[Tweeters] Birding the north quarter (Rt 20 from Rockport to Lake Calispell and back; long!!)

Jon Houghton jon.houghton at hartcrowser.com
Mon Jun 22 20:23:53 PDT 2015

Hi Tweets - Last Sunday (June 14), Kathleen and I headed north to Burlington and took Rt 20 across most of the northern quarter of the state. The entire route east was an experience in fresh spring green, with the exception of a brief dip to lower, browner elevations around the Okanagan River. An amazing and scenic trip, even without some really cool birds. Our first quick birding stop was at Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport. This is usually a pretty birdy spot - Sunday highlights were... We then stopped just past the County line and walked in a road to a Seattle City Light maintenance yard where we were rewarded with several singing AMERICAN REDSTART and RED-EYED VIREO - both FOYs. We were relieved to see no smoke from the forest fire reported south of Diablo Lake and stopped near Washington Pass for a short and scenic hike up to Blue Lake - great flowers and a few typical sub-alpine species. We arrived at Sun Mt. Lodge (great special rate!) about 5pm and while I checked in, Kathleen found a way cute family of DUSKY GROUSE (Mom and 2 chicks) in the flower bed just in front of the lodge. Having missed on all tries for this bird last year, these were nice birds to see and photograph.
The next morning, we headed through Winthrop, up the Chewuch River Road, up the Boulder Creek Rd (FS 37) stopping at several scenic places along Boulder Creek, finding only the more common species. After entering the burn area from the 2006 fires, the road was in good shape up and over Freezeout Pass. We left the car for a couple mile hike up Freezeout Ridge (through the burn, then into lovely park-like sub-alpine areas). Last Sept. we had a nice look at a juv. Am. 3-toed Woodpecker here, but alas, only Hairy WP and Flickers for WPs on this trip. On the way up, we scared up a RUFFED GROUSE and at the top of our hike, right where the larches start, I heard a hooting DUSKY GROUSE which we found in all his glory and got some nice pictures. (This day, we saw more grouse species (2) than warblers (1)!!) North of Freezeout Pass, the first hairpin bend, where a Northern Hawk-owl hung out 2 summers ago, was bird free.

>From there on, past Tiffany Springs to Lone Frank Pass (also bird free - no hint of Boreal Chickadees) and down to Salmon Meadows, the roads are in terrible, but passible shape and driving is painfully slow. Based on our lack of finding any new or even common birds, I would say, it's really not worth that trip right now!

On Tuesday morning, we were treated to a quick look at a CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (live bird for Kathleen) off the deck of our room at Sun Mt! Quite a few nice birds seen from this vantage point in our 2 days there. We drove east over Rt. 20 and veered off the road on an unmarked Forest Service road east of Loup Loup Pass. This road goes into the burn area of last year's Carleton Complex fire, where we were hoping for for woodpeckers. Looking into an unburned section of forested ravine I got a quick look at a flying woodpecker that turned out to be a WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER (FOY). While I was wandering in the woods, looking for this bird, Kathleen encountered a nice tan mamma black bear, that seemed pretty unconcerned about our presence, despite having a scruffy looking, almost reddish, yearling with her. (Of course, I'd left the camera in the car.) We wondered if the parched nature of most of the surrounding burn has limited food supplies for these survivors - I'd say yes - while some flowers and grasses are up in some areas, much of the forest is burned down through the duff to inorganic soils below.
We next stopped at Loup Loup Campground, unburned and a lovely place to bird midweek (high occupancy rates on weekends may reduce overall populations of nesting birds). Regrettably, we couldn't find any of the exciting woodpeckers here. From there we dropped quickly down through Okanagan (the town), up the valley to Tonasket and east on 20 to Sherman Pass. We stopped for a bit in a wooded campground just east of the pass. Other than a single, probable Cassin's Finch, we didn't see any sub-alpine specialists. We ate lunch on a rock in a very crude (abandoned?) Forest Service campground called Sweat Creek. Riparian vegetation along the creek (north of the highway) produced a number of common spp. of warblers and flycatchers. Most interesting bird there was a WARBLING VIREO, singing away - when we finally saw him, we realized he was sitting on a nest, singing a way!! I had always presumed that birds would like to be maximally silent and invisible on the nest - this guy was anything but (Photos avail for any skeptics.). From there we raced east, arriving at our lodge at Chewelah about 5.
The Mountain View Lodge provides excellent accommodations for birders: great views, pleasant outdoor sitting areas, separate entrances to each room, and simple breakfast stuff laid out the night before so no need to delay an early birding departure. On the grounds we saw a number of species, including Western Bluebird, Chipping Sparrow, V-G swallows, but most fun were CALLIOPE and BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRDS; no feeders but some good garden flowers seemed to work. Also, a RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER was working on two birches just outside our room. After dinner in town, we took a quick drive south of Chewelah to Hafer Road where the resident CLAY-COLORED SPARROW came to a brief playback for a prolonged look at us.
On Wednesday, we headed east, past the 49 North Ski area to Lake Calispell. On our first drive down (south) on the West Calispell Road, we failed to find any Bobolink, one of our targets. At the south end of the lake, playing the Northern Waterthrush calls from the inlet bridge, failed to turn up any birds working along the stream shorelines, although a Spotted Sandpiper was spotted along one gravel bar. I also had a sort of a response from a bird well away from the stream and up in some trees that sounded a bit like the Sibley app waterthrush song, but also more like a Yellow Warbler. This response was not heard on our second visit to the site (after circumnavigating the lake), but on our third visit, after heading south of the lake to visit Davis and Sacheen Lakes, Kathleen tracked the singer down and discovered the NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH singing away, up in trees and high shrubbery, about 50 yards from the creek!! Not at all where I'd been looking. During our lake circumnavigation (West Calispell Rd, to Bennett Rd on the east, to McKenzie Rd on the north) we were pleased to find several BOBOLINK on fences and in fields north of McKenzie Rd, just west of the lake outlet bridge. Two more were seen later at a greater distance at about MP 6.5 on the west side of the lake. On our way south on Rt. 211 to Davis Lake we found a couple of GRAY CATBIRD singing in wetland shrubs opposite the Camp Spaulding entrance Rd.
Thursday am, we headed south on Rt. 231 to Reardon where we saw many of the usual waterfowl and had an interesting flyover by 2 BLACK TERNS (FOY), which just kept flying to the west, away from the ponds?!? Hard to say where they were headed but, that pretty much wrapped up the good birding. Coming back west on Route 2, we spent a couple of hours on Seven Mile Rd, west of Davenport, finding Brewer's, and many Vesper Sparrows, but none of our target Grasshoppers. In desperation, we tried the Swanson Lake loop through the channeled scablands, finding the lakes pretty much dry, and several sparrows and Horned Larks, but no Grasshoppers. (It took about an hour with the leaf blower in the car to chase most of the dust out.)
Our final birding act was to stop at Skykomish for ½ hour during the 1.5-hour period on Thursday evening when the Crested Caracara was NOT in evidence. Despite this, we had 112 species for the 5 days and saw some great scenery in a little visited part of the state!

Jon Houghton, Edmonds

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