[Tweeters] North country birds (long)

Scott Ramos lsr at ramoslink.info
Tue Apr 3 22:19:33 PDT 2018

Just finishing up our two-time WAfLS survey for Short-eared Owls with Andy Jacobson. Firstly, no SE Owls were seen at all. Our grids were in Omak and Twisp—these are high country with sparse suitable habitat. Further compromising the surveys were the amount of snow remaining on the ground in the Twisp area on our first weekend, Mar 17-18, and the bone-chilling cold this past weekend, where temps in the low 30s were accompanied by gusty winds, bring the wind chill to the low 20s.

Nevertheless, we had a great time birding! Since the survey occurs only between about 6:00 and 7:30 pm, we had plenty of time to kill looking for other birds, with great success: 79 species the first weekend and 101 species the second (111 combined)! Here are some notables, in rough chronological order.

We started the first trip at the traditional lek near Leahy Junction (leaving Seattle at 2 am!) and were eventually rewarded with visuals on 3 Greater Sage-Grouse, a lifer for both of us. While waiting, a flock of 14 Gray Partridge flew over. Nearby we were able to get on first of year Say’s Phoebe, Vesper and Savannah Sparrow. A little further west, on K Rd, we found a flock of over 50 Tundra Swan in a residual pond, with a large number of Sandhill Crane calling behind them, a gorgeous dark-morph Rough-legged Hawk that posed on a power pole and a lazy fly-by of a Prairie Falcon.

At Washburn Island, we found a nest of Great Horned Owl, with two young, nearly full grown, and an adult nearby. The usual assortment of water birds were still there; the inner pond was mostly ice-free. During the Omak survey that evening, with no owls, we did see many of the now numerous Say’s Phoebe and Mountain Bluebirds, plus a couple of Pronghorns.

On our way to Twisp the next morning, we stopped at the Loup Loup Campground and found a group of at least 3 Williamson’s Sapsucker, calling and drumming away (https://youtu.be/DG6jRH8OULo <https://youtu.be/DG6jRH8OULo>). We stopped a couple of turnouts on our way down Hwy 20 and found Hairy and Downy Woodpecker, Red- and White-breasted Nuthatch and both Bluebirds. While scouting our Twisp survey route, we had great views of Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks, plus at least 50 Mountain Bluebirds. Not much happening at Pearrygin Lake SP, although we did find a Cooper’s Hawk on our way back to town. The Winthrop STP was full of water birds, primarily dozens of Barrow’s Goldeneye and Ring-necked Duck.

On our Twisp survey route, again, no target owls, but we did find a Golden Eagle perched atop a distant pine. Shortly after spotting the eagle, a Prairie Falcon flew in and started harassing it. The last stop of the survey route produced a pair of Great Horned Owl calling in the waning light.

We had a little more time during our drive east on the second survey weekend, March 31-April 2, so stopped at the Cle Elum railroad ponds. An Osprey was already there but was avoiding the nest as a Red-tailed Hawk was perched just feet away. Pygmy Nuthatch were busy extracting debris from their nest holes (https://youtu.be/EO278OKKBMk <https://youtu.be/EO278OKKBMk>). We continued east, stopping in the Quilomene were we found more first of year birds—several Sagebrush Sparrow and Sage Thrasher—plus a couple of Northern Shrike and several Mountain Bluebird. At the Gingko SP boat ramp we had yet another Say’s Phoebe and a Rock Wren.

Moving further east, we stopped at the Ephrata Nature Area and, amid the usual suspects, encountered a group of at least half a dozen Purple Finch. At the nearby Rocky Ford ponds, were good numbers of water birds, with at least 60 Lesser Scaup, 4 American White Pelicans plus a couple of Virginia Rail and a lurking Sora. The usual large numbers of Ruddy Duck were in Lenore Lake and a couple of Chukar were ambling along the highway! The evening survey in Omak produced no owls, but a large flock of Wild Turkey, plus Say’s Phoebe, Northern Shrike, and dozens more Mountain Bluebird.

The next morning, we decided to head north to Conconully and a stop along Riverside Cutoff Rd produced the now expected Canyon Wren plus a striking Harlan’s Hawk. A Great Horned Owl was roosting near the traditional grouse spot at Scotch Creek. In Conconully, the typical mix of passerines were present; in addition, there were good numbers of Varied Thrush and Evening Grosbeak. A single Clark’s Nutcracker called in the distance.

Once again, on our way to Twisp, we stopped at the Loup Loup Campground and once again, a striking male Williamson’s Sapsucker flew in, this time much closer and posing nicely for the paparazzi (https://youtu.be/a0QD8atNcOI <https://youtu.be/a0QD8atNcOI>). And, once again, we stopped on the way down from the pass (near milepost 211) and once again found a good collection of mountain birds, including a very photogenic Western Bluebird (https://youtu.be/DW-_e2E48fM). While walking along the base of the bluff, I almost stepped on a Ruffed Grouse, who exploded into flight, only to land about 10 m away, watching the intruder carefully. Eventually, he tired and ambled away (https://youtu.be/ehNVuIlowG0).

We next explored the town of Winthrop, dipping on the reported Dipper by the footbridge. On our way up to Sun Mountain, we drove by a house with very active feeders. While there were good numbers of all 3 Nuthatches, both Chickadees and many Hairy Woodpecker, what stole the show was a huge flock of Clark’s Nutcracker, foraging among the hundreds of pine cones on the ground (https://youtu.be/1eBzIPzwYgc <https://youtu.be/1eBzIPzwYgc>). This provided some amazing close-up views where we could watch them extract the pine nuts. Sun Mountain lodge had no birds but on the way down we had a Cooper’s Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk and Merlin, in quick succession. We made another visit to the STP; this time, a large flock of Wood Duck had arrived.

Finally, we arrived at our last survey event in freezing weather. No owls, but still lots of action. We heard a Virginia Rail in a cattail marsh at the start. A pair of Golden Eagles were posing like statues on a distant rocky knob. A Merlin came from nowhere, at great speed, stooping on a Mountain Bluebird, but it missed and carried on just as fast as it came. A surprising find was a male Spruce Grouse (lifer for Andy) in the sparse grasses/scrub (https://youtu.be/iwVK4SrVBzk); seemed quite out of its normal territory, likely in migration. And the pair of Great Horned Owls were in the same place as before, calling to each other.

Heading home the last day, we made stops used by traditional winter birding treks. In Central Ferry Canyon, we found both Bluebirds and a Townsend’s Solitaire mixed in one scattered flock. By the Packwood Cemetery, besides the numerous Pygmy Nuthatch, we heard a couple of Red Crossbill and Andy saw a solitary Common Redpoll. A couple of Golden Eagles flew right over the ridge, harassed by a small flock of Common Raven. Along Dyer Hill Rd, the farm where the pavement begins, we had a flock of well over 100 Common Redpoll, bathing and feeding.

A couple of long but gratifying weekends. Now, please, some warmer weather!
Scott Ramos

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