[Tweeters] Okanogan-29 March-1 April
steppie at nwinfo.net
Sat Apr 6 19:23:11 PDT 2013
Better late than never?
Last weekend, we toured "Okanogan Country" with George Gerdts and Mary Ann
Rossing, meeting in Pateros.
29 March. Ellen and I started our Okanogan birding in the afternoon at the
Okanogan River mouth, in and around the Cassimer Bar Wildlife Area. We find
this area to be the birdiest site we've found in the county. It did not
disappoint today. In a couple hours we found nearly 50 species. We tallied
18 species of waterfowl, including three EURASIAN WIGEONS. Also of note were
Double-crested Cormorants, a relative newcomer to Okanogan County as a
breeder, with birds already on their nests in the "heron rookery."
Arriving at the Pateros Lakeshore Inn towards dusk, we set up scopes from
the balcony and were astounded to spot a YELLOW-BILLED LOON, nearly in full
breeding attire! Its bill was quite yellow leading Ellen to say on first
glance it looked billess. This was our first- ever sighting of this plumage
in Washington. A nearby Common Loon in the same plumage provided a nice
comparison, showing a quite black bill.
30 March. The following morning, with George and Mary Ann, we began our day
by searching for the Yellow-billed Loon at Pateros. We canvassed the waters
from Pateros and both downstream and upstream a mile or so without any luck.
Our best find was a CLARK'S GREBE resting with a loose group of sleeping
Western Grebes. After an hour or so, we decided to move on.
Central Ferry Canyon Road was next on our agenda. Much of shrub-steppe and
riparian vegetation in the lower part of the canyon burned last summer but
the upper canyon pine forest seemed only lightly burned. Our best find here
was getting great views of a male BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER, drumming away at
the cemetery. We found it amazing this species found this disjunct patch of
pine forests relatively soon after the fire suggesting this nomadic species
"smelled the smoke." Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, plus the ubiquitous
Northern Flicker, completed our list of woodpeckers here. George spotted
eight or so Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches foraging at the edge of a snow bank in
the open pine woods. Close views of one of these beautiful finches was
certainly one of the highlights of our trip. Western Bluebirds seemed to be
everywhere; we counted 20 or so of these beautiful birds which were
conspicuous throughout canyon. Other interesting birds included a pair of
Great Horned Owls hooting away, Townsend's Solitaire, and species partial to
pines such as Pygmy Nuthatch, Cassin's Finch, and Red Crossbill.
We introduced George and Mary Ann to Indian Dan Canyon Wildlife Area, a few
miles northwest of Brewster, where we took a brief walk in the warm
sunshine. Our prize here was a NORTHERN GOSHAWK perched atop a tall pine
snag. We scoped this immature bird for a minute before the hawk launched
into flight and began soaring right over us, giving us all superb studies of
this raptor, reminding me of a very apt phrase I recall from Hawks in Flight
(Dunne and Sibley) "note the very Buteo-like sympathies."
Our final birding for the afternoon was along Cameron Lake Road, proceeding
from south to north. Waterfowl were once more the most diverse group of
birds we noted, with 18 species again. A small number of Sandhill Cranes
bugled and flew about the greening wheat fields, always a stirring sight.
Other spring arrivals included Yellow-headed Blackbird. Lingering winter
birds included Rough-legged Hawk and Northern Shrike. The ponderosa pine
forest near the north end of the plateau was great for both White-breasted
and Pygmy Nuthatches, Cassin's Finch, and Red Crossbill. Woodpeckers were
noisy and conspicuous (Downy and Hairy and flicker); we had to persevere in
order to spot WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER.
31 March. I had asked George to share with us the spot near the Scotch
Creek Wildlife Area where he and Jamie Acker had heard Dusky Grouse a week
or so before. At the junction of Salmon Creek and Happy Hill Roads, we
stopped and listened and soon heard at least three hooting Dusky Grouse.
Unless these birds were fooling us, we were quite sure we could hear hooting
grouse from the slopes across the creek, several hundred yards to the west.
This contradicts some of the literature we've read where Dusky Grouse hoots
are stated to be so quiet as to be detectable only at close range, say 50
yards or so.
A pair of American Dippers at the bridge here seemed on a rather tranquil
creek. The male sang quite often, suggesting this pair was going to breed
here, rather than merely being winter visitors along this stream.
While the others clambered about the steep hillsides here, I chose to walk
up Happy Hill Road, where, by a large aspen copse, a sapsucker drummed. I
could not find the bird for a visual but suspected it was a Red-naped, which
would have been on the early side.
Conconully proved a very nice stop on our trip. There was only a narrow lead
of open water; otherwise the lake was still quite frozen. One suspects
waterfowl would have been considerably more diverse than the 10 species
(nice views of both goldeneyes) we noted had the lake been open.
Highlights here included an adult and "ring-tail" immature Golden Eagle,
soaring beautifully on the slopes above town. We had great views of a male
Red-naped Sapsucker (flagged by eBird as early), drumming on telephone pole.
Several other sapsuckers heard drumming about the state park but not seen.
Heading toward Omak from Conconully, we climbed Silver Hill Road, where a
parcel of the Wells Wildlife Area gives great access to high quality
grassland. Though not the right season for most birds of this habitat, we
did spot a Vesper Sparrow and hear a number of Western Meadowlarks, as well
admire some gorgeous Mountain Bluebirds. We related to George and Mary Ann
this site has proven super, in early summer, for Grasshopper Sparrow.
George and Mary Ann started on their journey back to Bainbridge Island and
we headed toward Palmer Lake. Our first stop was at Whitestone Lake, where a
nice variety of waterfowl (13 species) dotted the waters. Red-necked Grebes,
in full breeding dress, and braying away, were a treat.
Spectacle Lake, yielded yet more waterfowl, including both goldeneyes. After
three days in Okanogan country, and with every site revealing scads of geese
and ducks, it was now obvious this period in spring hereabouts might aptly
be termed the "Waterfowl Show."
Heading towards Loomis, Ellen spotted a BLM sign off on a side road so we
elected to explore up this to the Palmer Mountain BLM Site. The initial
stretch of the road was ever-so-steep and narrow, but the grade soon
lessened and the going became easier to a locked gate on the north side of
Washburn Lake. The lake was still mostly ice-covered. We poked around the
extensive aspen copses and the expansive hillsides, mantled in a dense cover
of Big Sagebrush. The density of sagebrush combined with an obvious dearth
of native bunchgrasses suggests this habitat has been overgrazed. The BLM
boasts their restoration efforts around Washburn Lake. By fencing out
cattle, has been successful in improving habitat for waterfowl. Their next
project might be reducing cattle grazing, to a sustainable level, on this
large tract of shrub-steppe, perhaps Washington's northernmost really big
expanse of this habitat.
Birds here included drumming Red-naped Sapsuckers and both Hairy and Downy
Woodpecker. Combined with our other sightings today, it was clear Red-naped
Sapsuckers had arrived early this spring in the Okanogan. The exceptionally
warm weather may have prompted these arrivals. To cap off our experience
here, bugling Sandhill Cranes passed us high overhead. Try as we could,
neither of us could spot these grand birds.
Palmer Lake was exceptionally quiet. Notable here was our first Brewer's
Blackbird of the trip. Ten days from now, they will likely be numerous about
most lowland Okanogan area farm and field edges.
1 April. We hit Havillah before sunup and were lucky to hear a booming GREAT
GRAY OWL, as well Northern Pygmy-Owl and Great Horned Owl. A great way to
start a day of birding! We had yet more Red-naped Sapsuckers, one male was
making a racket drumming on a plywood sign at Sno-Park parking area. This
individual then had a territorial dispute with a Williamson's Sapsucker
male, as both birds dashed about through the forest. This area's fame as a
haven for woodpeckers seems to still hold, though the forest has been
heavily thinned to combat insect epidemics. We saw BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER,
Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers, and Northern Flicker, for a total of six
species of clan.
After a short stop at Eden Valley Guest Ranch for a late breakfast, we did a
bit of birding around our cabin. Wild Turkeys were calling, as were Say's
Phoebes. Migrants such as Violet-green Swallows and Mountain Bluebirds
pleased us, as did the beautiful flutings from Western Meadowlarks. We
recommend this place for those wanting a rustic Okanogan experience. Though
there is no telephone or TV, the kitchen facilities are great for a luxury
camping expedition. There is a big wood stove (wood provided) and plenty of
hot water for showers.
Molson Lakes were still mostly frozen but 12 species of waterfowl (including
Canvasback) crowded the few open areas. Nearby, we spotted a Northern
We then hit areas of spruce and fir forest along MaryAnn Creek and finally
climbed the Siztmark ski hill, up the snow-free south slopes, over a lush
cover of Idaho Fescue and scattered Douglas's Buckwheat. The views were
fabulous from the top: west to Chopaka and Tiffany Mountains, easternmost
outliers of the Cascade Mountains, north to Baldy ski hill and Monashee
Mountains in southern BC, and south to Bonaparte Mountain south of Havillah.
Homeward, both Tonasket and, Okanogan boasted Ospreys perched atop their
power pole nests.
Finally, on the imposing cliffs by Lenore Lake, in the Lower Grand Coulee,
we stopped to admire White-throated Swifts rocketing about the rock walls,
calling excitedly. These amazing birds were certainly a great finale!
Andy and Ellen Stepniewski
steppie at nwinfo.net
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