[Tweeters] Othello area birding and a fire report (Wed. 7/22)

Jon Houghton jon.houghton at hartcrowser.com
Thu Jul 23 16:20:50 PDT 2015

Hi Tweets - Yesterday I couldn't resist the promise of cooler weather on the east side and took a solo run to the Othello area, especially targeting Para Ponds for Tri-colored Blackbirds and whatever else might have showed up. I made stops at Bullfrog Pond near Suncadia both coming and going, but failed to see or hear the American Bittern that was reported there a few weeks ago. A quick stop at County Line ponds on SR 26 was good for a probable family group of 5 American Avocets, but no other shorebirds or phalaropes. This was the most pleasant summer birding I've ever experienced at Para Ponds with temp in the mid 70s and a light breeze (the usual roadside carrion didn't even smell too much). Comfy temps allowed me to hang out to enjoy a group of about 10 Tri-colored Blackbirds around the southeast pond (with a couple of redwings). They were apparently feeding on the mudflat with their wings held out and down at the back - almost like begging behavior, but even adults seemed to be doing this?? A pair of Red-necked Phalaropes in mostly winter plumage were circling and feeding in the open water. On mudflats surrounding the northeast pond, there were a couple more TCs and a Sora adult and gawky chick. Back on the southeast pond - a pair of Virginia Rail wandered out onto the flats briefly - nice to see the 2 spp so close in time to highlight their differences. The larger southwest pond had hoards of ducks, Black-necked Stilts, and about 30 or so White Pelican. Mudflats there had Greater Yellow-legs and several dozen Dowitchers, presumed to be Long-billed. I didn't dwell on those, though, because I was intent on sorting out the peeps. A majority were Least Sandpipers, along with some Westerns. I concluded that one grayer peep with a short straight bill was a Semipalmated Sandpiper and photos seem to confirm this. After Para, I went out Lee Rd., across SR 17 and drove the fields looking for Long-billed Curlew (unsuccessfully). I went north to Sutton Rd and then east back across SR 17. Taking the first dirt track to the north (off Sutton Rd.) between two irrigation canals, I relocated 2 active Burrowing Owl burrows and saw 2 adult and 3 fledgling owlets. Very dusty track, but well worth it! To the north on 17, I then headed west on SR 262 towards Potholes stopping near the Warden Lake fishing access to relocated Lark Sparrows seen in the area last year. They stood out (species 300 in the state, this year!) in a mixed group with a large number of House Sparrows in willows and brush adjacent to SR 262. Crossing the Moses Lake dam, I looked hard for terns but saw only Caspian. I hung out around the two boat launches in Potholes St. Park for over an hour, scoping everything in sight. Only terns that showed were again Caspian, and my lone blackheaded gull, turned out to be a Bonapart's.

I headed home up Dodson Rd. to I-90 because I wanted to see what the fire earlier in the week had done. Turns out the area around the Silica Road exit is likely where the thing started and the riparian veg around all the ponds is pretty much toast. In the first large pond by the exit, most of the emergent veg was OK but there were some pretty upset Black-necked Stilts and Red-winged Blackbirds trying to sort out what happened. The 'interesting' house and grounds at the turn to go down Frenchman's Coulee was spared, but the surroundings, including a lot of wetland veg in dried up ponds was burned. Not going to be pretty for a few years!! - Jon

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