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February 2012

 

Thursday, February 2

 

I had an interesting and fun outing to Marymoor Park this morning.† I had four birds on my hit list, all species that have been reported there this year.† There is a bird walk in the park every Thursday, and I figured I would meet them along the way, and ask them about what they had seen this morning.† They started at 7:30 this morning, and, being a dilettante birder, I wasnít willing to be over there that early.† I got there about 9:15, which is pretty damn good for me.† As it turned out, I never actually ran into them, but I saw their cars and others told me they had seen the group of a dozen or so birders.

 

I parked near the East Meadow, where my number one target species has been seen.† Very quickly, I saw it sitting on top of a small tree across the meadow, a NORTHERN SHRIKE.† Last year I saw my lifer Northern Shrike at Marymoor in January, and I suspect that this is the same bird.† They migrate north in the summer and spend their winters at about this latitude or down as far as southern Oregon.† They are pretty uncommon in Western Washington, which is why I had only seen the species once before.† It was too far away for pictures, but a couple of hours later, I found it again, and that time I was able to approach it quite closely and here are two pictures of the beauty:

 

 

 

I often see its cousin, the Loggerhead Shrike, in California.† They are quite similar, but there are at least three distinguishing features, and I could see all of them on this bird.† The Loggerhead has an unmarked breast, and the Northern has faint barring on its breast.† The black eye stripe is narrower in the Northern, although that does vary from bird to bird and isnít considered to be completely diagnostic.† The third feature is that the Northern has a light colored bill, at least in the winter, and the Loggerhead has a black bill.† In addition to those field marks, the Loggerhead Shrike would not be this far north at this time of year, and not usually even in the summer.† My first distant view of the bird would have been plenty to count it, since the Loggerhead shouldnít be here and Northern has been reported at Marymoor all winter, by birders who are much more knowledgeable than I am, but it was great to be able to see it up close later and to be able to get pictures that show the distinguishing field marks.† So, I had been in the park for about five minutes, and I had seen my number one target species.† Already it was a good day.

 

I walked around the meadow, to see what else I could see, and at one point, I played the song of a finch species that was my number two target species.† Some finches flew in and seemed interested, and I looked at them closely.† I decided that they might be my target species, and I took pictures that later convinced me that at least some of them were indeed PURPLE FINCHES.† I think there might have been some House Finches mixed in with them, and the two species look very similar.† Here are the pictures, with comments about what it was about them that convinced me they were Purple Finches.

 

 

Thatís a female, and there are three things that make me say Purple Finch, rather than House Finch.† First, the tail is deeply notched, and the House Finch tail is squared off.† Second, the area under the tail (called the undertail coverts) seems unstreaked, which is a characteristic of the Purple Finch.† Third, there is a pattern on the face, with an eyebrow and a moustachial stripe.† A female House Finch would have a very plain face.

 

Here is a picture of a male finch, and I think it is a Purple Finch, but Iím not sure.† You canít see the area behind and below the eye, which is the best indicator, but the tail seems notched to me.† In addition, the flanks only have faint streaks, and a male House Finch would have much darker streaks.

 

 

Here is another female, and the facial pattern is even more obvious on this one, I think.† The tail is also deeply notched.

 

 

And here is still another one, showing the facial pattern and the notched tail.

 

 

For comparison, here is a picture of a female House Finch that I took the other day at Marymoor.† You canít see the end of the tail, unfortunately, but you can sure see that the face has much less marking on it than on the birds above.

 

OK, thatís the end of the long, boring lesson on finches.† I was very pleased to get Purple Finch for my year list today.

 

Next I drove over to the other side of the dog park and walked along the river.† I ran into a couple I had seen up in Skagit County last Saturday and we chatted.† I ended up seeing them three more places around the park, and we exchanged information on what we had seen.

 

There were five Great Blue Herons up in tall trees, along the river.† I donít normally see them up in trees, although they do nest communally in trees, and I have seen them at their nests.† I suspect that these birds all wanted to rest, as they all had their necks pulled in, and I think they might have been in the trees because they were in the off-leash dog park area.† Taking a snooze on the ground with dozens of dogs running around is probably not a healthy habit to get into.† Here is one of them.† This one was only up about 30 feet, but some were 70 or 80 feet off the ground.

 

 

Next I spotted a small hawk up in a tree.† I took a ton of pictures of it, and looked closely.† It was clearly from the accipiter family, which includes Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooperís Hawk.† Generally, the Sharp-shinned is smaller and the Cooperís is larger, but there is some overlap because the females in each species are larger than the males.† As a result, a male Cooperís is about the same size as a female Sharp-shinned, so size can be misleading.† I have seen Cooperís before in 2012, but Sharp-shinned would be a great find for me.† When I left the park, I thought it was a Sharp-shinned, but I wanted to get home and look at my pictures and my three field guides.

 

Here are three pictures of the bird.

 

 

 

 

I wonít go in to all the tedious details of the minor differences between the species (things like the location of the eye, the width of the terminal white band on the tail, and the color of the back of the head), but I spent at least a half hour looking at my pictures and my three field guides, and I ended up deciding that it was a Sharp-shinned Hawk.† So, since I need that one for my year list, why is it not in all caps?† Well, just as I was feeling great about my detective work and diagnosis, I saw the email report from the bird walk this morning, on Tweeters, the local birding mailing list.† I had been looking forward to seeing it, as I wondered if they had seen my hawk.† Well, they reported seeing a small Cooperís Hawk in the area where I saw my hawk.† Very disappointing.† That group has much better birders than I in it, and they reported Cooperís and didnít mention anything about Sharp-shinned.† At this point, I am going to bow to their presumed superior knowledge and not count it, although there is no way to know if they even saw the same bird I did.† Both species could have been there today, but the coincidence of that bothers me.†

 

I emailed the leader of the walk and sent along these three pictures, and I asked his opinion.† I also asked for details about what field marks this bird exhibits that makes it a Cooperís Hawk.† I suspect it will come down to what birders call the ďjizzĒ of the bird Ė that is, its general overall appearance.† When you have enough experience, you just can tell right away which species it is, without necessarily even knowing why you think so.† Iím not experienced enough with accipiters to be able to do that.† Birders are constantly discussing accipiters they have seen, trying to determine which species it is.† There are often differences of opinion even with pictures.† A large female Cooperís Hawk is easy, as is a small male Sharp-shinned, but the ones in the middle are much harder.† This one clearly falls in the middle. †Iím not going to count it, unless I hear back that this is not the same bird they called a Cooperís Hawk or they change their mind.† If I do hear that, Iíll send out an addendum to this report.

 

On my way back to the car, I saw a number of Fox Sparrows in some blackberry brambles.† I already have that species for my year list, but I donít see them that often, and I got some pictures.† Here are two pictures of Fox Sparrows:

 

 

 

The chevrons on the breast, the eye ring, and the reddish brown rump are the field marks you look for in Fox Sparrow.† I think the yellow on the bill is another mark.† There are a number of subspecies of Fox Sparrow, but that is too much detail for me to worry about.† I finally left the park at about 12:30, to go home and get some lunch.

 

So, it was a great morning of birding again.† The weather was dry, with high clouds at first and then sunshine.† The temperatures were in the mid to high 40ís, which was perfectly comfortable with little wind.† I got some exercise, I got some pictures I like (even if that is a Cooperís Hawk, I like the pictures I got very much), and I added at least two species to my year list.† My total for 2012 is now 185 species, of which 7 are lifers.† I might not see any more for my year list until my planned participation in a field trip to the Okanogan area on the weekend of February 18-20, but if I do, there will be a report.† I might go up to Edmonds again, to try for some more sea birds, but we will see.

 

Addendum to February 2 report

 

I heard back from the leader of the Marymoor bird walk who had reported the small adult Cooperís Hawk at Marymoor yesterday.† He surprised me by agreeing with my own opinion (formed before I read his report of a Cooperís in the same area) that my pictures were of a Sharp-shinned Hawk, not a Cooperís.† He used the word ďweĒ which led me to believe he had consulted with at least one other birder.† Based on that, Iím adding SHARP-SHINNED HAWK to my year list, which revises my total to 186 species this year, of which 7 are lifers.† I donít think it is 100% certain, but the weight of the evidence indicates Sharp-shinned, I believe.† Maybe others will see my pictures later and offer other opinions, but for now, it is going down as a Sharpie.

 

Coincidentally, there was an accipiter type hawk in our yard this afternoon, and it was clearly a Cooperís.† I was able to compare it in my mind with what I saw yesterday, and I could see at least one significant difference between them, which further strengthened my opinion that yesterdayís was a Sharpie.

 

The field trip up to Skagit County that got canceled two weeks ago due to weather and road conditions has been rescheduled for tomorrow, so I need to be at a nearby Park and Ride at 7 tomorrow morning, for a long day of birding up north.† There will be four of us, in one car.† Iím looking forward to it, although the early start is a big impediment to me.† I donít expect to add any new birds to my year list, though, since I was just up there last Saturday and got the ones I had originally hoped to get on this field trip.† There are a few that are possible, though, so maybe there will be another report on Saturday night.† Or, maybe Iíll get some pictures and make a report even if I donít see anything new, just so I can share the pictures.† We will see.

 

 

Saturday, February 4

 

Wow, I had an amazing day.† This was the day of my WOS (Washington Ornithological Society) field trip up to Skagit County.† I set my alarm for 5:45, and managed to get out of here by 7.† I had to take care of the three kitties, since Christina is gone for four days, and Iím on my own.† I was supposed to be at the Brickyard Park&Ride by 7, but it is only 4 minutes away, so I was just barely late.

 

I met Brian, the leader of the field trip, and Margaret, who lives quite close to me, it turns out.† We motored up the freeway and got to our meeting point with the fourth member of our troupe, Dick, who lives up in Bellingham, at the Stanwood Park&Ride by about 8.

 

Our first stop was Thomle Road, just south of Stanwood, where I had seen a Snowy Owl last week, and had seen two of them in December.† No Snowies today, and we never did see one today.† While we were there, though, Brian spotted a perched PEREGRINE FALCON in a tree, and I had a bird that I only saw a couple of times last year.† What a great start to the day.† It was pretty far away, but I had excellent scope views of it, and could easily see what it was.

 

We went a lot of places today, and I might have some of them wrong, or the order might be slightly wrong, so keep that in mind.† I want to record some of the stops we made, though, because I might very well want to return to some of those places in the future.

 

I think the next thing we did after Thomle Road was to go look for a Black Phoebe that had been seen in a neighborhood east of Stanwood.† Black Phoebe is very common in California, and I see them there all the time, but they are quite uncommon in Western Washington, so it was worth looking for.† We walked around and came up empty, but then, before we left, we played the call of the bird, and Brian spotted it.† It wasnít clear to me if it had responded to the call or if it just happened to show itself as we were about to leave.† We all got good looks at it before we left.

 

Our next stop was the Big Ditch, north of Stanwood.† That is a place I had read about, but had never visited, so I was glad to see it.† Snowy Owls have been seen there this winter, but we didnít see anything of much interest there.

 

On our way to our next stop, we stopped on Fir Island to look at a medium size flock of swans.† Most swans up here are Trumpeter Swans, but there are a few Tundra Swans as well.† The differences are fairly subtle.† When we stopped to look at the swans, there happened to be four Bald Eagles perched in a tree nearby.† Today was Bald Eagle Day for us.† Brian counted 110 that we saw today!† That is several times as many as I have ever seen in a single day, and even Brian said that he thought that was the most he had ever seen in a single day.† Here is a picture of the four Bald Eagles.† The two with white heads and tails are adults, and the other two are immature ones.† It takes three or four years for them to mature and get the full white head and tail.

 

 

Here is a picture of Margaret, Brian, and Dick, scoping the swan flock:

 

 

Here is the flock:

 

 

And, a closeup of part of the flock:

 

 

Brian did manage to pick out one Tundra Swan among the Trumpeters, and we all got looks at it.† Neither was a new one for my year list, though.

 

It was a crystal clear, mostly sunny day today, which added to the enjoyment a lot.† It was absolutely beautiful out there.† The temperatures started out in the low 30ís and ended up in the mid 40ís, up in Skagit County.† When we got back near home after 5 PM, it was 55 down here, though.† All day, Mount Baker was a backdrop to our birding.† Here it is:

 

 

After that, we stopped at a couple of parts of the Skagit Game Preserve.† At Wylie Slough, we saw four or five Greater Yellowlegs, which is a shorebird.† Here is a picture that shows three of them, along with a Great Blue Heron flying by:

 

 

The other part of the Skagit Game Preserve we stopped at was Hayden Preserve.† There we got views of a perched Short-eared Owl, in the distance, too far for a picture.

 

There were Snow Geese in various places, including right next to the road at one point on the west side of Fir Island.† Several cars were stopped, and the people were looking at the geese and taking pictures.† Everywhere we went today, there were people.† We ran into several other birding groups, but lots of people were walking dogs or having a family outing.† When we get a day like today on a Saturday, after several weeks of rainy and cloudy weather, people go outside.

 

Just before leaving Fir Island, we went out to the end of Rawlins Road, to a place called the North Fork Access.† (Remember, I am not an expert on these places, I might have some of them wrong).† Nothing much interesting there, but I did manage to get a picture of an immature Bald Eagle that flew right over us.

 

 

Once we got off Fir Island, we took the Dodge Valley Road cutoff and Brian took us to a house on Valentine Road that has a number of bird feeders.† We got out and there were a number of birds around.† Margaret spotted a finch at the top of a tree, and it turned out to be a male Purple Finch.† You might remember that I saw Purple Finches at Marymoor on Thursday, but I had to work at it to identify the females to be sure.† They look a lot like House Finches.† The male Purple Finch is a lot easier to ID, if you get a good look at his head, because male House Finches have a brown ďear patchĒ behind and below the eye.† I managed to take just one picture of this bird before it flew off, but I got very lucky and got a picture of its head, even though his back was to us.† Clearly a male Purple Finch, not a House Finch.† No brown ear patch, just a nice raspberry red head.† Here is the picture:

 

 

Before we left the house on Valentine Road, Margaret heard a woodpecker calling.† We looked and looked, and finally, she spotted it high in a tree.† At first we thought it was a Downy Woodpecker, but then we got a better look, and it was clearly a HAIRY WOODPECKER.† I not only needed it for my year list, but last year it wasnít until November or December that I finally saw one, here in our yard at our suet feeder.† It was great to get that one knocked off today.

 

By that time it was getting close to noon, and we headed for Bay View State Park, on Padilla Bay, to have our lunch.† We had each brought our own.† I had a chicken breast, an ounce and a half of cheese, and an apple.† A good healthy lunch for me.† I ate more calories today than normal, but not that many more, and nothing ďbadĒ at all.

 

There were some birds out on the bay.† A Common Loon, some American Wigeons (ducks), and some others.† Then Dick spotted some birds far across the bay, and I added another one to my year list, BRANT, a small goose.† Iíll see them in San Diego in March, no doubt, but it is always nice to tick one for a list, so I was pleased.

 

After lunch, we drove around on the Samish Flats, stopping at what is called the West 90.† We saw the usual suspects there, a lot of Northern Harriers, a number of Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, and one of the two Rough-legged Hawks we saw today.† No Short-eared Owls, though, and I had seen them there the other two times I have been there.

 

From there we went on to Samish Island, which is no longer an island, since they built dikes and reclaimed land for farming, early in the 1900ís.† At one of our stops on Samish Island, we saw a number of sea ducks, including Surf Scoter and White-winged Scoter.† Brian also spotted three RED-THROATED LOONS, one that had eluded me so far this year, and an excellent one to get.† I think I have only seen them once or twice before, last year, and I got good looks today, to help me learn to identify them in the future.

 

When we left Samish Island, we finally were getting to the part of the day that I had been looking forward to most.† There is a falcon that spends its winters in the small town of Edison, and Brian said that he sees it about half the time he is there.† As soon as we pulled into town, Dick spotted it at the top of a tree, just where he had seen it last week.† It was my nemesis bird for years, and I only have seen them once before, but we got great looks at a perched MERLIN.† Here are a couple of pictures of the beauty.

 

 

 

What a topper to the day for me!† I hadnít really expected to see one this year.† I had thought I might very well not get any for my year list today, and the Merlin made it five!† Amazing.

 

Brian had another treat in store for us, too.† Right there in Edison, there was a small river with several Green-winged Teal on it.† They were our first ones for our day list, but I see them down at Juanita Bay Park all the time, as well as other places, so I wasnít especially impressed.† Then he pointed out one that was slightly different.† A Common Teal.† That is a Eurasian bird, but so far, the American birding authorities consider the Green-winged Teal and the Common Teal to be subspecies of a single species.† That is likely to change in the future, though, and if it does, then I can get an ďarmchair tickĒ for Common Teal, for having seen it today.† I saw them in Britain, but this is the first time I have seen one in the US, where they are pretty rare.

 

Here is a little birding lesson.† This is a picture of a pair of Green-winged Teal.† The female is the brown one, naturally, like most ducks.

 

 

Green-wing Teal males always have that vertical white stripe on their shoulder.† Here is a picture of the Common Teal.† Note the absence of the white stripe:

 

 

Those are the kind of subtleties that birders have to look for.† Actually, this particular one isnít all that subtle, once you know what to look for.† It was a nice treat to see a rarity like Common Teal today, even if I canít count it for my year list because it is only a subspecies at this point.

 

When we left Edison, we went north a bit, and at one stop along the road, there were a lot of American Wigeons.† Brian managed to spot one Eurasian Wigeon in the group, though.† The head is red, and the flanks are gray, so it is easy to tell it from the American Wigeon.† They are supposed to be in Asia at this time of year, and this one had gotten lost.† I had seen one in California already this year, so I didnít need it, but Dick had wanted to see one today, and he got his wish.† I have read that about 1% of the wigeons in this area are Eurasian Wigeons, and we have tons of wigeons, so it isnít really rare, but they arenít common either.† We moved on before I could get a picture.

 

By that time it was getting to be time to be heading for home.† On our way back, we stopped to look at a flock of Snow Geese, and Margaret spotted four other geese in the midst of them, and they turned out to be Cackling Geese, a relatively new species, which used to be a subspecies of Canada Goose.† A good one for our day list.

 

We saw our fourth or fifth American Kestrel, a small falcon, on that stretch, too.

 

So, we managed to see over 60 species for the day, as a group.† The weather was amazing, and I had a whole lot of fun.† On top of that, I added five species to my year list.† When we left this morning at 7, the sun was just coming up, and when I got home after 5, it was just setting.† A sunup to sundown day of great birding.† My companions were all interesting and pleasant, and the day just couldnít have been better, as far as I was concerned.† I think I talked too much, which is what I do when I feel comfortable and am having a good time.† I enjoy exchanging birding stories with other birders.

 

So, my year list now stands at 191, of which 7 are lifers.† It could be a while until I add any more, but there are a couple I could go for up at Edmonds, and maybe Iíll venture up there in the next few days.† The weather is supposed to stay great for another 3 or 4 days.† There is also a Tufted Duck, a genuine rarity, over by the University of Washington, reported the last two days, and maybe Iíll wander over there tomorrow.

 

Oh yes, one other tidbit, in the Small World category.† Remember my thing about the accipiter I saw at Marymoor on Thursday?† The one that I thought was a Sharp-shinned Hawk, but the expert birders had reported a Cooperís Hawk that day in the same area?† I sent off pictures to the leader of that bird walk, and he got back to me and said that ďtheyĒ thought it was probably a Sharp-shinned, which led me to send out my Addendum Report yesterday.† Well, it turns out that Brian, our leader today, was one of the three experts who had looked at my pictures and had been convinced it was a Sharp-shinned Hawk.† Small world, indeed.

 

What a life!

 

 

Sunday, February 5

 

Another report!† They seem to be coming hot and heavy recently.

 

It was another beautiful winter day here in the Seattle area, and I decided to trek across the lake to look for the rare duck that had been seen there on Friday and Saturday.† It was seen at the Montlake Fill, an area near the University of Washington.† A Sunday was preferable anyway, as the parking is free on Sunday.

 

I had a choice of routes to get there.† Last year, there would have been no doubt, I would have gone across the Evergreen Point Bridge, but now there is a variable toll each way on the bridge.† It varies by time of day and the day of the week.† I looked it up, and until 11 AM on weekends, it costs $1.65 each way.† At 11 am, it goes up to something like $2.50.† I thought the distance would be a little shorter over the bridge, rather than going around the north end of Lake Washington on surface streets, but I decided to be cheap and go around the lake.

 

Once I had started out, I realized that there was another advantage to my route Ė it would take me right by Logboom Park, at the north end of Lake Washington.† I still needed a duck that I had seen there last year, so I stopped and lugged my scope out onto the dock.† Temperatures were in the mid 30ís, and my hands got damn cold, as I didnít bother to put on my gloves.† The hand holding the metal legs of my scope ached from the cold.

 

There were a lot of coots, as usual, but not many other ducks.† I did spot two female scaup, though, and one of the two scaup species was the bird I was looking for.† The differences between them are pretty minor and quite subtle.† Most of the differences have to do with the shape of the head.† I looked at these two, and decided this was the more round-headed of the two, but I forgot which was which, and I had left my field guide in the car.† So, I snapped a bunch of pictures, even though they were a long distance away.† When I got back to the car, I reviewed some of the pictures with the screen on the camera, and consulted my book.† By golly, I had gotten lucky; I decided they were GREATER SCAUP, the species I still needed.† I had seen Lesser Scaup at the same place in January.† So, I was still on my way to look for the rare duck, and I had added one to my year list.† Wonderful.† Here is a distant picture of the two female Greater Scaup:

 

 

The book says that the head of the Greater is more long than high, and it is vice versa in the Lesser, which has a more peaked head.† These looked to me like they had rounded heads (as opposed to peaked) and to me, the heads are clearly longer than they are high.† More importantly, when I look at the pictures in my three field guides, these ducks look much more like the Greater than the Lesser to me.

 

Once I arrived at the Fill, I lugged my scope the half mile or so to East Point, where the rare duck had been seen.† When I got there, there were several birders there, and I asked if the duck had been seen this morning.† Yes, I was told, and I was pointed in the right direction to see it.† I saw it right away, and I had added TUFTED DUCK to my year list.† It is an Asian Duck, and I had actually seen one in November, down in Puyallup.† I certainly had not expected to see another one so soon, and it wasnít even in my spreadsheet for the year.† A bonus bird for 2012.† The day kept getting better.† I didnít even try for a picture, as the sun was behind the duck, and it kept diving for food anyway.† I had gotten a decent picture of the one in Puyallup in November, too.

 

But wait.† While I was there, I scanned the hundreds of ducks across the bay, looking for another one that is uncommon for our area, but had been reported there last week.† I didnít see it in the distance, but then while scanning closer ducks, there it was Ė a male REDHEAD.† Three ducks for my year list this morning, and it was only about 10:30 by then.† Outstanding.† There turned out to be a female with him, but the female is not as obvious or colorful, of course.† I tried for some pictures, but the light was still poor at that angle.† Here is a really terrible picture of the male Redhead, but it was the best I was able to do.† It is enough to conclusively identify the bird, anyway.† Birders call that a ďrecord shotĒ.

 

 

While I was looking for and trying to take a picture of the Redhead, birders kept coming and going, in search of the Tufted Duck.† When I had arrived, it was close in and not feeding, but in a short while, it moved farther out, in the midst of a bunch of other ducks, and it started diving for food.† That made it a lot harder to spot, so people were working at it.† I left them to it, and headed for home.† Here is a picture of about 10 people looking for the Tufted Duck.† You can see that the sun and clouds were making for difficult light conditions.

 

 

It was about 10:45 by then, and I decided to take the bridge home, to test out my Good To Go sticker on my car.† The toll system detects the sticker and my account is supposed to be debited for the toll.† I knew it would be close, but I managed to pass under the toll sensors at 10:56 by my car clock, which I think is pretty accurate, so I figure I got by for $1.65.† It would have been $2.50 five minutes later.† Iíll look it up later online, to see.

 

It turned out that it was actually a mile farther via the bridge, compared to going around the north end of the lake.† 14.5 miles versus 13.5 miles.† Taking into consideration the difference in gas mileage I get on surface streets versus freeway driving, and adding in the toll, I figure it cost me about 40 or 50 cents more to have come home by the bridge.† It was definitely a lot faster, though, and I needed to pee, so that was nice.

 

So, my three ducks today brings me to 194 species for the year so far, of which 7 have been lifers.† In the last 16 days, since returning from California, I have managed to add 24 species, here in Western Washington.† I consider that to be excellent, and it certainly surprises me.† I could go up to Edmonds to look for a couple of sea species, but later in the year they will be in breeding plumage and be easier to identify, so I will probably wait.† Both should be around all year, so no hurry.† I may not add any more species before my upcoming trip to the Okanogan in two weeks, and I hope to go over 200 on that trip, and add a couple or three lifers.

 

 

Monday, February 6

 

I can hardly believe it.† Here I am writing still another report.† We had another fantastic weather day today, sunny and clear, with temperatures into the low 60ís by this afternoon.† I wanted to get out in it, so I headed down to my local park, Juanita Bay Park (JBP).† It was in the low 40ís when I started, but in the sunshine, even that felt just fine, and it warmed up from there.

 

I had two potential target birds, both of which I knew live in the park. †Neither one is rare or even uncommon, but I donít see either of them very often.

 

Upon my arrival, before heading out to where I knew one target species lived, in the wetlands part of the park, I walked down into the small grove of mature evergreens near the parking lot.† I played the song of my target species, and within a couple of minutes, I saw one on a tree truck, a BROWN CREEPER.† I started taking pictures, and in a couple of minutes, a second one flew in.† They chased each other around a bit, and then both proceeded to do their creeping act.† Brown Creepers feed on insects they find in the cracks of the bark on mature trees.† They start near the ground, typically, and work their way up the tree.† When they finish with one tree, they typically fly down to the base of another one and start the process over again.† There wasnít much light, so there is motion blur in my pictures, from hand holding the camera, but here are three pictures of them:

 

 

 

 

Sorry for the overload of pictures of one species, but I think this is the first time I have ever gotten a picture of a Brown Creeper.† It was also a first for me at JBP, one for my park list.† Iíve been to the park hundreds of times over the last 13 years, so I thought it was pretty special to be able to find these guys today, when I was specifically targeting them.† I guess playing the song on my cell phone helped.

 

I write about JBP from time to time, but most of my readers probably arenít familiar with it.† So, today I have some pictures of parts of it to show you, in the wonderful winter sunshine.

 

 

 

 

It is on the shore of Lake Washington, at Juanita Bay, north of the Kirkland city center.† It has grassy areas, wetlands, and a couple of boardwalks.† On weekends, it is heavily used by walkers, joggers, and birders, but on a weekday in winter, it isnít very crowded.† It is only about two miles from home for me, which is very convenient.

 

Anyway, having seen and photographed the Brown Creeper, I moved on to the edge of the lake, to look for my second target species.† I played the call, and got a response.† It was clearly the species I was looking for, but I donít count ďheard onlyĒ birds, like many birders do.† The official ďrulesĒ of the American Birders Association now say that heard birds can be counted for official lists, but I havenít moved into the modern world that much yet.† So, I moved on, with the idea of returning to that spot later.

 

There were a lot of Green-winged Teal around, as always in the little bay at the park.† I noticed that one of them lacked the vertical white stripe on its shoulder, like the Common Teal we had seen up in Edison on Saturday.† I took some pictures and came home and consulted my field guides, especially my best British one.† I ended up deciding that the bird is probably a hybrid cross between Common (or Eurasian) Teal and Green-winged Teal.† It lacked the shoulder stripe and had a sort of white horizontal stripe on its wings, but the head lacked some of the characteristics of the Common or Eurasian Teal.† The two species (or subspecies, depending on which birding authority you choose) do interbreed, and they produce males that look like the bird I saw today, I understand.† Here are some pictures, in case any hard-core birders should read this someday and are interested.

 

 

 

 

At about that time, I got a picture of a Black-capped Chickadee that I like.† I see them every day in our yard, but this pose is kind of different, and the picture is sharp enough to really show the fine feather detail.

 

 

Out on the lake, I spotted some Redheads.† If you will remember, I was thrilled to add them to my year list just yesterday, over at the Montlake Fill.† I had never seen them at JBP before, so it was the second addition to my park list today.† Outstanding!† They were quite distant, but at least I got some pictures that show their colors.† There were three males and three females, and they stuck together all the time I was there.† The males have the red heads and black breasts, of course.

 

 

So, it was turning into quite a day at the park.† One for my year list, and two for my park list.† After 13 years of birding there, I donít add to my park list very often.† There was the usual raft of coots out in the lake.† Ducks often congregate all together on the water, for some reason, probably the safety-in-numbers thing (Iíve seen a Bald Eagle cut out one coot and harass it until it couldnít dive any more, and then the eagle grabbed it and took it away and ate it.)† Here is a picture of the raft of coots today:

 

 

Thatís Juanita Beach Park in the background, a popular swimming beach in the summer, which I remember from my childhood.† It is across Juanita Bay from Juanita Bay Park, where I was today.

 

I wandered back down the boardwalk, to where I had heard my target bird.† I approached slowly and quietly, and by golly-damn, I saw a VIRGINIA RAIL scurrying for cover.† They are always there, but I have only managed to see them maybe 5 or 6 times over the years.† I got several brief looks, all with the naked eye, as there was never time for binoculars, but the looks were from 10 to 15 feet away, which was just fine.† Rails are very secretive, and they skulk in the undergrowth, rarely coming out into the open.† I actually got a picture that shows the back end of the bird.† You can see its stubby little tail, its back, and its yellow legs.† My first picture ever of a Virginia Rail, poor though it may be:

 

 

OK, that is extremely unimpressive, but I was pretty damn happy to get even that much of the bird.† Two for two on my target birds!† I was jazzed.

 

I hung around and returned there and saw it a couple more times.† I played the call again, and heard one or two more, in nearby locations.† While filling in the time between looking for the rail and waiting to get more pictures of the hybrid teal, I got some pictures of a pair of Wood Ducks.† Iíve shown pictures of them before, but the male is so striking, especially in the sun, that I took a bunch more today.† Here is the pair of them.† You can guess which one is the male, I think.

 

 

Here is a picture of the male that I like, because of the reflection in the water.† Note the ďhelmetĒ effect on his head.

 

 

It was after noon by then, and I had been birding for two and a half hours and having a great time.† When I got back to the car, one of the Brown Creepers showed itself again, and I got another picture I like, as it probed the bark for insects:

 

 

What a great day.† I got both unlikely species I was looking for today, added two birds to my park list, and tremendously enjoyed being out in the sun and moving around.† My two birds for my park list today take me to 88 species in the park, over the years.† The two I got for my year list bring me to 196 for the year, of which 7 are lifers.† I know I keep saying this, but there probably wonít be any more reports until I go on the three-day Okanogan field trip in two weeks.† I have great hopes for that trip, though, so stay tuned.

 

 

Friday, February 17

 

Here I am again.† This is the weekend of my WOS (Washington Ornithological Society) field trip to the Okanogan Highlands in north central Washington, almost to the Canadian border.† There are supposed to be 15 participants on this trip, with two leaders.† Iím not clear whether the two leaders are counted among the 15 or not.† We all are supposed to meet in the parking lot of the motel where Iím staying at 7 AM tomorrow morning.† The plan is to car pool around, looking for birds.† Each car is supposed to have a radio, and when someone sees a bird, we all stop and pile out of our cars.† It all sounds pretty interesting to me, and Iím looking forward to seeing how it all works.† We repeat that on Sunday, and on Monday we are supposed to use our own cars, and I assume we will bird our way back to civilization, which means across the mountains to Western Washington, where most of the people live in this state.

 

I am not an early bird, as most of you know, so the 7 AM starting time tomorrow is kind of daunting to me.† I have been setting an alarm and getting up earlier each day this week.† This morning, I was up at 6:30, and I packed up, loaded the car, had breakfast, took care of my morning ablutions, and hit the road about 9:15.† It is a five hour drive over here.† You have your choice of two main routes, Snoqualmie Pass (more miles, but more freeway) or Stevens Pass (fewer miles, but two lane roads with towns).† The time is supposed to be just about the same either way.† Based on the weather forecast for today, I chose Stevens Pass, because there are some birds that are seen at the pass, at the ski area there, and I wanted to look for them.

 

I got there about 10:45, I think, and I found a place to park, among the several hundred skiersí cars.† I took my binoculars, but not my camera, unfortunately, and I walked to the main lift area where the lodges are.† There were hundreds of people out there on a Friday morning, hurtling themselves down the snowy hills on the boards they had fastened to their feet.† It seemed crazy to me, when they could have been out hunting for birds, but I guess it takes all kinds, huh? †Here are some of the crazies, out there in the snow:

 

 

 

Anyway, I used the rest room and wandered around, looking for birds.† I didnít seen anything until I was on my way back to the car, and then I noticed a small group of birds near the tops of some trees, near the walkway.† I got my binoculars on them, and they were PINE GROSBEAKS (lifer).† All right!† There were both males, who are red, and females, who have some yellow on their heads and are otherwise just kind of brown or gray.† Both sexes have a characteristic white wing bar.† I had foolishly left my camera in the car, though Ė when will I ever learn?

 

I hotfooted it across the packed snow in the parking lot, slipping a little a few times, and drove back and parked in a loading zone near where the birds were.† By that time, they had moved on, naturally.† Damn.† I did notice one bird at the top of a different tree, though, and it turned out to be a female Pine Grosbeak, so I did get some pictures of her.† It was a very difficult shot, as it was looking up into a cloudy sky, and these are the best I could do.

 

 

 

So, I had a lifer, and I was pleased.† Before I left the ski area, I drove through the parking lots, using 4WD, as I was slipping a little in 2WD, and while going down one row, I saw a bird fly across in front of me.† Based on the size, I thought it could be another target species, so I stopped right in the aisle and got out to pursue it, with camera and binoculars.† There werenít any cars in sight at that point, coming down my aisle.† As I had hoped, it turned out to be a GRAY JAY.† They are a common bird in the mountains, and almost always seen at Stevens Pass, but I had only seen them twice before in my life, so I was very pleased.† An excellent one for my year list.† Here are a couple of pictures of the little darling:

 

 

 

About that time, a car came down my aisle, so I waved my apology to them and got in and drove on.† Two birds for my year list in a half hour at Stevens Pass.† That was great, so I drove on down the other side of the pass, into Eastern Washington.

 

My next stop was a rest area, where I ate half my sandwich and half my tortilla chips I had brought from home.† Then I motored on down the road to the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery, where a couple of other birds I need for my year list have been reported.† I wandered around and found the river.† There was a very nice cross country ski trail that went by there, and there was a steady stream of cross country skiers passing while I was there.† I looked down the river, and almost immediately, I saw two AMERICAN DIPPERS, one of my target species there.† They were quite distant, but I took some pictures anyway, and this one shows the characteristic dipper shape, with the plump body and the perky short tail.

 

 

There are other places I might see a dipper this year, but it was a great one to knock off my list today.† I didnít see any of the other target species there, the White-headed Woodpecker.† The only place I have ever seen that species is in Yosemite, so maybe Iíll just have to get it there again this year.† Weather and time permitting, I might stop and try again on Monday, on the way home.† There was a largish flock of small birds that flew through when I was there, but they were high up in the trees, and I wasnít able to identify any of them.† Mallard and Common Goldeneye on the river.† Before I left the hatchery, I used their rest room and ate the rest of my humble lunch.

 

My next stop was the town of Brewster.† I was looking for Bohemian Waxwing there, and I spent 20 or 25 minutes driving slowly through the residential neighborhoods, but never saw a single bird in Brewster, not even a crow or a sparrow or a House Finch.

 

Eastern Washington is pretty damn bleak in the winter.† Everything is brown or gray, and it is all very drab and bleak.† There was snow around some places, but not very much.† Before I read about this field trip, I had been thinking about coming over here on my own, to look for the winter birds.† At this point, Iím really glad I found this field trip, because I wouldnít have seen anything over here on my own.† Iím assuming that the leaders of the trip will know where to look for birds, and that we will see some good ones, as they always do on this trip.† Having 15 sets of eyes looking will be a huge help too.† This is the 10th or 12th or 15th or something-th year they have done this field trip, and they always see a number of birds I would love to see.† I know that one of the leaders was over here three weeks ago, and he saw a lot of good stuff on that trip.† On the other hand, I expect that birds will be few and far between.† It just isnít a very inviting place.† It is a wonder that any birds at all live here in the winter, if you ask me.

 

Anyway, back to my drive today, I continued on my way, and I only made one other detour.† I drove 5 or 6 miles up Cameron Lake Road, which is one of the places that all birders go up here, and I know it is in our plans for the weekend.† I only saw one robin and a couple of Red-tailed Hawks, though.† I was climbing in elevation, and the temperature dropped to below freezing just as it started to snow.† When I saw the snow sticking to the road, I decided it was time to head for the barn.† I topped up my gas tank (at 3.39 a gallon, when I had paid 3.54 at Safeway at home yesterday), and found my way to my humble motel, the one that the whole group uses.† I feel so modern, because when I got here to Omak, I used my cell phone and Google Maps to search for and find my motel.

 

I donít know what the plan is for meals this weekend, but the room has a little fridge and a microwave, and I brought all the food I need for the whole weekend, so Iím set.† It will be interesting to see if some of the group goes out to dinner tomorrow night, and it will be interesting to see what they do for lunch each day.† As I said, I have everything I need, so Iíll be fine.

 

I have been watching the weather forecasts for the last week or more, because weather could obviously have a big impact on our weekend.† We will be on unpaved road much of the time, as I understand it.† The forecast has kept changing, from day to day, but mostly it was for a small (10% to 30%) chance of showers (snow or rain) for most of the days.† Suddenly this morning, one of the weather sites had a winter weather advisory for the area, and it said a storm was going to come through overnight tonight and dump 2 to 4 inches of snow.† Tomorrow was supposed to be more snow showers all day long.† It would be pretty sporty to be out on unpaved roads with a 4 inch snow covering, with the temperatures in the 20ís, as is forecast overnight and into the morning hours.† When I got here, that site still had the winter weather advisory up, and it still said 2 to 4 inches of snow.† I checked other weather sites, and they ranged all the way from less than an inch of slushy snow overnight to one to three inches of snow overnight.† All of them did agree that Sunday and Monday would just be cloudy, with little chance of any precipitation.† So, Iíll be very interested to see what it looks like in the morning, and how any snow that does fall impacts us.† 7 AM in the motel parking lot.† I plan to be there, with my layers of warm clothes and my food and drink for the day, with my binoculars and camera, of course, and my scope if it seems advisable.

 

So, thatís my report for today.† Three birds for my year list, and they were all good ones, including one lifer.† That brings me to 199 for the year so far, of which 8 have been lifers.† Tomorrow I expect to go over the 200 mark.† What a life!

 

 

Saturday, February 18

 

After all my worries about the weather, it was interesting, but not really a problem.† We got about one to two inches of snow overnight in Omak, where I was staying, and some of the places we went that day had gotten more like four inches.† They were very efficient about plowing the roads, though, which helped, although you had to dodge the snowplows.† I was out there at 6 AM (the time had been changed the night before), ready to go, and by the time we got ourselves all organized, it was about 6:30 and still pitch dark when we took off.† We had four cars, and a fifth joined us later.

 

We went north first, heading to Conconully State Park.† As we went through the Scotch Creek wildlife area, we stopped to scope the trees for a grouse species we wanted.† We were all out of our cars when about a dozen SHARP-TAILED GROUSE (lifer) actually flew in right over our heads and landed in some trees down the road.† We walked down the road and as we approached, we got great scope views of them in the tops of some small trees.† I had left my camera in the car, never imagining we would get so close, or I would have some great pictures.† Sharp-tailed Grouse is a great bird and one that is quite hard to see.† Most of our group had never seen them flying before, so that was special, too.

 

After that, we went on to Conconully State Park.† Here is a picture of what it looked like that snowy morning:

 

 

I picked up MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE for my year list there.† We saw them other places, and it is a common bird in the right habitat, but it was great to get it anyway.† We had a little Downy Woodpecker there, too.† We walked through some of the streets of the little town of Conconully next.† Here is our group in the middle of a street:

 

 

I understand there used to be bird feeders at some of the houses, but we didnít see any feeders, and we didnít see any good birds there.† Here is a picture of the cute little post office in Concunully:

 

 

After that, we headed back to the main highway and went north to Tonasket, where we had a rest room stop and met a couple of people who couldnít get there earlier.† After that, we had 20 people in five cars.† Everyone had little hand-held radios that we could communicate with.† I rode around that day and Sunday with Shep and Ruth, the co-leaders of the trip, and a woman by the name of Laurel who had come over with them.† On the way to Tonasket, I picked up my next year bird, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE.† They are fairly common in that area, and we saw them each day a number of times.

 

While we were in Tonasket waiting for people to use the rest room and get coffee and snacks, I saw a bird fly into a tree and asked Shep about it.† He got his scope on it, and it turned out to be a Merlin, a bird that used to be my nemesis bird.† This was only the third time I had seen Merlin, so that was nice.† It turned out to be the first of three Merlins I saw on the weekend.

 

Next we drove up the Havillah Road.† It was interesting all weekend to be seeing the places I had read about in birding reports and in books.† Somewhere along that road, one of the following cars got onto a huge flock of birds.† We went back and set up scopes, and they turned out to be one of the very desirable species we had all been wanting to see, Snow Bunting.† A month ago, that was a very desired lifer for me, but I saw four of them at March Point near Anacortes about 4 weeks ago, as Iím sure all my astute readers will remember.† I had pictures of the little darlings then, but on this day, they were too far away for pictures.† They kept landing on the ground and then flying again, and some posed on a fence for us as well.† Our official estimate was that there were something like 1500 in the flock.† It was the largest flock of Snow Buntings anyone on the trip had seen, I think.

 

Next we stopped at the Sno Park north of Havillah.† I gather that it is mainly a cross country skiing place.† Here is a picture of our group stopped along the approach road to the park.† We were looking for Great Gay Owl there, which is a very rare bird, but they breed in the area, so we took a shot at it and came up empty.

 

 

As you can see, it was birding in the snow for most of the day.† I donít have any waterproof shoes, so I tried the best I could to keep my feet dry, and it worked out ok.† The temperatures were in the 30ís, but I had dressed with several layers, including the bottoms of the pajamas I had gotten on my last Qantas flight to Australia in business class.† They function like low efficiency long underwear Ė another layer to keep the heat in.† My hands got cold from time to time that day, but mostly I could warm them again in my gloves, by pulling my fingers in and curling them up into a fist, within the glove, while we were driving.† My feet did amazingly well all day long.

 

At the Sno Park itself, we played the calls of several birds, but didnít see anything.† There was one rest room there, and it took a while for 20 people to work their way through it.† I walked a little way up the cross country ski trail and made some yellow snow, and I was fine.

 

It seems the custom on these trips is to eat as you go, and everyone brings their own food and drink.† I had my sandwich at about that point.† Guess what?† Yes, ham and cheese, with some tortilla chips and a Diet Coke.† It was a classic Old Rambler lunch, eaten while wedged in the back seat of a Rav4 in this case.

 

Next on our itinerary were several places where the people maintain bird feeders and donít mind birders stopping by to see the birds.† At one, we got onto one of the species I had especially wanted to see, GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH (lifer).† They were kind of distant, sitting on the roof of a barn and flying in and out.† We got great scope views, but they were a bit distant for my little camera.† Here is a picture of some of them on the barn roof:

 

 

With the best scope, you could see those birds just fine.† I never used my own scope on this trip, but I used several ones that belonged to other people.† One of them just blew me away by its brightness and clarity, and now I have a bad case of scope envy.† I have resisted the idea of upgrading my scope, because it would cost upwards of two grand and I donít use my scope as much as I use binoculars, but this particular scope just blew me away.† Mine is quite good at 20X, but if you zoom further (it goes to 60X), you lose a lot of light and a lot of resolution, and things just look muddy.† The Kowa scope that blew me away was crystal clear all the way to 60X.† I am definitely in the grips of scope envy, and I might not be able to resist.

 

Anyway, back to the trip, we moved on to a place where they had feeders and a couple of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches were actually coming to the feeders and eating on the ground under them.† Here are a couple of pictures of that very attractive bird:

 

 

 

You can see from the pictures how appropriate the name is.† At the same feeders, there was another lifer for me, COMMON REDPOLL (lifer).† They breed in the far north, like the Rosy-Finches, and they winter down south, as far as Eastern Washington, and they are considered a ďgood birdĒ, as they are not all that common.† It was one of the key target species for the trip.† Here are a couple of pictures of them:

 

 

 

We took detours along Hungry Hollow Road and Nealy Road at about that time, too.† Then we came into the tiny town of Chesaw.† They seem to have an annual rodeo there, but it was just a few houses, a store, and a tavern, as far as I could see, other than the rodeo yard.† The store/tavern had a sign out front that said ďRedpolls hereĒ, so obviously birders are an important part of their business.† They had feeders, and here is a picture of four redpolls on a fence there.

 

 

Some people used the rest room in the store there.† Picture:

 

 

It was considered polite to buy something at the store if you used their rest room, and I didnít really feel the need, so I didnít go there.† As it turned out, I set a personal record I think, by going from 11:30 am at the Sno Park until we were back at the motel at about 7:15 without going.† Who knew my bladder was so large?† I think I was dehydrated, though, as I had only had my Diet coke and about 8 ounces of water all day long.

 

We drove up Bolster Road and back, but saw nothing.† We stopped again in Chesaw because some of the people in our group had seen a redpoll that looked different.† There is another species, quite rare, called Hoary Redpoll, and their description matched that bird.† We all piled out and scoped a lot of birds, but never really saw one that matched what they had reported.† We did see an American Dipper in a stream there, though, and that was a good bird.† That is the one I had seen at the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery on Friday, you might remember, but I donít see them often, so it was nice.

 

It was getting late by then, but we drove along Mary Ann Creek Road, which is another place I had seen in many reports, with great birds.† At one point, we got out of the cars and walked along the road for a while, looking and listening for birds.† A bird flew over, and we got a great look at a NORTHERN GOSHAWK, a bird I had only seen twice before, and an excellent one for my year list.† I probably wonít see another one this year, based on my past experience.† Looking at my notes, it was possibly Davies Road where we walked and saw the goshawk.† We went to so many places that day that they have kind of blurred in my mind, which is one reason why I take notes and write these reports.

 

By that time, it was pretty dark, so we headed for the motel in Omak, which was well over an hour away at that point.† On the way, just before it got full dark, Shep, who was driving our car, spotted a GREAT HORNED OWL on a pole right by the road.† He stopped and he and I got great views of it, and then it flew across the road in front of our car.† I donít know how much the cars behind us saw, but it was a great view for me.

 

So, looking back on that day, here are some things from my notes that I made that evening.† We saw California Quail in several places, we saw both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, a couple of dozen Bald Eagles, 4 or 5 Golden Eagles, at least a dozen Rough-legged Hawks, several American Kestrels, several Northern Harriers, some Red-tailed Hawks (though not as many as I would have thought Ė maybe they migrate south in the winter?), Gray Jay two or three times, and we heard Clarkís Nutcracker, although I didnít count it.† Overall, it was just what I expected Ė few birds and far between, but some really good ones.

 

I fell once on a slick road, and slipped a number of times.† We birded from 6:30 am, until almost 7:30 pm, my longest day of birding ever, Iím sure.† Mostly we drove around, and didnít walk very much.† Getting in and out of the car was my biggest exercise.† We didnít have any precipitation that day at all, and the temps were in the low to high 30ís all day.

 

I added 7 birds to my year list, to bring me to 206 for the year.† Three of those were lifers for me, to bring me to 11 lifers for the year.† The trip was off to a great start.

 

The group had dinner that night together, but that was too much for me.† I had gotten up at 5 and had driven around with 20 people for 13 hours, and I needed a couple hours on my own.† I had brought everything I needed in the way of food, and with the help of the little fridge and microwave in my room, I fed myself.† I did have a couple of drinkies, too, in case you were wondering.

 

It was a really outstanding day of birding for me, and I was in bed by about 9:30, as Sunday was going to start early again.

 

 

Sunday, February 19

 

I was up at 5 again, so I could meet the others at 6.† We actually got out of there about 6:30, and our first destination was McLaughlin Canyon Road to look for Bohemian Waxwings.† Shep had seen them feeding in an orchard there three weeks ago, and we had stopped briefly on Saturday and missed them.† It was just getting light when we got there, and there werenít any birds at all around at first.† The waxwings never did show up, and we couldnít find any Chukar either, so it was looking like our early departure had been in vain.† Then, a large raptor flew over.

 

Several of us got our binoculars on it and people called out what they were seeing Ė long tail, pointed wings, very large, etc.† It flew off over the hill, and Shep conducted an informative discussion of what we had seen.† We went through all the alternatives, and concluded that it had to have been a GYRFALCON (lifer).† That is a pretty rare bird and one that any birder would be thrilled to see any time.† Mostly they live up north, but in the winter, a few come down into Washington.† I would have liked to have had a better look and at first I wasnít going to count it, but the discussion and the expertise of the people who had seen it convinced me that it was a Gyrfalcon.† So, getting up that early paid off after all, for those of us who had seen it.

 

After that, we went back to Omak and made a rest room stop at McDonaldís, then drove up the north end of Cameron Lake Road.† We stopped at a place that Ruth knew of and immediately started seeing birds.† We took a little walk on a snowy trail and saw more.† We had all three nuthatches there, including the one I needed for my year list still, PYMGY NUTHATCH.† Several RED CROSSBILLS flew through, too, which was great for me.† I had only seen them once before, last year in Yellowstone.† As it turned out, we saw them again a couple or three times in the next day or two, but this first sighting was the best one I had.† None of my pictures, taken at a long distance against a bright sky, came out, unfortunately.† I had excellent binocular looks at them, though.† We tried for a couple of good woodpeckers on that trail, too, but didnít see them.† Here is a distant picture of a White-breasted Nuthatch.

 

 

We proceeded on up to the plateau and stopped a few places to look around.† Here is a picture of one of our stops on the way up.† This is a view of the Cascades, looking west.

 

 

We saw a lot of Horned Larks on both Sunday and Monday.† Here are a couple of pictures of them.† You can see the little horns on the first one.

 

 

 

Here is a picture of our group, after scoping a field of Horned Larks, looking for a Lapland Longspur among them.

 

 

Eventually we turned back, as the south part of Cameron Lake Road hadnít been plowed and there was three or four inches of snow on the unpaved road.† We retraced our path back down to Highway 97, made another quick potty stop, and drove on south to the northeast corner of Lake Pateros.† There were various ducks out on the lake, including two or three Long-tailed Ducks, an unusual species to see east of the Cascades, I understand.† There is a causeway where we parked, and then we walked on over to Washburn Island, because we saw a large flock of waxwings in the trees across the water.† It turned out to be a mixed flock of maybe 100 Cedar Waxwings and maybe 50 BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS (lifer).† We were able to view them through scopes as we approached (more scope envy for me), and eventually, we could walk right up close to the trees and bushes where they were feeding.† Here are some pictures of the very attractive Bohemian Waxwing.

 

 

 

 

Someone once described them as ďsleek lookingĒ, and you can see why.† I particularly like the way they posed for me in the center picture.†

 

There are several differences between them and the more common Cedar Waxwing.† The Bohemians have white on their wings and their stomachs are brownish gray, while the Cedars donít have any white on their wings and have yellow stomachs.† The other big difference is that the Bohemian has reddish brown under its tail, while the Cedar is whitish under its tail.† It was great to see them in a mixed flock, because sometimes I would have one of each species in my binocular view, and I could see the differences easily.† I noticed that the Bohemians were significantly larger, too, which was confirmed by my field guide.† Here is a picture of a Cedar Waxwing that I took in January, in California.† You can see the yellow belly and white undertail coverts.

 

 

While some of us were taking pictures of the waxwings, they suddenly all took off, and a small raptor flashed by.† Shep was able to watch it fly across the lake and saw where it perched on the other side.† He got his scope on it, and we could see that it was our second Merlin, a small falcon, of the trip.† It was a good, although distant view of it, much too far away for pictures.

 

So, after the fun of finally finding Bohemian Waxwing and the thrill of the Merlinís close passage, we went on around the lake to Bridgeport State Park.† We had to walk in there, through the snow, but the snow was only about an inch deep, so it wasnít a problem.† We were looking for roosting owls, along with whatever else showed up.† Here are some of the people checking a tree for owls:

 

 

While we were walking down the long driveway to the park itself, we saw this coyote.

 

 

Once we got to the right area, someone checked the tree where a particular owl had been roosting on Friday, and sure enough, there he was, a NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL (lifer).† It was a very cute little owl that is smaller than a robin, just perched on his branch, ignoring us, although he did open an eye from time to time to peek at all the crazy birders sitting on the ground and bending over to take his picture.† It was only about 5 or 6 feet off the ground, on a bottom branch.† The photographic challenges were the low light and the branches in the way.† Cameras wanted to focus on the small branches, rather than on the owl.† I found this little window through the branches and was able to focus on his chest.† Here is the little beauty:

 

 

Is he/she a little cutie, or what?† It was easy to locate, as there was a pile of owl droppings underneath it on the ground.† I was really excited to see that bird, as I wouldnít have ever expected to see one.† I only had it at a 10% chance for the year, in my spreadsheet, and it was only that high because I knew that they sometimes are seen on trips to the Okanogan area.† It was my second ten- percenter of the day, as Gyrfalcon was only listed at 10%, too.

 

Here are some of our group at Bridgeport State Park.

 

 

Someone heard a Great Horned Owl calling, and they tracked it down to a particular tree. †As it turned out, it was sitting out where it could be seen, about fifteen or twenty feet up in the tree.

 

 

From a slightly different angle, you could see that there were actually two of them there.

 

 

We finished up there and after a stop for rest rooms and some gas for some of the cars, we went to the Bridgeport Bar area, and scoped some more ducks out on the lake.† We were also looking for sparrows there, but didnít see our main target species, the American Tree Sparrow.†

 

It was getting dark by then, so we drove on up the highway, back to our motel in Omak.† We were back there by 6:30, so Sunday was only 12 hours of nonstop birding, rather than the 13 hours on Saturday.† The difference was that when it got dark, we were closer to home on Sunday.† I again ate my ham and cheese sandwich while we were driving Ė no one wants to waste daylight time by stopping to eat.

 

Most of the group went out for pizza that night, but I again was a recluse and made my own dinner in my room.† Monday wasnít going to start quite as early, but I was still in bed by 10.

 

It had been another great day of birding.† I picked up 5 more for my year list, of which three were lifers.† My total for the year after Sunday was 211 species, of which 14 were lifers.† Outstanding.

 

 

Monday, February 20

 

I was up at 5:50 on Monday morning, for our 7 AM meeting time.† I had set my alarm, but when I happened to wake and look at my clock, it was showing 5:52 AM, and the alarm hadnít gone off.† It turns out I had accidentally set it for 5:50 PM, rather than AM.† Ooops.† Itís a good thing I woke and checked the time.

 

Everyone got checked out and we were on the road by 7:20.† On the first two days, we had car-pooled and we had five cars in our parade.† On Monday, we were headed back toward where everyone lives, so we were all in our own cars.† As a result we had ten cars in the caravan for most of the day, before people started peeling off to head for their homes during the afternoon.

 

Our first stop was Central Ferry Canyon, just south of Brewster.† We stopped a couple of places on the way up, and then stopped near the old cemetery up there and walked around a little.† Here is a picture of us on the snowy road, with some of the cars in our parade:

 

 

We saw all three of the nuthatch species and a couple of Red Crossbills, but not much else.† One group saw a Townsendís Solitaire, which I would have really liked to see (Iíve only ever seen one once before), but I wasnít with that group at that time.† I gather that in most years, we would have continued on up the canyon and out onto the Waterville Plateau, but when we reached the point where the snow plow had turned around, we turned around, too, and went back down.

 

As we neared the bottom of the canyon, someone spotted a raptor on a pole, and we all got out to look at it.† It was our third Merlin of the weekend, and we got great scope views of it.† More scope envy for me Ė I just have to get one of those great scopes.† It was too far for a decent picture, but I donít have any other pictures from Monday, so Iíll show my best one, even though it is so distant that you canít see much detail on the bird, like the white ďeyebrowĒ line.† It looked great in a top of the line scope at 60X, though.

 

 

 

We made a quick stop to use rest rooms, and while we were there, a woman pulled up and asked where Ruth, our co-leader, was.† It turned out that this woman lives in that area and she knew that Ruth was leading a birding trip there that weekend, so she had phoned Ruth.† The woman had seen a group of sage-grouse up where we were going, and she told us exactly where she had seen them.† I heard it second hand, but I thought she said she had seen them that morning.† Sage-grouse are unusual in that area, and they would have been fantastic birds to get.† The location was right on our route, so we decided to stop there in the afternoon, to see if they had stuck around.

 

We drove up onto the Waterville Plateau at that point, stopping from time to time.† There were a lot of groups of Horned Larks, and a number of raptors, although no Gyrfalcons or Prairie Falcons, which were the ones we had really wanted.† Several of the cars, including me, got a good look at a perched Cooperís Hawk, in Mansfield.

 

Our next real destination was a small thicket on Heritage Road, east of Mansfield.† On Friday, Shep and Ruth had seen a Long-eared Owl there, and we hoped he might still be roosting there.† It turned out that he seemed to be roosting somewhere else that day, but they had also seen another species that everyone wanted, in that same location, and they were still there.† We got excellent views of several AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS (lifer) flitting in the bushes and feeding on the ground.† No pictures, unfortunately, as they never stayed still long enough.† It was great to see the good looking birds through binoculars, though.

 

As we were about to get back into the cars, one of the guys spotted a couple of birds far across a field.† We got scopes on them, and they were a couple of GRAY PARTRIDGES, another very desirable bird that we all had wanted to see.† I had another chance to compare my dream scope with other top of the line scopes, and it came out clearly ahead, in my mind.† I wanted one!† This was my first sighting of Gray Partridge in the US, although I had briefly seen a small group in Britain on my 2010 trip.† It is a European species, actually, introduced here for hunting.

 

From there we went to the Mansfield Cemetery, where we wandered around through the graves.† There had been a Great Horned Owl there on Friday, and it was still there on Monday.† It flew off, though, when we approached, so we didnít get any good looks at it.† There were a couple of piles of feathers on the ground, including one that had a leg with the foot still on it, talons and all.† It was some kind of large raptor, probably a Rough-legged Hawk.† That is a big bird, but a Great Horned Owl could have gotten one.† There was also another pile of feathers that had parts of a wing left, and Shep identified that one as a Great Horned Owl.† We speculated on what could have killed a Great Horned Owl, but there is no way to know what happened, of course.† I gather that a Gyrfalcon is large enough that it could have gotten them both.† The owl feathers had been there on Friday, but the hawk feathers and foot were new since then.

 

After that, we headed toward Waterville and home.† We found the place where the sage-grouse had been seen and spent some time there.† You could see their tracks in the snow.† They had flown in right next to the highway, then walked across the snow.† You could see their tracks going off into the distance.† Several people followed the tracks out into the field, but there was no sign of the birds.† Sage-grouse is a large bird, like a big domestic chicken, and these tracks were large, so we had no doubt of the species.† The next day, there was a report on the local birding mailing list by a couple who had actually seen the birds at that location on Monday morning and had watched them walk off and then eventually fly away.† Much of birding is just plain luck, being in the right place at the right time.

 

It was getting late by then, and various people had been leaving us all afternoon.† We were down to 6 cars by then, and some of us wanted to see a bird in Wenatchee that has been hanging around in a stretch of the Columbia River all winter.† Two cars peeled off to look for more Gray Partridges, but at least one of them planned to meet us in Wenatchee, to look for that bird.

 

One of the remaining four cars needed to stop for gas on the way, and when we got to Confluence State Park in Wenatchee, one of the two cars that had looked for the Gray Partridges was already there.† One of our group had to stop and buy an annual pass for the state parks, but I was able to go straight in, as I had my Discover Pass already.† That turned out to be crucial, because when I got there, I walked over to the edge of the river, and Cara, the woman with the great scope that I was envying, had already found the bird and had it in the scope.† I got a great look at a YELLOW-BILLED LOON (lifer).† It flew off soon after that, before the others who had been delayed got there.† They re-found the loon, but it was much farther away, and the view was questionable in my mind.† Other people thought it was the loon, but it was just too far away for me to be able to tell that.† I had gotten there just in time to see it well, though, thanks to Cara for finding it so quickly and having it all ready to be viewed.† The bird is rare enough in the US that I only had it in my spreadsheet at a 1% chance for the entire year, and it was only that high because I wanted to remember it.† I certainly never expected to see one, although a few usually do get reported each year around the state.

 

The people in the other cars who had arrived just a couple of minutes too late left to drive to a vantage point where they would be closer to the bird, but I had seen it well enough, so I left them to it.† It was about 4:30 PM by then, and I didnít want to drive across one of the passes in the dark, especially since I was tired from several long days of birding.† It is about a two and a half hour drive from Wenatchee to Kirkland, by either Snoqualmie Pass or Stevens Pass, and I much preferred to do it in daylight when I was well rested.† I had investigated motels the night before, and I called one that turned out to be located only blocks from where I was.† I got a room and spent the night there.

 

Just to finish up the trip, there were no more birds on Tuesday, just an easy drive home over Stevens Pass.† I might have taken the route over Snoqualmie Pass, as it is a much better road, but Snoqualmie Pass was actually closed that morning, because heavy rain was causing a risk of avalanches.† As it was, I had rain most of the way home, except for about 3 or 4 miles of snow right at the pass.† I heard later that Stevens Pass had been closed for some of the afternoon, also due to rain and risk of avalanche, so I was lucky to slip through when I did.

 

So, back to Monday, I added three more birds to my year list that day.† Two of them were lifers and the other was new for my US list and only the second time I had ever seen that species.† Another excellent day of birding.† On the trip, including my drive over on Friday, I saw a total of 18 species for my year list, of which a whopping 9 of them were lifers.† I had hoped for 12 total with 6 lifers, so it was a very successful trip, exceeding my expectations.† Now Iím at 214 for the year, of which 16 are lifers.

 

My next trip is in only a week, but the birding wonít really start for almost two weeks.† Iíll be driving to California again, for a reunion with my old buddies in Sacramento, and then I plan to go on down to San Diego to try to get some birds.† On the way home, I hope to do a little more birding in Monterey and Sacramento.

 

PS Ė I got permission from the boss, and I ordered that scope of my dreams this morning (Wednesday).† It came with free overnight delivery, so tomorrow Iím hoping I can check it out.