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Thursday, October 22, 2015
Iím on the road again.† This time itís a short trip (two nights) to southern Washington to pick up some county birds.† I have eight counties left to get to 39 species, which is my current goal.† Washington has 39 counties, and my current goal is to see 39 species in each county.
My first stops today were in Lewis county, which is south of Olympia.† Specifically I got off the freeway at Chehalis and headed up toward Goodrich Road, where there are supposed to be ponds in the winter.† I was looking especially for ducks and other water birds today.
I had a little delay getting out of Chehalis, though; as I left the commercial district near the freeway, a motorcycle policeman pulled me over.† Oops.† I wondered what I had done, as I had been observing the speed limit and driving safely, as far as I could tell.† Well, it turned out there was a school zone, according to the cop, with a flashing yellow light, saying the speed limit was 20 mph.† I hadnít seen it, but I was looking for a Subway sandwich place that was supposed to be along that stretch.† It was almost 11:00 in the morning, too, which isnít a time I would have normally associated with a school zone.† As it turned out, the officer was kind to me and let me off with a warning, which I was very grateful for.† When I came back by there later, going the other way, I never could find the flashing yellow light he mentioned, but I assume it must have been there somewhere, in the midst of the commercial district, with all its signs.† I did see the school, which was a couple of blocks off the main drag that I had been on.† Anyway, no ticket, so I was good.
I found Goodrich Road, but the ponds at the end of it were still dry, looking like normal fields.† Later in the winter, after enough rain, they will fill up no doubt, and then there will be ducks there.† I did pick up Wood Duck and White-crowned Sparrow on Goodrich Road, though, so it wasnít a waste of time.† I also now know where to go in the middle of winter, after some rain, to look for ducks.† When I started today, I only had 21 species in Lewis county, and I only had a limited number of places to visit, so I wasnít expecting to get my total up to 39 today.† The places I visited today are very close to I-5, and Iím sure Iíll be going up and down I-5 this winter, so I can stop then and pick up more water birds.
Next I visited Fort Borst Park, and I picked up Mallard there, as well as Glaucous-winged Gull.† Here is a Glaucous-winged Gull in winter plumage.
The key to that identification is that the tips of wings donít have any black on them.† Glaucous-winged Gulls cross-breed with Western Gulls, and there are tons of the hybrids around, but they have black tips on their wings.
Next I moved across the freeway and picked up some more birds on Hayes Lake, and then moved south to Plummer Lake, where I picked up one or two more.† From there I moved down the freeway a couple of offramps and drove around the south end of the airport.† Nothing there, so I moved on a little farther south.† I got an excellent one on a private lake there, a Red-necked Grebe.††† Some Cackling Geese flew over, too, which was a good one for the county.† I finished up at Stan Hedwall Park, where I ate my Subway tuna sandwich.† I ended up getting 12 species for Lewis county, to bring me to 33 there.† Iíll have to visit again to bring it up to 39, which is what I expected.† Lewis was just a stop off on my way to my real goals for the trip, which were Cowlitz, Skamania, Wahkiakum, and Pacific counties.
I got to Cowlitz county about 2:15, which was about 45 minutes ahead of my schedule.† My birding today in Cowlitz county was in an area called Woodland Bottoms, near the town of Woodland.† I had been there twice before, but both times were short visits, and I had only birded from the car.† I had 27 species in the county when I got here today, so I needed to see 12 more that I hadnít seen here before.† As I approached the exit for Woodland Bottoms, I saw a Western Scrub-Jay fly across the freeway in front of me, and that was my first new one for the county.† I had some excellent directions for where to look for birds, from a couple of local birders who had responded to my Request for Information on Tweeters, the Western Washington birding mailing list.† I made the rounds, and slowly picked up birds Ė usually no more than one at each place I stopped.†
I picked up Song Sparrow and Golden-crowned Sparrow at one stop, early on.† Here is a picture of the Golden-crowned Sparrow, in its rather drab winter plumage.
There were tons of Red-tailed Hawks around today.† I must have seen at least 30 or 40 of them.† Here is one I saw in a field on the ground.
Here is a picture of the some of the farmland that makes up Woodland Bottoms.
I was driving on the dike that separates the Columbia River from that bottom land.
Western Grebe, out on the Columbia River at one stop, was a good one.† Then there was a pair of Sandhill Cranes in a field by the road.† Another pair flew in while I was taking pictures of the first pair, too.† Here is a picture of a Sandhill Crane.
I stopped at Austin Point, which I had great hopes for, based on reports I had seen.† I got out and walked around, but it was woodland birding, which I never do well at, and I saw very little.† It was very disappointing.† I did see a Varied Thrush there, though, which was a good bird for my county list.† Here is a picture of it.
It isnít a very sharp picture, but there wasnít much light.
I drove on and got this picture of another Red-tailed Hawk, perched on a pole.
As I said before, I saw tons of Red-tailed Hawks, and also maybe 20 American Kestrels and 8 or 10 Northern Harriers.† The raptors were active today.
I drove east along the north bank of the Lewis River on the dike road, hoping to see something good at the dairy near the east end of it.† I was very disappointed, though, as there was nothing except starlings, blackbirds, and pigeons there, and I had already seen all of those species on my earlier visits to the county.† I was at 34 species by then, and it was coming up on five oíclock, which is my normal stopping time.† I had pretty much given up on getting to 39 today, but that was fine, because Iím staying here in Cowlitz county for the next two nights, so Iíll have more chances to see other stuff.
I drove back toward town, but I decided to drive out across the Bottoms again, and check in to my motel a little later than usual.† I was soon rewarded for that decision by large flocks of Cackling Geese flying over, which was one of the so-called easy species I had expected to see today.† Five days ago a local birder had reported seeing over 8000 Cackling Geese at Woodland Bottoms, and I hadnít seen one before these flocks flew over.† Cackling Geese are smaller versions of the familiar Canada Geese, and they have a different call when they fly, which allowed me to identify them.
Back along the Columbia River, I stopped at a place one of the local birders had suggested and played the song of Spotted Towhee.† It looked like a likely habitat for them.† I got two responses, neither one of which was a Spotted Towhee.† One was a Song Sparrow, which I had seen earlier, but I did get this nice picture of this one.
In addition to the Song Sparrow, another bird flew in, and it was amazing.† I had left my camera in the car, so ran back and got it, to get some pictures of this very interesting bird.† It was obviously a wren of some kind, but it was like a ghost wren, all grey.† I got these pictures, which make it look like it has more color to it than I saw at the time.† At the time, it just looked light gray to me, more like the second picture, but even grayer.
Birds lacking their normal color are referred to as leucistic, which is different from albino.† I couldnít tell what species of wren it was until its buddy or mate flew in and joined the party.† Here is a normally colored Bewickís Wren.
In the leucistic bird, you can see the white eyebrow faintly, as well as a hint of the barring on the tail.† It was great to add Bewickís Wren to my county list, but it was even more fun to see the ghost version and get pictures.† At one point, I thought I heard a response from a Spotted Towhee, too, but I only heard it a couple of times, and I didnít chase it because I was chasing the wrens.
It was after five oíclock by then, but I pressed on.† I went back to the northern end of the Bottoms, where I had started three hours earlier.† I was looking for a couple of species that had been reported in that area, and I saw two birds on a wire as I drove past and turned around to check them out.† They turned out to be American Pipits, a great one for the county and one of the two species I had been looking for.† Here is a backlit picture of one of them.
While I was looking for the Black Phoebe that has been seen there (a rarity in this county, or even in this state), I saw some sparrows and they turned out to be Savannah Sparrows, a species that wasnít even on my radar.† Here are a couple of pictures of Savannah Sparrows.
The American Pipits had been number 39, and the Savannah Sparrows were my 40th species for Cowlitz county, so by extending my day by an hour or so, I had reached my goal.† I got this close up picture of a Red-tailed Hawk on a wire on my way to my motel.
I checked in to my motel on the Lewis River at about 5:45, and moved my stuff in to my room, which has a little deck and a view of the river.† It turns out that there are a couple of bird feeders right outside my room, and some birds were coming in for their last few bites of food for the day.† I picked up Black-capped Chickadee and Bushtit from my deck, while I was still unpacking and getting settled.† That brought me to 42 species for Cowlitz county, a complete success.
Tomorrow I plan to drive to Skamania county, which is east of Vancouver, Washington, along the Columbia River.† I have only birded there once before, in May of 2014, and I have 28 species in that county.† So, tomorrow I hope to see at least 11 more, to bring me to 39.† Since I hit my goal in Cowlitz today, I have all day to do it, and it is less than an hourís drive away.† Iíll see if I can get some more pictures tomorrow.
Friday, October 23, 2015
I didnít get up until 7:15 this morning, and before I could even take care of all my morning routines, I picked up two more species for Cowlitz county.† I mentioned that there are a couple of bird feeders outside my room, and this morning I saw more than one Spotted Towhee on the ground underneath them.† There were also House Sparrows coming to the seed feeder, another one for my Cowlitz list.† I had counted Bushtit last night, and they were back again this morning.† The light was extremely poor, but I got this fuzzy picture of some Bushtits at the suet feeder.
I hit the road about 9:30 finally, and I headed for Skamania county, but I stopped at Fred Meyer in east Vancouver first and gassed up ($2.139 a gallon before any discount; gas prices sure have fallen).† I also got some water at Trader Joeís there.
Skamania county is east of Vancouver, and my travels today took me along the Columbia River on highway 14.† I had 28 species in Skamania county from my only previous visit there (only time in my life, not only my only birding visit), which was in May of 2014, when I was just passing through on my way to Malheur NWR in Oregon.
My first stop in Skamania county was the St. Cloud Wayside.† It is an old apple orchard that is now a federal recreation area.† Here is a picture I got this afternoon on my way back west.
I walked around that path you see in the picture, but from the other end, which took me along the edge of the orchard.† I picked up Golden-crowned Sparrow quickly, and there were also a ton of Northern Flickers there, but I had that one from my previous visit to the county.† I tried for a picture of a flicker, but they were very shy and always flew away when I approached.† I got this picture of a Spotted Towhee, which was new for my Skamania county list.
There were quite a few birds around, but I didnít add anything more to my county list there in the morning.
My next stop was the Franz Lake overlook.† At first I didnít see any birds, but then I noticed a Great Egret, and when I looked at it closely with my scope, I saw some ducks as well.† I added Green-winged Teal to my county list, and when I was going back to my car, I added Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Chestnut-backed Chickadee as well.† I was rolling along.
Skamania was my next destination, and I took the bypass along Skamania Landing Road.† I stopped at the trailhead there, but didnít see anything at all.† As I approached the little residential community of Skamania Landing, there was a large flock of birds feeding on the road and along the side of the road.† It was a mixed flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows (which I had added to my list at St. Cloud Wayside) and Dark-eyed Juncos, which were new for the county.
When I got to where I could see the lake, I stopped and got out my scope to look at the lake, which had a large number of ducks and geese on it.† Here is the view of that little lake that I had from the road (the lake was private, and the park in the foreground was private, so I stayed on the road).
I added Cackling Goose and three duck species there, including Eurasian Wigeon (an excellent vagrant that shouldnít really be here).† On my second scan of the lake shore, I also added Greater Yellowlegs and Killdeer.† All in all, it was an excellent stop.† After my stop at that lake, I had 41 species in the county, so I was done and it was just coming up onto noon.† I had 10 or 15 miles to go to the town where I was planning to get my Subway sandwich, though, and I didnít have anything else to do today anyway, so I decided to try for pictures for the rest of the day, as well as padding my Skamania county list further.
Before I even left Skamania Landing, though, there was a house with a feeder on the way out, which I remembered from last time I was there.† I stopped there and got some pictures from my car, taken through the open passenger side window.† I also added House Finch, Black-capped Chickadee, and Annaís Hummingbird to my county list while I was there.† Here is a male Dark-eyed Junco.
Here is a Black-capped Chickadee picture that I like.
Here is a male House Finch at the feeder.
Here are a couple of shots of a Golden-crowned Sparrow that came to the feeder.
The Golden-crowned Sparrow and the House Finch got into a little altercation, which resulted in both of them staying there, feeding on opposite sides of the feeder, just like they had been doing before the argument.† Here is a picture of them in the middle of the altercation.
It was fun sitting my car and getting pictures.† Talk about dilettante birding!† This was the ultimate.
I stopped at Beacon Rock State Park briefly, but didnít see any new birds there.† I got this picture of a channel of the Columbia River, though.
It was lunch time by then, so I boogied on in to the bustling town of Stevenson, the county seat of Skamania county, and got a tuna sandwich at Subway there.† I took it to the park overlooking Rock Creek Cove.† After I ate, I walked along the shore and picked up a couple more ducks, Bufflehead and Gadwall, for my county list.† On my way back to the highway, I got Double-crested Cormorant, too.†
I took a little side trip to see what Skamania Lodge was.† It turned out to be a fancy pants hotel and golf course, with a two and a half hour zip-line ďtourĒ that includes 7 zip-lines and three sky bridges.† The parking lot was packed with well over a hundred vehicles on an October Friday afternoon.† I see it has 254 guest rooms.† Rooms start at 180 bucks a night, with a senior discount.† Not my cup of tea at all, but to each his own.† It was interesting to see it and to think about the decisions that people make in their lives.
After that, I headed back west, toward my Woodland motel.† I stopped at a view point near the Bridge of the Gods, which crosses the Columbia into Oregon.† Here is a picture of that bridge.
Here is a view of the Columbia River, looking east.
Using the incredible zoom power of my little point and shoot camera, here is a picture of a sternwheeler and some wind surfers in the dark water in the river beyond the sandy point in that last picture.
Who would imagine that there could be such zoom power in a little camera like mine, hand-held, no less?† I continually find it amazing.
I stopped at the Bonneville Dam on the way back and took this picture of the dam.
The channel to the left leads to a very large structure that I think contains the fish ladder, so fish can swim upriver.
I stopped at the St. Cloud Wayside again on the way back and walked around a little.† I got this picture of a Western Scrub-Jay.† I didnít need it for my county list, but I love blue colored birds.
I did see a Downy Woodpecker there this afternoon, though, which brought me to a total of 48 species for Skamania county, well over my goal of 39.† I made one more stop on the way ďhomeĒ, to get still another picture of the Columbia River, again looking east, from the Cape Horn overlook.† The view was much more striking than the picture indicates.
I got back here to my motel at about 3:40 pm, and I stayed in after that.† The birding still wasnít over, though, as a Downy Woodpecker came to the suet feeder outside my window, to bring my total for Cowlitz county to 45.† From my deck overlooking the Lewis River, I also added Belted Kingfisher to my Clark county list.† It was on the other side of the river, which is Clark county.† With the Cackling Geese I saw yesterday across the river, that brings my Clark county list up to 51 species.
So, it was a very successful day.† I got my birds, I got some pictures, the weather was great (high was in the low 60ís with no rain Ė canít ask for much better in late October in Washington), and I had a great time rambling around.
Tomorrow I hope to get Wahkiakum county up to 39 species.† I have 34 there already, so it ought to be pretty easy.† My main birding site is about an hour from here, and afterwards, I plan to head on around a loop through Pacific county, where I have 38 species, to get one more there.† From there Iíll head for home, and if I have time, Iíll stop in Grayís Harbor county, where I have 33 species, to see if I can improve that number.† I might not have time for that, though, depending on how it goes in the morning in Wahkiakum county.† If all goes well, there should be another report tomorrow, winding up this little three day trip.
Saturday, October 24, 2015
I was up at 7 and out of Woodland before 9 AM.† My first real birding stop was to be Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge (JBH NWR) near Cathlamet, in Wahkiakum county, but I stopped in Cathlamet and drove around a little, looking for town birds.† I stopped at a park that had perfect habitat for Pacific Wren, and I played its song.† A cute little Pacific Wren flew in and sang back to me, and I got this picture.
I started the day with 34 species in Wahkiakum county, which meant I needed five more, and the Pacific Wren was the first of those five.
I drove on toward the NWR, but came to a detour sign.† They were working on a bridge, and I had to detour up a valley a few miles, cross the river up there, and come back to the highway.† While I was on that detour, I saw my only Common Raven of the day, another one for my Wahkiakum list.† Two down, three to go.
When I got back to the highway, I wasn't sure which was the right direction to the part of the NWR I wanted to go to, so I turned west.† It turned out that I was already west of the entrance I was looking for, so I turned around and went back, past the Road Closed sign where the detour came in.† Along that stretch, I saw two American Kestrels on wires, the only ones I saw today, and another one for my Wahkiakum list.† Three down, two to go, and I hadn't even reached the JBH NWR entrance yet.
I got to the entrance, just before the bridge closure, and drove out Steamboat Slough Road, which used to go on through to the west, but now is closed in the middle.† I was looking for several species, but there wasnít much on offer.† At one point, near the end of the road, I saw a half dozen Greater White-Fronted Geese.† I thought I already had that one for the county, and they were on the wrong side of the car, so I figured I would get a picture when I came back in a few minutes.
Near the end of the road, it looked like good habitat for Fox Sparrow, so I got out and played that song.† First I had a Song Sparrow fly in, and then a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.† I thought I needed the kinglet for my county list, but later when I looked in my notebook, it turned out I had seen it on my only other visit to the county, in January of this year.† Then I heard a repeated chipping call, and tracked it down to a Fox Sparrow that was responding to my playing of its song.† Here is a picture of that Fox Sparrow, one I needed for Wahkiakum county.
Woo-hoo!† I was only one away now.
Here is a picture of that part of Julia Butler Hansen NWR.
Across the road behind me was the Columbia River, and here is a picture of a tugboat and barge on the river.
I drove back to where I had seen the Greater White-fronted Geese, but they had moved on, I guess, because they weren't there.† Just to be sure, I looked at my notebook, and it turned out I hadn't seen that species in the county last time after all, so that was number 39.† At that point, I really regretted being lazy and not getting a picture when I saw them.† But, I had reached my goal, and it was just short of eleven AM.
I wanted to get an insurance species, though, and I still had a part of the NWR I hadn't covered, so I drove back to the highway and took Brooks Slough Road.† I stopped a few places and played some bird songs, but saw nothing of interest.† I checked out the northern end of Steamboat Slough Road, and then headed onward.† My route took me into the little hamlet of Skamokawa, and I took this picture of the harbor area as I crossed a bridge.† I thought it was really pretty in the sunshine.
I stopped at Skamokawa city park and picked up Northern Flicker, to bring me to 40 species for Wahkiakum county.
As I pulled out of there, it was noon, and I headed for Raymond, in Pacific county.† It was an hour away, but I knew there was an McDonald's there, where I planned to eat lunch.
I had 38 species in Pacific county, so needed to pick up one more today.† I didn't see anything from the car by the time I got to the road to Bay Center, so I took a little detour along the river there.† I managed to see a Western Grebe, which was number 39 for Pacific county.† I was hungry, so was just about to turn around when I saw a Common Loon very close to shore.† I had that one already for the county, but it was a photo op.† The loon was diving, but I got out of the car and got this close up picture of a Common Loon in partial breeding plumage.
On my way into Raymond, I spotted some white geese with a flock of Cackling Geese and added Snow Goose to my Pacific county list.† In Raymond I got my burger and fries at Mickey D's, then went looking for a rarity that had been reported there yesterday afternoon.† I had excellent directions, and I found the location without a problem, to look for the Magnolia Warbler that had been seen and photographed yesterday.† I had no luck with the warbler, which was a major rarity for Washington, but I did pick up Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Flicker (heard only), and Feral Pigeon for my Pacific county list, to bring me to 43 species for Pacific county.
By that time, it was 2:30, and I was two and a half hours from home, so I didn't stop in Gray's Harbor county, where I have 33 species.† I'll have to get back there later this year, I hope.† I got home at 4:50, after an easy drive with only one slowdown (in Tacoma, as usual).
So, it was an excellent little trip.† I topped up four counties (Cowlitz, Skamania, Wahkiakum, and Pacific) and added to my total in a fifth one (Lewis).† That leaves me with just four more counties to bring up to 39 species - Gray's Harbor (33), Lewis (33), Thurston (33) [There seems to be a pattern here], and Whatcom (24).† I can reach all of those counties with day trips, maybe three day trips if I'm lucky, four if I'm not.† The biggest problem is going to be the traffic on weekday afternoons on I-5, which makes Saturday the best day for day trips.† Weather is always a factor, too, of course, at this time of year.† I'd like to finish up this Washington county list project this year.† I started it in July of 2012, so that would be three and a half years to get at least 39 species in each of Washington's 39 counties.
I didnít get any year-birds on this trip, and I'm at 360 species for the year so far, and 8 of those have been lifers.
What a life!