[Tweeters] More Okanogan/Douglas County Birding

Eric Heisey magicman32 at rocketmail.com
Thu Feb 25 10:49:57 PST 2021

Hi all,

I’ve spent the last few days birding around Okanogan and Douglas counties with my friend Logan Kahle, a roving Californian who made the journey north in hopes of some lingering wintering specialties. We adhered to COVID regulations, and had a great time doing so! Logan’s Californian perspective aided me to appreciate all the more how special this part of the country is; truly unique in the lower 48 states.

Our first rendezvous point was at Twisp Park, where we searched for lingering Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings, among others. We succeeded in finding both and had great looks before dusk. Once it got fairly dark, we shifted our goals towards finding a Pygmy-Owl, succeeding in our quest along Eastside Rd between Winthrop and Twisp. We enjoyed watching it tote around a vole, an impressive prize for such a small predator. We headed to Twin Lakes to watch the waterfowl fly-in afterwards, and were privy to quite the show, as somewhere close to 800 ducks crowded into the small pool as the moon shown bright overhead. Fantastic.

The next morning I had to finish applying for a couple jobs, so Logan headed back to Twisp to hang out with the Grosbeaks and BOWAs some more, planning to meet up in the mid-morning along the Columbia. As I sped towards our meeting point, he texted me to let me know that he had found a Pacific Loon along Starr Rd, a fine bird for Okanogan county. Arriving, we had great looks at the Pacific Loon in both counties, as well as several Red-necked and Western Grebes and a plethora of Common Loons. On my last scan of the river before we moved to our next spot, something exciting appeared. A huge, pale-billed Loon popped up besides a Common; a basic Yellow-billed Loon! We were treated to great looks of this truly aquatic bird as it dove frequently. Seriously, these birds probably spend more of their waking hours underwater than above it! This is not 500m from where the only other Okanogan county record was found by Andy Stepniewski in 2013, so perhaps this will be a good spot to check going forward. We also had a couple of Chukar calling from the cliffs in Douglas county at this spot.

With the excitement out of the way, we continued onward to the Douglas county side of Lake Pateros to scope for more waterfowl. Here we encountered another Red-necked Grebe (evidently moving north), near a thousand Ruddy Ducks, Canyon Wren, Pygmy Nuthatch, Pacific Wren, and a male White-winged Scoter way out on the lake. This was apparently the first Douglas record of White-winged Scoter in eBird (although I imagine they have to show up at this same location in October/November if they were searched for). Our next stop was Cassimer Bar, which was as slow as I’ve seen it (it was midday), but we still saw a few Tundra and Trumpeter Swans along with the usual suspects.

One of the birds Logan wanted to see most on his trip was Sharp-tailed Grouse, so we headed to Scotch Creek Wildlife Area in hopes that they would be in the trees. They were not, but we did see a Northern Goshawk and two Golden Eagles on our drive up along Conconully Rd. We enjoyed a pleasant sunset on Happy Hill Rd before heading up to the Highlands to sleep for the night.

The next day was full of fun birds. We wove through the many side roads of the highlands for the entire day, covering a few of them multiple times. We encountered a couple different Northern Pygmy-Owls along Mary Anne Creek Rd at dawn and dusk, as well as 7 foraging Ruffed Grouse at dusk. In Molson we had a flyover flock of 7 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches early in the day and watched a pair of Gray Partridge in their goofy antics as they slipped and slide on an icy road. Nealey Road has been where I’ve had a lot of my good fortune in the highlands this winter, and we were lucky again this day. We had several Canada Jays, a Townsend’s Solitaire, and two flyover White-winged Crossbills along the north stretch of the road, as well as a single Common Redpoll at the feeders. The barnyard near the intersection with Havillah Rd had a big flock of 250 Snow Buntings with 11 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches mixed in, giving great looks. We spent a considerable amount of time along Siwash Creek Rd in pursuit of Sharp-tailed Grouse, but were again unsuccessful, although we had a nice flock of about 40 Common Redpolls.

One bird that Logan is particularly enamored by is the Northern Shrike, a bird I am more or less “used to” in these northern winters. I have not appreciated enough in the past how common these circumpolar, European Shrikes are; as Logan remarks, this must be one of the best places in the lower 48 states to encounter these fantastic furies. We saw many of them throughout the day, to Logan’s delight.

The next day we started at Scotch Creek, crossing our fingers in our sleep that Sharp-tailed Grouse would be present in the morning….. They were not. Despite about two hours of scouring the creek and hillsides, we could find no sign of them. I have had supremely bad luck with this species this winter, as I’ve now tried for them on about nine separate occasions without luck, including the cumulative five hours or so we spent searching on this trip. Oh well… We did have a nice flock of 14 American Tree Sparrows, as well as a small flock of 15 Snow Buntings up in the hills and a day roosting Great Horned Owl.

We made a beeline for Washburn Island afterwards, a spot with good cell service for a job interview I had. Logan covered much of the island while I was on the phone, although I was able to meet him afterwards and see most of the species present. Highlights included a Western Meadowlark, Killdeer, Northern Pintail, Tundra Swan, Cooper’s Hawk, Purple Finch, American Tree Sparrows and courting Redheads. We tallied 51 species in total on this lovely, sunny morning.

We headed up to the Waterville Plateau afterwards, finding virtually nothing until around 3pm save for a Golden Eagle and Prairie Falcon. Things seemed to pick up in the late afternoon/evening, and we had many Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Shrikes, a lingering flock of 300 Snow Buntings, another Prairie Falcon (presumably migrating back to their breeding cliffs), several Greater White-fronted and Cackling Geese, and a single Lapland Longspur calling from a Horned Lark flock. We ended the day at Atkins Lake, where we located three Snowy Owls and were able to watch them “activate” as dusk rolled around. We watched a couple preening and especially enjoyed one enormous adult female who contorted her body in ridiculous ways, eventually flying off into the twilight to tussle with another younger Snowy Owl. And so the sun set on a fantastic trip, silhouetting a Snowy Owl sitting atop an erratic. A fitting end to my winter birding of northern Washington (now, I’m heading south!).

Good birding all,

Eric Heisey

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