[Tweeters] Okanogan Venture (Day 2; Gold not Rosy)

Jon Houghton jon.houghton at hartcrowser.com
Fri Dec 30 11:04:35 PST 2016

Hi Again Tweets! Wednesday morning was a cool 14 degrees and foggy in Omak, but we left town with high hopes that the higher altitude of the Okanogan Highlands would be above it all. Indeed it was and we drove up Havillah Rd, into cold and incredibly beautiful sunshine. Trees, fences, and grasses projecting through the snow were all "flocked" with large platy crystals of ice, sparkling in the brilliant sun. Overall, the bird du jour was clearly the Rough-legged Hawk, always present in the Highlands in winter, but exceptionally abundant this week. Other birds were a lot harder to come by! Arriving at the SnoPark about 9, the County plow was making a lot of noise, and after he left, we managed to see only a Gray Jay, a pair of RB Nuthatches, and a Common Raven. No birds (other than RLHA) were seen between the SnoPark and the Nealey Rd. feeders but the scenery was continued spectacular. The feeders were essentially and disappointingly bird-free at 1030 am as was the remainder of the road to Chesaw, and Bolster Road to the north. Back in Chesaw, we again ran into Randy Hill and Stefan Schlick who also reported disappointing birding other than a large flock of Bohemian Waxwings and a Golden Eagle. Kathleen and I headed south out of Chesaw along Myers Cr. Rd and did find another large group of BOWA exploiting an apple tree near the Chesaw Cemetery. We continued up the very scenic Pontiac Ridge Road for a couple more RLHA. Repeated tooting at a lot of likely places evoked no response from Pygmy Owls or passerines. After lunch at the Chesaw Tavern (I encourage birders to spend $$ in these small remote communities - a great way to curry favor, or at least tolerance, from the locals!), we headed up Mary Ann Cr. Road, perhaps the most reliable birding segment of the Hightlands because of its varied habitat. At one stop, we spooked 4 Mallards out of the lone small patch of unfrozen water along the creek. Not too far up the creek, we came upon a lovely sight: a small feather ball on top of a slender snag! Despite the noise of a sudden stop on ice with anti-lock brakes, the bird didn't fly and we had the joy of watching this Pygmy Owl watching us and his surroundings for about 15 minutes before we moved on up the road. That was actually the highlight bird of the day as we totally dipped on any of the usual flocks of finchy things (crossbills, grosbeaks, or even siskins) or other raptors that typically make the Highlands special. Stopping back by the Nealey feeders about 2 pm, there was a little more action; alas, still no Rosyfinches, but with a large flock of Am. Goldfinches, a couple of Mountain Chickadees, and a Hairy Woodpecker. An hour of very enjoyable late afternoon skiing at the SnoPark was bird free and the ride down Havillah Rd. at dusk delivered none of the owls on phone poles that others seem to find. Summing up Day 2: Birds were a little sparse, but well compensated for by the always unique landscape and views in the Highlands. Happy Birding! - Jon Houghton, Edmonds

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