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Friday, May 3
I got a new camera yesterday, and today I took it to my local park, Juanita Bay Park, to check it out.† It is the latest super-zoom model from Sony, two generations newer than my old camera, which I got two years ago.† My old one had an optical zoom range of 30X, which was fantastic at the time, but this one is 50X.† Perhaps just as importantly, there are several other improvements in this model, too, and I think Iím going to enjoy it very much.
50X optical zoom is incredible.† The tele end is equivalent to 1200 mm in 35 mm terms.† I did a web search for 1200 mm lenses, and found one that is 32 inches long, weighs 36 pounds, and costs $120,000.† Needless to say, the pictures that you would get with that lens and a good SLR would be far far better than mine, but my little camera magnifies the birds just as much, which is what I am looking for.† It remains to be seen if I can hand-hold a camera with that long a lens steady enough.† There is bound be motion-blur in the pictures, due to my hands shaking.† Iíve been fighting that problem for years, though, as my cameras have gotten more and more optical zoom, and this is just on step further down that path.† One of my main purposes today was to take some bird pictures and see if they were acceptable in terms of motion blur.† You can judge for yourself, but I am fairly satisfied.† There is definitely motion blur in them, but I think it is acceptable, in exchange for the longer reach the camera will give me.
My first bird picture when I reached the park was a male American Goldfinch.† Not great, but acceptable.
By the way, it was a glorious, sunny spring day here in the Pacific Northwest, which was another reason for going to the park today.
At the end of the first boardwalk, I took this picture of Juanita Bay with the camera at its widest angle setting, which is equivalent to 28 mm.
Then I zoomed it in to 50X, which is equivalent to 1200 mm in 35 mm terms.
Both of those pictures are full frame, not cropped at all.† I find it amazing that a little point and shoot camera can have that kind of range.
Here is another example, looking across the bay to Juanita Beach at 28 mm, full frame.
And here is the zoomed-in shot at 1200 mm (50X), again full frame.
I know, Iím boring most of you, but I just had to show off my new toyís capabilities.† We all are used to the amazing things that technology can do these days, and I guess this is just one more example.† Iíll move on to bird pictures, but Iím going to start with another example of the zoom power of the camera.
Here is a picture of a Double-crested Cormorant at wide angle, 28 mm equivalent.
Whatís that, you donít see the bird?† OK, here is a full frame shot at 50X (1200 mm).† The same exact shot, hand-held (with my elbows braced on the railing of the observation deck), just zoomed in.
If I was just showing bird pictures, and not showing off the camera, I would crop that second picture and this is what it would look like.
If that was a rare bird, instead of a common one, I would be very pleased with being able to get a picture from such a great distance.† It must have been several hundred yards across the bay to the bird.† You couldnít even see the bird without binoculars.
After that, I tried to just use the camera as if I were out for a normal day of birding, to see how it worked out.
Here are a couple of Mallards.
Here is a male Northern Shoveler.† Check out that goofy bill.
There were lots of Red-winged Blackbirds around.† Here is a male.
And here is a female Red-winged Blackbird.
I walked over to the western boardwalk and played the call of a secretive bird that I have seen there before, and I got an answer.† In a minute or two, I got a good look at a VIRGINIA RAIL.† No pictures, sorry to say.† I didnít even get my binoculars on it, but I saw it well with the naked eye from about 20 feet away for a couple of seconds.† One for my year list!† Yay!† That gave me an excuse to send this report today, which gave me a chance to show off my new camera.† Outstanding!
While I was trying to attract the rail to come back for a picture, a woman with a camera came along and we talked about the Virginia Rail.† She told me of another place in the park where they live, and I went over there.† It was actually back to the place I had gone first, near the end of the eastern boardwalk.† This time I had excellent looks at two of them, and I had at least 2 or 3 of them calling in the bushes around me.† Still no pictures, but I get better looks this time.
I had been at the park for a couple of hours by then, so I headed toward home; but before I left, I wanted to stop at a place across the road which is part of the park, but it isnít developed.† Before I could get out of the parking lot, though, I saw a bird fly in that looked like a woodpecker of some kind.† Sure, enough, it was a Red-breasted Sapsucker, a member of the woodpecker family.† I got a quick picture that is a bit out of focus, but I like it anyway.† The camera focused on the leaves in front of the bird, which is what it should do.† It wasnít the cameraís fault; it was just a tough picture, because of the branches between me and the bird.
All of the bird pictures from today were taken at the full 50X zoom, because that is what I wanted to check out today.
I moved on across the road to what is referred to as the fire station road, since it is adjacent to a fire station.† Here is what it looks like.
I love the beautiful spring green colors.† I saw several birds there Ė Bewickís Wren, Black-capped Chickadee, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Northern Flicker, Stellerís Jay, a single Bushtit, and at least two Orange-crowned Warblers.† Nothing new for my year list, though.† Here is one of the Orange-crowned Warblers.
It never stayed sill for more than a couple of seconds, and this was the best picture I could get.† I hadnít noticed the broken eye ring on the bird through my binoculars, since it rarely stayed still, but the picture shows it.† My field guide says that that indicates it is a male.
As I left I played the song of Bewickís Wren, and the one I had seen when I arrived (I presume) flitted around, and I managed this slightly blurry picture.
So, that was my birding adventure for today.† Iím pleased with the new camera, not only for the extra zoom, but also for several other features, which I consider big improvements over my old camera.
I added one more species to my year list, to bring me to 273 species for the year, of which 6 are lifers, and I had a great time on a beautiful day in Kirkland.
Friday, May 17
Well, Iím on the road again.† As I reminder, I write one of these reports each day that I see a new species for my year list, although I do make exceptions once in a while, usually when I have some pictures I want to show.†
Iím heading for Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in Eastern Oregon, to meet my friend Fred and his dog Tugboat, for five nights of birding around Burns, Oregon and Malheur.† I decided to take an extra three days and hit four counties in Washington that I had never been in before, for my Washington State county birding project.† The idea of county birding is to see as many different species in as many different counties in the state as you can.† Washington has 39 counties, and there are a number of them that I had never been to when I started this project last July 1.† Today I drove the five hours plus to Pullman, Washington, in Whitman county.† My initial goal in county birding is to visit all 39 counties.
I was up at 7 (early for me, but I have been working on getting up earlier, in preparation for the trip) and out of the house by 9.† My first stop was just over Snoqualmie Pass, which is the pass through the Cascades that I took today.† I knew of a house with hummingbird feeders just over the pass in Hyak, and I knew I would pick up a year bird there.† Here is a picture of some of the feeders at that house.
In the past, there have been a couple of dozen hummers flying around the feeders, but today it was raining and there were only maybe 10 or so in total, although I donít really know how many that I saw were repeats.† I did see the one I wanted, though, RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (reminder Ė when I put the name of a species in ALL CAPS, it means it was the first time I have seen that species this year.† So, before I even started really birding, I had one for my year list, and therefore I had an excuse to write today.† Score!!!
Here is a distant picture of a male Rufous Hummingbird.
I was probably 50 or 60 feet away, hand holding the camera from the car.† The picture isnít anything to write home about, but it does show the characteristic brown back, sides, and head of the Rufous Hummingbird.† There isnít any other hummingbird here that has that brown back, sides, and neck.
So, that was a ten minute delay, but I got back on the interstate and continued on my way.† It rained for about 20 or 25 minutes after that, but then the rain stopped and it was a nice day in the high 60ís.† It was an easy drive, and I stopped at several rest stops.† I added a couple of birds each to my county lists for Grant and Adam counties, and then I finally got into Whitman county, my destination for today.† My first bird in Whitman county was a Red-winged Blackbird.† Others followed as I drove along, and by the time I got to the birding site I was heading for, I had seen eleven species in Whitman county.† The place I was heading for is called Rose Creek Preserve.† It is a lovely site, along Rose Creek, but there isnít any kind of decent access, and I didnít see any birds there at all.† There was a narrow, overgrown trail, but it was lined with nettles, and I didnít feel like walking through nettles, when there didnít seem to be any birds around anyway.† I spent 20 minutes or so there, seeing nothing at all, and then I moved on up the road.† Here is a picture of the valley that Rose Creek runs through.† As I said, it was a lovely site.
At the next junction, I went to the right, as there were birds in a field that had cows and goats in it.† There were Black-billed Magpies, and I wanted to get a picture of one.† They were pretty skittish and I couldnít get close for a good picture, but here is a distant picture of one of them flying.
Here is the best I could do of one on the ground.
While I was stopped there, and even as I approached, I kept hearing an extremely loud screeching call that sounded like a bird to me, although I couldnít imagine what it could be.† While looking at the birds in the field (I got Brown-headed Cowbird, California Quail, Mourning Dove, and Killdeer there, for my Whitman county list), I noticed a bird in the distance.† Aha!† That was the sound I had been hearing.† Peacock, of all things.† I am not counting it, as I doubt very much that they are ďwildĒ, but here is a picture of a Peacock, across the field.
I decided to head for my motel in Pullman, and on the way back I spotted a male Western Bluebird.† I got this picture.
I also got a couple of pictures of a male Brewerís Blackbird.† It is a very common species over here, but I like this first picture because it shows the feather detail.† It is hard to capture the feather detail of a black bird.
I also like the way the background is blurred.† Here is the same bird when it was calling.† This is more typical of the feather detail you get on a black bird, but I like the pose and the fact it is calling.
So, that was it for pictures for the day.† I did pick up a couple more county birds on the way into Pullman, and Iím at 18 species for Whitman county now.† Tomorrow morning I will bird some other sites in Whitman county, on my way to Asotin county in the afternoon.† I may or may not get any more new year birds, but I am hopeful that I can see one or two tomorrow.† Tomorrow night I plan to stay in Lewiston, Idaho, just across a river from Clarkston, Washington, which is in Asotin county.† By the way, a thank you to Bill G for telling me that Asotin is pronounced Aa-soteí-in.† I am assuming he is right, and I am also assuming I am correctly remembering what he told me, as it was several months ago.† I would have said it differently, I think.† Iíll try to remember to ask someone there how they pronounce it, not that I doubt Bill.† My motto is always ďTrust, but verify.Ē
So, I added one new species to my year list, which puts me at 274 species for the year, of which 6 are lifers.† Iím on the road, and Iím birding.
Saturday, May 18
Well, today I birded.† I didnít have a lot of miles to cover, so I spent most of the time actually birding.† I was up at 6:30, and on my way by 8:35.† It takes me a long time to take care of all my morning duties and get packed up and loaded up.† That includes breakfast and making a lunch.
I headed out of Pullman to Wawawai Canyon.† There were supposed to be birds there, and indeed there were.† I stopped at a number of pullouts, and there was always a lot of bird song, and I actually saw some of the birds.† The first one for my year list was YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT.† It is a bird I had only seen a couple of times before, on my trip to Southeast Arizona in 2010.† I had it in my spreadsheet at 20% for this year, but I actually saw them several places today, and I got good pictures at one place (shown later).† I had played its song on my phone, and they were very responsive, at several places.
Soon after that, I picked up LAZULI BUNTING.† It is a blue colored bird, which automatically makes me favor it.† I had played this oneís song, too, and he flew right in.† Here are a couple of pictures of the little beauty.
You might remember that I got a new camera a couple of weeks ago, and it is getting a workout on this trip.† I am quite pleased with it in most ways, but the extra zoom does present some problems.† I get more motion blur, due to the impossibility of holding the camera absolutely steady; but on the other hand, I get more ďreachĒ with the zoom.† On balance, I am happy with it at this point, but many of my pictures are kind of ďsoftĒ, due to motion blur caused by hand shake.† The Lazuli Bunting pics are acceptable, but they arenít as sharp as I would like them to be.
At one of my stops I spotted a thrush, and I decided it was a SWAINSONíS THRUSH, rather than a Hermit Thrush, which I had already seen this year.† It flew across the road, after I had seen it in my binoculars, and I saw no hint of reddish color on its tail, which a Hermit Thrush would have had.
I got a good look at another year bird soon after that, CHUKAR.† No picture, as it trotted off the road right away, but not until I had gotten my binoculars on it, to verify the species.† Later in the day, I saw several more Chukars, which was great.† I have only seen them a few times, and it was in my year spreadsheet at only 50%.
At the bottom of Wawawai Canyon is Wawawai County Park.† I added a few Whitman County birds there, and I got some pictures of a Yellow-breasted Chat.† Here is my favorite one.
I had played its song, and this one responded repeatedly and posed for me.
I moved on from there, driving along Lower Granite Lake, which is the Snake River, backed up behind a dam (I presume it is Granite Dam).† Here is a picture of the lake/river.
While driving along, I spotted an Osprey that had a fish.† It was sitting on the guard rail, and when I approached in my car, it flew on a bit, but landed again on the guard rail.† I took a couple of pictures through the windshield, and then cautiously opened my door and got better ones.† Here is a picture of that beauty, with a fish.
What a stunning bird!
A little farther along, there were some American White Pelicans on the river.† Here is a picture of those guys.† The protuberances on the bill grow during the breeding season only.† I have no idea what function they serve.
Later I got a picture of an American White Pelican flying, showing the black wingtips that you donít see when they are sitting.
I got American White Pelican in both Whitman and Asotin counties today.
It had been suggested to me to stop and walk up the trail at Nisqually John Canyon, and I did so.† It turned out to be a pretty steep climb for this old, fat, out of shape Rambler, so I didnít go very far up.† Here is the canyon, at the start of the walk.
I didnít see much on my walk, which helped me decide to call it quits and head back down.† I did hear a bird singing, though, and I spotted a distant Bewickís Wren, which was a good bird for my Whitman county list.† I played its call on my phone, and either that one or another one flew right in to me.† I managed to snap one picture only, but it turned out to be my favorite picture of the day.† Here is a lovely little Bewickís Wren.
Is that a cutie, or what?
Here is the view looking back down Nisqually John Canyon, toward Lower Granite Lake.
You can see that I did walk a little ways up the canyon, but I didnít have the time or the energy for a longer uphill hike.
Further along the river/lake, I got this picture of a Common Loon in breeding plumage.
I donít know if they breed here, or if this one is still on its way north.
At another stop along the river/lake, I got this picture of a male American Goldfinch.† Not great, but he is so colorful that I will show it anyway.
That is another example of a ďsoftĒ picture, due to motion blur, caused by hand shake.† It is impossible to hand hold the camera completely steady, and at 50X zoom, the slightest little shake shows up in the picture, and it isnít as sharp as it might be.† Still, you can see the bird, and without the zoom power, it would have been out of range.† It was probably about 100 feet away.
So, it was getting on for noon by then, and my schedule had me in Clarkston (Asotin county) at noon, so I didnít stop again.† My first bird in Asotin county was American Robin, a bird I have seen in just about every habitat I have been in the last couple of days.† They are everywhere out here.† My first stop in Asotin county was at Swallows Park.† I picked up several county birds there, and got some pictures.† Here is a Canada Goose family.
Note the small goose in the background, on the right.† That one is much smaller than the others.† It is now a separate species, called Cackling Goose.† All the Cackling Geese that wintered here should have gone back to their breeding grounds in Alaska by now, but this one seems to have stuck around.† Here is a picture of it on its own.
In addition to being so much smaller than its cousins, the bill is short and stubby, even for the size of the bird.† It was a good bird for my Asotin county list.
I picked up several other birds there for my county list, including a pair of Wood Ducks.† The male Wood Duck is much more colorful, but I think I prefer the more subtle colors of the female.† Here is the male, first.
And here is the female Wood Duck.
It was after noon by then, so I got out my lunch and put in on the seat next to me, so I could eat while I drove.† Today it was ham, cheese, and vegetables, and I had an apple a little later.† I headed south, through the town of Asotin.† I was told that Asotin county only has two towns, Clarkston and Asotin.† Asotin was a charming little town, and I headed through it going south.† I was headed for Fields Spring State Park.† I got outside of town a little way, and I reconsidered my plan.† It was going to be at least a 45 minute drive to the park, and then I would have had to retrace my steps back to Clarkston, after birding at the park.† I decided it would be better to spend my time birding around Asotin and to go to Chief Timothy Park today, rather than go there tomorrow morning on my way out of Asotin County.† At the point that I turned around, I picked up Western Kingbird for my county list, and here is a picture.
I drove back down into Asotin and slowly drove through part of the town.† I picked up some town birds for my county list (House Sparrow, House Finch, and most notably, Cedar Waxwing), and headed up Asotin Creek Road.† Before I left town, though, I did stop and ask a guy working in his yard how to pronounce the name of the town.† He assured me it was AsĖHOTEíĖin, as my friend Bill had told me (to be more exact, as I had remembered he told me.† I was actually checking my own memory more than Billís pronunciation.).
I added a number of birds to my Asotin county list on that detour up Asotin Creek Road, including one for my year list, WESTERN TANAGER.† I missed getting a picture of that one, but maybe I can get one later this year.† It is a very pretty bird.† I also picked up good birds like Downy Woodpecker, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Sayís Phoebe, and Lesser Goldfinch.† Here is a picture of a male Lesser Goldfinch.
I drove back up through Clarkston, and headed west on Highway 12, which is the route I will take tomorrow morning.† Along the Snake River/Lower Granite Lake, I picked up Ruddy Duck and Western Grebe for my county list, both good birds to see.† My destination was Chief Timothy park.† I thought it was a State Park, because that is what my Washington Birders book says, but the book came out in 2003, and it turns out that the state abandoned the park in late 2002, and now it is privately operated.† As a result, I had to pay 5 bucks to get in, rather than use my Discover Pass, which is good for all Washington State Parks.† I paid the 5 bucks, which was a good decision as it turned out.
The people at the entrance booth directed me to an Osprey nest, and I got this picture of an Osprey at the nest.† It had brought back a fish, and the bird in the nest ate it, but it wasnít clear to me whether the one in the nest was an adult, sitting on eggs, or a juvenile.† It looked fully grown and just like the adult, so I presume it was the other adult of the pair, sitting on the nest.† Here is a picture of the nest and the Ospreys.
At the park, I also got this kind of blurry picture of a couple of Eared Grebes in breeding plumage.
It is really hard to hold the camera steady at 50X zoom when you donít have anything to lean on or brace yourself on.
My last picture of the day is one of a pair of California Quail.† The female is on the left, and male on the right.† Compare their head feathers, as well as the marking around the face.
That last picture was in very poor light, and I raised the ISO to 800.† I am very pleased with how good the pictures taken at ISO 800 look with this camera.† I will be using ISO 400 and ISO 800 more than I ever used them before.† Raising the ISO number makes the camera more light-sensitive, and that means the shutter speed is faster, which in turn means that there is less motion blur due to camera shake or bird movement.† There is more digital noise in the picture at higher ISO numbers, though, which makes the picture a little less sharp; but it appears that the trade-off is pretty good with this camera, and I expect to use higher ISOís than ever before.
After getting that picture of the quail, I went back to the boat launch area, where I had been before, and I picked up Yellow-breasted Chat for my Asotin county list.† There was another bird I was hoping to get there, but it seemed unlikely.† I only had it at 10% in my year spreadsheet, and so far, none had been seen in this county this year.† They migrate south in the winter, and are due back just about now.† I played the song, just on the off-chance, and damned if a GRAY CATBIRD didnít fly right in and check me out.† It only stayed for less than a minute, so I got a good binocular look at it, but no picture.† It was my bird of the day.† It must have just come from the south in the last day or two.† What a great way to finish an excellent day of birding.
So, that was it for the day.† I headed back through Clarkston, Washington, and across the river to Lewiston, Idaho, where Iím staying tonight.† I had found a motel in Lewiston that I liked better than any of the choices in Clarkston.† It was really an excellent day of birding.† I saw birds all day, and I managed to add 6 species to my year list, which exceeds my hopes and expectations.† I now I have 37 species for Whitman county and 40 for Asotin county.† Tomorrow I head for Garfield and Columbia counties, to see what I can see there.
The 6 species today puts me at 280 species for the year, of which 6 are lifers.† What a life!
Sunday, May 19
Today promised to be tough.† I had two new counties to cover, Garfield and Columbia.† Neither one of them has any major rivers or lakes, and that ruled out waterbirds, which I had used to pad my lists for Whitman and Asotin counties.† No ducks, geese, grebes, cormorants, pelicans, or gulls.† Not much time in towns, either, for town birds.† Most of the day was to be in the Blue Mountains, and I never see many birds in the mountains.
I was on the road by 8:30, though, which is good for me Ė half an hour ahead of my planned schedule.† I went west out of Lewiston/Clarkston on US Highway 12, and turned on Sweeney Gulch Road, to go up into the high country.† My first bird in Garfield county was Common Raven, and I soon started adding the other common birds of Eastern Washington.† The ubiquitous American Robin was second.† I started seeing a new bird for the trip, at least, Mountain Bluebird.† Not new for my year list, but a pretty bird Ė one I hadnít seen up until today.† I tried for pictures several times today, and none were really very good, but I donít have many pictures today, so here is a male Mountain Bluebird.
Iím a sucker for blue, as I have mentioned often.
My first real destination was the Boundary Campground, just inside the Umatilla National Forest.† I got out of my car and wandered around, but didnít see or hear anything at first.† I chased what sounded like Cassinís Finches to me, but never saw one.† I did manage to see a cute little Pygmy Nuthatch on that side trip, at least, for my county list.† I also picked up House Wren and Chipping Sparrow for my county list.† Here are two pictures of the cooperative Chipping Sparrow.† I spotted him without using my phone, but once I saw him, I played his song, and he came around and sang back to me and posed for pictures.
That one is kind of a field guide picture, showing all the markings.† Here is one that shows its personality better.
In that same cleared area, I got Western Bluebird for my county list, and here is a picture of a male Western Bluebird.† Note the reddish-brown color on its upper breast, compared to the Mountain Bluebird, which has no reddish brown on it.
I wandered around some more, playing the calls of White-headed Woodpecker and Cassinís Finch, either of which would have been year list birds for me, but I never got any response, as far as I could tell.† My book mentioned both of those birds, but I have learned that books mention the best birds you might see at a site, not the most common ones.† I was glad to have gotten several birds for my county list, at least, and I abandoned the mountains for the time being, and drove on down into the town of Pomeroy.† On the way, I saw a couple of Horned Larks, which was a good bird for my county list Ė new on the trip.
On my way into Pomeroy, I got this picture of a deer at one of my stops.
I got Western Kingbird for my county list on the outskirts of Pomeroy, and I picked up some Fritos at a convenience store there, to go with the chicken breast, cheese, and vegetables that I had brought for my lunch.† I headed up Tatman Mountain Road, into the mountains again.† I took the gravel Blind Grade Road for several miles, to get to Tucannon Road, which was in the next county, Columbia.† Before I left Garfield county, I spied a Bullockís Oriole on a wire up high, for my last bird in Garfield county.† This was the first time I had ever been to Garfield county, which is very small, and I might very well not ever get back there again.† I saw 22 species there, at least, so I was satisfied.† Nothing for my year list, though, and I was thinking I was going to get skunked today for sure.
My first bird in Columbia county (I think Iím being inconsistent as to whether I capitalize county in that context, but foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, as someone said) was House Wren, a very nice little bird.† I even got a picture of it that I like.
Wrens are such cute little birds.† I was way up on the road, 100 feet or more away from the bird, but I was still able to get this shot.
After that, the birding was very, very slow.† When I stopped for lunch at Tucannon Campground, after 1 pm, I had only added Red-winged Blackbird to my Columbia county list, after the House Wren.† I ate my lunch, and then walked around the area, but there were absolutely no birds to see, and very few to hear.† I tried in several places, but there was nothing.† There were a couple of year birds that were supposed to be there, and I played their songs, but got zero response.
I finally gave it up and started back down the road toward Pomeroy.† It had been overcast all morning, and while I ate, the sun broke through.† Maybe it was because the sun was out, or maybe it was just coincidence, but on the way back down, I saw and heard many more birds.† One of them was this Osprey, which I think had a fish it was working on.
Osprey was an excellent bird to add to my county list, but the next one was completely unexpected Ė my first Bald Eagle of the trip.† It posed for me for this shot.
Even better, the eagle flew after a minute or two, and when it landed on another tree down the road, another bird flew out of that tree.† It landed down the road a little farther, and I could see it was some kind of woodpecker.† Very exciting, so I walked on down the road to try to see it better.† It turned out to be a LEWISíS WOODPECKER, a species I didnít even know lived up there, so it was a total surprise to me, and a really great one for my year list, as I have only seen that species twice before.† I see now that there are a few reports of Lewisís Woodpecker in the county, but this is earlier in the year than any of those reports, so this bird must be just back from spending the winter in the south.† Later I saw a second one, too, to add to the strangeness.† I took some pictures, but they were very distant.† I will show one of them, because it at least shows enough to identify the bird, but it was several hundred yards away, so the picture is crap.
I was totally thrilled to have gotten a year bird, though, and especially one I hadnít really expected to see this year.† It was in my spreadsheet at 60% for the year, but I missed them in California in the winter, so it should have been lowered after that.
I added Lazuli Bunting, Yellow Warbler, American Kestrel, American Goldfinch, and a Great Blue Heron flying up the valley.† The sunshine seemed to have made a huge difference in terms of the numbers of birds.
Here is a picture of the Tucannon River, from one of my stops.
There were several lakes along the river, possibly man-made or man-enhanced, where there were many fisher people, trying their luck.† Here is a picture of Rainbow Lake.
By that time it was after 3, and I headed for my motel in Dayton.† The shortest way was over a gravel road called Hartsock Grade Road† I knew it was gravel, but the sign at the start of it gave me pause.† It said ďInadvisable for through trafficĒ, or something like that.† On the other hand, it was signed to Dayton, where I wanted to go, and I didnít think it was too far to paved road again.† I went on up it, and it was a bit corrugated, but otherwise just fine.† In only about 3 miles, I hit pavement again.† I donít know what that sign was about.† It wasnít as bad as Blind Grade Road, which I had taken this morning.
So, having come through that, I headed down the valley toward Dayton.† I got Horned Lark up in the high country, though, which was a nice bird to get.† I had seen them in Garfield county this morning, too.† I added other common birds, like Western Kingbird, Mountain Bluebird, and a couple of swallow species.† Here is another shot of a male Mountain Bluebird on a wire, looking up into a bright sky.† Not a good situation for a good picture, but as I keep saying, Iím a sucker for blue.
It has been interesting all weekend, because when I stop to see one bird, I very often see others at the same stop.† I think it is because there are birds everywhere, and unless you stop, you donít see them.† At one stop to look at some swallows, where I picked up my first Barn Swallows of the trip, I happened to notice a male Ring-necked Pheasant strolling across a field.† Here is a distant shot of him.
My only Black-billed Magpie in Columbia county, so far, flew in while I was looking at the pheasant, too.
When I got to Dayton, my motel was right there, so I didnít even do any town birding.† I am at 21 species for Columbia county, after a very slow start.† Tomorrow I have to drive to Burns, Oregon, which is a five hour plus drive, but I plan to stop at Lewis and Clark Trail State Park on my way, and that is in Columbia county, so I expect to add a few species to that count.
So, this is pretty much the end of my three days of county birding.† I only did this as a side trip on my way to join my buddy, Fred and his dog, Tugboat, for four days of birding (five nights) at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.† It has been fun, and it was great to see four Washington counties that I had never been in before.† My Washington county project moved on a bit.† I have now birded in 22 of Washingtonís 39 counties, so I have plenty more to cover still.
For my year, I am now at 281 species.† At the beginning of the year, I expected to see about 264 species in the US this year.† Some of the increase is because I wasnít expecting to bird in San Diego or the Salton Sea area when the year started, and I did bird both of those places a bit, earlier this year.† But, I have also done much better than I had expected in the places I expected to go.† The next several days at Malheur might add a few more, but not many.† Tomorrow I am almost certain to get skunked, as I have to drive most of the day and I donít expect to see anything new for my year list at my one planned stop in the morning.† It will be fun to meet Fred in Burns, Oregon, and bird Malheur again, though, regardless of how many I might get for my year list.† We will try to see how many we can see in the Burns area while we are there.† If I get some pictures I want to share, I might send out reports anyway, even if I donít get a new year bird on a given day.
Monday, May 20
Todayís report will be short, and only one picture.
I was up at 6:40 and on the road by 8:30.† The motel breakfast was great today Ė little omelet things, sausage, biscuits and gravy, Greek yogurt, and a little half and half coffee (half regular, half decaf).† It was a brand new Best Western Plus, definitely way upscale from anywhere else I will stay on this trip.† I enjoyed it.
I had about 5 hours of driving to do today, but I wanted to try to get a bird for my year list, if possible.† I stopped just outside of Dayton at Lewis and Clark Trail State Park, with two vireos as possible year birds.† I didnít consider either one of them likely at all.† I got out of my car, played the song of one of them, and a little bird flew right in.† Very small bird, elongated vireo body, non-descript gray, faint white eyebrow Ė bingo!† WARBLING VIREO, less than 20 feet from my car.† I was in, and the day had just barely started.† I donít even remember when I have seen Warbling Vireo before, but it canít have been more than once or twice.† I was floored when one showed up this morning, so conveniently.
So, with the pressure off, I wandered around the park for 40 minutes or so, playing the song of the other vireo, but didnít see it.† There was a lot of bird song, and I did add 2 or 3 more species to my Columbia county list, but nothing else new for my year list.† No bird pictures, either.† By the river, there were a lot of big Cottonwood trees, and they were ďsnowingĒ, shedding their seeds or whatever the stuff is.† It drifted down in the gentle breeze, and it lay on the ground like snowdrifts.† Here is a picture.† The white is Cottonwood snow.
I finally gave it up and headed out on the road.† It was a pleasant drive to Burns, Oregon.† I stopped a couple of times, was delayed for 20 minutes by road repair, and got here about 3:45.† I had ham, cheese, and vegetables for my lunch, prepared this morning in my fancy motel room.†
I checked out one birding site about 15 miles north of Burns, and I expect that Fred and I will go back there one day this week.† There are several birds that are seen there that I need for my year list.† Not easy ones, but possible, so we will give it a go.
So, thatís it.† One bird added to my year list today, to bring me to 282 for the year so far.† Tomorrow Fred, Tugboat, and I will go looking for birds at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (referred to simply as Malheur from now on).† It is going to be tough to see a new bird for my year list each day, but there are several here that are possible, and 2 or 3 that should be easy (knock on wood), so we will see.† I expect to see a couple tomorrow, but after that, it might get tough.
Tuesday, May 21
I was up at 6:40 this morning, and we hit the road about 8:45.† Very late by serious birder standards, but fine for a couple of old dilettante birders like Fred and me.
We drove on down the 30 miles to Malheur.† It is a shame to be staying so far away from the main action, but there just wasnít anything closer.† We are staying in Burns, Oregon, in the Horseshoe Motel.† It is an older mom-and-pop type motel, and is excellent for our purposes.† The rooms are large and are very clean.† The bathroom fixtures are modern and the floors are good.† Best of all, there is no musty old motel smell.† Iím very sensitive to smells, and this place is just fine.† We each have a microwave and a little fridge, with a freezer compartment.† I have a queen bed, and Fred has a king, in a pet room, so Tug has plenty of room to sleep on the bed with Fred.† It is located a mile or so outside of town, which is great for our purposes.† The motel is arranged in a big horseshoe shape, with a grassy area on the inside and sliding glass doors from each room out to the central area, which has a couple of picnic tables and a propane grill, if you want to use it.† Here is a picture from outside my room, showing one side of the horseshoe.
There is air conditioning and wi-fi.† It is everything I look for in a motel, actually, and it is only 40 bucks a night for each room.† I do a fair bit of traveling, and I would say that the fair market value is more like 60 bucks a night, and I would be quite pleased at that price, actually.
Here is a picture of the ďfrontĒ of the rooms, on the outside of the horseshoe.† Note the two horse corrals on the left, for people traveling with their horses.
I think they might charge 10 bucks a night extra for a horse, which seems like a pretty good deal to me.† I wonder how many motels these days offer accommodation for horses.
Anyway, sorry for that little diversion, but I find the place interesting.† We got down to the Narrows, which is where the road goes over the connection between a couple of lakes, just north of the NWR (thatís National Wildlife Refuge, for those readers like me who canít remember stuff like that.† In this case, Malheur NWR).† There werenít many birds around, but almost right away I picked up one of the year birds that I was expecting to see, FRANKLINíS GULL.† Here is a not-very-good picture of one of these black-headed gulls, in its summer plumage.
At the same stop, there were some small shorebirds feeding.† Two of them were Wilsonís Phalaropes, a male and a female.† I had seen them at the Salton Sea last month, but here is a picture of them.
With Phalaropes, the female is more colorful and more strongly marked than the male.† The one closer to the camera is the female in this case.
There was also another phalarope there, and this one was a RED-NECKED PHALAROPE, a bird I had hoped to see here, but hadnít really expected.† They are just migrating through here at this time of year, to breed in the far north.† I got poor pictures of that one, but later in the day, we saw a flock of several dozen Red-necked Phalaropes, and here is a picture of some of them.
At that time, I also got a picture of an American Avocet and a Red-Necked Phalarope that shows the size comparison.
We also saw a single female Wilsonís Phalarope at about that time, and here is a picture of her.† The coloration is different, and the bill is longer and thinner on the Wilsonís, compared to the Red-necked.† The Wilsonís is also quite a bit bigger than the Red-necked.
Anyway, that was at the very end of the day.† Back to this morning, after getting the Franklinís Gull and the Red-necked Phalarope for my year list, we moved on down the road.† There were grebes in the water there, and I got pictures of both similar species.† Here is a Western Grebe.
Note that the eye is in the black part of the head, or on the line between white and black.† Also, the bill is kind of a greenish-yellow color.
Here is a CLARKíS GREBE, one for my year list.
Note that the eye is clearly in the white part of the face, and the bill is more yellow than the other one.† Clarkís Grebes are much less common than Western Grebes in general, but for some reason, here at Malheur, Clarkís are much more common than elsewhere.† They both breed here.† So, it was the third one for my year list, and the day was just getting started.
To finish up that stop at the Narrows, here is a closeup of a Clarkís Grebe.
To non-birders, the differences between those two species are probably pretty insignificant.† They donít interbreed very much, although they can and do sometimes; presumably, they are able to tell the difference, though.
So, from there, we moved on to the headquarters of the NWR.† There were a number of birders around there Ė maybe 15 or 20 Ė in groups of two to five or six.† Some of them were looking for migrating warblers and other migrants, and some were just looking around, like we were.† Some had cameras with huge lenses, hoping for good pictures.† We talked to the ranger on duty (probably a volunteer Ė she said she lived in Seattle), and got info about birds around the NWR.† I mentioned one species to her, and she said that one had been around earlier.† A little later, she called us back and pointed out an EVENING GROSBEAK, one I needed for my year list.† It flew off as she pointed it out, and it landed in a tree too far away for pictures.† Still, that was number four for my year list for the day, and one more for our trip list that we are keeping.
We picked up some more birds for our trip list there Ė Black-chinned Hummingbird, Western Tanager, House Sparrow, House Finch, and maybe more.† I got this picture of a male Yellow-headed Blackbird, which we had added earlier today.
I also got a picture I like of a male Red-winged Blackbird.
After we had finished there, we moved on to our main goal for the day Ė The Central Patrol Road.†† The CPR is a gravel road that runs right down through the heart of the reserve.† It is about 30 miles long, in two parts.† When Fred and I were here in 2011, the CPR was closed due to flooding, so this was the first time either of us had been on it.
It started out in sage habitat, and we saw nothing of interest.† It ran by some wetlands and ponds, and we saw a few ducks from time to time, and added to our trip list.† There wasnít much traffic out there, but we probably saw a dozen other cars all day on the CPR.† At one point on the northern portion of the road, we stopped and Fred walked Tugboat a bit.† Here is a picture I took of that stretch.
You can see that it looks pretty uninteresting. †Still, we picked up some ducks along that stretch, when there was some water from time to time.† The Blitzen River runs up the valley (flowing south to north), and we crossed that from time to time.† Toward the southern end of that northern part of the CPR, a bird suddenly showed up in front of us, and landed in a small willow tree right out in front of us.† It was one I was hoping for here, EASTERN KINGBIRD.† It was the only one we saw today, and when we were here two years ago, we never saw one, so it was a goodie.† Number five for my year list.† I had read that they were uncommon here, but could be found in willow thickets, and that is just where we saw it.
I donít think I have mentioned the weather today.† It was in the high 60ís, I think, but very windy.† We had one brief rain shower in the morning, but the rest of the day was sunny or sun and clouds.† The wind really cut into our birding.† The Eastern Kingbird, for example, might have been a bird I could have gotten a picture of, but in the wind today, it just wasnít possible.† It was soon gone, and with the wind, there was no way of knowing where it would show up next.† Still, we got great looks at it, even if pictures were out of the question.
I ate my lunch at the overlook of Buena Vista Ponds.† As I have mentioned before, Fred only eats one meal a day usually, so he walked Tugboat while I ate my ham, cheese, Fritos, sugar snap peas, and cookies.† Plus a Diet Coke, of course.† OK, the Fritos and the cookies were superfluous, and I shouldnít have had them, but I am traveling, and I did.
The southern portion of the Central Patrol Road was much more productive for birds.† I didnít add anything else for my year list, but we added to our trip list nicely along there.† More ducks, and some other various birds.† There were tons of Yellow Warblers, but in the wind, pictures were not possible.† Most of the birds we saw today were from the car.
We stopped briefly at P Ranch, at the southern end of the CPR, but didnít stay long enough to get anything there.† It was getting late, and we were well over an hour from home at that point.† We also stopped at Frenchglen, but again didnít see anything interesting.† We did pick up Wilsonís Snipe between P Ranch and Frenchglen, but it moved before I could get a picture. †
Our next interesting stop was back at the Narrows, where I had seen several birds for my year list this morning.† Thatís when I got the pictures of the Red-necked Phalaropes that I showed earlier, and the female Wilsonís Phalarope.
We got a couple more birds for our trip list at a pond along the road back to Burns, and I got a picture of a Sandhill Crane, a bird we had seen several times today.
So, it was time to call it quits by then.† We stopped at Safeway in Burns and got a little more food, and then came back here to our motel by about 4:30, where Fred cooked us a great dinner (tri-tip roast beef cooked on his little charcoal grill).
We saw 68 different species today.† Not great maybe, for real birders, but we are pleased with that.† I added five to my year list, to bring me to 287 for the year.† Considering the wind today, and our short hours of birding, we had a great day, I think.† I certainly did not expect to add 5 more to my year list today.† Weíll see if I can add any more tomorrow.† I suspect I have already gotten the easy ones, and tomorrow the weather looks very poor for birding.† Rain in the morning, thunder showers in the afternoon, and cold all day long.† Ugh.† We might not even get out there tomorrow.† We will see.
Wednesday, May 22
Well, the weather forecast for today was much exaggerated.† It was indeed cold today (high maybe 50 at the most), but it was windier than they had forecast, and we only had two very brief showers today.
We were out of here by about 8:45, and we headed up into the mountains north of Burns.† Idylwild Campground is about 15 miles north of Burns, and we were looking for a woodpecker that a couple of other birders had told me about on Monday, on my way into Burns.† We pulled into the campground, and parked where we could see the stump I had been told about.† In less than a minute, a WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER stuck its head out.† It did so repeatedly, as we watched and I took pictures.† Seemingly, it was hollowing out the inside of the stump, presumably for a nest.† When it stuck its head out, it was throwing out wood chips from its excavations.† I donít know if there was one woodpecker in there or a pair of them, but I did get this picture that shows a male White-headed Woodpecker with some wood chips in his bill.
Later we went back there, and there didnít seem to be a bird in the stump any more, but I played my White-headed Woodpecker call on my phone, and a couple of them, male and female, flew around.† I tried for pictures, but didnít get any decent ones.† I was very happy to have a bird for my year list so early in the day, though.
We talked to three women who were birding the campground, and told them about the woodpecker.† They mentioned how dead it was, compared to when they had been there in the past.† Indeed, there wasnít much bird action at all.† Fred spotted some motion in a tree, though, and we saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler, but there was also at least one other bird in that tree.† We both eventually got good looks at a CASSINíS FINCH, another good one for my year list.† In the same area, we also had a Mountain Chickadee, one I had already for the year, but I got some pictures.† Here is Mountain Chickadee, with its white eyebrow to distinguish from its cousin, the Black-capped Chickadee.
We didnít see anything else there except a couple of robins, so when it started to snow a little, we left.† There wasnít any more than a few flakes of snow, but we moved back down out of the mountains, and drove southeast on Oregon highway 78, looking for raptors.
We had two or three Northern Harriers, a kestrel, a couple of Red-tailed Hawks, but then we saw a large bird on a pole.† I got some distant pictures in terrible light, but then it flew and landed in a field near the road.† It was a Golden Eagle, not one I needed for my year list, but always a great bird to see.† I got some distant pictures of it on the ground, and this is the best of them.
A little later we saw a second Golden Eagle, but it was too distant for pictures.† I actually got my scope out, for the first time on the trip, to look at that guy.
Heading back to the headquarters for Malheur NWR, we saw a hawk on a pole.† I think it must have been a Red-tailed Hawk, but we saw it flying, and the tail was not red.† Nor did the tail have bands.† Here is a picture from the front.
Red-tailed Hawks have an extremely wide variation of plumages, and I think that this must have been an unusual one.† We couldnít think of any other hawk it could have been.
We had a long drive on a gravel road (maybe 15 or 20 miles) to the headquarters of Malheur NWR, and there were not many birds at all.† We did see one Meadowlark, and since I have been trying to get a picture of one from the front, we stopped.† All I could get was one picture from the back, but I like it, so here is Western Meadowlark.
Its whole breast is bright yellow with a large black spot on it, and that is what I wanted to capture in a picture.† Oh well, it remains a challenge for me.
At the NWR headquarters, we walked around and talked to other birders, but didnít come up with anything very exciting.† I took some pictures of a male Black-chinned Hummingbird, coming to a feeder, though.† This one shows it from the front.† In the right light, its whole throat area is the same purple color you can see at the edges of it in this picture, but in most lighting, the throat appears black, hence the name, I guess.
Here a more typical view, from the side.
We did add Pine Siskin to our trip list, and at one point a little flock of them flew into some bushes.† I took some pictures, and by pure chance, I got this picture that I like, which I call ďLevitating Pine SiskinĒ.
The bird was actually jumping from one branch to another, but it gives the appearance of just floating there.
Eventually, we moved on from there, and drove west on Harney Lake Road.† There is an old eagleís nest there that we had seen two years ago.† We had been told that no eagles were using the nest this year, but that there were Barn Owls that had a nest nearby.† Well, we had seen a Barn Owl near there in 2011, so we went there to look.† We found the eagle nest and the Barn Owl nest, but didnít see any owls there.
On our way there, though, we did see a bird and stopped to check it out.† It turned out to be a SAGE THRASHER, and in fact, there were two of them.† It took us a while to get good enough looks at them to ID them, but eventually I even got a couple of pictures.† Here is one that shows one of them with its wings lifted.† Unfortunately, the bird turned its head away a just the moment I took the picture, so it isnít really very satisfying, but it does show some of the bird, it not its face.
Here is another distant picture, showing more of the bird, even if it is kind of blurry.
So, that was three for my year list, and the last new one of the day.
We drove out the road to the Double O Ranch, but that turned out to a big waste of time, as far as birds were concerned.† It was nice to see that part of Malheur NWR, but I wonít bother driving out there again, on the long gravel road.† We did see a couple more Sage Thrashers, but it was a lot of gravel road driving for very little return.
We got back to our motel by a little after 4:30, and I started working on my pictures and my report.† Fred took us out to dinner at a Thai restaurant in Burns.† I thought that Thai food in Burns, Oregon was probably kind of taking a chance, but it was really excellent.† It was called the Elkhorn Cafť, with Lindaís Thai Room.† Linda must have been the cook, who was Asian, presumably Thai.† Anyway, as I said, it was really excellent.
So, we have two more days here, and the weather forecast keeps changing, as it is an unsettled pattern, and they donít know how much rain we might get.† It is showers, so it varies according to where you are, no doubt.† We do have some more places to go and some more birds to look for, but it is becoming increasingly tough for me to get anything new for my year list.† So far, I have gotten something new each day of the trip, but I just donít see how that can continue.† Iím now at 290 for the year, of which 6 are lifers.† I have added 17 on the trip, which is really great.† Will there be one or two more?† We will see.
Thursday, May 23
I was up again at 6:30 and we were out of here at 8:40.† We drove through town (Burns, Oregon for those of you who might have just joined us or are memory deprived, like me) to start our day today, to try to pick up some ďtown birdsĒ for our trip list.† We did indeed get Eurasian Collared-Dove, American Crow, and Domestic Pigeon.† To our pleased surprise, we also saw a Western Scrub-Jay, a bird I didnít even realize lived here. I think they have only recently arrived here, in very small numbers.† We stopped at the Burns Sewage Treatment Plant (STP), which is adjacent to the county fair grounds.† There was a wooden platform to climb, from which you could view what Australianís like to refer to as the ďpoo pondsĒ.† There are two large ponds at the Burns STP, and there were hundreds of birds there, with maybe 15 or 20 different species.† Here is a picture of one end of one of the two ponds, from the wooden platform (which was something of a challenge for this fat old Rambler to climb).
We added California Gull, Lesser Scaup and Eared Grebe to our trip list there, and got good views in great light of many species we had already seen.† Here is a picture of a pair of Wilsonís Phalaropes.† The more colorful one is the female in this species.
She looks larger to me, too.
From there we headed on down the highway to Malheur NWR.† Along the way, Fred spotted a white bird in a field, and we went back to look at it.† It was a Snow Goose.† A month ago, there were thousands of Snow Geese here, but almost all of them have gone north to their breeding grounds in Alaska or northern Canada by now.† We might have seen the Last Snow Goose To Migrate, or maybe it likes it down south here and will stay all summer.† Here it is.
Our next stop was a large farm pond that was reported to have a bird I wanted for my year list.† We had been by there before and missed them, but this time, there were a dozen or so BLACK TERNS flying around over the pond.† Score!† I had one for my year list, and it was a species I will not see anywhere else I plan to go this year.† I had a legitimate excuse to write a report tonight.
We headed south again after that.† We were headed for the southern part of Malheur NWR, and we eventually got there.† It is more than 60 miles from where we are staying on the outskirts of Burns to the southern end of the NWR.† At P Ranch, we walked along the trail along the Blitzen River, which runs from south to north through the NWR.† Here is a picture of the Blitzen River at P Ranch.
We picked up Spotted Sandpiper there for our trip list and saw three other birders.† There was one species in particular that we were looking for there, and we did manage to see one male BOBOLINK.† Here is a picture of that guy.
As you can see, he was singing away, while he posed for pictures.† We were able to get the three other birders onto it as well, which they appreciated.† Someone had told them that there were ďmanyĒ Bobolinks out there, but this was the only one we saw.
On our way back to the car, Fred spotted a Great Horned Owl in a tree across the river.† Here is that guy.
Owls are very cool, so here is a close-up of that one.
From there we went to Page Springs Campground.† We saw some people with binoculars as we came into the campground, and they told us there was a Sora there, so we resolved to come back to look at it.† It was time for my humble lunch, so I had my ham and cheese roll ups, Fritos, mini peppers, and cookies there at a table in the campground.† As I started to eat, I noticed another owl on the cliff across the creek.
It was another Great Horned Owl, sitting out in the open for all to see, right on the face of a rock cliff.† So, it was a two owl day.
When I finished my lunch, we went over to where the woman had told us she saw a Sora with about nine little babies.† A couple of guys there told us that the rail with the babies was actually a Virginia Rail, although there might be Sora in that little wet spot as well.† We hung around a while, and didnít see either species.† Eventually we gave up and drove on up Steenís Mountain Road for several miles, looking for sparrows.† We did see a couple of Chipping Sparrows for our trip list, but nothing else of interest.
Back at Page Springs Campground, we stopped where there was some water and reeds and I played the call of Sora, but we got no response.† There were several species there, though, and I got this picture of a Cedar Waxwing that I like.
Something I read refers to that species as ďsleekĒ, and I always think of that when I see them.† Here is another picture that shows the red waxy substance on the wing that gives the species its name, as well as the yellow tip on the tail.
From there, we headed back north, to see what could be seen at the NWR headquarters.† I tried playing my Brewerís Sparrow song at the lookout above the headquarters, but got no response.† Brewerís Sparrow is supposedly abundant on the refuge, and they live in sage habitat, but we never saw one two years ago when we were here, and we havenít seen one yet this time.† Tomorrow that is one of my target species.† I have had Brewerís Sparrow respond to its song up in Washington a couple of times, and so I will play it a lot tomorrow, in suitable sage habitat, and maybe I can finally see one here.
At the headquarters area itself, there was nothing new around.† As everywhere, there were Yellow Warblers, and the other usual species there.† Fred walked off to the new blind overlooking the pond there, and he got pictures of the American White Pelicans in the pond.† I walked back toward the parking lot, looking for a flycatcher that a woman said had been seen there earlier.† She said it was a Hammondís Flycatcher, which would be a really great year bird for me, so I looked.
Soon I saw a flycatcher that certainly could have been a Hammondís, and I was sure I had found the bird she had been talking about.† I got some excellent pictures of it, but there are several flycatchers in that family that look very much alike.† This one was constantly flicking its wings, which would indicate Hammondís, and maybe that is why the woman thought it was a Hammondís (assuming I was seeing the same bird she saw, which is always a big assumption).
I was ready to call it a Hammondís, but when I got back here to my room and processed my pictures, I decided that it was more likely a DUSKY FLYCATCHER, which was still a very good year bird for me.† My reasons are the following:† the throat is whitish, not the same color as the head, as in the Hammondís; The projection of the primaries on the wing are moderate, not long (okay, that is technical talk for any real birders who might read this and want to correct me, which I invite); the eye ring looks better for Dusky than Hammondís; and the lores are pale, which indicates Dusky.† So, on the balance of the evidence, I am calling it a Dusky Flycatcher.† Here it is.
Interestingly, Hammondís Flycatcher is considered rare at Malheur, while Dusky is considered common.† I feel good about my call of Dusky, despite the constant wing flicking and what the other birder thought (it could have been a different bird that she saw, although not likely, in my opinion).
I watched the bird while I waited for Fred to come back, but he showed up about one minute after it flew off, and I never saw it again.† As a result, we were not able to count it for our trip list, as we both have to see a bird to count it.
While hanging around there, some good birds came in to the tree that had oranges hanging on it, and to the water dish beneath it, and I got some pictures.† Here is a female Evening Grosbeak.
Here is another picture which is better technically, except I like a picture better when it doesnít show any man-made objects in it.
Here is a female Black-headed Grosbeak.
And here is its opposite number, a male Black-headed Grosbeak.
A little later, Fred and I were up on the road to the headquarters buildings, and we saw several good birds.† Here was one for our trip list, a Western Wood-Pewee, I believe.
You might notice how similar it looks to the one I called a Dusky Flycatcher earlier, but flycatchers are very similar and the differences are very subtle.† You canít see the front of the bird in this picture, but we saw it from the front, and that helped me decide that it was a Western Wood-Pewee.† Not a new one for my year list, as I saw one on my San Diego trip earlier this year, but a good one for our trip list.
Back at the tree with the oranges, a lovely male Western Tanager flew in, and I got just one picture, but it came out great, I think.† What a pretty bird he is.
So, it was getting late by then, and we were still over half an hour from our motel, and we needed to stop at Safeway for food.† We got back to the motel just after five PM.† While I was still unpacking and settling in, Fred knocked on my door and called me out again.† He had seen something interesting in the sky overhead.† It turned out to be a Long-billed Curlew chasing a Turkey Vulture.† The curlew was much smaller than the vulture, but it was clearly harassing it successfully.† At the end, as the vulture flew off, a second curlew joined in, and then the two curlews flew back to a field near our motel.† I think that the curlews must have had a nest out there, and the Turkey Vulture got too close, so they took up the chase.† I thought Turkey Vultures only ate carrion, but maybe they would go after eggs or young curlews.† Long-billed Curlews do nest in the fields around here, so Iím sure they were protecting their nest.† I donít expect I will ever again see a Long-billed Curlew chasing a Turkey Vulture.† The curlew is a shorebird with a very long bill, and not a bird that you think of as an aggressor or one you see flying very often.
So, it was another amazing day of birding.† I got three more species for my year list, which is way better than I would have expected.† I am now at 293 species for the year.† Fred and I have seen 93 species here in our three days of birding here.† When we were here in 2011 at this same time of year, we saw 91 species in our three days of birding here, so we have exceeded that benchmark.† This time around, we have another day, tomorrow, to add to that total.
I have a couple of species to look for tomorrow, but I donít really expect to see any more for my year list on the trip.† Iíll probably write a report tomorrow night anyway, even if it only †reports the failure to get another one, just to finish off the story of the trip.† What a life!
Friday, May 24
Here is the final report of the trip, to wind it up.† We were out of here at 8:45 this morning, and headed south to the NWR.† We stopped several times to play the song of a sparrow I wanted, but had no luck.† At the overlook of Buena Vista Ponds, we played it some more, but still no luck.† Up at the overlook itself, I tried it again, and we did get some answering songs.† I went off in one direction, and Fred went another.† I ended up seeing a couple of Rock Wrens, and I did see a sparrow, and it might have been the one I wanted, but I never got a good look at it.† Here is a picture of a Rock Wren, anyway.
Here is a picture of the Buena Vista Ponds from the overlook.
Eventually we gave up on the sparrow, although Fred actually saw one up there.† We both need to see a bird to count it for our trip list, though, so it went uncounted by me.† We drove down to the road that went through the Buena Vista Ponds, in the forlorn hope that we might see a Sora.† Sora is a very reclusive member of the rail family, and although they are supposedly abundant here at Malheur, they are very hard to see.† We stopped and played the song a few times, and we got responses several times, but no sightings at all. †If I counted ďheard birdsĒ, as many birders do, I could have counted Sora today, but I only count birds I see.
At Buena Vista Ponds there was a lone male Ruddy Duck at one point, and I took this picture of the colorful guy.
In the winter he is just gray and white, and his bill is not blue like that.
We saw a flycatcher and got excited, as I hoped to see Willow Flycatcher there.† It turned out to be a Western Wood-Pewee, though, a good bird, but one we had seen yesterday afternoon at the Headquarters of the NWR.† I did get this picture of a Tree Swallow, though.† I keep telling you that I am a sucker for blue colored birds.
From there we drove around to the Diamond Craters, which are old volcanic craters.† I was hoping for Canyon Wren, but had no luck.† I should have taken a picture of the crater we stopped by, but it was hard to get far enough back to really capture it.† Fred took a couple, though, and here is one with the Old Rambler and the crater, in panorama.
Depending on your screen resolution, you might have to scroll to see all of that one.
We encountered a cowboy on a horse driving a heard of several dozen cattle up the road in that area.† The first time we came on them, we were able to drive slowly by on the left, and they slowly moved out of our way.† They got ahead of us when we took the side road to see the volcanic crater, and the second time we came up on them, there was another car there, pulling a horse trailer.† The guy in that car was talking to the cowboy.† When he finished talking to the cowboy, he came back and spoke to us.† He had on chaps and spurs and was dressed totally cowboy, like the guy on the horse.† He said that there was a side road we could take, to go around the heard, and he led us around them, on a dusty dirt road.† I wish I had taken a picture of the cowboy on the horse and the cows.
A little farther up the road, we took the side road to the Round Barn.† It is an interesting old barn that has been preserved.† It is quite large, and it was built in the round shape so they could train horses inside, and walk them around the perimeter.† I ate my humble lunch there Ė grilled chicken breast strips, cheese, mini peppers, and the last of my Fritos.† Oh yes, and some cookies.
We stopped at the ďvisitorís centerĒ on the way back to the main road, as Fred wanted to see what they had on display.† As we pulled into the parking lot, a bird flew up, and I thought I recognized it, although I had never seen one fly before.† Sure enough, it was a Burrowing Owl.† Here are a couple of pictures of that little beauty.† I didnít know they even lived in this area.
While Fred was in the visitorís center, I went across the road and played my sparrow song one more time.† This time I finally hit the jackpot, and a BREWERíS SPARROW flew in and checked me out.† It didnít stay long, but I did manage to get this picture of it.
After a short while, I played the song again, and it again flew in for a quick look.† I got a second picture.
Fred came back about then, and when I played the song a third time, it flew in again for him to get a look at it.† So, after playing that song a couple of dozen times (at least) over the last few days, it finally paid off.† Brewerís Sparrow is supposed to be ďabundantĒ here, but they certainly donít respond to their songs very often, if that is the case.† At any rate, I had a bird for my year list today, so I had an excuse to write this report.† I kept my streak alive, and I have seen at least one species for my year list every day of this trip, I think.
After that, we drove to the NWR Headquarters for the third or fourth time on this trip.† We saw a Warbling Vireo as soon as we got there, which was an excellent bird for our trip list.† I had seen that species on Monday, the day I left Washington, or else it would have been a year bird for me.† Later we saw another one, too.
Various birds were coming to the tree with oranges in it, and I got this picture of a first year female Bullockís Oriole.
I also got this picture of a male Black-headed Grosbeak and a male Western Tanager that I like.† The tanager is in focus, and the grosbeak is a little out of focus because it was a little farther away from the camera than the tanager.
We had some good birding for a while, seeing Western Tanagers, flycatchers, the second Warbling Vireo, and some other birds.† Here is a picture of a bird we had a hard time identifying, but I think it is a female Western Tanager.† That was a male just above, with the red head.
Here is another view of her, showing the yellow under the tail.
There were a couple of flycatchers around, and I got a couple of pictures of one of them.† I believe it is a Dusky Flycatcher, the species I added to my year list yesterday at Headquarters.† It has a fly in its bill, which I think is kind of cool.† Here are two pictures of what I think is a Dusky Flycatcher.
If some real birder sees this someday on my web site and wants to offer a correction to me, I would appreciate it.† Just send me an email at email@example.com .† Flycatchers in that family are notoriously difficult to identify.
Fred saw the Dusky Flycatcher today, so along with the Warbling Vireo, that put us at exactly 100 species for the trip.† That is not especially great, by any means, but we only birded from about 8:45 to 4:45 each day, and we had to drive at least a half hour each way to get to the reserve.† What really counts is that we had a great time and did a lot of birding.
I ended up getting 12 species for my year list here in the Burns area.† That adds to the 9 species I got on my Washington State county birding adventure on my way here.† Iím now at 294 species for the year.† Iím hoping to get over the Cascades to Kittitas and Yakima counties in the next week or two, and that could get me a few more.† Then, we have our annual June trip to Yosemite, and I might get a couple more there.† The real action will take place in September, October and November, though, when I go to Australia for the fifth time, where I hope to see another 270 species or so for my year list (maybe 290 or 300 total, including species I have seen here in the US).
For now, the birding is over, though, and I head for home tomorrow morning.
Friday, May 31
All week long I have been reading about a very unusual bird being seen at my local park, Juanita Bay Park.† I saw this species last week at Malheur, so I didnít need it for my year list, but it is very unusual for one to be seen in King County, so birders were coming from all over the county (and farther afield) to see it.† I keep a list of the species I have seen at Juanita Bay Park, and I needed it for my park list, of course, as well as for my King County list.† I was pretty busy all week, and I just never got down there to see it.
This morning I finally had the time, so I went down there, arriving just before nine.† I saw another birder I know in the parking lot, and she said she had seen it a little earlier, on the other side of the bay, but not on the south side, which is where Juanita Bay Park is located.† Nevertheless, I went on down to the eastern boardwalk and went out to take a look.† There were a couple of people there already, and they hadnít seen the bird, but they pointed out a cute little muskrat, just off the edge of the boardwalk.† Here is a picture of it.
Here is a picture that shows how long its tail is.
I donít think I had ever seen a muskrat out of the water before; they have always been swimming and I had brief looks.† This one stuck around for quite a while, and we were only maybe ten feet away, taking pictures of it.
A Great Blue Heron flew in and a male Red-winged Blackbird started harassing it.† It was probably too close to the blackbirdís nest.† Here is the heron, but I didnít get a picture of the blackbird flying at it.
In a short while, the heron gave up and flew away, with the blackbird in hot pursuit.† In fact, for several seconds, as the heron flew away, the blackbird was actually perched on the heronís back.† I wish I had gotten a picture of that.† All three of us on the boardwalk were amazed at the sight.
There were various ducks around, including ones with babies.† Here is a female Wood Duck.† She only had one little duckling with her.† I wonder what happened to the others.
One of the other people gave up and said she was going to walk out on the causeway to look for our target bird.† I stayed and eventually saw it, way across the bay, flying back and forth on the north side of Juanita Bay at Juanita Beach Park (as opposed to Juanita Bay Park, where I was, on the south side of Juanita Bay).† The bird was about 700 yards away (almost half a mile Ė I checked the distance on Google Maps), but I could see it with my binoculars well enough to identify it.† Gray body, black head, wings shaped like a ternís wings, swooping around over the water Ė Black Tern.† It was species number 92 for me at Juanita Bay Park.
I wanted to get a better look at it, so I hiked back to my car and drove around to Juanita Beach Park.† I spent 20 or 30 minutes there and didnít see it.† Then I saw it again, across the bay to the south, right where I had been in the first place!† So, again I hustled back to my car and drove back around to Juanita Bay Park, on the south side of the bay.† By the time I got there, it had perched, and a number of birders were looking at it and taking pictures.† It stayed in the same place for about half an hour, only 20 feet off the end of the west boardwalk. †A couple of dozen people got great looks at it and took hundreds of pictures.† I took about 80 or 90 pictures myself.† The lighting was challenging (sun reflecting off the water in the background), and it is always hard to get the eye in a bird with a black head, if the eye is dark, as this birdís was.† Here are some of what I consider my best efforts.
In this next one, the bird had its mouth open.† It didnít make any sound, and I donít know what it was doing.† Do birds yawn?
Here is one that shows the feather detail better.
The bird obviously saw all these people looking at it and taking its picture, 20 feet away, but it didnít seem bothered at all.† Black Terns are found all across the northern part of the country and in Southern Canada in the summer.† I have seen them in Montana in the summer, in Texas in April while they were migrating north, and at Malheur, in Eastern Oregon last week.† They spend the winter in western South America and make the round trip every year.
There was a frog off the end of the boardwalk, and I took its picture, too.
I finally decided I had enough pictures.† I would have liked to see the tern fly close up, but I moved on back down the boardwalk.† I stopped at the first observation deck to take this picture of a Pied-billed Grebe sitting on its floating nest.
When I first started birding, it was at Juanita Bay Park, back in the late 90ís, just after I retired.† I used to go down every weekday, and I watched the Pied-billed Grebes build their nests, sit on the eggs, and raise their young.† I feel a special affinity for the species because of all the time I spent watching them raising their families.† This bird today could be one of the hatchlings I watched 14 years ago.
There were some Mallards swimming around in the lily pads, with some ducklings.† Here is a picture of one of the ducklings that I thought was very cute.
So, my excuse for writing a report today is that I got a new bird for my Juanita Bay Park list.† How is that for rationalization?† I know, thatís pretty lame, but I like to write, and I had some pictures to show.†
My year list still stands at 294.† I hope to head over the Cascade Mountains on Sunday for three days of birding around Ellensburg, and it is my goal to hit 300 for the year on that trip.† Watch for real reports, starting Sunday night, God willing and the gods of birding cooperate.
An afterthought.† This afternoon, I started pruning the hedge in front of the front porch.† I did about a third of the work today, I figure.† Here are a couple of pictures that show my progress.† I like this first one because it shows the huge rhododendron at the end of the porch.† It is like a tree, and it is just past its peak of blooming for the year.
Here is a picture from right in front, showing the untrimmed hedge on the left and the trimmed part on the right.† The top of the hedge falls off to the right because it doesnít grow as well in the shadow of the rhodie.
The spots on the pictures were caused by dust particles on the camera lens, and the fact that the sun was shining from in front of me.† I hadnít realized the particles were there until I saw these pictures.† I will have to be more careful about cleaning the front of the lens.
OK, thatís it.† I just wanted to show the work I did today, after I spent two and a half hours playing down at the park.