[Tweeters] Okanogan Update - more Sharp-tales!

Jon Houghton jon.houghton at hartcrowser.com
Wed Dec 30 14:22:32 PST 2015

Hi Tweets - After a nice Sunday evening in Omak, swapping tales with Blair Bernson and Samantha, Kathleen and I continued our Okanogan trip on Monday with a trip up to the Highlands. It was incredibly beautiful with fresh snow, sunshine, everything flocked with frost, and temperatures in the teens. We quickly encountered a nice tame flock of crossbills in the road, just before the Sno-Park turnoff, but they were all regrettably Red (White-winged was a target, and would be a lifer for Kathleen). We thought this might portend well for the day but alas, the Sno-Park was completely bird free (but beautiful) on two stops; a few Rough-legged Hawks were found (one on its usual (?) pole just above Havillah) along with expected Ravens, but the rest of the day was pretty much sight-seeing. We stopped and searched/listened at a great many cone-filled groves of spruce and fir without a hint of a finch flock. The Nealy Road feeders were nice though, with many Rosy Finches, 2 spp of Chickadee, a Hairy, and a couple of photogenic Redpolls. Could not find the Bohemian Waxwing seen by Blair the previous day, but this was a beautiful day!

Yesterday (Tuesday) we headed up Conconully Rd. and got to the Happy Hill junction at about 0830. Pulling in to the (unplowed) signed overlook, upstream from that junction, we quickly saw several Sharp-tailed Grouse in the tops of taller water birch and cottonwoods. Much nicer views were provided, without the numerous snowflakes that we'd had between us and the birds on Foster Creek Sunday. After counting a dozen or so birds spread out among the tree tops, the whole group was spooked (possibly by a Cooper's Hawk seen later in the area) and took flight, first upstream past the WDFW Office/Barn complex, and then wheeling downstream past us, landing in similar shrubbery downstream but still above the WDFW access and equipment yard at the Happy Hill junction. As they flew by, I got a pretty good count of about 30 birds. As we left the area about 0930, they were still all present save one that flew alone and high overhead toward Happy Hill. As we drove toward Conconully, we found two more isolated birds in tree tops upstream near the WDFW Office. With the 16 seen at Foster Creek, that makes about 48 STGR for the trip - a pretty nice way to break a 3-yr jinx (!) and perhaps indicating significant survival despite the major fires in the area this year.

After birding around Conconully (seeing most of the birds reported by Blair 2 days earlier, except our target Black-backed Woodpecker) we headed back down to Happy Hill Road (grouse were all gone from along Scotch Cr. at 1130). We drove up through the major burn areas and down to Salmon Creek Road, stopping very often to look and listen in vain for woodpeckers. FYI - major salvage logging is underway in burn areas along lower Happy Hill Road on the Salmon Creek side, and along Salmon Creek. We then headed for Bridgeport S.P. where the Northern Sawwhet seen by Blair on Saturday and others before, had returned to its perch in the first small spruce on the left from the end of the road. This tree has a prominent bug trap hanging from a lower branch. A larger raptor, probably a guilty looking Kestrel lurking nearby, had nailed one of the many California Quail on the grounds, leaving the classic depression and blood drops in the fresh snow, flanked by wing tip marks as it rose with its prey. No Crossbills here either.

We headed home up Bridgeport Hill Rd. No grouse were seen in the sunshine despite their presence at the same time of day (but in the snow) on Sunday. We then cruised a lot of the NW corner of the Waterville Plateau looking for a Gyrfalcon, but finding only one RL Hawk and a few small groups of Horned Larks. All in all, though, a great trip (did I mention that the weather and landscape were beautiful?)!

Jon Houghton, Edmonds

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