[Tweeters] Columbia River birding (Okanogan and Douglas)

Eric Heisey magicman32 at rocketmail.com
Mon Dec 6 18:29:28 PST 2021

Hi all,

I have spent a good chunk of the last several days birding the Columbia River in Okanogan and Douglas counties. Below are some highlights from some very fruitful birding!

On Dec 2nd, I headed down to the Columbia for a couple of days. My first stop was at the confluence of the Methow River, just west of Pateros. There have been some interesting gulls here lately, and a weirdo stuck out as either a Herring x Glaucous-winged or Thayer's Gull (I am leaning towards the former, but it's a weirdo). Many photos taken... Next stop was Cassimer Bar, which was fantastic per usual. I managed 57 species here in 3.5hrs on a beautiful morning, including some really interesting species. Perhaps the weirdest was a female Wilson's Warbler (in December!!), one of only a handful of eastern Washington winter records. Also of note were two Swamp Sparrows, a Sooty Fox Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Pacific Wren, Purple Finch, American Pipit, and four Virginia Rails.

After this, I headed east to Washburn Island for the rest of the day. On the way there I counted 14 Trumpeter Swans at the junction of hwy 97 and 17. The beautiful day continued at Washburn, where I also tallied 57 species in about the same amount of time. Highlights here were two Orange-crowned Warblers, a Myrtle's Yellow-rumped Warbler, seven Brown-headed Cowbirds (uncommon in winter), Lincoln's Sparrow, 14 American Tree Sparrows, a flock of Bohemian Waxwings, a Hermit Thrush, 10 Virginia Rails, and a dark-morph Harlan's Hawk. I found a few Barn Owl feathers along the river, so I stuck around until after dark and did some owling. I had always wanted to see how many Saw-whet Owls I could roust up here too, and I managed to offend four different Saw-whets with my quiet tooting. In fact, one was so perplexed by my whistles that it flew out of the dark in circles around me, almost landing on me once! Magical. No Barn Owl, though...

I slept in my car outside of Bridgeport and woke up to much colder, overcast weather on Dec 3rd. I had been wanting to spend a morning at Bridgeport Bar Wildlife Recreation Area for a while, and this seemed like a prime morning for such a mission. This spot is heinously undercovered to say the least. With only 117 species on the eBird hotspot (https://ebird.org/hotspot/L7929888 <https://ebird.org/hotspot/L7929888>), it may seem unremarkable at a glance, but this is DECEIVING!!! This place is absolutely amazing, attracting huge numbers of passerines and providing excellent viewing of the Columbia River. I ran into the guy who manages it on one of my previous visits; he plants huge fields of wheat and corn and leaves it unharvested to attract birds. Well, it worked!! I tallied 62 species on this morning in 4.5 hours, with 4,500 individual birds. There were a number of highlights, but for me the two coolest birds were both rare hybrids. On the Columbia I spotted a Tufted Duck x Scaup hybrid, the third record of this surely overlooked hybrid in eastern Washington on eBird. The other cool hybrid was a Mountain x Black-capped Chickadee, the first time I had encountered this hybrid before! A super cool bird. Other highlights were abundant here, including an Eared Grebe, an Anna's Hummingbird (with no apparent feeder around, which is nuts!), Pacific Wren, 11 Bewick's Wrens, Townsend's Solitaire, three Varied Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Bohemian Waxwing, Common Redpoll, 520 White-crowned Sparrows, 340 Song Sparrows (the most I have ever seen at a single location!), a Golden-crowned Sparrow, three different White-throated Sparrows, two Lincoln's Sparrows and 14 Brown-headed Cowbirds. In addition to this, I had a peculiar Troglodytes Wren that seemed rather intermediate in appearance and by call between Pacific and Winter Wren. I suspect it was just a funky sounding Pacific Wren, but it does seem possible that it could have been a hybrid between the two species (the overlap in range in NE British Columbia). All this to say, this place is absolutely amazing, and should ABSOLUTELY be visited by more birders any time of the year. It has the potential to double its species count in eBird...

I drove out to Nespelem in the afternoon of the 3rd in search of gulls. In short, there were very few! Not really worth the trip yet this winter; maybe that will change as it gets colder? A beautiful area all the same.

Yesterday I birded around the Columbia a bit more on my way back to Yakima. There weren't too many highlights, and it was chilly! There were a couple more funky gulls at the confluence of the Methow and Columbia Rivers in Pateros, one being the same bird described above, the other looking like a first cycle Herring x Glaucous-winged Gull. There have been a number of Thayer's Gulls reported here in the past couple of week, and I suspect they have been of these two birds. Both are superficially pretty similar to Thayer's, but what do I know... I counted 182 Hooded Mergansers at the Starr Boat Launch, another all time high count for me. Pretty impressive! I had a first cycle Thayer's Gull and a Northern Shrike at the Douglas county overlook of Lake Pateros, but nothing else remarkable here. My most interesting observation of the drive south was on the Waterville Plateau, on Rd F NW x Rd 11 NW. Here I counted 930 Snow Buntings, swirling all around me in the beautiful late afternoon lighting. Quite a spectacle, and another all time high count for me! On the Waterville Plateau I also had a Golden Eagle and another American Tree Sparrow, but nothing else of note.

Birding the Columbia is always such a good time! I managed to find 93 species along the Columbia over this trip, not bad for December in northern Washington. I miss Okanogan county already!

Good birding,

Eric Heisey
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