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Sunday, June 2
I was up this morning about 7:30, and I finally got out of the house and on my way at about 9:10.† It takes me a while in the morning to take care of all my morning duties, and I had to pack up, prepare food, load the car, etc.
I drove over the Cascade Mountains and my first stop was at Bullfrog Pond, just west of Cle Elum.† (Howís that for a name for a city?† Cle Elum.† Iím sure there is a good story behind it, but I donít know it.† Another Washington town is called Pe Ell.† Another story, no doubt.)
Anyway, at Bullfrog Pond, I was looking for Veery for my year list, a smallish member of the thrush family.† I saw them there the last two years, so I tried again this year.† I spent 45 minutes there, playing their song, and, and I got lots of responses, from several birds, but I never could see any of them.† Advanced birders usually count birds they only hear, if they can identify the song or call, but so far, I have refrained from counting ďheard onlyĒ birds.† After all, it is called bird watching, not bird hearing.† I have a couple of other places to try for Veery on this trip, and I can stop at Bullfrog Pond on the way home on Tuesday, if I need to, and try again there.† It is less than a mile off the freeway, and I have to go right by it anyway.
So, having dipped on Veery, I got back on the freeway and motored on down to the east side of Cle Elum, to try for another bird I had seen there before.† I played the call, and almost right away heard a response.† This one was much more cooperative and it flew in to check me out.† It even posed for pictures.† I got RED-EYED VIREO for my year list, along with this picture.
So, one out of two of the target birds had been cooperative, and I was off to a pretty good start, although I was running behind schedule by then.
My next stop was Swauk Cemetery, which is east and a bit north of Cle Elum.† I had read a report of Williamsonís Sapsucker there, and that is a hard bird to get, so I stopped to see.† It really is a pretty low elevation for Williamsonís Sapsucker, so I didnít really expect to see one.† I didnít.† I played its call, and I actually thought I heard a response a couple of times, but I had no sighting, and Iím not sure I heard the call, either.† I did see a couple of Red-tailed Hawks overhead there, and here is a picture of one of them.† I always like raptor pictures, and I like to get pictures of birds flying, too.
So, next I moved on to Swauk Prairie Road, to try for a sparrow species that had been reported there.
It was interesting to see buffalo there, or American Bison, if you want to be pedantic.† Here is a picture of the prairie and some buffalo.
I drove slowly along the gravel road, looking for my sparrow.† I had to turn around at one point, and on my way back, I saw a little sparrow-like bird in the road.† It had white on its outer tail feathers, and I didnít know if my target species did or not.† It turns out that my field guide says ďouter tail feathers whiteĒ, but at the time, I could just tell it was an interesting sparrow-like bird.† It landed on the road up ahead, and I pulled the car around across the road, so I could see it out of the driverís window.† Sure enough, it was a lovely little VESPER SPARROW, the one I was looking for.† I think there were actually two of them, and I got this picture of one of them in the road.
They are a pretty nondescript streaky sparrow, but the pattern on the face is actually distinctive, when you know what to look for.† I donít, but my field guide does, and I had looked at it before looking for them.† So, I had two of my target species before lunch.† Excellent.
It was getting on for lunch time by then, so I drove up the road toward Blewett Pass, to Swauk Campground. †I found a lovely place by a creek to have my humble lunch, packed by my own hands at home this morning.† Boneless pork chop, cheese, mini peppers, sugar snap peas, and a modest portion of Fritos, washed down by a Vanilla Diet Coke.† A very Rambler type lunch.† I took this picture of the creek, near where I ate.
My plan for the day was to go over Blewett Pass to Camas Meadows, which is in the next county, Chelan.† But, I was running a bit behind schedule, and my lunch break in the forest reminded me how poorly I do at finding birds in mountain forests, so I decided to change my plans.† I also had plenty of birds for Chelan county already, from my Okanogan trip in February.† So, I headed back toward Ellensburg (where I am spending the night), and I took some detours along more scenic routes along the way, to pick up county birds.
County birds.† You might remember, if you are really paying attention, that I am keeping track of birds I see in each of Washingtonís 39 counties.† I only started doing that last July, and this was my first time birding in Kittitas county since then.† So, I was trying to get as many birds as I could for my Kittitas county list.
I detoured off US 97 onto Bettas Road, and I picked up some good county birds, like Western Kingbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, and this male Mountain Bluebird.† As I keep saying, I love blue colored birds, and I also like pictures of flying birds, so this hits both categories.† A flying male Mountain Bluebird.
Rather than drive through the town of Ellensburg, I took country roads around it, and picked up more county birds, like Black-billed Magpie, Western Meadowlark, Barn Swallow, Killdeer, and American Kestrel.
My next target bird was another sparrow, Sage Sparrow.† I have seen them before on the old Vantage Road, east of Ellensburg, so I went there today.† I missed the place I had seen them, somehow, and when I realized it, I went back.† I played the song repeatedly and walked around, but never saw or heard any Sage Sparrows.† I did pick up Sage Thrasher for my Kittitas county list, but I had seen them in Malheur a week or two ago.† I donít have any other places to look for Sage Sparrow this year, so maybe I will go out there again on Tuesday morning.† It will depend on what else I have seen, and what else I still need for my year list.† It is about a 40 minute drive to get out there, and it is exactly opposite to the direction I need to go to get home, so it would be a two hour project, if I want to chase the Sage Sparrow.
I was running out of time by then, and I wanted to get down to a couple of places on the Columbia River to look for a swallow species I had seen there before, one it is hard to find.† I drove past Wanapum State Park, where I had seen them the last couple of years, and went on down to Getty Cove, where they had been reported in May.† I walked around there, but saw no swallows.† But, lo and behold, a bird flew over, and it was a COMMON NIGHTHAWK, another species on my target list.† They are normally a night bird, and they usually roost all day, but I have seen them in the day time over in this area before, and so it was on my list.† I had a really nice naked eye look at the bird, and there is no doubt at all about the identification.† Three for the day.† Very good.
I went on back up the river to Wanapum State Park, to try for the swallow where I had seen it before, just south of the boat ramp.† I saw the holes in the sand bank that indicated the nest colony, and I soon saw at least half a dozen BANK SWALLOWS flying around over the water.† They look very much like another swallow species, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, and it took me a little while to get good enough looks at these birds to confirm Bank Swallow, but three or four of them flew toward me, and I got good binocular looks at them, and I could see the breast band that indicates Bank Swallow.† Score!† So, that was four year list birds for the day.
It was getting late by then (ďlateĒ meaning after 4 PM).† It is light until after 9 PM here at this time of year, but I stop early so I have time to process my pictures and write these reports.† If I were a serious birder, rather than a dilettante, I would bird for several more hours each day.† I would be out there at dawn (5 AM?) and stop at 9 PM, or later.† I am a dilettante birder, though, and I bird from maybe as early as 8 sometimes, and stop by 5.† I mention this so if a serious birder should ever read these ramblings, they will know that I fully realize what a dilettante I am at birding.† I enjoy the heck out of it, though, and I choose to do it ďmy wayĒ.
So, I checked into my motel and was moved in by shortly after 5.† Tomorrow I plan a full day of birding (8 to 5, maybe?) and I plan to stay in the same motel tomorrow night.† I like it when I donít have to pack up in the morning and move on to some other motel.† I got four year list birds today, to bring me to 298 for the year.† Tomorrow I hope to go over the 300 mark.† Four was excellent today, and if I get three more tomorrow, that would also be excellent.† Two would be fine.† One or none would be disappointing.† We will see.† I could get skunked.† I have 35 species on my Kittitas county list now, and I expect I will add some more tomorrow.† I plan to be in Yakima county for some of tomorrow, too, so I can start that list.† What a life!
Monday, June 3
My motel here is on the outskirts of Ellensburg, and it is on a small lake.† I went out last night after sunset, and there were tons of swallows swooping over the lake, catching bugs.† As far as I could tell, they were all Tree Swallows.† I was looking for nighthawks, though, and sure enough, I got great looks at a Common Nighthawk.† I had seen another one earlier in the day for my year list, on the Columbia River at Getty Cove, but it was nice to get good long looks at the one last night.† I have stayed in this motel 2 or 3 times before, and I donít think I saw nighthawk on those occasions, but maybe I have forgotten.† The habitat seemed perfect for them, and that is why I was looking last night.† Iíll probably go out again tonight, to see what I can see.
So, this morning I was up at 6:20 and out of here at 7:40.† That is like the crack of dawn for the old rambler, but the sun was high in the sky by then.† I headed south from Ellensburg, down Yakima Canyon, along the Yakima River.† I had good directions to find a nest for my primary target species there, but it turned out to be at the south end of the canyon, and I was coming from the north.† So, I stopped at the footbridge over the river at Umtanum Creek, and I went across the river.† I had directions to a nest there, too, but never found it.† There were lots of birds out, though, and lots of bird song.† Of course, I couldnít recognize most of the songs, because I am so terrible at recognizing or remembering songs and calls.† I picked up some good birds for my Kittitas County list, though Ė Spotted Sandpiper, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Tanager, Lazuli Bunting, and Yellow-breasted Chat.† Here is a picture I like of that last one, singing away.
I also got onto a flycatcher and took a number of pictures.† At the time, I decided it was an OLIVE-SIDED PLYCATCHER, one I needed for my year list.† Here are two pictures of that guy.
As the day went on, I saw lots of other flycatchers, and most of them seemed to be Western Wood-Pewees.† By the time the day ended, I had just about convinced myself that this first one was also a Western Wood-Pewee, and I was ready to give up the year bird.† But, when I got back here and processed my pictures, I went back to my original call on the spot Ė Olive-sided Flycatcher.† It is pale under the tail and the belly is yellowish.† It also seems to have an eye ring at the back.† None of those things are consistent with Western Wood-Pewee.† So, that was my first year bird for the day.
I moved on down the canyon, and got this picture of an Osprey with a fish.† I have shown better Osprey pictures, but I like Ospreys, and so here is another one.
It had caught a good sized fish, and it was nice to see it enjoying its meal.† I notice it started with the head of the fish.
Before I left Kittitas County I saw several American White Pelicans on the river and flying up it.† It was an excellent bird to get for my Kittitas county list.† I tried for Canyon Wren a couple of places, but got no response to the songs I played.
Eventually I moved into Yakima county, and I came to the place that had been described to me for the nest of the species I was especially looking for.† Last week there were two young birds there, but they seemed ready to fledge, I was told, so I wasnít at all sure I would see anything today.† There were no birds around the nest, but the young ones could have been back in the cave that contained the nest.† The lighting was absolutely terrible, as the nest was east of the road, so I was looking directly into the sun.† I saw then why most people were looking at the nest in the afternoon.† After a couple of minutes I saw a bird flying along the cliffs up higher than the nest, though, and I got it in my binoculars.† Yes, it was my target species, PRAIRIE FALCON.† I was able to watch it until it landed, and then I got out my scope and got excellent distant views, to confirm my call.† It was too far for pictures, and the light was so terrible that I didnít even try.
While I had my scope set up, another car stopped and the guy came back to talk to me.† I showed him the Prairie Falcon, and he told me about a Golden Eagle nest back up the canyon about a mile.† He led me up there and pointed out the nest to me.† Supposedly, there are two chicks in the nest, but they werenít showing themselves this morning.† Then a bird flew down the canyon, and it was a lovely Golden Eagle.† Another one joined it, and they flew around overhead.† When the sun hit their heads right, you could see the golden nape.† They perched for a while, and I got great scope views of the perched bird, and shared them with the guy who had shown me the nest.† It was far enough away that my pictures arenít worth showing, although you can tell it was a Golden Eagle in the pictures.† The nest was just inside Yakima County, by a few hundred yards, so my first two birds for Yakima county were Prairie Falcon and Golden Eagle.† I donít imagine that I will ever start off any other county list with two such nice birds.
So, I continued on down Canyon Road into Selah, a town just north of Yakima on the river.† I found my way through town and added to my newly started Yakima county list with species such as House Sparrow and House Finch.† There were tons of California Quail, too, and I got this picture a little while later, just outside of town.
The males often perch on a high place and act as watchers for the rest of the covey on the ground below.† They give an alarm call and fly down to the ground if danger approaches.† I saw a number of males sitting up in prominent places, like this one.
There was also a lovely male American Kestrel on a wire as I drove out of town, and the light was perfect and he posed nicely for this picture.
Is he a beauty or what?† He is a small falcon, about the size of a robin, and you often see them perched on wires.† The females are also very attractive, but they donít have that blue color on them.
By this time I was on Wenas Road, going up the Wenas Valley.† My destination was the Wenas Campground, a well-known birding site.† There was a pair of Eastern Kingbirds on a wire, and I got this picture of one of them.
I donít know what that white spot is, to the right and below the bird. †A UFO?† A bit of feather blowing in the breeze?† Maybe some cottonwood fluff?† An camera artifact?† I donít know.
Along the way, I picked up some good birds for my Yakima county list, including Chipping Sparrow, Caspian Tern, and Western Meadowlark.
Eventually I got to the end of the county road and the pavement ended.† The road was kind of rough after that, but I had been there once before, and it wasnít any worse than last time.† In fact, last time I had had to drive through a creek running over the road, and this year there were only a few puddles where the creek had been.† No problem.
I birded around the Wenas Campground area for a while.† I saw several other birders while I was there Ė it is obviously a popular place for birders.† Over Memorial Day weekend, birders had their 50th annual Wenas Campground campout, and I had read several reports about that.† If I remember correctly, there were 70 or 80 people who were there, in this primitive campground.† It sounded like they had a lot of fun, with campfires each night and birding trips during the day.
I walked around a bit, playing the songs of a couple of birds I was looking for there, but didnít have any luck with those species.† I did pick up Mountain Chickadee, Evening Grosbeak, Downy Woodpecker, Western Tanager, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Warbling Vireo for my county list, though.† I ate my humble lunch in my car and then went back up the road to try one more time for one of my target species there, which had been reported as been ďeasyĒ there.
I stopped a couple of places and played the song.† At one of them, I got responses, so I kept at it.† Eventually, a bird flew across the road and I was able to see where it landed, and I got VEERY, the bird I had tried for at Bullfrog Pond yesterday but had only heard, and could never seen.† So, I had another one for my year list, and the day was officially ďexcellentĒ (meaning three new species, which was the standard I had set last night), although by that time, I was thinking I would most likely abandon Olive-sided Flycatcher, which would mean only two.† Still, two was good.
Before I got back in the car after seeing the Veery, I played the call of a woodpecker species I had seen in that area last year.† I had played it before with no response, but this time I got an immediate response, from very close by.† I was able to see the bird, and I added RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER to my year list.† I got some pictures.† I have had better ones of that species, but here is a picture of a male Red-naped Sapsucker.
A female would have a white chin, just under the bill.
So, I was at three species again, even if I had to give up the Olive-sided Flycatcher.† Excellent indeed.
Next I went back to the crossroads and went up the canyon toward Umtanum Road.† I picked up some good county birds in that stretch, including Lazuli Bunting, Vesper Sparrow (which I had worked hard for yesterday on Swauk Prairie), and Bullockís Oriole.† I had corresponded by email with a guy who had told me about a ďGreen DotĒ road along in there, where he had seen a species I wanted.† Green Dot roads are ones that are open for vehicular traffic.† There are white posts at the entrance to such roads, with a green dot on them.† I think it is a state system, but it might be a federal system.† The roads are always unpaved, and in wilderness areas.† This particular road had a gate of barbed wire and posts, but you could open the gate and go through, then close it behind you.† So, I did exactly that.
I drove slowly along the road, watching and listening, and I stopped from time to time and walked along the road and played the song of the bird I was looking for.† Here is a picture of that ďGreen DotĒ road with no name.
You can see that it is an excellent gravel road, well maintained, and I understand it goes for miles into the wilderness.† You can camp up there, and Iím sure that people do so.† I saw one very nice informal, unofficial campsite, with no water or any other amenities, but it was in a lovely location.
Anyway, at one stop, I got a response to my cell phone song, and I was able to spot another bird for my year list, CASSINíS VIREO. I even got some pictures, and here is one of them.
This was a bird I had only seen a couple of times before, and I didnít rate my chances very high this year, at all.† The combination of information from someone I got in touch with on the internet plus my cell phone app that plays bird songs had gotten me another bird for my year list.† I was beyond ĎexcellentĒ now, into ďoutstandingĒ territory, even if I threw out the Olive-sided Flycatcher, which by that time, I figured I would do.
I saw three other vehicles on that little stretch of Green Dot road, and later another one was going in there.† Most of the ones I saw seemed to be birders, although I only know that for sure about one of them.† One was a truck with two guys in it Ė some kind of work truck.† I donít know what they were doing in there, but it was great when they showed up, because they were behind me when I left, and they closed the gate for me, after I had opened it for them.
Back on the main road (which was also a gravel road, by the way), I stopped at a tree where I had seen Lewisís Woodpecker last year.† There was a kestrel on the top of the tree, but then I spotted a Lewisís Woodpecker on a lower branch.† I got out and took some distant pictures, and three other birders came along while I was there.† Here is my best picture of Lewisís Woodpecker, another bird I have only seen a handful of times.
You can see the red face and the reddish underparts of the bird in that picture, which I like.
I had gotten almost all the birds I could expect to see in the places I was going today by that time, but I stopped at the upper end of the trail along Umtanum Creek.† There were several groups of hikers coming out about that time, including one couple with three dogs off leash.† Some people give dog owners a bad reputation, but Iím sure they wouldnít ever imagine that their off leash dogs could bother any wildlife.† I guess Iím not one to talk, because lots of birders think that playing recorded bird songs is equally bad, as far as disturbing wildlife, and I do that all the time.
I spotted a Yellow Warbler at the top of a tree, and got this picture.
The reddish streaks on the flank indicates that it is a male.
I also got this picture of a flycatcher that I just canít identify.† Iíd guess Western Wood-pewee, but there are reasons why that isnít really quite right either.† A mystery bird.
I played the song of Olive-sided Flycatcher a lot there, because at that point, I was figuring I would have to abandon that one from this morning.† I also played the song of another flycatcher that has been reported at that location this year.† I never was able to identify any audible response to that song, but at one point when I had been playing it, a flycatcher flew in and seemed to be interested in me.† It never came very close, and the lighting was terrible, but I took some poor pictures of that bird.† Here are the best three of those pictures of that one.
I have decided to call that bird a HAMMONDíS FLYCATCHER.† My reasons are that it seems large-headed with a short bill and an eye ring that is larger behind the eye.† The throat and breast coloration seems like what is shown in my book, too.† In addition, I was playing the Hammondís Flycatcher song at the time, and the bird seemed interested, although I was never able to hear a response.† I also eliminated Gray Flycatcher because it wasnít dipping its tail like they do.† It isnít the most satisfactory of calls for me, but I think it was most likely a Hammondís, and that is what I am going with.
So, that was the end of my long day of birding.† I spent almost 9 hours out there today, including driving time, and that is a long day for the old rambler.† Since I have decided to count the Olive-sided Flycatcher now that I have seen my pictures, I got six new species today for my year list.† I had said last night that three would be excellent, and so six is just over the top completely.† That puts me at 304 for the year.
I am going to have a very hard time to get another one for tomorrow.† I plan to go back out on the Old Vantage Highway to the Columbia River, in search of two sparrows.† I might very well miss both of them.† I have one other species to look for, if I have time, on my way home.† The pickings are pretty slim at this point, though, since I have been so successful on the trip so far.† If I donít get any more tomorrow, it will still have been a very successful trip, both in terms of ďproductionĒ and in terms of fun.† Today was really lovely Ė beautiful weather, lots of birds, and some pictures that I like.† There are a few more species I hope to see this year, but my count has pretty much reached its limit now.† Maybe I can get a handful more, we will see.† Of course, that doesnít count Australia, and I hope to add another 270 to 290 more to my year list on that trip, which starts in late September and continues in to November.† Until next time, then, this is the Old Rambler signing off and saying ďWhat a life!Ē
Tuesday, June 4
I was up, breakfasted, packed and loaded up, and checked out by 7:40 this morning.† I stopped at Subway and got a tuna sandwich for later, and I headed out to the Old Vantage Highway on a sparrow search.
I stopped at the first site, where I have gotten Brewerís Sparrow and Sage Thrasher in the past, but I donít think I have ever seen my target species for this morning there.† I kept that record intact and didnít see one today either.
At the second stop, where I have gotten this species before, it only took about five minutes, and a lovely SAGE SPARROW flew in to check me out (me and my cell phone, which was playing his song).† I couldnít decide which pictures I liked best, so Iím showing three of them, since there arenít very many pictures today.
The light was coming from behind him, but it does show the markings.† Here he is from the front.
The clear white breast with the central black dot is characteristic of the species.
That last one is the classic profile shot that field guides show.† Note that in all three pictures, the bird is perched on sage, per its name, Sage Sparrow.† It is interesting to me how gray it looks in the third picture, compared to the first picture.† It was the same bird in each picture, I think.† I guess it is a function of the lighting.
So, having gotten my bird for the day by 8:30, I went on down to Recreation Road, at the edge of Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park, to look for another sparrow.† No, wait a minute, first I stopped at the Petrified Forest Interpretive Trail, to look briefly for a bird that had been reported there (the warbler I looked for later in the day, actually).† I might have seen it as I arrived, but I didnít get a good enough look to tell for sure, and then I never saw it again.† After spending about 20 minutes there, I proceeded to Recreation Road, which cuts off from the highway and goes down to the Columbia River.
Last year an unusual (for Washington) sparrow had been reported by a number of people in that area.† This species isnít supposed to be north of Nevada, and since I hadnít planned on going to Nevada or Arizona this year, I wasnít expecting to see one.† I noticed that there was one report this year, though, and the guy who reported it gave specific directions as to where he had seen it.† As I approached the dirt road he had mentioned, I noticed two people standing by their car.† They had binoculars and cameras, so I stopped and asked if they had seen any sign of this sparrow species.† Their response was that they were about to ask me the same question.† They were there looking for it, too.† I asked if I could join them, and they said sure, the more eyes the better, so I parked and got out.† We chatted a bit, as birders do (seen anything good lately?), and it turned out that one of the guys, Blair, was someone I had corresponded with by email when I was planning this trip.† He is the guy who told me about the ďGreen DotĒ road where I saw Cassinís Vireo yesterday, in fact.† Small world, birding is.† He lives in Seattle, and today he and his friend were heading across the state to look for owls tonight, near Spokane.† This was just a quick stop on the way for them.
So, the three of us walked on up the road.† There was a Rock Wren singing away on a post, and I got a picture of it.
Blair mentioned that he had seen this sparrow species in this general area last year, but this was the first time he had looked for it this year.† We got up the road a ways, and Blair pulled out a smartphone and played the song of the sparrow we were looking for.† I was glad to see that I am not the only birder who ďcheatsĒ by playing the songs and calls of the birds.† Within a minute, a bird flew in, and it was our target, a BLACK-THROATED SPARROW.† It perched on a barbed wire fence a bit of a distance away, but I got this picture of it.
Then it flew in closer and landed on a stump, where it stayed for a few seconds.† I got this shot of it there.
Next it flew to a sage bush and I got a third picture.
You can see why it is called a Black-throated Sparrow.† I think it is a very striking bird.† Iím sure there are many birders from all over Washington State who will make the trek to Vantage this year to see this bird or his mates.† I donít have any idea how many of them there might be in the area, but it canít be many, as they are supposed to be in Nevada at this time of year.† In the winter they are down in southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, or West Texas or else down in Mexico.† I guess this bird (and any of his pals who might have traveled with him) have come back to where they were last summer.† They must have liked Washington, although who knows how or why they ever came here in the first place.† My field guide does show a dotted line that extends up through Oregon and into Washington, which indicates that the summer range of the species is expanding.† Maybe in ten years they will be common in Washington, but for now, it was a great one to get for my year list.
So, it was only 9:30, and I didnít have anything else to look for, really. †I stopped at the visitorís center for the park and picked up a couple of species for my Kittitas county list, Sayís Phoebe and Violet-green Swallow.† The visitorís center is located on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Columbia River, which is more of a long lake at that point, since there is a series of dams on the Columbia.† Here is a picture taken from the patio of the visitorís center.
Since it was so early, I decided to stop at Robinson Canyon, just northwest of Ellensburg, to look for a warbler that I needed for my year list.† It was a species I had seen there last year, or maybe it was the year before.† It wasnít much out of my way, and it was a beautiful morning for a walk in the woods.
I found my way to the trailhead and parked my car.† I walked up the trail, which runs up a canyon that has an active creek in it.† Here is a picture of the trail.
I played the song of the warbler I was looking for, but I have never had much luck getting warblers to respond to their songs.† I picked up Stellerís Jay for my county list, but didnít see much else.† A couple of times, I thought I might have heard a brief version of the warbler song I was playing, but never close by.† I knew the birds were there, but I couldnít see one.
After about 20 minutes, I decided to give it up and return to the car.† Just at that point, I spotted a bird in a bush by the trail.† It was actively flicking its wings and looking at me, obviously in reaction to the song I was playing.† Yellow undersides, gray head, white eye ring.† Score!† MACGILLVRAYíS WARBLER.† I only had that one short look at it, with the naked eye.† It flitted around in the undergrowth for awhile and even flew across the trail once, but I never got a good look at it again.† I guess they are real skulkers, and I was lucky to have had my one brief look at it.† The way it acted, there could have been others along the trail that came to check me out, and I might not have even noticed them.† I couldnít believe it.† It wasnít even noon, and I was done.† I had seen 13 of the 16 species on my target list for the trip, and the other three were longshots that had specific habitats where they lived, none of which was close enough to look for them today.† My spreadsheet had indicated that I would see 8.3 of the 16 target species, so seeing 13 of them was amazing.† I have been really lucky this year, in terms of finding birds I have been looking for.
I stopped at Lake Easton State Park and had my lunch by the lake. †I got home, after an easy drive over the pass, by 2:15.† It had been a very successful two and a half days of birding.† My total for the year is now 307 species, which well exceeds my expectations for the entire year here in the US.† Only 6 of those are lifers.† Lifers are very hard to get now, unless I go to new places.† Iíve picked all the low hanging fruit in the places I normally go.
I ended up with 61 species for Kittitas county and 43 for Yakima county.† I now have seen birds in 24 of Washingtonís 39 counties, since July 1, 2012.† 15 more counties to go.† Not bad for my first year of Washington county birding.
We leave for our annual family Yosemite trip on Friday, June 14.† There arenít many birds for me to look for on that trip that I need for my year list, but I could possibly pick up 2 or 3 more species.† If I do pick up any, I will send a report or two.† Otherwise, we have reached that time of the year when it is very slim pickings for new year birds, and my Australia trip in late September, October, and early November will be my only real chance to add significantly to my year totals.† Watch for my Aussie reports, starting in late September.
Thursday, June 6
The weather forecast looked good for today, so I decided to go for three species that I figured I could see locally.† I was out of here at 8:45 this morning, and I went down to my local park, Juanita Bay Park.† I had seen a report of a swallow species I still needed for my year list being seen there last week, so I went to look.† Sure enough, when I got to the end of the eastern boardwalk, there were PURPLE MARTINS around the nesting gourds that hang from the tower the Osprey nesting platform is on.† When I had been at the park a couple of weeks ago, I thought I saw Tree Swallows in those gourds, but either I was mistaken or the Purple Martins kicked them out and took over.† The purple bird is a male and the light colored one is a female.† I couldnít tell if the one in the gourd was a young one or a nesting female.† The male seemed to be bringing food to the one inside, though, whatever it was.
Here is another shot.
As I approached the end of the boardwalk, I saw and heard a couple of Virginia Rails where I had seen them a couple of weeks ago.† I had better and longer looks at these secretive birds than usual, and later, on my way back, I even got a couple of pictures.† The pictures arenít particularly good, but it is a difficult bird to photograph, as they skulk in the undergrowth and scurry around quickly.
Any picture of a rail is difficult to get, so I was pleased to have gotten these.† It struck me that every day dozens of people walk on that boardwalk, and almost all of them have no idea that such a bird even exists, let alone see one.
So, having gotten Purple Martin so easily, I headed over to Marymoor Park, in Redmond, to look for a couple of other species.† I was looking for a flycatcher that is a migrant, and last week there had been a report that they had returned for the summer and were singing.† The other species I was looking for at Marymoor lives there year round, but they arenít real common, so I thought I would try for them, too.
I walked along the Sammamish Slough, watching and listening for my flycatcher in the willow trees.† I played the song on my phone a few times.† That part of Marymoor Park is an off leash dog park, and there were dozens of people there, along with dozens of dogs, of course.† I spent well over an hour, walking up and down the slough, listening and looking, with no luck.† There is a colony of Great Blue Herons that have nested there for the last couple of years, and I saw that they had a number of nests with a number of young herons in them, high up in cottonwood trees.† From time to time they made quite a racket, squawking away very loudly.† The area under the trees was fenced off with temporary fencing, to keep the dogs out, in case a young heron fell out of a nest, I suppose, or couldnít fly far when it fledged and came down right under the trees.† Here is a picture of a couple of young Great Blue Herons.† You can see the leg of an adult bird on the right.
It always looks strange to me to see these large birds up in trees.† By the time the young ones fledge (fly the first time), they are as big as the adults, and they stand on the limbs while the adults bring them food all day long.† Great Blue Herons nest in colonies (called rookeries), and they are subject to predation by Bald Eagles, of which there are a lot around these days.† I saw a Bald Eagle flying around over the park today, in fact.† When the herons started nesting in Marymoor Park a few years ago, people were afraid that the local eagles, who nest on the other side of the park, would get all the young ones, but the herons seem to have been able to survive and thrive there.† I would say that there were at least a dozen nests in 4 or 5 trees, and maybe a couple of dozen.†† I suspect that the reason there is an adult in my picture is that it was acting as a guardian of the young ones, in case an eagle came calling.† It would be quite a sight to see a Great Blue Heron defending its young against a Bald Eagle.
I picked up Common Yellowthroat (a member of the warbler family) and Yellow Warbler for my King county list while there.† The Purple Martins had been new for me for the county, too.† I had talked to another birder while I was walking up and down the slough, and she had told me where she had seen my other target species, over on the other side of the dog park, so I decided to give up on the flycatcher and try for the other one.
Just as I was almost back to my car, though, I was playing the flycatcherís distinctive song, and a bird flew out of the willows and landed on the other side of a blackberry patch from me.† It perched there for distant pictures and binocular views.† Yes!† It was my target bird, WILLOW FLYCATCHER.† They look very similar to two or three other flycatchers in the same family, but the others donít live at Marymoor, and the willow habitat is typical of the Willow Flycatcher.† I donít know if I could have made the identification purely on my pictures or not; it would have been tough; but everything you can see in my distant pictures is consistent with Willow Flycatcher, so that is what I am calling it.† The bird hung around for quite a while, but the large blackberry patch kept me from getting any closer.† Here are a couple of mediocre pictures.†
So, having gotten that one, I had about 45 minutes to go looking for my other target species, which I had also been looking for while searching for the flycatcher.† I drove around to the other side of the dog park and parked (it is a huge dog park, much larger than any other one I have ever seen, and extremely popular).† I went down the trail that had been indicated and played the song a few times.† A couple of times I thought was getting a response Ė a bird singing what sounded like a very similar song, presumably responding to my phone.† I couldnít get any birds to fly in where I could see them, though, so I wasnít able to add Purple Finch to my year list today.† I might go back later in the year, or I might see one somewhere else.† They live in lots of places, but they arenít very common.† They look very much like House Finches, and I would have to have a good look at one to tell it was a Purple Finch.† The song is somewhat different, but I am very challenged in the area of recognizing bird songs, so that might not help me all that much.† Of course, they donít always sing right on cue, either.
On the way back to my car, I got this picture of a Tree Swallow perched on top of a nesting box post.
The wind was ruffling its feathers, which gave it that helmet-like effect on its head.
So, that was my birding morning.† I had a lunch appointment, so I had to quit then.† It was a beautiful spring morning out there, though, and I had a nice walk in the park, in addition to getting two birds for my year list, to bring me to 309 species for the year.† I also added three species to my King county list, bringing that list to 70.† In addition to that, the Purple Martin was a new bird for me at Juanita Bay Park, and it brought my park list to 93, over the years.† What is this, listmania?† Enough already with the lists.
We plan to leave for Yosemite next Friday, so maybe I can add 2 or 3 more on that trip.
Sunday, June 16
Christina and I left home on Friday morning and drove over Snoqualmie Pass on I-90, through Yakima and Goldendale, Washington, to La Pine, Oregon, which is about 20 miles south of Bend.† It was a lovely drive, and we enjoyed the sunny weather and the scenery.† I tried for Canyon Wren at the Crooked River Gorge, but didnít see or hear one.† Here is a picture of the gorge.
The wall of the gorge drops straight down from the other side of the low wall in places, and it is kind of breathtaking to approach it and look over.† Oh yes, I did see three species of birds at our lunch stop at Brooks Memorial State Park, which is in Klickitat county, Washington.† That was county number 25 for me, out of the 39 counties in Washington.† Iíll have to go back, though Ė 3 is a sad total, but at least I am on the books there.
Yesterday we drove from La Pine to Reno, stopping at our favorite roadside rest area, Willow Creek, north of Susanville, California.† Today we came the rest of the way, after stopping in Carson City at Costco to gas up the car ($3.49 per gallon) and at Trader Joes to load up on wine and food.† We normally stop at the county park at the north end of Mono Lake for lunch, but this time we detoured 6 miles off the highway to Virginia Lakes, so I could look for a year bird there.† You leave US 395 at about 8100 feet and in six miles climb to 9770 feet elevation.† The bird I was looking for lives at higher altitudes, and this was my only real chance this year to see it, although I guess some of them do live in the Cascades, which are only about 5000 feet high.
We had come up to Virginia Lakes two years ago, which was a big snow year, and there was snow piled high around the resort and along the road.† No snow this year.† They have feeders at the resort, and so we parked and I took a look.† All I saw on arrival were Brown-headed Cowbirds on the ground under the main feeder and a squirrel or chipmunk on the feeder itself.† The setting was beautiful, with snow patches on the mountains, blue skies, and green trees all around.† I did see one other interesting bird there, a Gray-Crowned Rosy-finch.† I have only seen these attractive finches 2 or 3 times before, and they are a desirable bird.† There are only a few places where they live in the summer in the US, and they are at high elevations.† I have seen them the last couple of years in the winter on my Okanogan trip in February.† Anyway, a little later, I got a couple of pictures I like of the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches.
While I was trying for a picture of the finch, a woman came out of the resort and noted that it was the rosy-finch I was taking pictures of.† I said yes, but what I was really looking for was another bird.† She said they were very common there, and she put out some peanuts, which she thought would attract them.† I should have just hung around, but I walked around for a short time, and when I came back to the feeder area.† There was my target bird Ė Christina was pointing it out to me.† CLARKíS NUTCRACKER, which is a member of the jay family.† I have only seen them 4 or 5 times before, and I had forgotten how big they are and how big their bills are.† They were pretty vocal, and this one was doing his call.
So, I had my target bird!† Success.† While I was still taking pictures of the nutcrackers (there were two of them), I noticed another interesting bird coming to the feeder Ė Cassinís Finch.† I already got that one this year, on my Malheur trip, but this was a much closer look, and I got a picture.
Iíve only seen Cassinís Finch 5 or 6 times before in my life, so all three of the birds I got pictures of were good ones to see.
There werenít any picnic tables at the resort, so we drove across the road to the campground there and ate our lunches.† From there, it was about a two and a half hour drive to Yosemite Valley, where we found a parking place (no easy feat), and checked into our room.† It was actually ready at 3:15 PM, which is a record, I think.† Normally we have to wait until 5 oíclock or so for them to finish cleaning and inspecting the room, and sometimes it has been 5:30.† On our way to the valley, we filled the gas tank at Crane Flat, where gas was $4.87 per gallon.† It is all about location, I guess, and maybe the fact that there are only three gas stations in the park adds a bit to the price, too.
So, having checked in, we got our stuff moved into our room, with the help of my sisters and their family members (in return for their help, I gave up my primo parking place to my sister Betsy, to make it easier for her to move all her stuff to her room).† The temperature here is supposedly 86 today, but it hasnít been over 79 here in our room.† It is supposed to cool down quite a bit in the coming days, which would be really great.† It remains to be seen how bad the mosquitoes are this year, but I have had the door to the room open for over an hour and havenít seen any yet, so maybe we will get lucky on mozzies this year, too.† Now it is almost time to go over to dinner, and so I will send this off on the slow wi-fi connection.
Monday, June 17
I was up early this morning, but didnít get out of here until about 9:30.† My first stop was down the valley at El Capitan, where I looked in the trees along the road for a photogenic woodpecker, preferably a White-headed Woodpecker, which I have seen there before.† I have that one this year, but I was looking for pictures today, largely.† I had no luck, and I moved on to my second stop, which was the road to Foresta from the main highway to Crane Flat.† I was especially looking for Mountain Quail for my year list.† I had seen one there last year, the only one I have ever seen, in fact.† I had no luck today, and I didnít even hear any.† They are much easier to hear than to see.
I saw a few birds along that stretch of road to Foresta, though.† Here is a picture of a Western Scrub-Jay.
I saw several Lazuli Buntings, both male and female, but I never got a picture of any of them.† There were also some Lesser Goldfinches, and I did get a picture of a male Lesser Goldfinch.
I stopped a number of times, and I must have spent well over an hour along that road, but I never heard or saw my target bird, Mountain Quail.† I wasnít surprised.† Since I have only seen one in my whole birding career, I wasnít really expecting to see one today, only hoping.† That is what birders do Ė we put ourselves where the birds are, and we trust to the gods of birding.† Today the gods of birding didnít choose to show me Mountain Quail.† Maybe next time.
I did see a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, which is a bird I donít see often.† I got some pictures, and now I am about to show three of them.† I like this first one because it shows the colors of the undersides of the tail feathers.† The black and white tail feathers are one of the field signs of this gnatcatcher.† As it turns out, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is the only gnatcatcher that lives here, but if I were somewhere else, I might need to see those feathers to tell which species of gnatcatcher it was.
I like this next picture because the bird is singing its heart out.† Once I noticed the bird, I played its song on my phone so I could get some pictures, and it was very responsive, flying in and hanging around posing and singing its little gnatcatcher song.
This third picture shows the whole bird in profile.
So, eventually I gave up on Mountain Quail for today, and moved on to Old Tamarack Flat Road, which leads to Tamarack Flat Campground.† I had had good luck there last year, so I went back this year, looking for a couple of birds I had seen there last year.
At my first or second stop, I got a response to the song I was playing, and I added HERMIT WARBLER to my year list.† It flew around a while, but always pretty high up in trees, and it was hard to get a picture.† The only one I got is a bit blurry, but it shows the birdís colors, anyway.† I had only seen Hermit Warbler a couple of times before, so it was a great one to add to my list for the year.
So, with that one under my belt, I played the song of the second one I was looking for along that road.† Again I was lucky, and a bird flew in.† It also stuck around, but like the warbler, it stayed pretty high up in trees.† Nonetheless, I was able to add GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE to my year list, and I got this picture.
I wasnít very satisfied with the picture, so I tried again at more places along the road.† I got vocal responses at a number of places, and I saw birds at several places, too.† Some of them were juvenile birds, just hatched this year.† I had never seen a juvenile Green-tailed Towhee before, so I consulted my book and verified that that was what they were.† Here is a picture of one of the juveniles.
I still wanted a better picture of the markings on the head of an adult Green-tailed Towhee, but it was time for lunch, so I went on down to Tamarack Flat Campground, which is three miles from the highway.† The road is newly paved and very smooth for the first two miles, and it is old and very rough for the last mile.† I had my lunch at a table in the campground, but I didnít see any birds there at all.† Last year I had seen Mountain Chickadee and Lawrenceís Goldfinch at the campground, but not today.
On my way out, I stopped again and played the Green-tailed Towhee song on my phone.† Here is a picture of the habitat along that road.
There had been a fire there a few years ago, but it hadnít burned everything, and the undergrowth was coming back.
I saw a couple more juvenile towhees, and finally I got a picture I like of an adult Green-tailed Towhee.
You can see the red cap and the facial markings in that picture.
So, having gotten the two birds I was looking for there, and having tried for the Mountain Quail already, I decided to drive another 15 minutes up the road toward Tioga Pass to try for Williamsonís Sapsucker at White Wolf.† I asked at the store there, but the guy didnít know anything about birds.† I had seen reports from the last couple of years that indicated that they nest in the area, so I wandered around.† It is an uncommon bird, and I had no luck, which was the expected outcome.† I was birding, though; that is what birders do, we look.† We donít always find, though.
So, at 3 oíclock I headed back toward the Valley, and I got back to our room just before 4.
In the evenings, we have a big picnic at one of the picnic grounds nearby.† While having a little drinkie prior to dinner on the balcony of our room, I saw a couple of woodpeckers fly in.† They were White-headed Woodpeckers, the species I had been looking for this morning near El Capitan.† I only had time to snap off two pictures, but I am pleased how they came out.† Here is a male White-headed Woodpecker.
The red at the nape of its neck indicates that it is a male.† It is the best picture of a White-headed Woodpecker that I have ever gotten, so I was pleased.† Here is another one, spoiled only by the out of focus branch in the foreground.
We had our picnic dinner.† We had about 25 people tonight, which is a bit down from recent years.† The meal was ham, potato salad, green salad, and fruit salad, with lovely lemon and pecan tarts for dessert.† One of the appetizers was a great jalapeŮo artichoke dip, with some pita chips to scoop it up with.
As dinner was winding down, there was a little bird feeding on the ground with the Brewerís and Red-winged Blackbirds.† It was smaller than the blackbirds, and I didnít know what it was.† Eventually I decided it must be a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird.† Cowbirds lay an egg in the nest of another species, and when the cowbird egg hatches, the young cowbird pushes the other babies out of the nest, and the host parents then feed the cowbird until it can take care of itself.† This one was associating loosely with the Brewerís Blackbirds, so I think it was probably raised by a pair of them.† Here are a couple of pictures of the bird in question.
Iím not 100% sure that it was a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird, but that is what I think it was.† It was noticeably smaller than the Brewerís Blackbirds, maybe about the size of a large sparrow.
So, that was my very successful day of birding in Yosemite.† I got two more birds for my year list.† I doubt I will get any more on this trip, but miracles do happen.† There are half a dozen species I need that live here, but they are all quite uncommon, and I donít expect to see any of them.† With the two added today, I am now at 312 species for the year.