[Tweeters] "HEART OF THE CASCADES" ALONG THE CHINOOK PASS HWY.-22 MARCH

Andy Stepniewski steppie at nwinfo.net
Mon Mar 24 09:59:34 PDT 2014


HEART OF THE CASCADES-CHINOOK PASS HIGHWAY

22 MARCH 2014



In preparation for the June WOS conference, which will showcase Yakima-area birding, I had commented on a site log draft by Scott Downes, Field Trip chair for the event, stating the forest along the Bald Mountain access road, FR-1701, had been “excessively thinned.” As Scott sent this out to the several field trip leaders, I had a nagging feeling I ought to double check the area as it used to offer pretty good “dry” forest birding. Ellen and I did find the forest along FR-1701 has been much reduced by commercial thinning which still appears in progress. We failed to find the three species of nuthatches or Williamson’s Sapsuckers Scott and I routinely encountered in the past. However, we did find pretty good evidence of a fair cone crop in the Ponderosa Pines and Douglas-firs as evidenced by both Red Crossbills and Pine Siskins.



Seeking better forest we headed south on FR-1711, but were stopped after a couple miles by snow. Before meeting snow, we hit slopes with lots of Bitterbrush and scattered pines where Sooty Grouse were hooting away. We still failed on finding the diversity of dry forest birds we used to, though. Commercial thinning of forest for fire protection and forest health appears to be pretty thorough hereabouts.



Sooty Grouse 2
Golden Eagle 2
Bald Eagle 1
Northern Flicker 2
American Kestrel 1
Steller's Jay 1
Common Raven 2
Mountain Chickadee 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch 3
Western Bluebird 5
American Robin 1
Spotted Towhee 8
Dark-eyed Junco 10
Cassin's Finch 2
Red Crossbill 12
Pine Siskin 3



Back on FR-1701, we headed up to the western crest of the “Wenas Region” at Rocky Prairie. Snow still covered most of the landscape. In the few spots that were open, Western Bluebirds were congregating, hawking for insects. Here again forest thinning is in progress. South from Rocky Prairie, again the forest has been opened so much I would doubt the area will hold much of interest to visiting birders. After a couple miles, we finally caught up with the “advance guard” of logging. In this forest we found one drumming Williamson’s Sapsucker.


Williamson's Sapsucker 1
Northern Flicker 2
Mountain Chickadee 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2
Western Bluebird 5
Dark-eyed Junco 5
Red Crossbill 2
Pine Siskin 3



West up SR-410 towards Gold Creek, I shared with Ellen a site I reconnoitered for the “Heart of the Cascades” project. This really fine acquisition by The Nature Conservancy consolidated into public ownership the checkerboard (USFS/Plum Creek) sections of timberland in southern Kittitas County. An easy access to a fantastic viewpoint is from SR-410 at the edge of Yakima County along a closed forest road opposite the entrance to Cottonwood Campground. The very start of the decommissioned road was logged (1990s?), but is now starting to regenerate. Brush patches later in spring hold Calliope Hummingbird, Dusky Flycatcher, Nashville Warbler, and Spotted Towhees.



The views of the cliffs to the north met after the first 10 minutes on the track are spectacular, complete with Mountain Goats! Yes, goats not Bighorn Sheep. We counted eight of these beautiful animals foraging very high on the cliffs, which rise about 2000 feet in elevation above the track, a view totally hidden from the Chinook Pass Highway and well worth the short walk in. Too, this area melts early in the spring; we enjoyed a snow-free track on our ascent up to about 3,500 feet elevation. This cliff face, composed of volcanic rocks, are related to those of nearby Edgar Rock or Fifes Peak, and not part of the Columbia Plateau basalts.



Heading up hill, at junctions, we took a right at the first and a left at the second past these regenerating clear cuts and brushy patches to much nicer Douglas-fir/Ponderosa Pine forest at upper elevations.



Cliffs and forests plus clearings means habitat for raptors. With Sooty Grouse hooting seemingly everywhere (even at 5:30 pm, so their hormones are pumped right now!), we were not surprised to see a displaying NORTHERN GOSHAWK. With slow and “rowing” wing beats, this fine raptor performed high over the summit (4500 feet elevation) for perhaps three or four minutes. A displaying goshawk is surely one of the more stirring avian sites in our mountains. I was first made aware of this behavior in reading Birds of the Okanagan Valley, BC (Cannings) where they note the goshawk returns to its breeding haunts “about Ides of March.” The hawk we watched display was pretty much on schedule here.


Canada Goose X Overhead
Sooty Grouse 6
Turkey Vulture 2
Northern Goshawk 1

Bald Eagle 2
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Williamson's Sapsucker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 6
Steller's Jay 2
Common Raven 2
Mountain Chickadee 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
Pacific Wren 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 3
Western Bluebird 2
Townsend's Solitaire 1
American Robin 3
Spotted Towhee 8
Dark-eyed Junco 5
Cassin's Finch 1
Red Crossbill 20
Pine Siskin 2



Andy Stepniewski

Wapato WA

steppie at nwinfo.net


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