[Tweeters] Notes from Eastern Washington - and Thank You Keith Carlson

Blair Bernson blair at washingtonadvisorygroup.com
Sun Mar 15 07:27:48 PDT 2015

I was planning a three day trip to Eastern
Washington this weekend but a personal matter cut
it short by a day so I am writing instead of
birding. While I was planning many stops, the
main objective was to finally get a photo of a
very light Glaucous Gull. Michael Clarke first
reported at Swallows Park in Clarkston March 3rd
and it was being seen almost daily. First:
Clarkston is a LONG way away but its almost annual
gull rarities are among several good reasons to
visit. Along the way I made stops at Toppenish
NWR, Fort Simcoe and McNary NWR plus a Burrowing
Owl spot near Pasco.

Lewis's Woodpeckers, as always were easy to find
and easier to admire at Fort Simcoe - simply
gorgeous birds. There seems to be a bumper crop
of acorns in the Garry Oaks and the woodpeckers
were plentiful - more than a dozen seen with
barely going into the park (which is gated - so
walk in only). At Toppenish I found a pair of
Cinnamon Teal but no White Pelicans which were
hoped for. Another miss was the first attempt for
the Burrowing Owl north of Pasco on Hwy 395. It
was already running late so the stop at McNary was
somewhat aborted but a good tip at the
Headquarters to try Casey Pond did produce two
pelicans but not that many birds and no Black
Crowned Night Herons that I could find. Then it
was off to Clarkston - still a long way off. I
found a large group of gulls at the mid-river gull
resting spot on the Snake River at Swallows Park
North but only a few at the other spot near the
Boat Launch. No Glaucous at either place - so a
disappointing end to the day.

Saturday morning I returned early (too early) to
Swallows Park and found no gulls at all. I
decided to visit Asotin Creek (where Mike had
heard a Mountain Quail earlier in the week) and
then return to Swallows Park later. After getting
past the pretty trashy eastern park of the Asotin
Creek valley, I found myself in beautiful country
- all new to me. Not exceptionally birdy but I
bet it will be in another month. The road varies
between paved and good gravel/dirt for over 15
miles - then it is closed to open in April - WDFG
protected area. No Mountain Quail heard but good
birds were MANY turkeys in flocks and
singles/doubles etc, a good flock of Evening
Grosbeaks and a flyover of a small group of Red
Crossbills and three wren species.

Back to Swallows Park where 100+ gulls waited -
and not a Glaucous in sight. As I watched another
car pulled in - and the birder inside had the same
disappointing conclusion. But this was Keith
Carlson and he had seen the Gull there many times
and was confident it would return. I had only
emailed with Keith and it was great to meet him -
a true expert for all things bird/fish in the
Canyon. We visited a good spot just north of
Asotin where a Great Horned was in her nest
crevice in the cliffs and her mate was perched in
a very accessible tree across the road right on
the bike path. Photos of both. Keith also showed
me some nesting boxes that often house Western
Screech owls - not today but good for another
day. After a great visit and exchange of phone
numbers, I headed off - one more try at Swallows
and then lunch and then sadly the early return to
attend to matters at home. Again lots of gulls at
the boat launch but nothing even closely
resembling Glaucous.

Heading west on Highway 12 I had a friendly (it
actually was) visit with a State Patrolman. I
will keep details to myself but no fines were
required. This somehow seemed to change the luck
of the day however as in another 15 minutes I got
a Voice Mail from Keith Carlson (coverage had
disappeared for awhile) saying that the Glaucous
Gull was back. I was now 35 miles from Swallows
Park and had to decide - return or keep going.
Great reward if it worked but if not - then losing
a large chunk of time and distance would impact
the remainder of the day. Of course, I returned
and immediately found the almost entirely white
Glaucous Gull resting on the sand. Pictures were
somewhat difficult as it always had other gulls
around it, but finally it got up and moved
affording an acceptable "Life Picture". Then off

Shortening the rest of the story, I traveled
Highway 261 hoping for a Ferruginous Hawk - lots
of Red Tails only, then I revisited the Burrowing
Owl spot - in HOWLING winds - expanded the search
area and finally found it on a post - not a photo
closeup but any Burrowing Owl is a treat, the
photo was ok and it was especially satisfying on a
second try. Back to McNary for a last shot at
Black Crowned Night Heron. As I drove down the
road to Casey Pond again, a buteo flushed from the
first large tree. Somehow it yelled out Red
Shouldered Hawk as I saw the red shoulders
underneath and I thought on top as it flew off and
perched maybe 400 yards away. I managed only a
poor distant photo and unfortunately it was good
enough to show not a Red Shouldered but rather a
dark phase Red Tail. The only way I could have a
"Crowned Heron" there would be if I combined the
MANY White Crowned Sparrows and the many Great
Blue Herons - not going there. A consolation was
another pair of Cinnamon Teals.

And then the LONG drive home...

I want to conclude with a very big Thank You to
Keith Carlson - both for the visit in Asoting
County and especially for the call about the
return of the Glaucous Gull - definitely worth a
return to Swallows Park (and a good Tom Mansfield
story). Hope to get back to Asotin County in the

I think this may link to the Glaucous Gull photo.

Blair Bernson

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