest to the Montana Natural History Center. "They’re known to make their nests largely from mosses and grasses, and this looks like it’s about 90 percent moss."

The county, meanwhile, is moving forward with its own engineering project.  "The detour bridge has been completed (and) the old bridge has been torn out," Beckes said. Lake County Roads Supervisor Jay Garrick wrote in an email that the project has a target completion date of July 25.

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Higher education reporter for the Missoulian