[Tweeters] Okanogan Highlands and Waterville Plateau WOS Winter Trip Sat 2/16 - Mon 2/18

Nagi Aboulenein nagi.aboulenein at gmail.com
Wed Feb 20 21:25:16 PST 2019

First of all - thank you, Shep, for a most wonderful trip to the Okanogan Highlands (hopefully one of many yet to come).

It was a truly amazing trip, from all perspectives. A great trip leader and guide, wonderful company, lots of excitement (feathered and otherwise 😊), great, great birds (6 lifers for Taghrid and myself), and last but definitely not least a SNOWY OWL!

Here’s a link to some of the photos I took during the trip: https://flic.kr/s/aHsm9Zfm22

All the best and good birding!

Nagi Aboulenein

On Feb 19, 2019, 1:34 PM -0800, Shep Thorp <shepthorp at gmail.com>, wrote:

> Hi Tweets!


> another adventurous winter trip for the WOS OHWP Presidents Day weekend.  Highlights included very wintry weather with lots of snow and cold temperatures (low of 9, high of 32 degrees Fahrenheit).  Beautiful sightings including SNOWY OWL, AMERICAN TREE SPARROW, CHUKAR, GOLDEN EAGLE, SHARP-TAILED GROUSE, ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK, NORTHERN PYGMY OWL, SNOW BUNTING, GRAY PARTRIDGE, CANYON WREN, RUFFED GROUSE, NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL, and many CASSIN'S FINCH and VARIED THRUSH.


> On our scout day Friday 2/15, most of the group caravaned from North Bend due to the recent storms, increased snow, and concern for hazardous conditions in the back country.  We had a very productive stop at Walla Walla Point, Confluence Park, Wenatchee, where we documented a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER which is considered rare by eBird.  Near Douglas, east of Waterville, we observed a GREAT HORNED OWL being mobbed by COMMON RAVEN.  AMERICAN TREE SPARROW, SONG SPARROW, and RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD showed up to investigate the ruckus.  We were able to relocate a SNOWY OWL west of Atkins Lake in the SE corner of the plateau just near 1 Road NE and L Road NE/Woods Road NE/Heritage Road NE.  I missed the bird completely as I focused my search on the east side of the road running north south.  Thank goodness for my long caravan and the sharp eyes of Teri taking up the rear to find the owl on the west side of the road on a berm.  This Snowy Owl is different bird than the one I observed 4 weeks earlier during the scout trip, as it had many dark markings on head and back, perhaps a female?  The Snowy I observed with scouters was all white and possibly a male.  Driving north on Heritage Rd NE towards 172, there is an abandoned barn with active grain containers on the west side of the road.  This spot was excellent for AMERICAN TREE SPARROW with over 10 individuals seen providing good looks.  Further north prior to reaching 172, we found a large flock of 200 HORNED LARK with a LAPLAND LONGSPUR in the mix.


> First Trip Day Saturday 2/16, we headed to the Okanogan Highlands with our full group.  With the added snow, Fancher Road delivered with over 100 CHUKAR down by the cattle feed station and fabulous looks at hungry GOLDEN EAGLE hunting the butte.  We had a fabulous morning on Siwash Creek Road, which slowed my itinerary down, but the sightings were fabulous.  Continued close looks at SHARP-TAILED GROUSE.  Very birdie with lots of PINE SISKIN, BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE, MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, WHITE BREASTED NUTHATCH, PYGMY NUTHATCH, RED-CROSSBILL and HOUSE FINCH.  We had quick looks at GREAT HORNED OWL and NORTHERN GOSHAWK as well, but fly byes near the front or back of the caravan only.  My winter splurge into CASSIN'S FINCH continues with probably another 100 observed along the way.  Flocks of 5-30 were seen in multiple areas.  We also had great looks at ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK.  The Highland Snow-Park was birdie, but with more of the same Pine Siskin, Cassin's Finch, all three Nuthatch and Mountain Chickadee.  Many expected species at the Highland Meadows home feeder on Nealy Road and Gary Eagle's place, the Knob Hill Forge, on Hungry-Hollow Road, more of the same with DOWNY WOODPECKER and AMERICAN GOLDFINCH.  The activity slowed down in the afternoon with not much to see around Chesaw and Mary Ann Creek.  We did have two Great Horned Owls on Mary Ann Creek.  The NORTHERN PYGMY OWL continues on Davies Road between Fields Rd and Waterfield Lane and AGAIN we watched this feisty species catch another late afternoon Vole for dinner.  Descending down Davies Road, south of Teal Lake, towards Chesaw Highway we observed 6 SNOW BUNTING to round out the day.


> Second Trip Day Sunday 2/17, we headed to Conconully in the morning and Cameron Lake Road in the afternoon.  Scotch Creek Wildlife Area overlook just west of Happy Hill Road was good for 32 SHARP-TAILED GROUSE.  This was great to see!  I did not observe grouse here 3 and 4 weeks previously, but we had much less snow at that time.  This is a good number of grouse to see in this area and makes me feel the population may have grown.  Conconully was good for CASSIN'S FINCH, PINE SISKIN, and VARIED THRUSH.  Not only did we see lots of these species, but we also had good numbers of HOUSE FINCH, DARK-EYED JUNCO and WILD TURKEY (65).  We observed two PURPLE FINCH and a SLATE-COLORED JUNCO in the mix.  Many NORTHERN FLICKER and BALD EAGLE.  Good numbers of RED CROSSBILL on the hillside.  We ventured on a spur trip to Hess Lake in search of a Long-eared Owl roost, which we did not find, but did have fabulous looks at GRAY PARTRIDGE and CHUKAR on the hillside just northeast of the lake, beautiful spot.  In Hess Lake we observed COMMON MERGANSER, RING-NECKED DUCK, COMMON GOLDENEYE and GADWALL.  On our way out of Hess Lake Road Anna spotted a gray backed falcon that we did not relocate to identify, darn it!  Riverside Cut-off was very good for GRAY PARTRIDGE, NORTHERN HARRIER and RED-TAILED HAWK.  We relocated a CANYON WREN along the butte, but not the Rock Wren that we documented 3 weeks earlier with Clearwater Audubon group.  The north end of Cameron Lake Road was great for RED CROSSBILL, CASSIN'S FINCH, PYGMY NUTHATCH, MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE, CLARK'S NUTCRACKER, STELLER'S JAY, NORTHERN FLICKER and DOWNY WOODPECKER.  Thanks to Anna we had fabulous looks at three RUFFED GROUSE near the American Flag spot, but we dipped on White-headed Woodpecker.  With the wintry weather, we had lots of drifting snow on the plateau and Timentwa Flats.  At the cattle farm we picked up GRAY PARTRIDGE and HORNED LARK, but NO Snow Bunting.  I was driven to go south, scouting for owl and falcon, with plans to visit Bridgeport State Park and Washburn Island, but my ambition got the best of me.  West of Greenway, I lead my caravan of eager birders down the road with progressively deeper snow drifts.  We had Porcupine, which was great.  However, at one point the drifts were too deep and I backed myself out of a deep drift and right off the road into a ditch!  Stuck in the snow, our day came to a screeching halt.  After 10 minutes of a little of this and that, and getting stuck deeper into the snowy ditch, my wiser intrepid bird watchers called a Tow Truck from Tonasket as it was 3:30pm and daylight was limited.  I've got a new 2019 Forrester and put into extreme mode deep snow and mud driving with Paula's help of driving manual review.  Ken pulled around his new 2019 Forrester, we screwed in our special tow eye-ring bolts, and hooked up the tow line.  Teamwork, trial and error, thoughtful consideration and lots of NORTHERN SHOVELERS, my car was heroically pulled form the ditch and back onto the road!!!  Thanks WOS member intrepid birders for saving me on another adventurous winter trip.  Several small flocks of HORNED LARK with SNOW BUNTING teased me during the whole ordeal.  We met the Tow Truck driver on our way back north and checked in.  We had already cancelled the request as we no longer needed his help.  He had a pleasant smile on his face as he exclaimed that he was now out for a nice drive, his trusty dog wagging its tail in the passenger seat of his rig.


> Third Trip Day Monday 2/18, we headed to Bridgeport State Park, to pick up where we left off from the previous afternoon calamity.  We observed three NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWLS in the park, two in one tree which was new for me!  We also had nice sightings of CALIFORNIA QUAIL, DARK-EYED JUNCO, RING-NECKED PHEASANT, MERLIN, and AMERICAN KESTREL.  GADWALL, LESSER SCAUP, COMMON GOLDENEYE, GREAT BLUE HERON and BELTED KINGFISHER were seen at the hatchery.  In the Columbia River by the bridge we observed COMMON MERGANSER, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, GREATER SCAUP, PIED-BILLED GREBE and BUFFLEHEAD.  Getting up onto the Waterville Plateau, we located a nice BPI manure pile and field scraping, along B Road NE, that hosted several hundred HORNED LARK, with some decent looks at SNOW BUNTING and LAPLAND LONGSPUR.  On H Road NE of Mansfield, we found a PRAIRIE FALCON and many more Horned Lark with sprinkling of Snow Bunting, but could not relocate the Snowy Owl previously reported.  We met Gina and Julie from Spokane, who were also looking for the Snowy, so we invited them to follow us to the southeast corner of the plateau to help us spot this target species.  Approaching K Road heading east on 172, a mixed flock of GRAY PARTRIDGE and GREATER SAGE GROUSE flew across the road and startled us.  We were not able to relocate the Sage Grouse, but this is an area that they have been frequently seen in the past, as it is a nice north south stretch of Big Sagebrush.  Heading south on Heritage Road, we were able to relocate the AMERICAN TREE SPARROW at an abandoned farm with active grain containers on the west side of the road.  NORTHERN SHRIKE was also seen.  We finished up the day with fabulous satisfying looks of the relocated SNOWY OWL just east of the intersection between L Rd NE/1 Rd NE/Woods Rd NE-Heritage Rd NE west of Atkins Lake.  A Life Bird and Nemesis Bird for several on the trip!  I hope it continues to stick around for others to see and enjoy.


> All in all, another great winter trip.  Over 80 species seen with many specialty targets accomplished.  Misses included Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Common Redpoll, Great Gray Owl, and woodpeckers (Black-backed, White-headed, American Three-toed).  But that is winter birding!  We dropped off seed at Nealy Road, Hungry Hollow, and North Fork Salmon Creek Road feeders.  As well, made a seed dump at the abandoned farm on Heritage Road.  Thanks to all my wonderful trip attendees for making this a super fun time to remember!


> Happy Birding,


> Shep


> --

> Shep Thorp

> Browns Point

> 253-370-3742

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