[Tweeters] Common Nighthawk - Benton County, and 39x100 (long)

Tim Brennan tsbrennan at hotmail.com
Mon Jul 14 06:31:31 PDT 2014

Hey Tweets, and Inlanders (do y'all have a cute nickname? we need to work on that),

I just wrapped up two days plus in Eastern Washington, with the nighthawk at Horn Rapids (at 1 in the afternoon, and nearing if not into triple digits), being the 100th bird in Benton for me, and the 39th county in the state where I've hit that mark. Thanks to those who helped me reach that goal!

Kittitas Friday: I began the trip in Kittitas County, stopping at Gold Creek to work on my Kittitas year list. The highlights here were the thrushes (Swainson's and Hermit, battling it out in song). I swung through Bullfrog Pond, where I missed a lot of the birds people keep finding there (I'm worried I'm at the wrong pond?), but I did have a Common Yellowthroat, and Gray Catbird quite vocal. In Cle Elum, a feeder right by the ranger station had several Black-chinned Hummingbirds zipping in to feed. I drove the Vantage Highway, picking up Lark Sparrow, but missing Chukar and Pheasant, and then to Recreation Road. I don't know 'the usual spot' people keep referring to for Black-throated Sparrow, but I'm assuming it's not the start or the end of the road, and it isn't that long, so I was trying from the middle. No luck on the BTSP, but I picked up a Yellow-breasted Chat, which was my 150th life bird in the county.

Columbia and Garfield Saturday: I started early at Lewis and Clark Trail State Park, where I had nearly 30 species, including Black-capped Chickadee, Veery, all three vireo species (Red-eyed down by the river), and a pair of very active Great Horned Owls. I stopped in Starbuck, comically expecting coffee. I had trouble finding an open cafe, so I tried the bait and tackle shop asking for directions - the gentleman behind the counter pulled out his coffee maker and made a pot! Riveria Road at 7 AM that day either had no sparrows, or they just gave up on motion/noisemaking exceptionally early. No amount of playback, pishing, being quiet, driving slow/fast or walking gave me any motion outside of some Horned Larks, although I had a suspicious looking raptor that may have been a Ferruginous (I'll take the time to figure out it was a red-tailed hawk I'm sure, but it was white and rusty and perched on the ground sans belly band. The breast was not clean white, however, so I have doubts).

Snake River birding was pretty productive, with Pelican, Caspian Tern, Osprey and Oriole for both counties. Garfield also gave me a Spotted Sandpiper from Hastings Hill Road, and a Black-crowned Night Heron from the very last boast launch on that road, happily letting people paddle past it in a rowboat. In Pomeroy (Garfield County now) I had Vaux's Swifts feeding over the city park while I ate lunch, and Lesser Goldfinches calling everywhere. I made my way up into the Blue Mountains from there, getting my life-list closer to 100 species as I picked up an Olive-sided Flycatcher and a Calliope Hummingbird. Mountain Bluebirds were everywhere, and I also found a Golden Eagle perched on a snag.

At 99 species, I thought a trip down FR 4220 would be wise, as it goes into Columbia County. My initial plan was to start right in with the Columbia County end of it, but a forest worker stopped me short, saying they were doing work up the road, a fact confirmed by the helicopter with a huge log in tow. So I drove back on 4220 to what seemed like good habitat and got out and walked. It was so nice to get out and see some of the species better, including the Calliope Hummingbirds and the Mountain Bluebirds, including many juveniles. I picked up a Cassin's Finch for my 100th bird in the county, quickly followed by a life look at a Williamson's Sapsucker. These close up views are sometimes called "crippling' views of birds, so I'll run with that - I had a "crippling view" of a Williamson's Sapsucker... right before the mountain lion.

Now... I'm a Husky, and my closest brother is a Cougar, so there will be no end to his joy here, but a cougar, mountain lion, cat-monster, I don't care what you want to call it walked slowly and quietly from below (the south side of the trail) to above me at a distance of about 150 feet. I...it's just... COUGARS ARE LARGE ANIMALS. My brain spun even as I stood there silently, "Am I supposed to yell? Play dead? Fight back? Run? Make myself look big? " Common sense kept me still and it carried on without paying me any notice. I waited, picked up a rock that was far too large to be useful, and walked past the spot where it crossed, and then another 4-500 feet to my car.

The forest worker shook his head silently as I answered him "No... I didn't bring mace. Should I have?", and shortly thereafter I was free to take the road into Columbia. The end of 4220 was where I stopped, and I got out of the car still a little jumpy. At that moment of course, I spotted a wasp/bee/pollinator monster hovering by my car door. I loudly yelled "Chuck!" or something, and successfully revealed my Columbia County Dusky Grouse in the process. Yay! White-breasted Nuthatch, Turkey Vulture, and more views of Williamson's Sapsucker were the highlights, and I may have had a Northern Goshawk, but the large accipiter flew out of sight before I could even get a view of its face or back.

Columbia at 96, and 4220 was not helping me much more, so I took the long road back down to highway 12 and to Dayton. I grabbed pizza and beer at the downtown brewpub, and then went back to the hotel to think of how I could pick up five more birds and promptly fell asleep. The next morning, I drove up Touchet Road towards Bluewood, and stopped at... where's my map... ugh...I think it was the Middle Ridge Trail, or something of that sort - a pull out at about 14-15 miles up on the left. With my windows down, I had already added a handful of birds (Golden-crowned Kinglet, Pacific Wren, Swainson's Thrush, Chestnut-backed Chickadee). I got out to the trailhead and immediately had a Western Flycatcher NOT singing like the ones from home. The problem is... I pulled up the recording on my phone and it didn't exactly sound Cordilleran. I let that bird go, but shortly thereafter had a bird calling like the Pacific-slopes from home for bird 100. But... the status of those birds is too interesting for me to leave that as bird 100, so I hiked the trail a bit until I found a Hammond's Flycatcher.

Nearing 7:30 AM and I was in a rush to get out of Columbia. Why? I was meeting Kevin Black in Benton County to try to pick up birds 90-100. I needed a few passerines, and if they were going to make any noise for us, it would have to be early. Meeting Kevin around 9:00 at WE Johnson, we started off down the trail, with Kevin's awesome eyes picking up a silent Orange-crowned Warbler (91). Chats, Yelllow Warblers and kingbirds were singing, and we did also have Gray Catbird (92), Western Wood Pewee (93), and Willow Flycatcher (94). Our next stop was Amon Creek, where Osprey (95) and Black-crowned Night Heron (96) flew for us. Walking the trail around the water, we also got good looks at Lazuli Bunting (97) and heard Virginia Rail (98).

At this point, we were discussing plans for the last two birds, and Kevin learned that Forster's Tern would be a life bird for me. He eventually recovered from his disbelief and brought me to the very end of the road at Leslie Groves, where we watched a half dozen or so of the birds playing over the water, along with Caspian Terns, American White Pelicans and Great Egrets. I took my 99th bird, shook hands with Kevin, and headed up towards Horn Rapids. This area has had reports with all kinds of interesting birds - but all of them were dead silent as I arrived at 1:00, except for some Killdeer - the birds that got me into this whole birding nonsense in the first place. I walked and watched and listened, before finally having the Common Nighthawk (100) of all birds fly overhead in the middle of the day, giving a loud "Peeeent!".

A little bit of birding in Kittitas on the way home, and I still made it back by 7:00 where my kids had a grand time laughing at me because I still haven't seen a crow in Garfield County. They have decided the crows are messing with me and may even have stuffed themselves into a cougar costume. I didn't find that funny at all.

Happy Birding!

-Tim Brennan

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