[Tweeters] Okanogan County Birding

Eric Heisey magicman32 at rocketmail.com
Sat Jan 16 12:50:19 PST 2021

Hi all,

On Wednesday and Thursday I birded around the varied habitats of Okanogan County. Unfortunately the wind was quite strong on Wednesday, which conferred very few birds, but things really calmed down on Thursday, which turned out to be a gorgeous day!

I started out Wednesday morning along Fancher Rd, which runs through shrub steppe and fields along the eastern base of a tall cliff (the butte blocked the wind nicely!). I normally stop here in the hopes of a calling Chukar or maybe a soaring Golden Eagle. On this morning I got all this and more! I flushed two Gray Partridge off the road approaching the cliff, my first time seeing this species at this location. At the cliffs, three Chukar called along with a Canyon Wren as the sun warmed the fairly calm, sheltered air. My personal highlight was a soaring Golden Eagle, which alit on an exposed branch about halfway up the cliff, allowing wonderful views with great lighting. As I watched it, another Golden Eagle appeared, presumably the male of the pair that breeds here, and began its majestic swooping display right above my head!! Absolutely magical…

Well, it was all downhill from there. Emboldened by my great start to the morning, I eagerly charged up into the highlands and found…. very little. The wind howled, and the temperatures were unseasonably warm, keeping most birds in hiding. I scoured the highlands for five hours before turning tail, finding little more interesting than a small flock of Snow Buntings along Havillah Road and a few Red Crossbills along Hungry Hollow Rd. My 30 minute stint along Mary Anne Creek Rd (normally one of the premier spots) was indicative of the day: I saw a grand total of two Black-billed Magpies on the ENTIRE 6 miles road, despite multiple stops in the prime habitat. It was really slow… at least it was sunny and beautiful!

A bit discouraged, I decided Great Gray Owls and the like would be a fantasy on such a day, and opted to head down to Osoyoos Lake in hopes of waterfowl and gulls. Well, it was just as windy here, which made scoping for waterfowl very difficult and caused the gulls to wheel in the air, neglecting to present me with very good views. I was just about to give up, when suddenly the wind virtually stopped as the sun set! Finally I was able to get some bearing on the birds present, finding three Red-breasted Mergansers, 12 Trumpeter Swans, Barrow’s Goldeneyes, Herring, California and Olympic Gulls, and a Merlin. A pleasant respite to end the day…

Thursday was much more lucrative. I decided I would do something I had always wanted to do, but never really found the time for: walk the entirety of Cassimer Bar Wildlife Area. This place is truly awesome, and it is not birded even close to enough. It’s the kind of place that if situated near a larger populace could perhaps garner 240+ species and thousands of eBird lists. As it stands, there are still fewer than 200 checklists for the location, amounting to almost 190 species. Anyways, the birds! I found a number of interesting birds on my survey, including a continuing American White Pelican, Glaucous Gull, Virginia Rails and Marsh Wrens, as well Dunlin, Say’s Phoebe, Barn Owl, Hermit Thrush, Purple Finch, American Tree Sparrow, Cackling Goose, Pine Siskin, both Kinglets, Wilson’s Snipe and 15 species of duck. All of these are fairly difficult to come by in Okanogan county winters, so I was quite pleased! I totaled 57 species for the morning, easily my highest total at single location in January in Okanogan county. Below my report I will outline some tips for birding Cassimer Bar, in hopes that I can convince a couple birders to check out this fantastic place and find some great birds!

Afterwards, I crossed the road from Cassimer Bar and scoped the Okanogan River at the junction of hwy 17 and hwy 97, which was swarming with waterfowl! Here I estimated around 650 American Wigeon, though I was unable to pick out an Eurasian. It seems like the spot to do so, though! There was also a single Tundra Swan mixed in with 44 Trumpeter Swans, a Purple Finch, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Cedar Waxwings.

I drove to Grand Coulee afterwards, spending an unexciting 45 minutes hoping for gulls below the dam or at Electric City. My only sighting of any note was a continuing American Dipper below the dam. My real reason for coming this way was to bird the Columbia River west of Nespelem, something I had never done before. This place is vaunted as the only reliable place in Okanogan county for interesting gulls, attracted to three large aquiculture operations. Though the riverside access points were closed to non-tribal members due to COVID, I was able to spy some interesting birds right along the road. Oh, and did I mention that this area is just drop dead gorgeous?! Worth the trek for the scenery alone. On my drive there I had a Townsend’s Solitaire fly over my car and noticed several Northern Shrikes perched on telephone wires. Along the river, I found one spot along Nespelem Bar where I could scan perching gulls while Canyon Wrens called, finding a Thayer’s (Iceland) Gull, and one interesting 1CY gull that I believe was likely a Herring x Glaucous-winged Gull amongst the Herring, Ring-billed and Olympic Gulls. Not much else of note was around, but as I mentioned, it was gorgeous and I didn’t mind. I rounded out the day with 71 species, a lovely day of Okanogan birding.

Alright, now for the Cassimer Bar directions! Previously, I have mostly accessed the bar by parking at the pullout just east of the bridge on hwy 97 the crosses the Okanogan River. This can be good, but there’s a fair bit of road noise, it’s a fair walk out to the Columbia, and even once you get to the Columbia you can’t really view everything without walking further. Instead, I suggest you park at the west end of Cassimer Bar Rd (48.0960933, -119.7086949; this can be pretty muddy, but it’s entirely manageable in an AWD car) and walk south to the river at (48.0921492, -119.7107153). This is where many of the good birds I mentioned above were viewed from, including AWPE, GLGU, ATSP, SAPH, DUNL and more. This spot allows a nice view of the river, where you can identify almost all the waterfowl within view on Lake Pateros. From there, either walk west and complete a shorter loop back to the parking area, or if you’re feeling adventurous, walk south to this general area (48.0875577, -119.7067684), which has some nice thick trees. This is where the HETH, PUFI, BANO and most passerines were, and has prime habitat for something like a Long-eared Owls or migrants in the spring or fall. Cows have made some paths through the trees, making it fairly easy to get back into the thickets themselves. This area also often has mud in the fall, making it a good spot to look for shorebirds. From there, I would just backtrack and finish walking the loop. In this reasonable walk, you are able to cover the best parts of the bar, probably finding some cool birds!

Happy birding all,

Eric Heisey

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