[Tweeters] Okanogan last week (Best day ever in the Highlands!)

Jonathan Houghton jonbirder at comcast.net
Sun Dec 19 21:15:30 PST 2021

Hi Tweeterdom - Last Tuesday (12/14) Kathleen and I headed over ('chains required, except for...') Stevens Pass to enjoy the winter wonderland that has finally arrived east of the mountains and to search for 3 grouse species that had eluded me this year, Not much to report in a quick drive over Badger Mtn except for the spectacular winter Wenatchee and mountain scenery from our lunch place just off Badger Mt. Road at the beginning of the high plateau. The snow was fresh and fluffy with temps in the twenties across the Waterville Plateau but birds were limited to a few Rough-legged Hawks, an abundance of Horned Larks, and one large flock of Snow Buntings (encountered along F road north of Lamoine). We were especially interested in finding Sharp-tailed Grouse that were very reliably found along Bridgeport Hill and the West Fork of Foster Creek, before the extreme fires of two years ago. Neither we nor the concurrent CBC for the area found any on Tuesday, though. In looking for!
grouse in the surviving riparian brush along the Middle Fork of Foster Creek, we did find a flock of about 16 Am. Tree Sparrows (just down from the lowest bridge). A quick visit to Bridgeport State Park failed to locate any owls in this usually reliable place.
On Wednesday, we headed up Siwash Cr. Road to access the Okanogan Highlands via a route that had numerous reports of Sharpies last winter, but where we've never had much luck with them. Because I was also missing Ruffed Grouse for the year, I hopped out of the car and walked much of the road where we have seen this species in thick brush along the creek in past years. No luck on the Ruffed but I did get a Ruff-like rush when a covey of Cal. Quail burst out at my feet making a very RUGR-like racket. Above the top of the canyon, where the road pulls away from the creek for a bit, I had just radioed Kathleen to come and pick me up (it was 18 degrees) when I spooked a flock of Sharp-tails out of the riparian. I counted 17 as they arced around to the north over the sage slope and out of sight. Kathleen arrived and she had counted 7 in another group that I had not seen. We turned around to see if they'd gone back into the riparian zone downstream, but enroute down, I spied gre!
y lumps in the top of a Ponderosa that turned out to be her group of seven. I'd never seen these guys in pines before but several birders had shots of them in pines here last winter. Before we got too much farther up, a 'tennis ball with a tail' in the top of a small dead tree turned out to be the classic Pygmy Owl, always a treat. Crossing the mountains on No. Siwash Road we encountered Red Crossbills at several places, along with Mountain Chickadees, WB, and RB nuthatches. The Havillah SnoPark was lovely in the fresh snow - the road was in excellent shape, plowed and sanded, because active logging is going on up the left hand road from the fork, just below the parking area. We found no birds though and got no response from a good deal of playback of American 3-Toed WP. On up Havilla Road (and throughout the day) there was the usual abundance of Rough-legged Hawks. We saw a nice covey of about 20 Gray Partridge as an arc of dark dots in the snow (scope needed for verifica!
tion that these weren't artfully arranged cow pies) across the valley behind the first farm on Nealy Road. Nealy feeders were disappointing with just a flock of treetop Siskins visible from the road. We drove Nealy to Chesaw Rd. and went uphill to Byers Road and looped down toward Chesaw Center. On the steep descent just before town, we spotted two tree top birds that turned out to be a nice pair of Bohemian Waxwings. In Chesaw, we stopped at the Myers Creek bridge, usually a good place for passerines; the complete absence of small birds could have been due to the presence of two Rough-legged Hawks. As we drove across the bridge to go check around the Cemetery, I spotted a bird on a post in a backyard upstream of the bridge. When I went back to look, it was a gorgeous adult No. Goshawk - best view ever of this species - but about for the usual length of time. It flew off to the south about 2 seconds after I got the bins on it. We knew it hadn't gone far because we could see the sky above the meadows east of town where the Roughies had gone.!
We drove out along Pontiac Ridge Rd to look back at this area for a few minutes when we saw it take off and fly north, over the road and into the wooded area north of town. We then drove Mary Ann Creek Rd where we saw a Townsend's Solitaire in a tree near the first wetland - a river otter was trying to keep some open water in the ponds there but the 16 degree temps could be a prob. We had seen otters here last winter. Not much for birds on up Mary Ann Cr. Rd or across Fields Rd. back to Chesaw Rd, to Hungry Hollow Rd, and to Havilla Rd. By now it almost 4 pm and getting dusky but I convinced Kathleen to do another drive up to the SnoPark, where we saw the usual nothing. On the way back down, though, about 300 ft uphill from Havilla Rd., there it was! A huge Great Gray Owl perched in the top of a small Ponderosa about 20 feet from the road. He seemed unconcerned that we stopped right next to him, opened the sunroof and took a few dimly lit photos. After about 5 minu!
tes we left him there and rolled down the hill to where the local resident was walking up with the mail. We stopped and jokingly warned him about the owl. He said, Yeah, they're always around in the evening, often coming to sit on a railing near his house. He said he was pretty sure there were two around in the summer which is good news, since one reportedly got hit by a car last year. The guy was very pleasant - not what we expected based on the big Private Property sign at the beginning of the road! To cap off a Khan Tranh kind of day, we saw a Short-eared Owl on a pole top within the first mile below the SnoPark!! So...yes! Best day ever in the Highlands in the winter.
On Thursday, we skipped our usual Scotch Creek/Conconully loop and went for a walk on Washburn Is. where I added some seed out in front of the WDFW grain feeding station to draw the sparrows out into scope view. Regrettably no Harris' Sparrow, but that would have just been all too perfect. We then drove around the northern Waterville Plateau a bit looking for the Gyr that had been seen in the CBC but, best we could do was a Great-Horned Owl. No matter...a 4-owl trip is a great trip! (Sorry this is late for those of you who are over there now but I was delayed in writing due to prepping for and participating in what was my wettest CBC yet - yesterday, of course, why not today?) - Happy Birding - Jon Houghton, Edmonds
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