[Tweeters] FOY Spring to Cle Elum Ponds, Hiwy 10 and Umptanum Rd on a 'Golden' Day - 3/12/14

Barbara Deihl barbdeihl at comcast.net
Sat Mar 15 04:40:45 PDT 2014

FINALLY ! A clear shot over the pass and out into warmth and open habitat, not-to-mention clear, blue sky, no wind and no precip ! Of course there remained residual snow in the woods, on the hills and ice of sorts on some of the Cle Elum Ponds. The Teanaway River was high, wild and muddy - not yet dipper quality at the bridge on Hiwy 10. In fact, I neither heard nor saw ANY birds at that spot, and very few elsewhere. However, those I did see, were, for the most part, busily engaged in preparations for the breeding season. it was exhilarating to breathe the fresh air and get a take on very early signs of spring, such as red and golden twigs of dogwood and willow. Cottonwoods and other deciduous trees and bushes had not yet leafed out, still providing visual access through the branches for some nest-scouting.

I first turned the corner in South Cle Elum onto the road along the ponds and slowly started finding some birds - a Tree Swallow here, some Canada Geese there, a pair of Bufflehead, two Great Blue Herons collecting sticks, a half-dozen Song Sparrows calling out and chasing each other around, and a few cheery Black-capped Chickadees, a chattering Steller's Jay, two Common Ravens croaking and following each other around, and... one Mourning Cloak Butterfly ! No woodpeckers, no Osprey at the nest platform, no Bald Eagles, and no array of passerines filling air and hardscape. A nice slow start to what eventually will be a very active place in the next few months. Peaceful. I found myself captivated by the roadside art display entitled (by me), "What the Snowplows Left Behind". I even started naming some of the pieces and captured some images, which you can see in my first Flickr photo set of the trip (see link below) - most were fairly amorphous, but at least one did look like a bird - I didn't list it, however...

Beyond the ponds and after a stop at the Cle Elum Bakery for a loaf of cinnamon-raisin bread, I headed to Hiwy 10, where I made a quick stop at the "Dipper Bridge" and the raging Teanaway, then sprinted on off to the cliffs near Milepost 94 and looked to see what might be using the 'Nest in the Crack', that the past couple of years had been used by ravens, who had commandeered control of that nest and area from the Prairie Falcons that had previously raised young there for ??? years. The Ravens were there, but not on a visible nest yet (I saw 2 nests) - they patrolled the cliffs, and ridgeline and seemed to be very interested in each other. No Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, Cliff Swallows or other birds. Four Yellow-bellied Marmots chased around on the scree slopes, causing small, audible rock slides.

Just past the cliffs, before MP 95, is where things got very interesting, birdwise. I pulled over when I saw a couple of Red-tailed Hawks following each other around, occasionally landing on a utility-pole 'sculpture' (see photos in 2nd set linked below). I was just about to move on, when one of the hawks started displaying by flying upward and then making sudden stoops down to the hillside and swooping back up again - like hummingbirds, but without the sound. Over and over this bird performed what I assumed was a show of how good he (?) might be at catching rodent prey? I was impressed - don't know if the mate was.

This was a nice build-up to what would come next - over the ridgetop suddenly appeared a huge dark bird and it went after the displaying redtail. Back and forth around that ridge and slope went the two, with the redtail not-to-be driven off. Sometimes the hawk would zip away and re-appear over or behind the GOLDEN EAGLE and become the chaser. I tried to capture some of this with my camera, with meagre success - I wished for more pairs of eyes to help follow the action and ID the giant raptor. The eagle (possibly a sub-adult 4 or 5), after a few minutes of pestering and being pestered, slid off behind the ridge and that was that. Please look at my photos in the second set and see what you think about the age of this Golden Eagle. By the way, after the 'chase', the redtail resumed its perch atop the utility pole, seemingly nonplussed by the would-be displacer. All in a day's work.

After catching my own breath after that excitement, I cruised on, looking for owl and hawk nests, finding some, but only one that was occupied. The Reecer Crk Rd. nest that had been used by Great Horned Owls and last year, Red-tailed Hawks, is no longer there. Down the road to the south of that spot, I did find 2 nests I'd not seen before. Of the nests I saw along that stretch of road, there was only one with a possible occupant, a Red-tailed Hawk (?). It was barely visible in a new nest at the SW corner of the intersection of Faust Rd. with Hiwy 10 (?), just south of the railroad tracks. I'll check my map later to better pinpoint that location - it is a spot where for the past few years we have seen Great Horned Owls nesting.

My final search area of the day, after pausing for refreshment in Ellensburg, was Umptanum Rd. - decided it best to save Yakima Canyon and my Prairie Falcon search for another day. Ump Rd. was as fabulous as ever, even without much birdage. Ones I did see or hear, included Mourning Dove, Western Bluebirds, Black-billed Magpies and lastly, the piece de resistance, the calls of a Western Meadowlark signaling day's end. Before I headed back down the road toward home (Seattle), I did my usual photo shoot of all that pleased my eye - mountains, sky, clouds, wind farm and city lights below, and many pleasing features of the topography. The bluebird specks-on-wires (see photos in the 3rd and final set) were fun to see and watch - they bipped around constantly for awhile, on and off the lines and then disappeared into the brush. They were pairing up and hanging out around the numbered boxes they may have selected to use this year. Bluebirds of happiness...

Here are the links for the 3 Flickr photo sets for the day:

"Cle Elum to Cliffs" - http://flic.kr/s/aHsjUB5iTp

"Beyond the Cliffs" - http://flic.kr/s/aHsjUBAaAF

"Moon Moves Along Umptanum Rd" - http://flic.kr/s/aHsjUBC2Xv

Barb Deihl
North Matthews Beach - NE Seattle
barbdeihl at comcast.net
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