[Tweeters] Sandhill Crane Festival review

Randy re_hill at q.com
Tue Mar 26 10:55:17 PDT 2019

Got home yesterday from a long weekend in Othello so this is a bit tardy.
There was plenty of change during the 4-night stay. A quick summary from my
scouting and trips around the area.

When I was out Friday, Potholes Reservoir appeared completely frozen.
Needless to say the boat trips that day were cancelled, although I believe
they are rescheduled for early April. I lived in Othello for almost 20
years and do not remember cold/snow conditions persisting into the
late-March period as this year; a freak snow storm during the festival one
year doesn't count. During the period there was considerable thaw and many
open water wetlands were packed with waterfowl. Several farm fields holding
shallow water from snowmelt held groups of Tundra Swans. Friday we found a
flock of 26 Trumpeter Swans in a corn stubble field east of town with a
couple of Tundra Swans in the flock for comparison. Sunday the County Line
ponds west of town along SR-26 had Trumpeter Swans on the north side and
Tundra Swans to the south. There was also a flock of 20+ Dunlin there.
Blackbirds moved in during the weekend, with large numbers of Yellow-headed
Blackbirds in migratory flocks and breeding birds settled in at the County
Line ponds and Para ponds I did not find a blackbird flock there or uphill
near the grain elevators until yesterday when a group of 600+ included at
least 50 Tricolored Blackbirds. No sign of Burrowing Owl and there may have
been none overwintering after the harsh snow and temperatures of
February-March; some north-facing burrow sites were still covered with snow.
Long-billed Curlews were not abundant. I found one Friday in a field on the
Royal Slope and five in an alfalfa circle as the last year or two south of
SR-26 and west of 14th=Reynolds Road. Loggerhead Shrikes were present along
Lower Crab Creek Road, and a pair along Corfu Road was quite visible. With
a late winter condition we were able to find American Tree Sparrow along
Corfu Road. The crop at the Corfu farm field wasn't "processed" until
Thursday due to snow and mud so the Sandhill Crane viewing was shifted to
other areas. Areas to check include Horseshoe Loop off Scooteney Road and
Dilling Road east of Scooteney Reservoir in Franklin County (the night roost
there should be thawed and in use now), Road H>I at the top of the hill
(these birds roost in Marsh Unit 1 of Columbia NWR), and along Hatton (near
Schaake) and Bench (toward the west end) Roads south of SR-26. There are
lots of scattered areas on the Royal Slope as well. With corn fields drying
out enough to till there will be lots of shifting among fields.

I was quite concerned about finding sagebrush-steppe birds up the Wahluke
Slope after devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018 removed almost all of the
sagebrush. There was enough dead, near-dead and tiny remnants of shrub to
hold at least one pair of shrikes and several Sagebrush Sparrows on the way
up to the overlook 5 miles up the road north and east; the west road on the
crest was still snow-covered. Additionally, with most of the cover burned
to the ground, Chukars were easier to see on the road or scurrying away. I
recommend this trip up the mountain just for the view. Monday morning on
the way home we also found a Vesper Sparrow on the way up. One more notable
bird was seen from Vernita Rest area, a Turkey Vulture (code 4 in Benton
County) on its way somewhere north.

I'm headed back there Thursday with Portland Audubon and expect to see quite
a bit of change from a week earlier. With tractors running and irrigation
water starting to fill the delivery canals there is much more sign of spring
than just last week.

Randy Hill


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