[Tweeters] More Okanogan and Douglas County Birding

Eric Heisey magicman32 at rocketmail.com
Thu Feb 11 20:59:52 PST 2021

Hey all,

This post is a bit tardy as my week has been absorbed by job applications, but hopefully this report is still useful for those who may be traveling to Okanogan for the President’s Day long weekend. This past weekend, I was joined by Peter Wimberger for an excellent day of birding in the Okanogan Highlands.

We drove from Twisp on Saturday morning (enjoying some soaring Golden Eagles on the drive) and first stopped at the Havillah Sno Park. This spot can either be devoid of birds, or quite birdy; it seems to depend entirely on if there is a good mixed flock around the parking lot. On this day it was the former, but as Peter and I were standing around talking around the corral, we were lucky to hear tapping on a nearby Ponderosa Pine that turned out to be a beautiful female White-headed Woodpecker (my first for the location). It gave great looks! We also had a couple of Clark’s Nutcrackers (which had seemed to be utterly absent for the past ~2 months, but have now shown up in good numbers), a flyover flock of Red Crossbills (no WWCRs…), a flyover Snow Bunting and a nice close Pileated Woodpecker here. On our way up into the highlands, we stopped in Havillah, which hosted a really nice mixed flock, as well as a huge flock of about 200 Siskins and Common Redpolls (about 120:80 ratio). A little further up the road, we found a group of about a dozen Gray Partridge that were quite obliging, as well as the usual Rough-legged Hawks. We then moved on to Hungry Hollow Rd, which was pretty dead. We did score more Red Crossbills, which we had nice looks at, as well as several more Nutcrackers.

Chesaw was our next stop, which was fairly quiet except for a large flock of about 70 Pine Siskins and a flyover flock of 11 Pine Grosbeaks. The clouds began to thicken, and as it began to snow things seemed to pick up. Along Mary Anne Creek Rd we had another nice flock of Pine Grosbeaks near the Christian Camp, and stopped to view a flock of more Siskins and Redpolls feeding on the alders below Porcelain-China Rd (may not be the exact name of the road, haha). I was also able to call in a lovely little Northern Pygmy-Owl along Mary Anne Creek, which gave fantastic looks. We heard rumor of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches along Nealey Rd, so we decided to head in that direction. Along the N stretch of Nealey Rd we encountered two more Northern Pygmy-Owls that gave more really nice views, and had solid looks at a Ruffed Grouse in the road. There were no Rosy-Finches at the feeders on Nealey, but the usual culprits were easily found there. Along the very “end” of Nealey Rd (maybe 500m from the intersection with Havillah Rd) there is a small farm which hosted 11 Rosy-Finches, mixed in with a flock of over 100 Snow Buntings. They gave wonderful looks as they fed on the ground with the Buntings, although the landowner was not particularly pleased by us looking at his property (something to consider if there are birds at this property).

Thrilled by our good fortune, we decided to head down toward Fancher Flats to end the day, which we had skipped on the way up. We drove Siwash Creek Rd, hoping for Sharp-tailed Grouse but received nothing for our efforts except fog. Fancher Flats was more fruitful, as we listened to a singing Canyon Wren and calling Chukar in a light drizzle as the light faded on a fantastic day. Thanks to Peter for joining me, it was great to spend the day with good company.

I spent Saturday night huddled in my car along Happy Hill Rd, waking up early Sunday morning in hopes of Rosy-Finches or Sharp-tailed Grouse. I found neither unfortunately, so I headed up to Conconully for about an hour. Conconully was fairly quiet, though I enjoyed the usual residents like all three Nuthatches, Wild Turkeys and Townsend’s Solitaire, as well as one unusual bird, a Pacific Wren. These tiny wet forest wrens seem to have “irrupted” out of the mountains into the eastern Washington lowlands this winter, as I have had probably 4 different individuals around Mazama this winter, and have seen them in unusual numbers around Yakima and elsewhere as well. Has anyone else noticed this as well I wonder?

I bailed towards the Waterville Plateau, taking the scenic route along Salmon Creek Rd and over Cameron Lake Rd. I had wanted to see what Cameron Lake Rd looked like after the fires. In short, it was absolutely torched. Really sad given how incredible a birding destination it is, although I will say the the Pine forests on the north end were spared high heat crown fires, meaning this part of the road should hopefully regenerate well. The road was virtually devoid of birds however, as I totaled only 4 species (though Snow Bunting was one of them).

Arriving on the Waterville Plateau, I spent a very relaxed couple of hours simply walking along Rd H NE, soaking in the absolute silence and emptiness of the place and hoping to have a Gyrfalcon or something else spectacular present itself. No Gyr showed, although I was able to scope a distant Snowy Owl on an erratic and Snowy Buntings twirled around me, mixed in with flocks of tinkling Horned Larks. After I grew content, I continued driving and ended up happening upon my most exciting birds of the trip, and perhaps the year: a small group of Greater Sage-Grouse along Rd E NE. I had been specifically targeting them in the few remnant patches of sagebrush that escaped the fires unscathed, and was lucky to be privy to fantastic views of these rare and elusive chickens, if only for a few minutes. A fantastic cap to the trip I thought, until on my way back to Mazama that evening a Northern Goshawk flew right over my car, diving into a copse of Cottonwoods. What a wonderful weekend of birding!!!

One more brief note: the Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings have continued around Winthrop this week (although the waxwings seem to be dropping in number). I also enjoyed great looks and a short conversation with a Northern Pygmy-Owl in town this evening; a bird I will never get tired of. The dusk duck fly in at Big Twin Lake this evening was also quite impressive, with hundreds of Goldeneyes, Bufflehead, Mergansers and other ducks bombing in over my head to roost in a teeny pocket of open water on the lake. Really impressive to see 400 ducks crowded into such a small space, although it was quite chilly!

Good birding all, and good luck this weekend if you venture to the cold, white north!

Eric Heisey

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