[Tweeters] Lewis County Big Year

Dalton Spencer offthehookflyshop at yahoo.com
Sun Jan 6 21:03:53 PST 2019

Hi all,
Lewis County is often overlooked as far as birding goes. We do not have any big rarity hotspots or places that consistently drum up birds that make people from across the state to see them. This year was an exception to that rule. Over 50 birders came to see the White-Tailed Kite that showed up this year in Toledo. The bird was a beautiful lifer for many and it really helped in bringing a lot of people to the area.
Like most County Big Years mine did not start off planned. Not in the slightest. In fact if you ask most people who birded with me throughout the year my aim was a Western Washington Big Year. I set my sights at 250 species and came very very close with a final 246. I travel to the far extremes of the Western third of the state and saw some absolutely amazing birds. 
Although all of this is nice and fun the real surprise this year for me was breaking the Lewis County Big Year record set in 2011 by Dave Hayden. If you had told me at the end of 2017 that next year I was going to break the record I would have laughed and said something along the lines of "next year is not going to be a Lewis County focused year so how could I break the record". That was true until about June when I realized that I had seen a lot of rare county birds and if I kept it up I could get really close to 170 but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would break the record at 180. I ended the year with 186 species break the record by 6. I was not alone in that though. This year Dave Hayden also broke his old record and as far as I know he finished the year with a  phenomenal 184 species. We birded together several times throughout the year and helped one another with finding some really rare birds.
Here is a highlight of my year,
February 15- My first rare bird for the year was a code 4 Northern Saw-Whet Owl. At one point I had 4 of them calling from the trees surrounding my yard. Not only was this an awesome yard bird but also a County life bird and the only time I would have them in the year. 
March 18- I was bored and decided that after church I was going to try and find some birds to cheer me up. I went out toward the Coal Mine/ Steam Plant on Big Hanaford Rd and found a trio of Western Bluebirds. They definitely did the trick. I would see them later in the year twice but every time you find a bluebird its a good day.  Western Meadowlarks were also new that day. A bird that can be very tricky in the count except for the area near the mine.
March 31- A couple of young birders from Seattle met me in Morton and we set out to find some good birds in East Lewis County. Overall it was a great day. I added 7 new birds for the county. Say's Phoebe, being the best bird of the day, was found twice. One near Morton and one on the east end of Riffe Lake. 
March 31- I decided to take another try for the White-Tailed Kite. My first try for the bird was the day after it had been reported. I dipped, but now almost 3 weeks later it had been seen everyday since and this time I did see it. 
April 22- I was spending the weekend clamming at the beach when I checked my phone and saw that a Tufted Duck had shown up in Lewis. I was so excited about the bird that I almost skipped the weekend clamming trip and drove right back home to find it. At this point the Big Year jitters had not taken over completely because I decided to stay. Luckily for me the bird also stayed and I was able to see it 2 days. 
May 5- Global Big was a County Big Day for me. Dave Hayden and I traveled to east county to find what rarities we could. The best bird of the day was a four way tie between a lifer Solitary Sandpiper near the community of Salkum, a booming American Bittern on Peters Rd, a flock of 8 Nashville Warblers on the East end of Riffe Lake, and a beautiful flycatching Western Kingbird on Highway 131 near Randle. We ended the day with over 80 species!
May 6- A very surprising Barn Owl was heard flying over my house for two days. Life bird and a yard bird that I never expected.
May 7- Following a tip from Dave Hayden, I found 1 pure and 4 hybrid Hermit Warblers on Buckhorn Mountain Rd and an unusually shy House Wren on King Rd. 
May 19- When I thought that my May could not get any better it did. I had spent most of the day birding in Thurston County near Tenino on a field trip with Paul Hicks. I think we ended the day with 90 species and had a lot of fun. I mentioned that I was going to bird around the Coal Mine after we were done in Thurston. Paul came along and I am glad he did. We had talked about checking the Yellow-Breasted Chat spot on Tietzel Rd and much to our surprise it was there. A life bird and an awesome code 5 bird to not only hear but see. I then had to pick my sister up from a Band performance at school and long the way I stopped at the Airport Rd Dike in Chehalis. I walk up and over the dike and almost tripped on a pair of code 4 Blue-Winged Teal. I immediately called Dave and then left to pick up my sister. Dave then wandered around the dike for a little while and 30 minutes later I get a call from him. He all but yells at me that he is looking at a Golden Plover and a flock of 13 Whimbrel had just flown by! I was shocked. I jumped back in my car and was able to see the later more accurately identified Pacific Golden Plover but the Whimbrel were never to be seen. 
July 4- A quick stop at the top of White Pass on my way to a softball tournament in Moses Lake allowed for my only Mountain Bluebird and Chipping Sparrow of the year.
July 18- A pair of Lesser Goldfinches were found breeding in Borst Park. The birds were quite tame and let the people with the big fancy cameras get really awesome pictures of them. My pictures turned out not that bad even without the big fancy camera.
August 25- A hiking trip to Coyote Lake was good for Townsend's Solitaire and Cassin's Finch. Both county life birds and both within a minute of each other. 
August 25- When I was back in cell phone coverage from the hike. I checked my phone to see if anything good had been seen while I was in the mountains and I almost dropped my phone when I saw that Russ Koppendrayer had reported an American Redstart just 20 minutes from where I was sitting eating my dinner. My dad and I buzzed over to the east end of Riffe Lake and refound the beautiful breeding plumaged male Redstart and we were able to get some decent photos. A truly amazing experience to share with my dad. 
August 29- Red-Shouldered Hawk. A tip from Dave lead me to King Rd after school. Gary and him had seen a bird that they called a Red-Shouldered Hawk sp. or something to that liking and I was able to confirm with bird. 
September 9- Almost not even worth mentioning anymore because of how common they are now getting. A Black Phoebe at the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery gave me a awesome views and awful photos. 
September 15- A day at the Coal Mine had given me a Great Egret which turned out to be the only one in the county this year. While I had been out birding my dad had sent me terrible picture of two birds in a field and he asked what they were. I told him that the picture sucked and they looked like Great Blue Herons. He said they were too big for that. I was stumped. I drove by the spot on my way home and sure enough to big birds were out in the field and I was far from correct when I said they were Herons. Turns out my dad can tell the difference between Sandhill Cranes and Herons. That is nice to know for later use.
September 29- White-Breasted Nuthatch is a bird I have seen in the county two years in a row but in no way are they common. I estimate that less than 20 birds live in the Toledo area and Dave and I happened upon one of them. This was Dave's 181st bird and a county lifer for him.
October 6-10- A hunting trip to the far reaches of the Cascades in the east end of the County allowed me to find Black-Backed Woodpecker, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Pine Grosbeak, and Red Crossbill. All, minus the Crossbills, were life birds.
October 13- A Surf Scoter on Mayfield lake and a Red-Necked Grebe on Riffe Lake added to the my year list. Thanks again Dave and Gary.
October 28-  Redhead was the bird that tied the record for me. I found a male on Hillburger Pond less than 4 miles from my house. This represented the first sighting in the county in at least 10 years. Turns out I had overlooked a female Redhead that was also on the pond that Gary Wiles was able to see.
December 8- I had tried for Barrow's Goldeneye at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery 11 times and dipped! They would be seen on the same day I would go out to find them and they were never there! A trip with Dave and Gary finally broke my streak, 6 were seen mixed in with the various other divers. 
December 15- The last bird I added to my year list was a pair of Swamp Sparrows at the Riverside Golf Course. I walked up to an oxbow with some serious Canary Grass growing at one end and though "this would be a good spot for a Swamp Sparrow" turns it was good spot for 2 such sparrows. They only added the growing list of sightings in the state. 
I ended the year having seen 9 Code 5 birds. Which is someting I had never dreamed of. Unfortunately not every bird can be seen on a Big Year and I had some big misses. Olive-Sided Flycatcher was an embarrassing miss. I did not realize I still needed to see the bird until early September and by then they were already all gone. Dunlin and Mountain Chickadee were both birds that I gave considerable effort towards finding and I could just never conjure any up. Black Swift, Barred Owl, Red-Eyed Vireo, and several alpine species were also misses.  
2019 is not going to be a relax year for me. I hope to find 7 more species in Lewis County and push my life list for the county over 200 before I head off to college in August. I think it can be done but it will not be easy.
Thanks for reading and a special thanks to Dave Hayden, Gary Wiles, Russ Koppendrayer, Becky Kent, Kathleen Snyder, Mary McCallum, Jason Vassollo, Joshua Glant, Adam Crutcher, Will Brooks, Kristina Sater, Rachel Hudson, Winston Rockwell, Paul Hicks, and everybody else who was involved in both my Western Washington Big Year and my Lewis County Big Year.
Dalton SpencerChehalis, Washington
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