[Tweeters] Okanogan Highlands and Waterville Plateau Bird Report and Gratitude (longish)

Khanh Tran khanhbatran at hotmail.com
Tue Jan 28 20:25:40 PST 2020

Hi Tweeters and Happy 2020!

The magical Okanogan Highlands and Waterville Plateau always deliver if you are persistent, patient, and have faith!   Despite lower numbers in some species, the diversity is great.   The last two trips have produced high,quality birds.   Highlights are seeing several species of owls, cooperative pine grosbeaks feeding right at eye level, and many fancy chickens. 

I had to work extremely hard the last few years to find these wintering, target birds and this year is no different; compared to the greater number of birds during the 2003-2008 time frame.  Understanding how these nomadic birds move each week, as they wander and deplete various food sources, can be helpful.  Feeding behavior and time of day is also key.

Bohemian Waxwings were here in late October starting at higher elevations (above 6000 ft) and trickled down to lower elevations in November near towns with orchards.  Pine Grosbeaks were common in late fall (Okanogan and Ferry County at 3500-6000 ft elevation ) and we saw them at almost at every stop while looking for spruce grouse.  They became tougher to track down when the heavy snow hit!  Gray-crowned Rosy-finches use to be at a few, staked out feeders in the Highlands but have almost vanished from here.  Have the burns affected them? Or was there was a disruption from the owners not providing seed for days and the birds departed elsewhere to find food and have'n't returned in years?  They have high metabolism and have to constantly eat during the winter.  Prior to seeing them at feeders, I would see them roaming near grassy hillsides and fields.  Today, there were 500 gray-crowned rosy-finches seen feeding along the hillside in the Okanogan Highlands!

Here is the report from the last two trips....

Great Gray Owl- two birds hunting in calm conditions near the Sno-Park.

Short -eared Owl-singleton birds on Havillah Rd and Hwy 2 and Hwy 172

Long eared Owls-small parliament of birds in Okanogan and Waterville Plateau--at one point up to ten birds

Northern Pygmy Owls-a good year for them about 6 different wintering territories in Okanogan Highlands and a couple in Conconully

Northern Saw-Whet- up to three birds at Bridgeport State Park

Barn Owl-near Omak Airport

Snowy Owl-there are now TWO birds (one heavily spotted and an intermediate one) on the Waterville Plateau near Mansfield

Great Horned-several at dusk

Sharp tailed Grouse- at traditional feeding places near Happy Hill Rd and Bridgeport Hill Rd (up to 6 birds at a time)

Gray Partridge-three coveys of 6-12 birds on Okanogan Highlands near Bolster, Havillah Church, and Nealy Rd

Sage Grouse- a couple of birds along K NE near Mansfield

Ruffed Grouse-in small numbers along Mary Ann Creek RD

Black Backed Woodpecker-Sno-Park

Bohemian Waxwings-small flocks near Hwy 17 and Hwy 97 popular, small groups near Hungry Hollow Rd and Mary Ann Creek Rd.  Largest flock
 about 75 birds.

Gray Crowned Rosyfinches- largest flock near Riverside Cut Rd -cliffs (Roughly 200 birds at first light), a couple mixed in with Horned Larks along Hwy 172 on Waterville Plateau.  And a flock of 500 birds along the hillside of Mary Ann Creek Rd this past weekend!

Snow Buntings-started out as a small flock of about 200 birds along Hungry Hollow Rd in November, now counted about 1000 birds near Teas Rd this past weekend

American Tree Sparrows-everywhere near tree copse and brushy areas!  Mostly groups of 6-12 birds

Common Redpolls-small group of 3-5 birds along Hertiage Rd

Pine Grosbeaks-small flocks of 3-20 birds along Fields Rd, Mary Ann Creek Rd and Hungry Hollow Rd

Townsend's Solitaire-one in the town of Chesaw.

I also wanted to express my gratitude for Paul and Barbara Webster for inspiring to explore the Methow Valley in the winter; it sparkled my interest circa 2003 and prompted me to explore the Okanogan Highlands as a result.   Can't forget Patrick and Ruth Sullivan for extensively covering the Waterville Plateau area .  And also, the trip reports from the WOS trips leaders Shep Thorp, Stefan Schlick, and Ken Brown over the years.  A special acknowledgement to Shep Thorp for his amazing leadership, kindness, and birding skills to find so many goodies while managing such a big group!  AND a big thank you for Andy Stepniewski for providing general birding locations in the WA Birder Guide. Hats off for all your contributions!

I wouldn't be as successful as a person without all the influences and support from birders and locals. I feel very proud to have inspired many birders to explore this area through my detailed, trip reports/photos for years before I became a professional bird guide! I feel all my hard work has paid off trying to understand the ecology of these beautiful and interesting birds.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  The Okanogan is a special place in my heart and mind.  It's my second home and I always feel euphoric after a visit!

Be optimistic, observant, patient, and sharing and the Magical Okanogan will reward and delight you!  

Peace, love, and good birding karma!


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