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February 6, 2013
Iím in San Diego, or Rancho Santa Fe, to be more exact.† Iím staying with my sister, taking care of some family business.† But, I managed to get out this morning for a couple of hours of looking for a couple of birds that have been reported very near to here.† As it turned out, I didnít see either one of them, but Iíll try again Ė several times, if necessary.† More about them, if and when I manage to see one of them.
Today I did see one new bird for my year list, though, so Iím writing this report.† CASSINíS KINGBIRD.† They are quite common around here, but I wonít see them anywhere else I go this year, so I wanted to be sure to see one while I was here in this area.† Here are a couple of pictures of what I believe is a Cassinís Kingbird.
There are three other very similar looking kingbird species that can be seen here, but there are some subtle differences.† One of those species, the Western Kingbird, is down in Mexico or Central America at this time of year.† The other two that could be around here now have some subtle color differences.† The key thing on this bird, based on my limited knowledge, is that the white under the chin does not go down onto the upper breast and the upper breast is gray, rather than yellow, like the belly.† One of the species I was looking for today has much more white under the chin, extending to the upper breast, and maybe Iíll get lucky and get a picture of that bird later in the trip.
The other pictures I have to show today are of a California Towhee.† California Towhees are brownish-gray, pretty drab, but these pictures are close enough to show the markings around the face and on the chin.† They also have a cinnamon color under their butts, and that shows a little in these pictures.
Thatís all for today, folks.† Not a real birding day, but I did get a new species for my year list, so I am sending this report.† I am now at 183 for the year.
Thursday, February 7
OK, hereís another report, but this time Iím going to start off by taking a species away from last yearís list.† When I was down in Texas last year, I saw and took pictures of a bird that I called a Solitary Sandpiper.† It was a lifer, and I knew the identification was a little sporty, but I went with it, mainly because of the birdís behavior, rather than the look of the bird.† In preparing for this current trip to the San Diego area, I researched Solitary Sandpiper again, because a local birder had reported seeing one here, very close to my sisterís house, where Iím staying.† While I was doing that research, I realized that last yearís bird was actually a Lesser Yellowlegs, not a Solitary Sandpiper.† I confirmed that by sending a picture of last yearís bird to the local birder here, and he agreed, it was a Lesser Yellowlegs.† Later in this report, Iíll show that picture.† Meanwhile, I am rewriting history and reducing last yearís numbers by one species, which was a lifer.† That makes the revised totals for last year 504 species, of which 117 were lifers.
So with that out of the way, I return to today.† I set out this morning to look for the same two species I had looked for yesterday afternoon Ė the ones reported by the local birder, who I have been in email contact with.† First I stopped along the highway and used my scope to scan the flooded parking lot on the north side of the Del Mar Polo Fields.† There were ducks and shorebirds, but I didnít see the shorebird I was looking for.
I gave up on that one for the moment and went back and drove in toward the stable area of the Polo Fields. †Near the same place where I had seen the Cassinís Kingbird yesterday, I saw a kingbird up at the top of a tree.† I got out for a better look, and it was the one I was looking for, THICK-BILLED KINGBIRD.† As the name implies, it has a thicker bill than Cassinís Kingbird.† It was hard to get a decent picture of the bird, with the bright sky behind it, and this is the best I could do at first.
Compare it to this picture I took yesterday of Cassinís Kingbird.
Can you see how much thicker the bill is on the bird in the top of the tree?† In addition to that, the lower one (Cassinís) only has a little white under its chin, and the upper breast is gray, then the belly is yellow.† It is hard to see in the upper picture, but on the Thick-billed, the whole chin area is white, and it blends right into the yellow of the belly, without the gray area in between.† Here is a better picture of todayís Thick-billed Kingbird, which shows that better:
Here is what I consider my best picture of todayís Thick-billed Kingbird.
The extensive white under the chin and the eye is very obvious in that shot.† You can also see how broad and thick the bill is, compared to that of the Cassinís Kingbird on the ground, above.† Subtle differences for sure, but that is the stuff that birding is made of Ė subtle differences.† I also heard the bird today calling, and even to my ears, it was undoubtedly the Thick-billed Kingbird call.
So, with that one under my belt, I headed off to see if I could get a different view of the flooded parking lot, from the south side (Polo Field side).† On the way, though, I had another distraction.† There were a couple of White-tailed Kites in a tree, just begging to have their picture taken.† I stopped and got out and got a series of pictures.† Here is a picture of the two of them.
I got closer and got this picture of one of them.
One of them flew around a little, and then came back and perched with the other one again.
I particularly like White-tailed Kites, and it was fun to get some pictures of them.
Moving on to the flooded parking lot, I had to drive past a sign that said the dirt track along the polo field was for maintenance vehicles only. †I had the bit in my teeth, though, and I pushed on.† I saw a shorebird that was alone in one part of the pond, and I got some pictures.† At first I thought it might be my bird, but I soon realized it was much too large and its appearance wasnít right either.† It was a Greater Yellowlegs, and here is a picture.
It started calling while I was there, and I confirmed the species by listening to the Greater Yellowlegs call on my phone.† Here is a picture of it while it was calling.
I moved on along the track, stopping again after a while and scoping the birds out on the ponds in the parking lot.† Still no luck, though.† I did see another shorebird that was different, but it turned out to be a second Greater Yellowlegs.† I noticed a smaller pond, closer to the fence, and it was interesting because it couldnít be seen from the highway, where I had been earlier.† I noticed a small bird there, just the right size, and when I got closer, I could see it was my target, SOLITARY SANDPIPER (lifer).† Again. The second time I have counted that species as a lifer, since I have retracted my call from Texas last year.† Here is that little beauty.
I approached closer and it stuck around.† Here is a much closer picture, with the bird in the sun.
It looked an awfully lot like a Spotted Sandpiper in winter plumage, and I wasnít completely satisfied until I got back to the car and consulted my field guide.† I think I have it right this time around, though, and this one is indeed my first Solitary Sandpiper ever.† Here are a couple more pictures, just for good measure.
For comparison, here is the Lesser Yellowlegs from last year in Texas.
That was in May, so the Texas bird was in breeding plumage, as opposed to the winter plumage of the Solitary Sandpiper today, but even accounting for that, I wonder now how I made the mistake.† The legs of the Lesser Yellowlegs are much longer than those of the Solitary Sandpiper.† The field guide said that the Solitary Sandpiper repeatedly bobbed the front part of its body, and that is what the Texas bird was doing, so it fooled me, I guess.† The bird today was also doing the front-end bobbing thing.† Itís cousin, the Spotted Sandpiper, which it closely resembles, also bobs, but it bobs its back end, as opposed to the front end.
So, that was all very exciting.† Both birds are semi-rarities here in San Diego at this time of year, and neither one of them is common anywhere in the US, actually.† I saw Thick-billed Kingbird two years ago in Southeast Arizona, with the help of a guide, and it was a semi-rarity there, too.† It was satisfying to set out to find two specific birds that had been reported here, and thanks goes to the local birder who gave me excellent directions about where to look for them.† I wasnít figuring on seeing either species this year, so they are both bonus birds for the year.
I should have some more time for birding before I head for home next Tuesday, so watch for another report or two.† I have a list of about a dozen species to look for Ė weíll see if I can find some of them.
My two species today bring me to a total of 185 for the year so far, of which 2 are lifers.
Saturday, February 9
Today was an official birding day.† I was up and out of here by about 8.† I made a quick stop at Mickey Dís for some fuel for my body, and then I went on down to the Greenwood Cemetery in San Diego.† I was looking for three species there, all rarities, and all of which have been reported to have been seen there for several weeks at least.† I think I found the right part of the cemetery to look, although Iím not 100% sure I was looking in exactly the right area.† I did see a yellow warbler-type bird that got me excited at first, but it turned out to be a Townsendís Warbler, not the species I was looking for, Graceís Warbler.† Here is a poorish picture of the Townsendís Warbler.† The light was terrible, and this was the best I could do.
They say a poor workman blames his tools, and I guess that a poor birder-photographer blames Mother Nature.† Anyway, I didnít see any of the species I was looking for at the cemetery, so I moved on after about 40 minutes.
My next stop was Otay Lakes.† I had more success there.† I went to the boat ramp, and looked at the bushes and trees to the north of there, as I had been instructed.† I saw a little bird, and it was indeed my target, a brightly colored PRAIRIE WARBLER (lifer).† I had looked for Prairie Warbler in Texas last year, but hadnít ever found one.† After I saw it, I played its song on my phone, and the little darling came flying in very close.† I couldnít get a good picture when it was close, sorry to say, but here is one I got as it approached.
Again, I had a bright sky behind it, and flat light due to the clouds, but it shows the bird well, at least.†† Here is another picture of the little guy, at an odd angle.
While I was standing there looking, I saw an Osprey fly in and perch on a snag.† I got this picture of it.
There was also a Black-crowned Night-Heron perched in the reeds, quite close, and I got this nice picture of it that I like.† I love the red eye and the breeding plume.
There was also a pretty Common Yellowthroat flittering around, but it never kept still long enough for me to get a picture.
Soon after that, a guy with a camera with a honkiní big lens showed up, and we talked.† He had seen the Prairie Warbler earlier in the morning, when the light was better.† He had also seen the other warbler I wanted to see there, and he told me where he had seen it.† I moved over to that area, and eventually got a good close look at a female BAY-BREASTED WARBLER.† Both of these warblers should be down in Central America somewhere at this time of year, and shouldnít ever get west of Texas at any time.† Go figure.† Local birders had spotted them, both at the same place, and they have been seen regularly all winter.† The Bay-breasted one didnít stick around long, and my camera wouldnít focus on it most of the time it was in view, so I only got this one distant shot.
Not very exciting, no, and I wouldnít have known what it was if I hadnít known what I was looking for there.† It also helped that the guy with the honkiní big lens confirmed it, having been told earlier by some knowledgeable birders that that was what it was.† So, Otay Lakes was a big success, after my failure at the cemetery.
From there I moved on down to the Bird and Butterfly Park in the Tijuana River Valley, less than a mile from the border.† I was looking for Black-throated Magpie-Jay, which I had seen there in September.† Today I dipped on them Ė that is, I didnít see any.† Here is a picture I took in September, just because they are such pretty birds, to me.† Iím a sucker for blue, though, you might remember.
No luck today, though, on the Magpie-Jay.
So, I moved on to the Sports Park in Imperial Beach, to look for two more uncommon target birds that are seen there.† I stopped at a Subway on the way and got a tuna sandwich.† At the Sports Park, I wandered over to the parking lot for the adjacent apartments, and was about to give up when an older woman came out of one of the apartments and spoke to me.† She asked if I was a birder, and I said yes.† She said that some of the residents there donít like birders coming onto the property to look for this target species, but she would say I was her friend, and she showed me where to look, then hung around in case anyone hassled me for being there.† People can really be nice.† There they were, two YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS, just what I was looking for.† I had actually looked briefly in that very tree, and hadnít seen them, but she pointed them out to me.
It was hard to get a good angle for pictures, but here are my best efforts.
Here is a different viewpoint on one of the birds:
I had a nice chat with the nice woman who came out to befriend me, and then I moved on to look for the other bird that has been reported at the Sports Park.† I had looked for this bird last year Ė it has been coming there for several years, every winter.† It ought to be down in Central America, or maybe southern Mexico, at this time of year, but it seems to like this one particular tree in Imperial Beach, and it returns each winter.† I canít remember if I have seen it there before or not, but I know I have looked more than once before.
I looked in the Coral tree where it hangs out, but didnít see it.† It was lunch time, so I got my Subway tuna sandwich, chips, and Diet Coke from the car and sat on some bleachers and started on my lunch, while keeping an eye on the tree.† Before I could even start on my sandwich, I saw a bird flittering around, and when I looked through my binoculars, it was only a Yellow-rumped Warbler (a very common bird here in the winter - I saw them all over today), but there was another bird in my binocular view, the male HEPATIC TANAGER I was looking for.† He was up high at a bad angle, but here is a picture of him.
He flew around a little, and when I lost track of him, I went back to my lunch.† A little later I saw him again, on the other side of the tree.† Here is another picture, showing him a little better.
Eventually I got still another one I like.
So, I finished my lunch and prepared to head out for my next target.† As I was leaving, I realized I had left the last of my Diet Coke behind, though, so I went back for it.† When I did that, I encountered another birder who had just arrived.† He was looking for the tanager, too, and I showed him where it was.† Before that, though, I told him about the Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, and put him onto those as well.† Birders helping birders.† That is what it is all about.
Next I went up to the 7th Ave access to the south end of San Diego Bay, and I got out and scanned the mudflats for another bird that has been seen there.† No luck, but I did see some ducks, Northern Pintails, in great afternoon light.† Here is a picture of a male, with a female behind him.† I like the long ďpintailĒ and the colors.
I then drove up the road from Imperial Beach to Coronado Island (which is actually a peninsula), stopping at a pullout with an overview of the southern part of San Diego Bay.† The tide was out, and there were thousands of birds out on the mudflats.† I scanned them with my scope.† They were many hundreds of yards away, and the heat haze over the mudflats made viewing kind of difficult, but I spent some time looking for my target bird.† I didnít see it on my first slow scan, but I persevered and on my return scan, suddenly I saw an interesting bird.† I thought it might be my target, but it was a long way away, and there is another species that is rather similar, so I looked long and hard.† I finally decided, after consulting my field guide, that it was indeed a REDDISH EGRET, the one I was looking for there.† The other species that is similar is Little Blue Heron, but this bird had several characteristics that told me it was a Reddish Egret.† The feathers on the neck were shaggy, the bird seemed larger than a Little Blue Heron, and finally, the bill was a definite pinkish color, with a dark tip.† Reddish Egret.† I have only seen that species twice before, down in Texas last year, and those were both very poor views, so it was nice to get todayís view, although it wasnít really very good either.† I later looked on Google Maps, and I figure it was about three-quarters of a mile away from the bird, but it was the heat haze that made it hard, more than the distance.† I tried some pictures, but the bird is just a blur.
It was getting late by then, but I had one more target bird to look for.† A Pine Warbler has been reported in Coronado for the last month or more, so I found my way to the corner of Margarita and 6th.† I spent 20 or 30 minutes there, looking in the very large pine trees that line the street.† I played the song of the bird, but didnít get any response that I could see.† At one point, I did see a bird in the top of a tree where I had been playing the song, and I got several very brief glimpses of it.† I think it was most likely a Pine Warbler.† I got good enough views that I canít think of any other species it could be, but I just didnít see it well enough to count it.† I debated with myself and went back and forth on it, but Iím not going to count it.† After that, I headed back to my sisterís house and called it a day.
So, today I got five more species for my year list.† They were all either rarities or uncommon birds, so the quality was high.† One was a lifer, the Prairie Warbler.† I didnít expect to see any of those five species this year.† Now Iím at 190 species for the year, of which 3 are lifers.† Iíll probably head down to Mission Bay and maybe La Jolla tomorrow, to see if I can add a few more common local birds to my year list.† What a life!
Sunday, February 10, 2013
My sister, Kathy expressed interest in going birding with me today, and we set out about 8:15 this morning, to see if I could add some San Diego birds to my year list.
Our first stop was La Jolla.† The big thing to do at La Jolla is to ďsea watchĒ, which means you spend hours looking through your scope, looking at flying birds that are a half a mile to a mile away.† I did that last September and added half a dozen species to my life list.† We checked this morning to see if the guy I had met then was at his post this morning, but he wasnít, so I gave sea watching a miss for today.† There hasnít been much reported lately, and without help, I would be lucky to see one species I could identify.† Instead, we moved on down to the ďChildrenís PoolĒ area.† Almost as soon as we got there, I saw a bird on the beach, and I thought it might be one of the species I was looking for today, but it turned out to be a Willet, a bird I saw up in the Monterey area in January.† Then right after that, I spotted a bird on the rocks, and it was indeed a WANDERING TATTLER.† (Reminder to regular readers Ė when I use ALL CAPS, I am indicating a species I have not seen previously this year.)† Wandering Tattler is a bird I probably wonít see anywhere else this year, so it was nice to get it.† Here is a picture.
A little while later we saw another shorebird fly in to a rock, and it was a Spotted Sandpiper in winter plumage.† Here is a picture of that guy.
At the ďChildrenís PoolĒ, there were a lot of Harbor Seals hauled up on the beach.† There was one young one, posing on top of a rock, and lots of tourists were taking pictures.† I did the same.
The tide was in and the waves were quite high today.† I tried for pictures showing the big waves, but kept getting distracted by the birds.† Here is the best I could do to show the ocean.
We had a great time there, enjoying the ocean and the waves.
From there, we moved on down to Mission Bay, to look for more birds I needed for my year list.† Our first stop there was Crown Point, and we found a great overlook where we could see a lot of shorebirds and other birds, sitting out the high tide, waiting until they could start feeding again, as the tide flats were uncovered.
There was a large group of Black-bellied Plovers.† Here is a picture showing three of them.
There were a lot of ducks there, and I picked up one I needed for my year list Ė REDHEAD.† Here is a picture of a male Redhead on the shore.
You can see where they got their name.† A female is in the back on the extreme left Ė obviously, the male is the more important one, since the species is named after him.† Just like man, I guess.† (Oops, did I say that out loud?)
There was also one Marbled Godwit there, with the plovers.
The coloration, the long, slightly upturned bill with the pink base, and the larger size sets it apart from the plovers.
I also picked up CASPIAN TERN there.† That is one that I expect to see in other places this year, but now it is in the bag.† Here is a distant picture of two of them, in their winter plumage, which means that the black is a little back from their forehead and a bit grayer.† The red-orange bill with the dark tip is the key indicator of this species, along with the size, which is a little bigger than other terns.
After that, we moved on around Mission Bay, stopping a couple of times to check out birds in the water.† We missed the turn to Fiesta Island, and went on to the San Diego River, to check that out.† It was extremely disappointing to me, as the tide was so high.† There were very few birds around, and none of the species I was counting on finding there.† More on that later.
We went back to Fiesta Island after that, and drove around the island.† There were a few Western Grebes from time to time, and one of them looked to me like it might be a Clarkís Grebe, a much less common species.† The differences are subtle, and I wasnít sure about this particular bird.† I took pictures, and even with the pictures, Iím not sure, so Iím not calling it, one way or the other.† Here it is Ė Western or Clarkís Grebe, that is the question.
You know, looking at it now, it really looks like a Clarkís to me, which is the less common one, and the one I need for my year list.† I wonít go into the tedious details of identification, but I think it might well be a Clarkís Grebe, but I am not calling it one way or the other.† Iíll just ask this one question, which goes to one of the points of differentiation between the species Ė is the eye in the white part of the head or the black part?† Hmmm.† It seems right on the edge, which would argue for Clarkís, I think, but as I said, Iím not calling it.† In summer plumage, the difference is more obvious, and Iíll hope to see one later in the year.
While still going around Fiesta Island, there were some shorebirds, and most of them turned out to be American Avocets. †I saw them earlier this year, but these were a good picture opportunity.
These birds were in their winter plumage.† In the summer, they would have a lovely rich cinnamon-brown head and neck.
There were a lot of Brant around the island, too.† Brant is a small goose, and I find them quite attractive.† Here is a picture of one.† This is the West Coast sub-species.† The ones in the east are lighter colored, I understand, but I have only seen the western ones.
After Fiesta Island, we moved on to Robb Field, which is along the San Diego River, near its mouth.† The tide was still high, and there werenít as many birds there as I had hoped for.† I did manage to spot another species for my year list, though, ROYAL TERN.† They donít go much north of San Diego, so it was one I hoped to see here.† Terns usually have a black cap, and in the winter, they often lose some of the cap.† Here is a picture which shows Royal Terns, and it shows both plumages.
The Royal Tern on the extreme left has its summer or breeding plumage, and the one on the right has its winter plumage, with only a little black on the back of its head.† Here is another picture that shows both plumages.
This time the winter plumaged bird is on the left, and the summer one on the right.† All the turns in both pictures are Royal Terns, though, despite the differences in appearance.† Ainít birding fun?† If you scroll back up to the picture of the Caspian Terns, can you see the differences?† The black on the head and the dark tip to the bill are the two biggest differences, although the Caspian is about 30% larger than the Royal, too.† The bill is redder in the Caspian, also, and shaped a bit differently.
It was past noon by then, and we ate our humble lunches, brought from home, in the car.† When lunch was done, I noticed that the tide had moved out significantly, so we drove down the parking lot a bit and I scoped the shorebirds that had come in to a sandbar that was exposed by the falling tide.† In the midst of the ďusual suspectsĒ we had been seeing, there was a single RED KNOT.† I think there was a second one, too, but it had its head tucked in, so couldnít see the bill.† The one that was visible, though, was smaller than the Black-bellied Plovers, had a longer bill than a Dunlin, a shorter bill than a dowitcher, and was larger than one of the small peeps.† Red Knot is very plain in the winter, but by size and bill length, I feel good about calling it.† I might have tried a picture, but by the time I was ready to do that, it had left.† There were a couple of local birders there, and one of them saw the bird too, and he agreed it was a Red Knot.† Score!
The tide had gone down enough by then that I wanted to go back to the place upriver, where I have seen Little Blue Heron so often.† We hadnít seen one earlier, but the tide was so high then that there were very few birds around.† So, we went back, as it was right on our way home anyway.
The tide had indeed gone out a lot, and there were many many more birds.† Almost right away, I saw a LITTLE BLUE HERON, too distant, and in too poor light to get a picture.† We moved on down the river and turned around and came back.† We ended up seeing two more Little Blue Herons.† It was really striking how much difference an hour made when the tide turned.† There had been a handful of birds before, and now there were hundreds.† Here is a picture of a Little Blue Heron.
So, it was time to call it a day then Ė Kathy isnít a hard-core birder (as if I am), and she was ready to go home.† That was fine with me, I had done great for the day.
When we got back to Kathyís house, we sat in the living room and enjoyed all the birds coming to the feeders in her yard.† House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches were the most common, but we had White-crowned Sparrows, Mourning Doves, Eurasian Collared-Doves, one American Goldfinch, and probably some others.† One Cedar Waxwing visited, a crow flew through, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler visited briefly.† I started on my pictures, and Kathy called me back in to the living room to pick up another species for my year list, NUTMEG MANNIKIN.† I knew they lived here in this area, and Kathy had told me that they visited here from time to time.† Nutmeg Mannikin is an Asian finch that is kept in cages by people.† They have escaped here in the area and now are established and therefore considered ďcountableĒ.† In the past, I have seen them in Hawaii, where they also were introduced by escaping.† The ones today did not look typical to me, and I got some pictures.† Looking at the pictures, I could see that the ones today were juvenile birds, in their first winter, thus proving that the species does indeed reproduce here.† Here is a picture of one of them.
Here is another one that is just starting to get its adult plumage.
Here is a picture of an adult Nutmeg Mannikin that I took in Hawaii last year.† You can see how the bird above is just starting to get the coloration of the adult.
You can see the dark brown on the chin and the beginning of the checkered coloration on the flanks.
So, in five hours of birding and some time here at home today, I managed to add 7 species to my year list.† Outstanding.† They werenít rarities, like yesterday, but most of them were birds I wonít see anywhere else this year, so it was a very successful day.† It was also a whole lot of fun, to bird with my sister.† She was really a good sport about my obsession, and she seemed to appreciate the subtle differences in species that we saw.† When I bird with a non-birder, I am always stuck by how little non-birders see when they are out and about, in terms of different species.† There are a lot of birds out there.
So, I donít expect to do any more birding while here in San Diego, so the next report is likely to be from north-central Washington.† I have a trip planned next weekend to the Okanagon, an area in north-central Washington.† It will be cold and there will probably be snow on the ground.† I hope it isnít too bad in terms of weather, but we shall see.† If it looks like it is going to be too bad, Iíll bail out of the trip, but right now it looks okay for next weekend.† So, stay tuned for more reports.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Iím in Omak, Washington, tonight.† I drove over here with three other birders, for a Washington Ornithological Society (WOS) field trip for the weekend.† The field trip actually starts tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM, but since it is about a three and a half hour drive over here, we left my house at 9 this morning, and birded along the way.† My three birding companions, none of whom I have ever met before, are Bob, Vincent, and Qinglin.† Bob and Vincent have known each other for some time, but the rest of us are new to each other.† Bob has a module that mounts on the top of a car, to the roof rack, which is a good thing, as we would never have gotten all of our stuff into my car otherwise.† Bob and Vincent showed up at 8:15 (rather than the appointed meeting time of 9), while I was eating my brekkie, so they would have time to mount the roof rack.† That threw off my own schedule, but it was a good thing as it turned out, as it meant that we were ready to go by nine.† Qinglin showed up just before 9, and we were actually on the road by a few minutes before 9, which was surprising to me, but great.
Our first stop was the Stevens Pass ski area.† The parking lot was full, with skiers and snowboarders arriving all the time, and we parked the car.† Almost immediately we got one of the birds I was looking for there, GRAY JAY.† The others were taking pictures, and I went for my camera.† Oops. †I couldnít remember where I had packed it.† For a very uncomfortable 4 or 5 minutes, I thought I had forgotten my camera, which was not a happy thought at all.† I missed that particular jay, but suddenly remembered where I had packed my camera, and I felt great relief.† We walked toward the ski lifts and used the rest rooms in the parking area.† Soon after that, there was another Gray Jay, and I managed a couple of pictures before it flew off.† Here is my better one, not great, but it does show the bird anyway.
Last year I had seen Pine Grosbeaks at the ski area, but Bob goes there frequently to snowboard, and he hasnít seen them there, so we decided to move on.† Our next stop was just down the road, into Chelan County.† If you will remember, I started ďcounty birdingĒ last July 1, and this was my first time in Chelan County since then, so I started my county list.† County birding means that I keep track of the species I see in each of the 39 Washington counties.† Iím not going to bore you with reports of the birds I see in each county, other than to report totals from time to time, and maybe a few ďgoodĒ birds.
Here is a scenery picture of the Cascades, taken at our first stop in Chelan County.† As you can see, the weather was spectacular today.† You couldnít ask for a better winter day over here.† The high temps were about 40 or a bit more, but the sun was shining, and everything looked very fresh and beautiful.
I have so few pictures today that Iím including a couple of scenery shots.† Here is another one, a little farther down the road.
For you out of state readers, we went over Stevens Pass today.† That is a pass over the Cascade Range.† The Cascades run north-south and separate Western Washington from Eastern Washington.† The pass is just over 4000 feet in elevation.
We went down the eastern side of the pass and stopped at the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery to look for White-headed Woodpecker.† No joy.† Next we moved on to the Sleeping Lady Resort and tried again.† Still no joy.† We made one more try, at the Leavenworth Golf Club, but came up empty again.† Strike three, we were out.† That was that, and we boogied on up the road toward our final destination of Omak.
At Wenatchee, we turned north, and went up US Highway 97 Alternate, on the west side of the Columbia River.† That kept us in Chelan County, so we could pad our Chelan County lists.† We stopped along the river a couple of times, and at one stop I picked up my second year bird, GREATER SCAUP.† We had good scope views and a spirited discussion about the ducks on the river, and ended up agreeing that there were both Lesser and Greater Scaup on the river.† At one of our stops we saw a couple of Red-necked Grebes, too, not a year bird for me, but a good one for Chelan County.
At another stop, there were a lot of ducks out on the river, and we added several species to our county list.† The river is the border between two counties, and there were some ducks on the other side of the river, too.† We identified several of them, including Redhead and Canvasback, two ďgoodĒ species.† I put four species onto my Douglas County list, but the others saw one or two others.† We will be in Douglas County later in the weekend, probably Monday, so Iíll add to that list then.
A little bit farther along, we saw several BLACK-BILLED MAGPIES.† I even got a picture that I like a lot Ė my first picture ever of this species, I think.
Is that a great tail, or what?† I even got the eye, which is difficult in a bird with a black head.† I took that from the driverís seat, leaning over and shooting out of the passenger side window.
Just before leaving Chelan County, we stopped at the overlook of Wells Dam, on the Columbia River.† We got some birds there for our day list, and I got a couple of pictures Iíll show.† Here is an American Robin.† A very prosaic bird, one that people see all the time, but it is always nice to see the city birds out in the wild.
At that same stop, Bob spotted a Great Horned Owl, deep in a conifer tree.† There was no way to get a picture, though.† It was awake, and looked at us with its big yellow eyes.† Also at that stop, Qinglin saw a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches, and I managed to get a picture of one of them, foraging in the cones on a pine tree.
Normally you see nuthatches on the trunks and branches of trees, but these two were picking bugs out of cones, I guess.
Soon after that, we moved into Okanogan County, and we all started another county list.† Beyond Brewster, we detoured briefly to the area just north of Washburn Island, and we saw a few species there.† While we were there, the leaders of our trip (Ruth and Shep) showed up and we all said hello to each other.† We left them to walk to Washburn Island, and we headed for our motel in Omak.† It was getting late by then, and I wanted to check in and settle down.
We got to our Omak motel just before 6 PM, and it was 6:10 by the time I got settled into my humble room.† 6 PM is pretty much full dark here in the north country in February.† This place is a semi-dump, and I had forgotten the musty smell of the rooms, but it is only 49 bucks a night and has a tiny fridge and a microwave, so I can be independent for my meals, as I like.† I got moved in and got online, and after the other three got settled, I loaned them my car to go out to find dinner, while I stayed here and processed my pictures and wrote this report.† Iím drinking Canadian Whisky tonight, in honor of the fact that we are less than 50 miles from the Canadian border.
So, the whole group (supposedly limited to 15 plus the co-leaders, but I think it is larger) is supposed to meet in the parking lot here at the motel tomorrow morning at 6;30.† As you know, that is quite early for me, but I was up at 6:35 this morning, so I hope it wonít be too hard on my fat old body to get up at 5:30 tomorrow.† The idea is that we all parade around together for the next three days, in five or six cars, and see what we can see.† I fully expect to see more year birds tomorrow, so look for another report tomorrow night.†
Meanwhile, I now have 28 species on my Chelan County list, 4 on my Douglas County list, and 12 on my Okanogan County list.† My year list stands at a round 200 now, with 3 of them being lifers.
What a life!
Saturday, February 16, 2013
Iím actually writing this on Sunday night, but this is a report for Saturday.† We met in the parking lot here at the motel at 6:30 AM.† We had a lot of cancellations, and had a total of 15 people for the weekend, including the two leaders.† We assembled ourselves into four cars and set out to find birds, just as it was getting light.† We headed north from Omak on Highway 97 to the Riverside cutoff and turned west toward Conconully.† My first year bird of the day was NORTHERN SHRIKE, a good one to knock off.† We saw several during the day, but none were close enough for pictures.† We saw Rough-legged Hawk, but I had seen one distantly from my car at 70 MPH on my California trip in January, so it wasnít a year bird for me.† We have seen maybe ten or twelve of them so far this weekend, but none have perched for a picture yet.† It is a good-looking bird that I havenít seen very often.
We stopped at the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area to look for Sharp-tailed Grouse, but couldnít find any.† I have only seen that one once before, last year on this same trip.† Here is a picture of that habitat.
And another, taken on out way back an hour or more later.
The temperatures were in the low 30ís, but the roads were paved at that point, and they were bare and dry.† At one of our stops, Vince, one of my car-mates, saw a distant RED CROSSBILL.† We have seen many more since then, but that was the one for my year list.† I took a very distant picture, but it is crap, so I wonít show it.
We went on into the small town of Conconully, and this year the state park there was closed.† The state park is normally the first rest room stop of the day, but our co-leader, Shep, had made arrangement with a restaurant/tavern in town to accommodate us.† We walked around the snow-covered streets of the town, looking for birds.† Almost right away we got a very good one that I was hoping for, TOWNSENDíS SOLITAIRE.† I have had much better pictures, but this is only the third time I have seen the species, so I was pleased.† Here is the best picture I could get, with the bird against the bright cloud-covered sky.
Soon after that, someone spotted some little birds, and I got my first MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE of the year.† I didnít get any pictures at that time, but I got some later in the day, which Iíll show down the page.† They look very much like Black-capped Chickadees, but they have a prominent white eyebrow.
We saw some other birds around the town, as well as a couple more Townsendís Solitaires, but the real treat for everybody came as we were ready to leave.† There were at least two other birding groups birding the town while we were there, and maybe three, and we heard reports of a small flock of great birds that we all wanted to see.† We went to where they had been seen, and very soon someone spotted the birds, foraging in some pine trees.† We got some scopes set up, and I got my first WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL (lifer).† It is pretty hard for me to get lifers these days, and I certainly hadnít expected to see this pretty uncommon bird, but there they were.† Some of us with cameras got closer, and I have some mediocre pictures that at lest serve to document my sighting.† The male birds have red on them, and the females are a kind of greenish yellow.† Here is the top half of a male.
The top and bottom parts of the bill actually do cross at the tip.† I guess the crossed bill helps them get the seeds out of pine cones.† It was hard to get pictures, as they constantly moved around, feeding on the cones.† Here is a female.
In that picture you can see the white wing bars that distinguish it from the Red Crossbill.† Here is another male.
And another female, in a non-conventional pose.
So, with that exciting sighting under our belts, we headed back to Highway 97 and went north toward the Okanogan Highlands.† Just before we got to Tonasket, as we crossed the Okanogan River, we saw a numbers of birds swooping around over the river.† We pulled over and were very surprised to see that they were waxwings, birds that normally eat berries and fruit.† These birds seemed to be taking advantage of an insect ďbloomĒ on the river, and they were swooping around catching flies or some kind of insects, over the river.† They turned out to be a mixed flock of Cedar Waxwings and BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS.† This was only the second time I had seen Bohemian Waxwings, and they are a very desirable bird.† They winter here in Northeastern Washington, and then go north and breed up in Canada or Alaska.† Two of our party ventured out onto the highway bridge and got pictures, but I wasnít reckless or brave enough to do that, with the heavy traffic on the narrow bridge.
We made a brief stop in Tonasket for a bathroom break, and some people got some coffee or food, then we headed up into the highlands.† It was still in the low 30ís, and after a while we got up into the clouds, or fog to us.† For the rest of the day, the weather was interesting.† We had sun, we had fog, we had rain, we had hail, and we had snow.† And sun in between some of the time.† The temperatures stayed in the low to mid 30ís.† The roads were clear, but we went on a lot of unpaved roads, and some of them were quite muddy.† My car is absolutely filthy; I hope to get a picture of it for Mondayís report, when it is at its dirtiest.† I was glad to have my four wheel drive, as we slipped and slid around on the muddy roads.†
We went up Havillah Road into the highlands, and stopped at one point because someone saw something.† While we were stopped there, I added PYGMY NUTHATCH to my year list.† No pictures, though.† I have only seen them a couple of times before, but I donít think I have ever gotten a picture of one.† We had the other two nuthatches at the same stop, Red-breasted and White-breasted, but I had already gotten those in California.† They went onto my Okanogan County list, though.† Iím adding to three county lists on this trip Ė Chelan, Okanogan, and Douglas.
We took a detour off Havillah Road onto Fancher Road, which was an unpaved loop that took us back to Havillah Road.† Along there we got onto our first COMMON REDPOLLS of the day.† We ended up seeing hundreds of them, at many different places, all day long, but that first sighting is always memorable and exciting.† I got pictures later at a house that had some feeders, and this is a picture that I like of a Common Redpoll.
After Fancher Road, we proceeded up into the highlands and stopped at three different places that have feeders.† Shep brings along a big bag of bird seed to each place, so we are welcomed and get great looks at the birds at the feeders.† We would be welcomed anyway, Iím sure, but it is nice that he takes a bag of seed to these people who provide such a great place to see the winter birds of the area.† We had Common Redpoll at all three places, and got a number of other birds at each place, too.
At one of the places, we had both Downy Woodpecker and HAIRY WOODPECKER, and I got pictures of both of these similar birds.† The Downy is much smaller and it was great to see the two of them together, to see the size difference, as well as the other differences.† The Downy has a much smaller bill, which is the easiest difference to see, besides the size difference.† Here is a male Downy Woodpecker.
A female would look the same, but without the red patch on the back of its head.† Here is a female Hairy Woodpecker.† You can see how much bigger the bill is, with respect to the size of the head..
I promised pictures of Mountain Chickadee, and here is one at a feeder.† Note the wide white eyebrow.
Here is another picture, which is kind of weird, because it is head-on, but I like it.
There was another ďgoodĒ bird at all three feeder places, but only one at each place, which was interesting, because normally they are in flocks.† That was GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH.† I had only seen them once before, on this trip last year, and Iím very unlikely to see them anywhere else this year.† I really like the ďrosyĒ color on the wing and the body.
We drove into the tiny town of Chesaw, and used the Chesaw Tavern as a rest room stop.† We looked for birds around there, but didnítí see anything new for my year list.† Next we drove to Mary Ann Creek Road, and stopped to look for birds there.† I thought it unlikely we would see anything there, and I took a micro-nap in the car for 5 or 10 minutes while the rest of them walked up and down the road, seeing nothing.† It was getting pretty dark by then, as it was about 5:30.
I would have thrown in the towel then, and headed back to the motel, but the rest of them wanted to go for owls at dusk at the Havillah Sno Park, a place with cross country ski trails.† We used the rest room there and played some owl calls, then moved on down to the first (higher) meadow.† We parked the cars and everyone else trooped on down the road to try for a rare owl, but I again stayed in the car for a snooze.† In a little while, I saw several people hustling back to the cars and getting their scopes out.† I asked them what was up, and they said they had the damn owl!† So I hustled back down the snow-covered road with them, and sure enough, one of the group had spotted a GREAT GRAY OWL (lifer) about three hundred yards away, sitting at the top of a tree, silhouetted against the sky to the west, where the sun had set some time before.† We all got good (distant) scope views, and there was no doubt about the identification.† The bird was huge, with a flat face, and no ďearsĒ like a Great Horned Owl, the only other owl close in size.† It was a lifer for most of the group, and an excellent sighting, which our leader reported to the local birding mailing list.† The owls used to be seen in that area regularly, but there was some logging done of the trees they nest in, and in recent years, they havenít been seen very often at all.† What a great capper for a wonderful, long day of birding!
It was after 7 by the time we got back to our motel, so we had been birding for more than 12 hours.† That is about 4 hours more than the Old Rambler ever does on his own, as you know, but that is part of going on a group trip.† Real birders are much more into it than I am.† I certainly saw far more birds today that I would have seen on my own.† Far, far more.† Not only did I have much better birders than I along, there were 15 pairs of eyes looking, instead of only one pair.† In addition, the leader of the trip knows exactly where to look for various birds.† Shep made a scouting trip two weeks ago, visiting all these same places, just to see what was around and what the conditions were this year.† So, for productivity, a group trip canít be beaten, for sure.† It isnít my style to do too much of this group birding, but it certainly does have its advantages.† I joined WOS (Washington Ornithological Society) last year just so I could go on this trip and others, and the $25 a year dues are a great bargain, from that standpoint.† There is no charge to go on the field trips that WOS sponsors.† The leaders do it on a volunteer basis, which is really really nice of them.
I was plenty tired by the time we got back after 7, and I opted to stay in my room and make my own dinner. †I loaned my car to the others I came over with and they went out and joined some others at a Mexican restaurant.† I got to bed by about 9:30 or so, I think, and I slept well until my 5:15 wakeup alarm this morning.
I got 11 more species for my year list, which is great, and it included two lifers, which is even better.† I never expected to see either White-winged Crossbill or Great Gray Owl.† At the end of Saturday, I was at 211 species for the year, of which 5 were lifers.
So, that was Saturday.† Maybe I can get a report for Sunday out tomorrow night.† If not, then maybe on Monday.
Sunday, February 17
Okay, here is another one-day-late report, for Sunday, written on Monday night.
I was up again at 5:15 for our 6:30 departure, and we headed out.† It was 22 degrees F and foggy.† We went south from Omak to Bridgeport and went up Bridgeport Hill Road, to look for a grouse species that we had missed on Saturday.†
We were in and out of the fog, but it stayed pretty cold.† Eventually we came out into sunshine, which we had for most of the rest of the day.† The temperature got up into the low 40ís by the afternoon, but it took a while to get there.
We met a guy outside of Brewster who had recently seen the grouse species we were going for, and he came along and showed us where to look.† On the way, we kept our eyes out for a Gyrfalcon that someone else had seen in that area, but we didnít see one.† Gyrfalcon is pretty uncommon, and it is a very desirable bird.† At the site for our target grouse species, the people who got there first reported they had seen some of the birds actually fly into the area.† We got out the scopes and started searching.† In a short time, we found SHARP-TAILED GROUSE.† We walked a little distance down the hill in the snow, and ended up seeing about a dozen of them, foraging in the treetops.† It seemed strange to see these chicken-like birds (though smaller than chickens) in tree tops.† I would have thought that they would be ground foragers, but in fact, they eat the seeds of water birches, which grow along creeks.† Here is a poor distant picture of one of them, up in a tree.
We had very good scope views of the birds, as they moved around in the treetops, eating.† They were probably about a hundred yards away, maybe more.† Everyone had more or less given up on seeing this species, after we had dipped on them the day before at the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area, so we were all pumped after seeing so many of them and seeing them so well for so long.† I had seen them last year on this trip, at Scotch Creek, but I had left my camera in the car that time, so I hadnít gotten any pictures.† Even though my picture is pretty poor, it is an identifiable picture of the species, and Iím pleased to have it.
So, having gotten that species, we backtracked to Bridgeport for a bathroom stop, and then moved on to Central Ferry Canyon.† Here is a picture at a stop on the way back down Bridgeport Hill Road.
After the bathroom stop in Bridgeport, we went through more fog, but emerged into the sunshine as we went up Central Ferry Canyon.† Here is a picture of the start of the road up onto the Waterville Plateau, on Central Ferry Canyon Road.† The Columbia River is down below that layer of fog.
It was below freezing, so the road wasnít muddy, which was nice.† It had been graded recently and was quite nice to drive on.† That last picture was taken at a stop where we had a number of birds, but nothing for my year list.† I added to my Douglas County list, though.† We moved on up the canyon and stopped at the Packwood Cemetery.† I guess there must have been some kind of settlement out there, at some point, but now there is nothing around for miles except this cemetery.† They had a fire there in the last year, and that is good for woodpeckers, and that was our main target there, a couple of uncommon woodpecker species.
Here is a picture of some of our group, on the road at the entrance to Packwood Cemetery.
We had a few birds from the road, and our leader played recorded calls of the two woodpeckers we were looking for, but we didnít see anything very interesting.† He also played the call of the Northern Pygmy-Owl, which I have never seen, and we did get answering calls.† If I counted ďheardĒ birds, as many birders do, I could have counted it, but I only count birds I see, so I didnít count it. †We spent some time trying to see it or call it in closer, but no one ever got a visual on it.
So, we walked down to the cemetery, which is several hundred yards from the road, through the snow and trees.† Fortunately, others had been there before us, including at least one snowmobile, which made for fairly easy walking.† Here is a picture of us coming back to the road from the cemetery, to give you an idea of the terrain.
Here is a picture of the cemetery itself.
Keep in mind, this cemetery is in the hills, in the middle of nowhere, but people still maintain it and visit it.† Iím sure there is a great story associated with it, but I havenít heard it.† It is a well-known birding site, for some reason, and we actually ran into another birding group of two cars while we were there.
Anyway, or leader played the call of one of the woodpeckers, and a woodpecker actually flew over us.† Some of our group are good enough birders that they identified it, but I wasnít satisfied with the look I had had.† It came back a couple of minutes later, and landed where we could see it, but it took off again before I could get my binoculars on it.† Others did see it, and they confirmed the identity.† At that point, it was a close call for me, as to whether I would count it or not, but fortunately, someone spotted one (probably a second one, actually) on a tree, and it stayed there.† We call got wonderful scope views of it on a snag, and I could add a new bird to my life list, BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER (lifer).† It was the less common of the two woodpeckers we were looking for, and I had seen the other one in Teton National Park in 2011, so I was glad to see this one.† I took a lot of pictures, but it was really too far for my little camera, and this was the best I could get.
It is always nice to get an identifiable picture of a lifer, though, even though it is crap as a photograph.
From there, we continued up Central Ferry Canyon to the Waterville Plateau.† We had changed our planned route so we could chase an Arctic Loon that had been seen on Friday, near the town of Chelan.† We ended up passing up several places, including Cameron Lake Road, to chase the loon.† As we went across the Waterville Plateau, on our way to look for the loon, we did see a Great Horned Owl on a nest.† Here is my best picture, which I am quite disappointed in, as the bird was not all that far away.† I donít know why my pictures of it came out so poorly.
It looks okay at that size, but it should be a better picture, technically, than it is.
We saw a lot of Horned Larks, which pleased some people, but I had seen them down in the Sacramento area in January, so I was less than impressed.† We stopped from time to time when someone saw something (remember, we had 16 people in four cars at this point).† At one stop, someone spotted a very distant raptor, and we all piled out and set up scopes and took a look.† There followed a spirited discussion, with incomplete consensus.† The view was way too distant for me to have any opinion, and it was interesting and educational to listen to the discussion among much better birders than me.† Our leader ended up reporting it as a Gyrfalcon, which I have only seen once, but I decided that the view was just too distant and poor for me to count it.† We drove both ways along the road, trying to get a closer look, but we couldnít find a way to get closer.† All this took a lot of time.
We went down McNeil Canyon to the Columbia River, across from the town of Chelan, which is where the loon had been seen.† The loon we had taken a four hour detour to look for, that is.† Interestingly, that is the same rare loon species I had seen in Monterey in January, where it was only the third California record. (See my January 12, 2013 Report for the story of that quest, with pictures of Arctic Loon.† http://www.barry15.com/2013_Birding_Reports/January.html† and scroll down to January 12.)† So, for me, the four hour detour wasnít really worth it, especially since we never found the bird.† Still, we were birding, and we did see some birds.
By the time we got down to the river, it had been many hours since our last bathroom stop, and some of the women were getting pretty desperate for a rest stop.† I had gone two or three times in the meantime, on the side of the road when we stopped.† We ended driving to the outskirts of Chelan, a six or seven mile detour, to find a rest room, which took more time.† All in all, I think we would have been better off sticking to our original plan, but the Arctic Loon is a true rarity, and I donít blame people for wanting to chase it.† If we had found it, it all would have been worth it, I guess.† That is part of birding Ė you donít always find what you are seeking.
It was getting late by then, and we drove back north to Bridgeport State Park.† I was glad we hadnít dropped that stop, because I hoped to see a cute little owl there.† I had had my one and only view of this owl species last year on this trip, and our leader had seen three of them at the park two weeks ago, on his scouting trip.† We got to the park about 4:30 PM, and soon someone found the first of three NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWLS we saw there.† I got pictures of two of them, but the only decent pictures are of the first one.† It was about 12 or 15 feet up in a tree, and you had to peek through an opening in the branches to see it, but here is a picture of the little cutie.
It is only 8 inches tall, and they just sit there all day long, waiting for darkness so they can go hunting again.† You find them mainly by looking for ďwhitewashĒ (meaning owl poop) on the ground under the right sized evergreen tree.† As I said, we ended up seeing three of them in the park, but the others were more concealed.† I find it interesting that they just sit there while 15 birders peer at them and take pictures from less than 20 feet away.† They do turn their heads an look at us, but donít seem to be bothered by us.† I donít think any of the birders used flash photography, although it was pretty dark in the middle of the trees.
By the time we wound it up at the park, it was getting on for 6 oíclock, and we boogied for home.† I got back to my room at about 6:20, after stopping to gas up the car on the way.† I again stayed in for dinner and loaned my car to my three passengers so they could go out to dinner.† I wrote Saturdayís report and got to bed about 9:45.† I was tired.† Birding for 12 hours takes it out of the Old Rambler and when I have pictures to process, dinner to prepare and eat, and a report to write, it leaves me with no time at all for anything else (although I do manage to get a few drinkies down).† The weekend felt like a marathon race - go, go, go all the time.
So, on Sunday, I added three more species to my year list, one of which was a lifer.† That brought me to 214 species for the year, of which 6 were lifers.† I have another report for today (Monday), and Iíll try to get that one out on Tuesday.† Meanwhile, Iím home now, and it feels damn good to be here.
Monday, February 18, 2013
OK, hereís my report for Monday.† I woke during the night and couldnít get back to sleep for about an hour and a half, so when 5 AM came along, and it was time to get up, I wasnít fully rested.† This was pack up and get away morning, so I had a lot to do.† The little fridge in my room at the dump of a motel froze everything, even on the lowest setting, so I had to put everything in the microwave to defrost it.† I discovered that hard boiled eggs arenít very palatable after being frozen, so I threw the last of them out and broke my fast with other food.† The Greek yogurt was still good when thawed, and the chicken was good, too.† Cheese gets crumbly when frozen and thawed, I discovered.
Anyway, my passengers came to my door at 6 and took the car to McDís for coffee, then they loaded the car up with their stuff and came back.† We were in line, ready to go at the appointed time of 6:30.† Three early mornings in a row just about took me to my limit for getting up in the dark.† I felt a bit off all weekend long from the early risings.† It is a big handicap to me as a birder, but my old body just doesnít like to get up at 5 AM.
We drove on down the Okanagon valley to Washburn Island, which is at the east end of Lake Pateros.† Lake Pateros is a lake on the Columbia River, formed by Wells Dam, about 25 miles downstream.† We parked and walked over the causeway to the island.† Here is a picture of that end of Lake Pateros as the sun came up.
The temperature was about 22 at dawn, but it was clear and beautiful, as you can see.† Here is our group as they stopped at the edge of Washburn Island.
There had been some ducks on the bay where we parked, but one of the highlights of the day came when a MERLIN flew over.† Thatís a small falcon, and one that I always have a hard time identifying, so I like it when I see one with a group of real birders, who can tell me what it is.† I got a great look at it as it flew overhead.† Unfortunately, I missed the real show, as it came back a few minutes later and caught a sparrow out of the air.† Most of the group saw it just after it caught the sparrow, and they watched as it broke the sparrowís neck in midair and flew off with it.† I was sorry to miss that show.† Later we saw it again, perched in the distance, in the morning sun.† So, it was only a few minutes after dawn, and I had my first year bird of the day.
We looked at sparrows and ducks from Washburn Island, but nothing exciting.† We did have a nice look at a Cooperís Hawk as it flew over and then perched in a tree.† After that we headed up Bridgeport Hill Road to the Waterville Plateau.† We saw a lot of Horned Larks, but couldnít ever find any Snow Buntings or Lapland Longspurs, which is what we really wanted.† No Gray Partridges, either.† There were a lot of Rough-legged Hawks, which are beautiful birds.† I wanted a picture, but never had a chance to get one.† They never stuck around once we stopped the car.† Qinglin got some pictures, once, but the bird flew before I could get out of the car.
We stopped a number of times, including at a thicket that had American Tree Sparrows, a very desirable bird, last year.† Nothing at all there this year, though.† We kept plugging along, stopping from time to time to try to scope out the Horned Larks, looking for a Snow Bunting mixed in with them.† We also stopped and scoped a number of raptors, hoping for Prairie Falcon.† It was a very slow day of birding, with not many birds and not much variety at all.† It stayed cold, getting up to 32 eventually.† We had a little snow flurry for a while, and that got me worried.† The forecast had said 40% chance of snow, and we had a 4000 foot pass to drive over to get home.
At one stop, I took a picture of my car, as it was so dirty that I wanted to record it.† The picture doesnít do it justice really, as you canít see how thickly the mud is caked on in spots.
Here is a view of the terrain on the plateau.
I guess much of the land is grain farms.† There are a few small towns and scattered houses.† It seems like a really desolate place to live, especially in the winter.† In the summer, it is hot, dry and dusty, I understand.† Not for me.
Here are a couple of pictures of my passengers.† The others came to my house on Friday morning, and I drove us over to Omak, which is about a 3 or 4 hour drive if you arenít stopping to bird, which we were, of course.† They are Qinglin, Bob, and Vincent.† Bob and Vince have known each other for years, but neither Qinglin nor I had met either of them or each other before.
It is an interesting experience for me to spend the weekend with a group of 15 people, with three of them in my car with me for four long days.† Normally I bird alone or with one friend.† It certainly does produce a lot more birds to have 15 sets of eyes looking for birds, not to mention the experience and knowledge of much better birders than me.† The pace is tough for me, though.† Getting up at 5 AM and birding until dark is hard on my old body.† It was well worth it, for the birds and the fun of the whole experience, but three days is about my limit for that kind of thing, I think.† If I do it again next year, I wonít stay in that dump of a motel, though.
We were running out of time Ė everyone wanted to get across the pass before dark and before snow came, but just as we were heading toward home, someone with sharp eyes spotted a large bird way out on a big rock.† Some people didnít even think it was a bird.† It turned out to be a bird on top of a small rock, which was on top of a much larger rock.† To everyoneís joy, it turned out to be a lovely GOLDEN EAGLE, a bird we had all been hoping to see this weekend.† We had excellent distant scope views of it, as it turned its head and you could see the golden mantle on the back of its head and shoulders.† So, I had one year bid at sunrise and a second one at about 1 PM, as we were about to call it a day.
Before we all split up, we took some group pictures.† Here is a picture of part of the group gathering for the group pictures.
We gassed up the car and used the rest room at a gas station in Waterville, then started the 3 hour drive home.† One of the advantages of having passengers is that it helps pass the time while driving, and it kept me awake, too.† Birders always have endless birding stories to tell, and almost all the conversations were about birds and birding.† I enjoyed the people in my car Ė it added to the whole experience.
We werenít quite done yet, though.† There has been a Long-tailed Duck at the Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) in Cashmere, and that was right on our route home.† Vince especially wanted to stop to look for it, so we got directions from one of the group who had seen it on Friday, and when we got to Cashmere, we turned off to look for it.† The approach is along a river, and we were watching the river for birds, of course, when we all spotted an AMERICAN DIPPER.† We went on to the STP, as a couple of other cars from our groups came along right then.† No luck on the Long-tailed Duck, though.† I saw one in Monterey in January, so it would have only been a Chelan County bird for me, not a year bird.† On our way back from the STP we stopped to take pictures of the dipper.† Here is my only bird picture of the day.† It is not very good, because of the distance, but at least you can recognize this little darling, which is one of my favorite species.† American Dipper
The bird was actively feeding, by swimming around underwater, looking for the little snails and other crustaceans that they eat.
After that, we drove on over Stevenís Pass.† The weather held out just fine, and the road was bare and wet, or bare and dry.† We only had sub-freezing temperatures for a short time, and the driving was easy.† I had gotten a small cup of coffee in Leavenworth at Mickey Dís, just in case I got sleepy, and I drank about half of it.
So, it was a very successful birding weekend.† I ended up getting 20 species for my year list, and my spreadsheet had only predicted 16.† Three birds were exceptionally good Ė White-winged Crossbill, Great Gray Owl, and Black-backed Woodpecker (all lifers for me, and all quite uncommon).† A good number of others were ones I wonít see anywhere else this year.† In addition to the birding aspect, I had a great time.† I enjoyed meeting my passengers and the other people in the group.† The only two things I would have changed would have been to have stayed in a better motel and to have not had to get up so early and to maybe have stopped a little earlier each night.† Part of being with a group is to go along with the group norms, though, so Iím not complaining, just saying.
With those 20 species, including 3 lifers, Iím now at 217 for the year, of which 6 are lifers.† That is approximate, as I have a discrepancy between my notebook and my spreadsheet.† That means I have made an error somewhere.† Iíve spent an hour or so trying to find the error, but so far I havenít found it.† Iíll find it tonight, and my total will be either 216 or 217.
As I have mentioned before, I started doing ďcounty birdingĒ last July.† That means keeping a separate list for each of Washingtonís 39 counties.† I added three more counties on the weekend, Chelan, Douglas, and Okanogan.† I have 16 species for Chelan County (which we were just passing through), 34 species for Douglas, and 46 for Okanogan.† That makes 19 of the 39 counties for me, at this point.† I hope to continue to add counties this year.
I donít have any more birding trips planned for quite a while.† I do plan to go back to San Diego in April, on family business, and I hope to spend a day or two birding then, but the next actual birding trip I have planned isnít until the week after Memorial Day.† I hope to make some short Washington birding trips, though, in the meantime, so stay tuned.
Saturday, February 23
Today was a dry day, and this afternoon the sun actually came out for a few minutes.† I was reading at the time, but the sight of the sun got me up and out of the house.† I went down to my local park, Juanita Bay Park, in search of several species that I knew were there, that I needed for my year list.
I walked around, playing the calls of Brown Creeper and Golden-crowned Kinglet, but never saw or heard either one of them.† I then walked across the old bridge to the north side of the bay, in search of a species I have seen on that muddy beach in previous years.† Sure, enough, there were at least eight WILSONíS SNIPE working the beach.† They were far away, but I took 99 pictures, and a few of them are barely good enough to show.† Here is a picture of six of the snipe.† Can you see all six?
Here is a closer shot of one snipe, with a Killdeer in the frame for a size comparison.
The Wilsonís Snipe is the one with the ridiculous long bill.† It was probing around in the mud all the time, making it hard to get a picture of it with its bill not in the mud.
Here is another one showing a different perspective on the bird.
In this next one, the Killdeer is stretching its wings.
Here is a close-up view, kind of blurry because of the distance.
And one last one, in the sun.
OK, I got kind of carried away with snipe pictures, but that is all I have, so I went overboard with them.† There were American Wigeons (a species of duck) around, but no Eurasian Wigeons (a vagrant species that makes it way here from Asia in small numbers each winter).† I have read that about 1% of the wigeons in the Seattle area in the winter are Eurasian ones, but I havenít seen one yet this year.
I heard two other species that I need for my year list, Pileated Woodpecker and Virginia Rail.† In the case of the rail, there were several of them, all around me, but they are real skulkers, and I couldnít ever catch a glimpse of one.† As I have mentioned before, some birders count ďheardĒ birds, but I donít.† In Australia, it seems like most birders count ďheard onlyĒ birds, but in this country, most donít, it seems to me.† So, I still have those two species to see this year.
So, it wasnít exactly an exciting day of birding, but it got me out of the house and I stretched my legs a little.† Birding is about looking just as much as it is about finding, and I did some looking today.† The snipe puts me at 218 species for the year, of which 6 are lifers.† I have about 520 ďofficialĒ American Birding Association birds on my life list now, with another 8 that arenít recognized as official species by the ABA.† I also have an additional 50 or so that I have seen in Hawaii, but Hawaii isnít part of the official ABA area.† As a result, it is pretty hard to add lifers at this point.† Iím surprised to have six so far this year, considering I have only birded in places I have birded before, mostly a number of times.
So, thereís a surprise report, out of the blue.
Thursday, February 28
Here is another brief, surprise report.† I didnít go birding today, but I did go out to lunch with my friend, Chris, whom I used to work with in the long ago pre-retirement days.† (Sidebar Ė Iíve been retired now for almost 14 Ĺ years, which kind of boggles my mind.† As my grandfather used to say when he was in his 90ís, if I had known I would live to be this old, I would have taken better care of myself when I was younger.)
Anyway, after our spicy chicken teriyaki lunch (with all salad, no rice), we walked a little while in Robinswood Park, as we often do when it isnít raining.† Today it was sprinkling or drizzling just a little, but we were very brave and walked for a short time.† Near the little pond there, we both saw a little bird with a flash of red on its head Ė a cute little Ruby-crowned Kinglet.† Not one I needed for my year list, but a cute little bird, and you donít usually even see the red on the top of its head.
Then Chris spotted another little bird, and it hung around and gave us great looks from about 8 or 10 feet away.† At first I thought it was another Ruby-crowned Kinglet, but then I got a good look at its head.† It was a GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET, one that I did need for my year list.† They are reasonably common, I think, but I donít see them very often.† I donít think I have ever seen one in our yard, and last year I only saw them 2 or 3 times all year, despite all the birding I did last year.† So, it was a good one to get, without even trying.† Of course, I had neither binoculars nor camera with me, but here is a picture I took of a Golden-crowned Kinglet last year, at Juanita Bay Park.
Just for comparison, here is a picture of the similarly sized Ruby-crowned Kinglet, taken this year on January 1, up in Edmonds.† It shows the red patch on the head.
Chris and I both had a good look at the bird today, as it flitted around and looked us over.† This brings me to 219 for the year, of which 6 have been lifers.