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Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Itís a fairly short report today, with only five pictures.† Iím in Wilbur, Washington, tonight, on a five night trip to polish off the last five Washington State counties (out of 39) for my Washington county project.† Iíve never birded in any of these five counties, and I have only been in two of them at all.† I started this project in July of 2012 (I think), so it will have taken me three years to bird in each of the 39 counties (assuming I complete this trip as planned, God Willing etc, knock on wood, no jinx).† Here is a map of the trip, to the northeast corner of the state.
Iím not sure what route I might take back on Sunday Ė probably across I-90 directly, with maybe a diversion or two, depending on how much time I have.† You can see that the first and last days are the longest drives Ė the rest of the days should give me a lot of time for birding, even though it is hard for me to be out there before 9 AM and I stop by 5 PM or shortly after.† I plan to spend a night in each of the five counties.
I had a doctorís appointment this morning at 10, so it wasnít until 11 that I finally hit the road.† I had to cross the Cascade Mountains, and I had two choices Ė Stevens Pass or Snoqualmie Pass.† It snowed overnight in the passes and was snowing today, so the choice was complicated.† Stevens is 4000 feet elevation and Snoqualmie is only 3000 feet.† Stevens is a two lane road most of the way, and Snoqualmie is four or six lanes of Interstate freeway.† The decision is made more complicated by the fact that to get to where I wanted to be today, it would be best if I went over Blewett Pass after going over Snoqualmie Pass, and Blewett is 4000 feet, like Stevens.† Fortunately, they have cameras on all the passes, along with temperatures and road conditions.† It turned out that Snoqualmie had better conditions, and Blewett was clear and sunny, of all things.† So, I came over Snoqualmie Pass and only had a little rain approaching the pass and maybe 15 minutes of very light snow right at the pass. †The road was bare and wet, with the temperature about 35 or 36 at its lowest.† The temperature was 29 or so on Stevens Pass, with packed snow and ice on the road, so Iím glad I took the slightly longer route I took.
I stopped in North Bend and got a Subway tuna sandwich.† When I pulled into a place to eat the first half of my sandwich, as I approached Blewett Pass, I even picked up a bird for my Kittitas county list, Varied Thrush.
My first real birding stop was at Lincoln Rock State park, on the Columbia River just north of Wenatchee.† Itís in Douglas county, and I had 34 species in Douglas county when I started the day.† My first goal in my Washington State county project is to bird in all 39 counties.† The second step is to get 39 species in each county.† Since I had 34 species in Douglas county already, and I was going to be passing through it today, I thought this would be a good opportunity to increase that to 39 for the next stage of the project.† I have at least 39 in all the adjacent counties, so getting to 39 in Douglas would save an awkward trip back there later.
I had hopes of seeing some ducks on the river there, but it was too windy today for ducks on the river, I guess.† Still, I managed to pick up six species at the park and a stop just north of there at a place called Turtle Rock.† Nothing great, but it increased my Douglas county list to 40 species, so that was a success.† I ate the second half of my tuna sandwich there, and headed east toward my real target counties of the trip.
I got into my first new county, Lincoln county, at about 3:45, near the little town of Almira, and I took a side trip on what my book calls the Upper Wilson Creek loop, just east of Almira.† My first bird in Lincoln county was American Robin, which is not surprising, as it is tied as the most common species I see in Washington.† Along with European Starling, I have seen American Robin in 33 of the 35 counties I have birded in so far.
The next one, and one of the most common birds I saw today in Lincoln county was Western Meadowlark.† Here is a picture of one of those guys singing.
I slowly picked up other species Ė Savannah Sparrow and Sayís Phoebe came next, and then I saw a BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, one for my year list.† I had been wondering why I hadnít seen any today, as they are fairly common on this side of the Cascades, and I finally spotted one flying and got a good look at it.† As it turned out, I later saw them in at least a half a dozen other places, and I even got a picture I like.† It is always hard to take a picture of a black and white bird, especially when the eye is in the black area.† Here is a picture of a Black-billed Magpie that I like.
Check out that long tail.† They look black and white in most light, but in the right light, their wings have a bluish iridescence, and you can see it a bit in that picture.
Mostly I birded from the car today, in the short time I had, but I got out a couple of times.† I walked in a sage habitat, looking for a couple of sage species and playing their songs on my phone.† I didnít see either one of them, but here is a picture of that habitat.† Note the dark clouds to the north.† It looked to me like it was raining up there this afternoon, but I had sun all day after getting over Snoqualmie Pass.
Soon after that I saw a raptor flying pretty low, and I got out and got a good look at it from underneath.† It turned out to be a SWAINSONíS HAWK, another one for my year list.† They are just now starting to come back from the south for the summer, and I hadnít really expected to see one on this trip, but I got lucky on my very first day.
I saw a bird on a wire at one point, and I went back to check it out.† It turned out to be a House Finch, which was good for my county list, but while checking it out I also picked up Common Raven and Mourning Dove.† Here is a group of Mourning Doves sitting on a train track.
Mourning Doves are native to this area (and the rest of the lower 48 as well), but ten or fifteen years ago Eurasian Collared-Doves started moving in, and now the Collared-Doves have spread across almost all of the country.† I later saw one in Wilbur, and here is a picture.† You can see the differences between it and the native Mourning Doves.
I spent about fifteen minutes driving around Wilbur, where Iím staying tonight, and got a few more common species.† I ended up with 18 species for Lincoln county today, which is quite good I think, considering I only birded in the county for about an hour and a half.† They were mostly easy ones, of course, but I hope to add a lot more tomorrow.
Iím staying at the 12 unit Willows Motel, one of the two small motels in Wilbur.† I have a little fridge and a microwave, and the TV has the Seattle Mariners TV channel on it, so I can watch the game tonight.† The old fashioned room smells kind of musty and old, but it is clean and I have a queen size bed, so Iím good.† The wi-fi is good except that it keeps dropping off without warning.† So far it has always come back fairly quickly, so I can live with it, I guess.† My normal backup for internet is my phone, but I am out of range for my carrier, Verizon.† I could enable ďdata roamingĒ and probably get online that way, but I have no idea what that would cost, so Iíll live with the intermittent dropouts, I guess.† As usual, I have all my food with me for the whole five days, other than two or three Subway sandwiches I will probably buy, when there is a Subway in the right place.† All my rooms have a fridge and microwave.
So, tomorrow I plan to bird here in Lincoln county in the morning, and then move north into Ferry county for the afternoon.† This is all new territory to me, which I enjoy very much.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
I was up at 7 this morning Ė early for me, but pathetically late for a serious birder.† I should mention that last night I went out near dusk to look for crows.† I didnít see any, but I did pick up Killdeer for my Lincoln county list, which means I got 19 yesterday there.† This morning I wandered around a bit in front of the motel, and I added Ruby-crowned Kinglet, before I really got started for the day.
I got away by 8:45, and my first destination was the road along the golf course in Wilbur, where I had seen a couple of species yesterday.† This morning was great there, as it turned out.† I stopped to look at ducks (added American Wigeon to my Lincoln county list), but I heard a California Quail calling.† I looked around, and there it was, sitting on a fence post.† Here is a male California Quail.
As I got back in the car after that adventure, I spotted a female RING-NECKED PHEASANT down the road, one for my year list as well as my county list.† I drove down the road to where I had seen the pheasant disappear, hoping for a picture, and when I got out of the car I flushed a couple of WILSONíS SNIPE, another year bird.† Itís interesting how often I stop for one bird and end up seeing others at the same place.† It probably means I should stop and look around more often, rather than just driving until I see something interesting.
So, after that little side trip, I headed for my first real birding location of the day, Swanson Lakes.† I was hoping for some ducks, as well as other species along the way.† It started very slowly, but I got American Kestrel eventually.† I ended up seeing well over a dozen kestrels today, I think.† Mostly they wouldnít stick around for pictures, but here is a picture of a female American Kestrel that I got later in Ferry county.
There were tons of meadowlarks, which I had seen yesterday, and then I started to see a lot of Tree Swallows.† There were swallow nesting boxes on a lot of the fence posts, and the swallows were taking advantage of them.† I had been wondering where all the Red-tailed Hawks were hiding, but then I started seeing them Ė at least half a dozen for the day, in both counties.† Swanson Lakes were very disappointing.† I only added one duck species there, Green-winged Teal. †I did see a Cooperís Hawk about then, and that was a good sighting.
Along in there I added Horned Lark to my county list, and got this picture.
I was on very dusty gravel roads, and eventually I came to a couple of lakes that I donít know the name of, and finally I had some ducks.† I added five more duck species there, and soon after that had great looks at a pair of Northern Harriers.† I even saw a lone White-crowned Sparrow, which I hadnít expected out there.† Also a Northern Flicker, another one I wouldnít have expected to see out in the sagebrush wilderness like that.† I had stopped and played the songs of a couple of sage species I needed for my year list, but never had any response.† Then, I saw a bird fly from beside the road and perch on a bush not too far away.† It turned out to be a SAGE THRASHER, one of the ones I had been looking for there.† Here is a picture of the Sage Thrasher for my year list.
I saw an interesting looking sparrow that I wasnít able to identify, but I got good pictures.† This evening I was able to tell that it was a VESPER SPARROW, a bird I havenít seen many times.† Here is a picture of my year-list Vesper Sparrow.
I knew that the distinct eye ring and the rusty colored patch on the upper wing were clues, but I couldnít remember which sparrow it was.
I got back to Wilbur just before noon and checked out of my motel.† I gassed up the car (Gas was cheaper than at home, which surprised me, since I was really out in the boonies.) and headed north for Ferry county.
Interestingly, to get to Ferry county, I had to take a ferry (hence the county name?† I donít know.)† As I approached the ferry landing, I finally got American Crow for Lincoln county, my last Lincoln county species.† The Keller ferry crosses Roosevelt Lake, which is actually just the Columbia River where it is backed up behind Grand Coulee Dam.† Here is what the ferry crossing looks like from the Lincoln county side of Roosevelt Lake.
If you look carefully, you can just barely see the ferry on the right side of the picture, as it is leaving the landing on the Ferry county side.† The lake is down about 40 or 50 feet from its peak, which is normal at this time of year, as they await the spring runoff.† I donít know how much spring runoff they are going to get this year, though, with the low amount of snow we got this winter.† Here is the ferry, with its one vehicle, as it approached the landing.
The ferry is free and runs on demand.† The crew can see cars on the opposite side, and they come across when needed.† I was the only car going north on my trip.† I suppose sometimes there are multiple cars on a run, but I expect that most of the runs are for a single vehicle.† It takes about ten minutes for the crossing.
I ate my humble home-made lunch (beef and cheese wrapped in tortillas, with peppers and peas and some cookies) while I waited for the ferry and while crossing.† At about 1 PM I started my Ferry county birding.
My first bird in Ferry county was Red-tailed Hawk.† I saw an American Kestrel soon after that, but no other birds for the first 30 or 40 miles of driving in the county.† Extremely un-birdy.† It was mostly forested, and I always do terribly in forests.† I was really starting to think that Ferry county was going to a problem for me.† I saw a couple of Canada Geese by a stream, and I went back because I thought I had seen another bird on the bank, too.† Sure enough, it was a male Common Merganser, and here is a picture.
While I was getting that picture, I distinctly heard a Belted Kingfisher call, and then saw it fly up the stream.† So, I was finally seeing some birds in Ferry county.† I came into farming/ranching country, which is much better for birds than forests, and got some more common species.† At one point I saw a bird on a wire and turned around and went back to check it out.† It turned out to be a male MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD, an excellent one for my year list.
I have said many times that I love blue colored birds, but the powder blue color of the male Mountain Bluebird is maybe my favorite shade of blue on any bird I have seen.† Later I saw another bird on a wire and it took me a little while to realize it was a female Mountain Bluebird.
You can just barely make out a little blue on the edge of the wing near the tail.† I got that picture on the road overlooking the Republic Sewage Treatment ponds, where I picked up a couple of duck species.
I checked into my motel in the little town of Republic and put my cold food in the fridge.† It was only about 2:45 by then, so I headed up to Mud Lake, a nearby lake where lots of Ducks have been reported.† If I was going to do decently in Ferry county, I needed a place to see some ducks.
Mud Lake turned out to be that place.† I hit the jackpot.† I added 13 more species to my county list there, including seven duck species.† One of those duck species was REDHEAD, which I was hoping to see on this trip.† Here is a very distant picture of a male Redhead.
I also added VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW there, a very common swallow that I hadnít seen yet this year because they are just getting back from spending the winter in Mexico or south of there.† Even better, I spotted a bird across the lake that I needed for my year list, but I decided that the view was too fleeting and too distant to count.† I decided to wait for a better view.† Within thirty seconds, a male YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD flew in and posed in front of me for a couple of minutes, and I got this picture.
There were also at least three pairs of Barrowís Goldeneyes there.† Here is a picture of a male Barrowís Goldeneye.
The female has the same shape, but completely different colors, other than the gold colored eye that gives the species its name.
One of the males stretched its neck out in a way I had never seen before.† I had no idea they had such a long neck.
So, with my success at Mud Lake, I headed back into Republic to look for ďtown birdsĒ.† I drove around for about 45 minutes, and at first I saw almost nothing.† I finally saw a Western Bluebird (not really what I meant by ďtown birdĒ) and some robins.† Then, as I was about to quit for the day, I happened upon a house that had a number of feeders in the yard, and there were birds around.† I added four more town birds there, including this male American Goldfinch.
I also saw my first Pine Siskins of the trip.† Here is a picture of one of them.
I knocked off at about 4:45, which means I only spent 8 hours birding today, and that included my travel time to get to Republic.† It was not yet dark at 8 this evening, so you can see how much time I miss by keeping my day so short.† I like my comforts and Iím only a dilettante birder, as I constantly say.
So, the numbers.† I ended up with 41 species in Lincoln county, which is outstanding.† Now I wonít have to go back there if and when I decide to go for 39 species in each of the 39 Washington counties.† When I planned this trip, I was thinking that 20 or 30 in each county would be great, but now that I have such a great start, Iím getting greedy and thinking of trying to get 39 in each of these five counties.† Not likely, but a good goal to pursue.
Ferry county started slowly, but I ended up with 33 species here.† I have the morning in Ferry county tomorrow, if I want to take it, so Iíll try to get six more species here, to make the magic 39 here, too, before moving on to Stevens county in the afternoon.
For my year list, I added a whopping seven species, much higher than I would have expected.† I donít know how many more year birds I can see on this trip.† Iíll look at my target list tonight.† Those seven species bring me to 227 species for the year so far, and 3 of those are lifers.
Because Iím such a list-making fool, I think Iíll put together a trip list when I have time.† It seems like a nice round-number goal would be 100 species for the trip.† I have no idea if that is easy or impossible, or somewhere in between.† If 100 is too easy, then Iíll go for 120.† Maybe by tomorrow night I can find time to assemble that list.
My room here in Republic is much nicer than the one I had in Wilbur last night.† It costs 77 bucks, versus 50 bucks for last night, but it is well worth the difference.† It is about twice the size of the Wilbur room, and it is much more nicely finished and furnished.† It doesnít smell musty, either.† I have the Mariners on TV again, too.† (Thatís kind of a mixed blessing, as they have been doing terribly the last few nights.)† I need to decide now what to do in the morning, to try to get to 39 for Ferry county.† I have a couple of choices for the morning, and then in the afternoon Iíll head to Stevens county to start all over again.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
I got to bed a little earlier last night, and I was up at 6:40 this morning.† I still didnít get on the road until 8:40, though.† I needed six more species in Ferry county to get to the magic 39, so I first stopped by the house with the feeders that I had found yesterday, hoping for House Sparrow or a chickadee.† No luck, so I hit the road east.
My first real destination was a 6 or 8 mile detour off my route Ė Curlew Lake State Park.† I had seen reports from there of 6 or 8 species I could use for my Ferry county list.† On the road toward the park, I spotted a bird on top of a telephone pole that looked different, so I went back, and it was a garden variety feral pigeon Ė my first one of the trip, I think, and number 34 for Ferry county.† Soon after that I saw a bird on a wire and went back, and that one turned out to be my first Western Meadlowlark in Ferry county Ė number 35.† I had just been thinking that I hadnít seen one in the county yet, and the habitat looked good for them.
At the state park, I saw some ducks out on the water, but they were all Barrowís Goldeneyes, which I had seen yesterday at Mud Lake.† I had read of Osprey nests there, and I managed to spot an Osprey carrying a stick to a nest.† A second Osprey soon joined the first one at the nest.† Number 36.† Great Blue Heron nests had also been mentioned, and I soon saw the trees that had at least 8 GBHís and their nests in them.† Number 37.† My first Great Blue Herons of the trip, too.† I probably should have taken pictures, but I didnít think of it, and the nests were across the lake anyway, so a picture wouldnít have shown much.† It always seems strange to me to see a big bird like that standing high in a tree.
While I was standing there, a duck flew up the lake, and I got my binoculars on it.† It turned out to be a male Common Goldeneye, number 38 for Ferry county.† This was going very well indeed.† I walked out onto the floating dock and scanned the shore with my binoculars.† Across the lake, near the shore, I spotted two Red-necked Grebes in breeding plumage, meaning their necks were indeed red.† Iím not sure Iíve ever seen them in breeding plumage before.† I was surprised how red their necks were.† That was number 39 for Ferry county, so I made my greedy goal of 39 for another county.† Before I left the park I stopped to use the rest room there, and I saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, so I ended up with 40 species for Ferry county.† Outstanding.
I headed for Stevens county, which meant going over 5500 foot Sherman Pass.† I stopped a couple of places, but saw and heard no birds at all.† That doesnít surprise me, so early in the year.† There was snow on the ground near the summit.† There were two or three places on the eastern side where I had thought I might stop, but they were all still closed for the winter, so I boogied on across Lake Roosevelt (the Columbia River) into Stevens county.
Stevens started very slowly, just like Ferry had.† My first bird was Violet-green Swallow, followed by American Robin.† I drove around in a wildlife area, and picked up a few more birds, but it was very slow.† There were a number of Black-billed Magpies, and at one point I distinctly heard a Black-capped Chickadee singing.† I never saw it, but I heard it repeatedly, and there is no doubt about the ID.† Driving back to the main road, I heard some birds that I ended deciding were House Finches, although I never saw one.† What I did see, though was a lovely male Western Bluebird sitting on a perch in front of a birdhouse in someoneís yard.
Back on the river (Lake Roosevelt, that is, which is down 40 or 50 feet from its peak, as I mentioned the other night), I did see a couple of duck species and some Canada Geese, at Colville Flats.† I drove down the east side of the river/lake, stopping at two or three boat launches to get views of the water.† Along the way I saw a bird at the top of a tree and went back, not expecting much.† It turned out to be a Spotted Towhee, my first one of the trip.† Here is a picture of that guy.
While I watched, he started singing, and I got this picture of him singing away.
I saw a bird on a wire ahead and slowed down to take a look.† It was a Northern Rough-winged Swallow, a species I hadnít expected to see on the trip, as they are just now starting to get back from their winter sojourn down south.† At the time, I thought it was a year-bird, but consulting my spreadsheet tonight, I guess I saw one before (probably in San Diego), because I had already counted that species for the year.† Still, it was a good one for my Stevens county list and also my trip list.† I picked up a couple more common species along there, and at one of the boat launch areas, I added Northern Flicker to my county list, and then saw an interesting little bird.† It turned out to be a MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE, one for my year list that I was figuring I would see on this trip somewhere.† It wouldnít sit still for a picture, unfortunately, but I got great looks at it, and it responded to its song, played on my phone, by singing back to me until I left.
I got to Gifford, which seemed to be a one-building town, and headed east over the hills on the Gifford-Addy Road.† I stopped along there and got out my homemade lunch and ate it while I finished traveling over to the Colville Valley.† In the valley, I drove around on some back roads, and was finally rewarded with a pond that had several duck species on it, and there was also an American Kestrel near there.† I added a few more birds, including a clearly heard California Quail doing its Chi-ca-go call.† I also saw my first Turkey Vulture of the trip.† They have just recently returned from their winter grounds down south.† My total was slowly but surely rising.
It was only about 2:15 when I got into Colville, sitting on 25 species for the county, and I drove by my motel.† Wow, was I ever disappointed!† Their website has to be the most misleading motel website ever.† I never would have stayed here if I had seen the place first.† As it turns out, it will be fine, although overpriced.† Itís a very old place, very small rooms, in the middle of town.† The room Iím in has been remodeled, though, and it has a kitchenette area, which is actually only a sink with a little fridge and microwave, along with some minimal utensils and dishes.† It is clean and it smells fresh, so Iíll be fine here, but the exterior sure was a shock to me, after the drawing on the website.† Now I see why it is a drawing, not a photo.† The wi-fi is so useless that Iím using my phone to connect to the internet.† Their ice machine (a tiny one in the office) is out of order, but I had ice that I had gotten this morning in Republic, so that was fine, as it turned out.† I donít really need ice for my drinkies anyway, but it somehow seems decadent to drink whiskey straight, so I have it on the rocks when I travel.† At home I drink it straight, no ice, so go figure.† But, really, Iím not complaining, only reporting.† Clean, smells good, good bed, recently remodeled, fridge and microwave Ė Iím good, since I have my phone for internet access and Colville is large enough that Verizon has a presence here.
Anyway, their sign said check-in was after 3 PM, so I moved on.† I wanted to visit the Colville Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) anyway.† STPís have ponds that attract water birds, and they are often good birding sites.† This one turned out to be absolutely great.† The ponds couldnít really be seen from the outside, but I drove down a dirt road along one side of the ponds, and a gate was open, just wide enough to walk through.† You couldnít see the ponds from the road because of a dike, but I went through the open gate (no signs prohibiting entry) and there were tons of ducks on the first pond.† I added six duck species to those I already had in the county, including Cinnamon Teal, which was a first for the trip.† I also added Marsh Wren, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Bald Eagle (first of the trip), Ring-necked Pheasant, Killdeer, and Common Raven there, which brought me to 38 species for the county.† It was only 2:45 PM, and I was one bird away from hitting my greedy goal.† Amazing.† Here is a picture of the first pond there.
The ducks had moved to the other side of the pond when I walked up onto the dike, but I had surveyed them well before climbing all the way up, fortunately.
I gassed up the car and looked for the Subway in town (for tomorrow).† The Subway website lists two stores in Colville, but the only one I could find was the one in Walmart, and I wonít have anything to do with Walmart.† I guess Iíll make my own lunch again tomorrow.† I have plenty of stuff to do that.† I drove around town, looking for species number 39.† I had no luck for the longest time, and finally about 3:35, when I was headed to my humble room, I saw a couple of American Crows on a town street.† Number 39, my old buddy, American Crow!†
So, I am at 39 for Stevens county, which amazes me, especially after my slow start when I got here.† My plan for tomorrow was to visit Little Pend Oreille (pronounced ďPond o-RAYĒ, I read) National Wildlife Refuge, and pick up the bulk of my Stevens county birds there.† Since I now have my 39 species, I might skip that, or at least cut it short, so I can move on to Pend Oreille (Pond o-RAY, remember?) county earlier in the day tomorrow.† Iíd like to see Little Pend Oreille NWR, but it is really a month or two too early in the year to get the full benefit of it.† The auto tour only opened for the year on Tuesday this week, and there are virtually no birding reports from there until May or June.† There will be some birds there, including a few that would be year birds for me, but they wonít be easy ones to see, and Iím thinking that I should make my county listing project my priority.† On the other hand, because I expected to spend the morning at Little Pend Oreille NWR, I donít really have very many places in Pend Oreille county lined up for the rest of the day.† It is very early in the year there, too, for birding, and many of the sites are still closed for the winter.† Iíll think about it tonight.
I knocked off before 4 PM tonight, so I had plenty of time to put together a trip list.† I have 70 species so far on the trip.† I had said last night that 100 would be good round goal, but at this point, that seems impossible.† There just arenít all that many more species I could see.† But, we will see.† I have 70, and Iíll see how many more I can get on the trip.† As time goes on, it gets harder and harder to add new species, since I have already seen the easy ones.
So, I added one more to my year list today, Mountain Chickadee.† That brings me to 228 for the year, and 3 of those have been lifers.† Two more counties to go on the trip.† I have my 39 in each of the first three counties, and I also brought Douglas county up to 39 on the first day.† Weíll see how I can do in Pend Oreille and Spokane counties.† I donít know if Iíll get any more for my year list on the trip, but Iíll still write reports for the next three days, even if I donít get anything new for my year list.
Friday, April 17, 2015
I was up at 6:40 today and got away by about 8:30.† My first destination was Little Pend Oreille NWR.† On the road there I picked up Sayís Phoebe for my county list.† Here is a picture of that one.
Still on my way to the refuge, at Horsethief Lake I picked up Common Goldeneye and Hooded Merganser for my county list.† I was doing great, adding to my county list.
I stopped at the refuge headquarters and talked to the woman on duty to get some tips on the year-birds I wanted to get.† Based on her advice, I walked a while on the trail across the road from the HQ and played the call of a nuthatch I needed for my year list.† It took a while and a little walking, but eventually, I saw a little nuthatch-like bird above me.† It turned out to be a Red-breasted Nuthatch, a great one for my county list, but I already had it for the year.† But then I noticed another little bird in the same tree, and this one had a distinctive shape, with a very short tail.† I got my binocs on it, and it was my target species, PYGMY NUTHATCH.† Outstanding.
I tried a couple of places for my other target, White-headed Woodpecker, but came up empty on that one.† I had intended to spend the whole morning at Little Pend Oreille NWR, which is the premier birding site in Stevens county, but I had my 39 species plus more, so I decided to head east for Pend Oreille county.† Little Pend Oreille NWR is a forest and meadow type refuge, and it would be much better in June or July, which I knew when I planned the trip, so heading out early from there in April was just fine.† As it turned out, though, I added still one more to my Stevens county list, CLIFF SWALLOW, on the way out.† I didnít realize until later that Cliff Swallow was new for my year list, too.† That brought me to 45 species in Stevens county, and I was heading out ahead of schedule.† I was on a roll.
I headed east for Pend Oreille county, and I saw a sign for Crystal Falls,† I like waterfalls, so I turned back and stopped there.† Here is a picture of the very nice Crystal Falls.
I came into Pend Oreille (Pond O-RAY, remember?) county and stopped at Frater Lake.† I got four duck species there, and my first species for the county was Bufflehead.† Back on the highway again, I saw a couple of birds by the road, and I could tell they were woodpeckers.† Very exciting.† I slammed on the brakes, backed up, and got out of the car, leaving it partially in the road.† They turned out to be Pileated Woodpeckers, our largest woodpecker that isnít extinct.† Here is a picture of the female.
That was really fun, and it was a great one for my trip list, as well as for my county list.† It was the first time I had seen the species this year, but I had counted it for my year list when I heard one calling repeatedly in Mason county, earlier in the year.
I was so far ahead of schedule that I decided to head south on Highway 20, covering territory I had planned to cover tomorrow.† It would mean some backtracking, but it seemed like the thing to do.† It was on that next stretch that I had a little paranoia attack.† Iím deathly afraid of car problems when Iím on a trip, and it seemed like the car was not shifting right.† I have Christinaís Subaru Forester, and I havenít driven it all that much.† I thought it wasnít shifting into high correctly, and I started worrying about it.† It seemed like it was too loud and the RPMís were too high for my speed.† I panicked enough that I actually pulled over and tried to call my motel for tonight to cancel, thinking I would head on into Spokane this afternoon to try to find a Subaru dealer.† I got an answering machine, and I didnít leave a message.† I continued south and soon decided that the car was fine Ė the problem was all in my head.† It does seem to shift strangely, but I think that is just the nature of the Subaru automatic transmission.† My panic died down, and things were fine after that.† It was interesting to experience what worry can do to you, though.
I didnít see much along the highway, and when I got to Cusick, I headed west on Meadow Road.† I took the loop my book had suggested, and it paid off.† I picked up nine species for my county list on that loop.† They were all common birds, but thatís what I needed.† Numbers Ė they just kept piling up.† It was meadows and farmland, not forest, and that makes a huge difference.
Back at the tiny town of Usk, I headed north along River Road.† There were Double-crested Cormorants nesting on piers in the river.† Here is a picture of a group of them on nests.
I think of cormorants as ocean birds, but here they were nesting, hundreds of miles from the ocean.
I got this picture of a European Starling sitting on one of the piers.† They appear just plain black when you see them with the naked eye, but in the right light, the colors are interesting.
At the tiny town of Cusick, I found the park and had my humble home-made lunch at a table there in the sunshine.† It was in the high 60ís by then, and ended up at 71 by the end of the day.† A fantastically beautiful spring day.† After lunch, I walked along the path they had built along the river.† I saw some ducks and added Redhead and scaup to my county list.† I had assumed they were Lesser Scaup, which I have been counting everywhere, partly because they are more common here.† I got this picture, though of a female (top) and male.
I could be wrong, and the differences are subtle, but Iím going with Greater Scaup on those birds, which is a new one for my trip list.
Along River Road I also added Wood Duck to my county and trip lists.† A little later I got this picture of a male Wood Duck.
The female isnít nearly as colorful, but I think she has her own quiet charm.
Here is a male Ring-necked Duck at that same place, in Cusick.
At that point I headed back north again, back toward Ione, where I had my motel booked (and hadnít canceled because I got voice mail, thankfully).
It was just after 2 PM when I got to Ione, but I was able to check into my motel early.† I put my cold food in the fridge and headed out again.† I chose the right motel in town this time, and Iím quite comfortable here.† The other two choices looked poor, as it turned out.† None of the three has a website, if you can imagine that in this day and age.
I drove around the Sullivan Lake loop, and it was almost completely birdless.† Iím too early in the year, which doesnít help, and it was forest birding, which is always very tough for me.† All the campgrounds and day use areas were still closed for the winter, too.† The migrants arenít back yet, so birding was terrible.† I stopped at least 10 times but never saw or heard anything.† I finally picked up Turkey Vulture as I came down out of the hills into the tiny town of Metaline Falls.† I drove around town and got Pine Siskin at some feeders.† I drove on south to the tiny town (are you seeing a theme here?† Lots of tiny towns, like with populations of 200 or 300) of Metaline.† I picked up Belted Kingfisher there, a great one for my county list, and got this picture of a male Hooded Merganser with his crest down.
Here is a picture of the pond where I saw the kingfisher and that merganser.
I got a couple more county birds driving around town, and back on the road I saw a Bald Eagle fly over.† It was a very fleeting look at the eagle, but I saw the white head and the massive bulky body, and it couldnít have been anything else, so I ended up counting it, after a lot of debate with myself.† Back in Ione, I stopped at City Park, on the river.† I heard a bird and then saw Northern Flicker.† I drove around town, but didnít see anything else new.† I find it interesting how this county birding thing makes it necessary to drive around in the towns in each county, to pick up the ďtown birdsĒ that you donít see out in the wilds.† In normal birding, those species would be boring and you wouldnít waste your time on them, but when you are in a new county, it pays off to spend some time driving around towns and picking up the boring, ordinary birds.† Pine Siskin is boring, but I need it for every county I visit, and the same goes for House Finch, House Sparrow, and others.
It was about 5 by then and I was back at my motel, so I called it quits and moved the rest of my stuff into my room.† The motel is on the river, and there is a great view to the north along the river.† The temperature was 71 degrees, so I took my first drinkie and sat out on a handy bench they provide and enjoyed the beautiful evening and the view.† I knew I should have been processing my pictures and working on my report, but I played hooky for half an hour and just kicked back.† Here is the view from the motel that I was enjoying.
As it turned out, I actually added a species to my county list, too, a male Common Merganser across the river.† I had to go get my scope to confirm it.† Amazingly, the merganser brought me to 36 for Pend Oreille county.† I only need to find three more species tomorrow, and then I can move on to Spokane county, number five on my list of counties for this trip.
So, I added two more to my year list today, Pygmy Nuthatch and Cliff Swallow.† That brings me to 230 for the year, of which 3 are lifers.† The county thing is going absolutely great.† Weíll see if I can finish off Pend Oreille county tomorrow, with three more species, and then get a good start on Spokane county.† I plan to head for home on Sunday.
Saturday, April 18, 2015
I slept a little later today, but was away by about 8:30 still.† I went down the east side of the Pend Oreille River, on Leclerc Road.† It was another beautiful morning, but there were almost no birds, as usual in a forested habitat.† I had been watching for a particular species, and eventually I came across two Wild Turkeys, right out in the roadway.† I had to slow down so I wouldnít hit them.† So, that was one of the three I needed to get to my 39 in Pend Oreille county, and also one for my trip list.
At the little community called Riverbend, I took the loop road and on the pond there picked up American Wigeon for my county list.† There was a Great Blue Heron there, which I havenít seen very often on the trip, but I had seen one yesterday flying, so todayís wasnít a county bird.† I wanted a picture, but just as I was ready to shoot, it flew.† Sometimes I wonder how the birds know just when Iím ready to shoot a picture, so they can fly.
I continued on down Leclerc Road and found Dike Road, on the Kalispel Indian reservation.† I had read good things about it, and it turned into a bonanza for me today.† Near the start, the habitat looked to me like it was perfect for Sora, so I played the call on my phone.† A Sora flew out of the reeds across the way and landed in the reeds along the road.† To cement the identification, it called soon after landing.† I think that is the first time I have ever seen a Sora flying.† I also think it is the first time I have seen one this year, but I counted it when I heard one in the Monterey area earlier this year.† That was number 39 for the county, so I had achieved my goal, and it was time to head for Spokane county, hours ahead of the original schedule.† Still, I had the rest of Dike Road to finish.
I reached a point where there was a large lagoon, and there were some birds there.† I spotted three Greater White-fronted Geese, one I hadnít expected to see at all.† I just looked it up, and it is a rare sighting in Pend Oreille county, at any time of the year.† I fumbled a little, getting my camera ready, and the damn birds flew just a few seconds before I was ready.† I snapped a picture, which I call Greater White-fronted Geese - almost.
So, that was my rarity for the day, with an almost picture.
Soon after that I saw a pair of California Quail along the road, a great one for my county list.† Soon after that there were a couple of Savannah Sparrows along the road, and I was at 42 for Pend Oreille county.† I finally got back to the highway, and I headed south for Cheney, in Spokane county, my destination for tonight.† As it turned out, I actually added one more species, Northern Shoveler (a duck) along the road, before I got out of Pend Oreille county.† So, I ended up with 43 in the county.
On my way out of the county, I got this picture of a magnificent Bald Eagle in Usk.
Soon after that, I got this picture, also in Usk, of an Osprey sitting on its nest platform.
Itís common to put up nest platforms for Osprey so they donít use the power poles, which plays havoc with the power at times.
I stopped just inside Spokane county at Bear Lake County Park, but all I got of interest was a couple of Red-necked Grebes for my Spokane county list.† The drive through Spokane to Interstate 90 was interminable.† It just went on and on, with Saturday morning traffic and shopping mall after shopping mall.† Downtown Spokane was a total nightmare, even on a Saturday.† The signs were terrible, but finally I found my way onto I-90 going west.†† I think I missed one turn because I followed a sign for the I-90 bike route.† What the hell is a bike route for an Interstate, for Peteís sake, and why do they have to have signs for it, to confuse the out-of-town senior citizen drivers?† The signs look just like the signs for cars, but with a little drawing of a bike on them.† I guess thatís what they were, anyway.† Confusing as hell for me.
My birding destination for Spokane county was Turnbull NWR.† I had expected to visit it tomorrow morning, but I was half a day ahead of schedule, and I got there at noon today.† I stopped at the visitor center and picked up a bird list and a map of the refuge.† The only real way to bird it is to take the auto tour, so I did that.† It was really dry.† Some lakes were completely dry, and some merely very low.† The numbers of waterfowl seemed extremely low to me, based on the reports I have seen for previous years in April.† I had been counting on Turnbull to take care of Spokane county, but I was also figuring that if I got 25 or 30 in each county on this trip, that would be fine.† It wasnít until I started out well that I decided on my greedy goal of 39 in each county.† The way Turnbull looked today, I couldnít imagine getting to 39 there.
Before I headed out on the auto tour, I walked over to the little pond near headquarters.† I picked up Cinnamon Teal there, and there was also a single Trumpeter Swan.† Here is the male Cinnamon Teal.
Here is the much less colorful female Cinnamon Teal.
She is so plain that I wouldnít be able to identify her in isolation, but at this time of year, almost all the ducks are in pairs.† Here is a picture of the two of them together.
Here are two pictures of the Trumpeter Swan.
The color on the head is due to staining from the mud at the bottom of the pond.† The bird feeds by rooting around in the mud on the bottom, I guess.† I donít know what it finds to eat there.
So, I headed out on the auto tour.† I soon stopped to eat some of my home-made lunch, and while I ate, I played the song of Black-capped Chickadee, to see what would happen.† Well, a chickadee flew right in and started singing back to me.† I got this picture of it.
I see Black-capped chickadees almost every day in my yard, but seeing one out in the wilderness like that is still fun for me.
I saw ducks from time to time, and my total slowly climbed for the county.† At one stop, a hawk flew by, and I decided it was a Sharp-shinned Hawk.† I thought it was a year bird, but I guess I had already seen one somewhere this year, as it was already checked off my year list.† Usually I can remember all the birds I see, but I canít remember where I saw Sharp-shinned Hawk this year.† Iíd have to go back through all my reports to find it.† Anyway, it was a great one for my county and trip lists.
I walked a couple of the short trails, and I stopped and played some songs on my phone from time to time.† As I mentioned, I slowly added ducks, and I saw a single Yellow-headed Blackbird at one stop.† I heard a Northern Flicker and counted it; later I saw another one.† A Killdeer flew in while I watched.† I played Pygmy Nuthatch at several stops, because they are supposed to be very common on the refuge, and eventually I got a couple of them flying in to check me out.† The habitat was mostly dry, mostly sparsely forested with pines, with some lakes and ponds mixed in.† Here is a typical scene, with one of the lakes.
That patch of pines is thicker than most of them Ė mostly it was pretty sparsely forested, with open spaces in between.† If things are this dry in April, I canít imagine how dry they will be by the end of the summer, as it gets very hot here in the summer, and rains very little.† I suspect the refuge would be quite green in April in a typical year.† Maybe the green stage is still to come, if they get some rain.† At some point, all those reeds and grasses have to be green, surely.
I spent a lot of time on the 5.5 mile auto tour, and when I finally finished it, I went back to the headquarters area.† As I approached it, I got this picture of a male Western Bluebird.
There were a lot of swallows flying around the headquarters area, and most of them were Tree Swallows.† Eventually I realized that a few of them were Violet-green Swallows, though.† They are kind of hard to tell apart when they are swooping around overhead.† Itís hard to keep your binoculars on one of them, as they swoop around.† I got this picture of a couple of Tree Swallows perched, though.
Note the color on the head, especially around the eye.† Here is a perched Violet-green Swallow.
Note how the while curls up behind and over the eye.† The back is also green, not blue.† Both of those things are hard to see as the bird is flying, but the rump is different, too, and that is what you look at in a flying swallow to distinguish between the two species.† I was pleased to get definitive photos of both species today.
So, it was getting late, but I had nothing else planned, so I stopped on the way out and took a little walk to Pine Lake, where I could see that there were some ducks.† It turned out that there were no new ducks there for me, but I did pick up a Song Sparrow on the walk, which was nice.† I had been playing the Sora calls all afternoon, in likely looking habitat, and at the very end, as I was almost back to my car, I finally got a definitive audible response, so that one went onto my Spokane county list.
On the drive back to town I saw a Red-tailed Hawk, my first of the day and the county, and also picked up Bufflehead (a duck) at one of the lakes along the road.† That brought me to 31 for the county, which sounds good, but I had no idea where I would get any more tomorrow, as I have no other birding places to visit in this part of the county.† I donít want to backtrack through downtown Spokane again tomorrow, even on a Sunday.† At this point, I want to be moving toward home, not away from it.† It is a four hour drive from here to home, so I donít have a lot of time to chase all over Spokane county.
Anyway, it was only about 4 oíclock, so I drove through Cheney, looking for town birds. †It was really birdless.† I didnít see anything, as I wound my way around the residential neighborhoods.†† Then I hit the jackpot.† A yard had feeders and there were a lot of birds in the trees around it.† I couldnít see the actual feeders, but in the trees around the yard I picked up American Goldfinch, House Finch, Pine Siskin, and Yellow-rumped Warbler.† The warbler wouldnít have been going to a feeder, but it just happened to be there, I guess.† That little flurry jumped me up to 35 species for Spokane county.† Better and better.† I stopped and gassed up the car and washed the windows, and as I was ready to pull out of the gas station I noticed a Brewerís Blackbird in the parking lot.† Number 36 for the county.† Surely I can find just three more species tomorrow.
I checked into my Holiday Inn Express, my fanciest motel of the trip by far, and did some looking for local birding sites, but I couldnít find anything in this end of the county.† I looked at Google Maps and picked out a route out of the county using back roads, and Iíll just have to hope that I see something.† Maybe a Turkey Vulture or a Western Meadowlark or a sparrow of some kind.† There are some possibilities, but Iíll have to get lucky.† Iíve also got an address for a house here in Cheney where three more ďtown birdsĒ have been reported a few times, so Iíll drive by there, too.
So, I didnít get any for my year list today, but Iíve written this report anyway.† I got my 39 in the first four counties of the trip, and now I need three more species here in Spokane county to complete the sweep.† I also plan to stop at the end of Sprague Lake that is in Adams county, to try to pump up my Adams county list.† I have only 28 in Adams county, and since Iíll be going right through a corner of it tomorrow, on my way home, Iíll stop to try to see if I can increase my Adams county list a bit.
I donít have time tonight to update my trip list Ė Iím two days behind now.† Iíll have to do it tomorrow night, before I write my final report of the trip.
The trip is almost over, and itíll be nice to get home tomorrow, God Willing And The Creeks Donít Rise.
Sunday, April 19, 2015
Well, I got home safely today.† I was on the road by about 8:30.† I had a plan worked out to try to get the three more species I needed for Spokane county, to get to the magic 39 number.† First I got a tuna sandwich at Subway, though, for later (first things first, you know).† After that I stopped at the house where there had been some town birds reported that I needed.† On the way there, though, I saw a European Starling on a wire, one I had forgotten all about, but one I hadn't seen yesterday in Spokane county.† So, I only needed two more.
Nothing at the house I went to, and I drove around a little, but found no more town birds, until I was on my way south out of town for my first little side trip.† I saw a House Sparrow on a wire in downtown Cheney, so that made 38.† Surely I could get one more species.
I went south out of town and checked out a couple of lakes I had seen on the map, but got no new ducks or anything else.† So, my final plan for the county was to drive some back roads to the western edge of the county, and see what I might see from the car.† The route took me past a couple of lakes, but I got no new ducks there.† At one stop I tried playing a couple of calls, but got no response to them either.† As I was approaching the western boundary of the county, I was wondering if I was going to see anything new at all.
Then the country changed from farmland and light forest to what they call scabland - hilly and too rough for farming, mostly without many trees.† That was what I was hoping I would find at the western edge of the county.† I was just thinking that the habitat looked perfect for Western Meadowlark, and I had rolled down my window and slowed down, when I heard a meadlowlark singing.† I stopped and looked, and saw one in the air, and watched it land.† 39!† I was there, with about 15 or 20 miles to go in the county still.† Ironically, almost right around the next bend I added number 40, a male California Quail sitting on a post by the road.† It stayed there while I turned around and got its picture.† I know I have shown California Quail before on this trip, but this guy was sitting in the sun and looking so photogenic that I had to shoot him.
Soon after that, the pavement ran out, and I was back on dusty gravel roads for my last half hour or so in Spokane county.† I had planned my route out, though, and the roads were all nicely signed, so I had no problem finding my way. †I added Horned Lark to my county list, to bring me to 41.† Here is a picture of one of the two I saw.
My plan was really paying off - the change in habitat was producing a whole new set of birds to see from the car.† I even saw some Green-winged Teal on a couple of little swampy ponds, a duck I hadn't seen until then in Spokane county.† Finally, as I was nearing the county line, I was going through a burned over area and saw a nice male Mountain Bluebird, to finish off Spokane county at 43 species.† That made me 5 for 5 in my key counties, all over 39 species.† Outstanding!
At the border with Lincoln county, the road turned back to pavement, which was nice.† I soon came to the Sprague Highway and motored on into the sleepy, run-down looking town of Sprague.† My grandfather practiced medicine in Sprague in about 1912 or so, and it was probably more prosperous then than now.
I drove on through town to Sprague Lake.† I was going through a corner of Lincoln county, the first of my five counties on the trip, where I was last Tuesday and Wednesday.† I had my 39 for Lincoln county, but as I drove by the eastern part of Sprague Lake, which is in Lincoln county, I could see tons of ducks out on the lake, so I pulled over and added two more ducks plus Double-crested Cormorant to my Lincoln county list, to bring it to 44.
My real plan, though, was to go to the western end of Sprague Lake, which is in Adams county.† I had only 28 species in Adams county, from trips in 2012 and 2013.† Those trips were in the southern end of Adams county, though, and I hadn't visited any lakes.† My plan was to pick up some ducks for my list at the western end of Sprague Lake, possibly even getting up to the magic 39 number.
Well, the plan was a good one.† I added five duck species, three grebe species (Western, Eared, and Horned), and several other good birds, to end up with 45 species in Adams county!† That was way beyond anything I had imagined.† One of the unexpected species was American White Pelican, which really shouldn't have been there for a couple or three more weeks, in a normal year.† There were two there today, and here is a picture of one of them.
Here is a picture of the southern part of Sprague Lake, in Adams county.† There are many hundreds of water birds out there (including that pelican), and my scope could bring most of them close enough to identify them.
My overlook was near a boat launch for the south end of the lake, and it was crowded with fisherpeople.† It was about noon on a Sunday, and I imagined them going to church in the morning and then heading out for some fishin' with the boys in the afternoon.† It was a beautiful spring afternoon, with the temperature in the low 70's.† A great day to be out on the lake, if you liked that fishin' thing.† I can only imagine that there was beer involved.† The fishers were around to the right, on the middle and northern parts of the lake, for some reason, and the ducks had the south end to themselves.
So, with that success, I headed for home.† I had an excellent drive with no problems and got home just after four o'clock.† I stopped at two rest areas and ate my tuna sandwich in two installments, just to break up the drive.
Looking back on the trip, it was a complete success.† The weather was great, once I got over the snowy pass on Tuesday; the birds came in numbers much better than I had hoped for; and my motels were satisfactory to great.† To top it off, I had no car issues, which is always a big deal for me.† Now I have a feel for the northeast corner of Washington.† It was too early in the year for maximum birding efficiency, for sure, but I made my numbers, and now is when I had the time.† Later in the year would be much better for birds, but it would also have been much hotter, which I don't like.
I was five for five in my targeted counties, getting all of them over the magic number of 39 species:
Lincoln county - 44
Ferry county - 40
Stevens county - 45
Pend Oreille county - 43
Spokane county - 43
In addition to that, I upped Douglas county to 40, from 34; and I upped Adams county from 28 to 45.† Perfeck!
I ended up with 87 species on my trip list.† I was short of my "round number" goal of 100 species, but I had no idea what was reasonable, so I'm happy with 87.
I added 10 species to my year list, which is about what I had expected, although I was only guessing at that.† That brings me to 230 species for the year, of which 3 are lifers.
My next trip is to southeast Arizona.† I leave on May 2 and stay there for 17 days.† I'm flying into Tucson and renting a car.† Originally I had planned to drive there, but it is 24 hours of driving, each way, and it ended up being cheaper and easier to fly and rent a car.† Even if I drove 8 hours a day, which is more than I like to do these days, it would be six full days of driving.† Ugh.† Flying is better.† I'll be visiting many places I visited in 2011, so there won't be a lot of lifers, but there will be a lot of new birds for my year list.† In the meantime, maybe I'll pick up a returning spring species or two here at home.† We will see.