Friday, June 29, 2012

Monday May 28, 2012 Eastern WA part 3

Walla Walla Washington, don't you love to say it? It is a nice town and it was a beautiful day. We headed over to the Fort Walla Walla Natural Area--kept up by the local Audubon club. It is not a big area but it is good enough size to have a number of trails running through it. There were old apple trees, a barn, lots of trees and water areas, just right for good birding. We did see quite a few birds including warblers and such but nothing new for the list. We did see a hummingbird that may have been a new species for us but they move too fast to get a proper ID. We really hoped to see an owl in the barn, but no luck. Still it is a nice little area and I'd go back.

We headed out of town on Hwy 12 and in between Waitsburg and Dayton there is the Lewis and Clark Trail State Park. We pulled in to follow the mile long loop trail. It was great weather, not too hot, not too cold and clear. The trail starts and ends at the bathrooms and wanders through the woods to a river and follows that for awhile and then back to the restroom. We finally saw a western tanager (#129) one of our very favorite birds because of it's beautiful coloring. The we spied our first cedar waxwings (#130) for the year, another of our favorites. After a bit we got a very nice view of a Townsend's warbler (#131) and a black-headed grosbeak (#132). (Note on the grosbeak: we had actually seen some of them at our house but I failed to add them to our list so here seems like as good a place as any to add them to the count.) We also saw a woodpecker, other warblers, black birds, quail and such. It was a nice stop and another terrific easy trail.

Next stop was Palouse Falls State Park on Hwy 261. Neither of us had ever been there before so we didn't really know what to expect. First thing we noticed was the amount of cars leaving the park. It was Memorial Day and all but this park is not close to anything. Hard to believe it gets so many people coming but sure enough once we got there we found many families enjoying their time here. It's not a very big park but the view of the falls is spectacular.

We saw a yellow-bellied marmot on the edge of the walls. It didn't seem to bother him that it was a sheer drop to the rivers floor. We did see peregrine falcons (#133) flying through the canyons, they say that they nest in the walls of the cliffs in this area. We also saw meadowlark, violet-green swallow and horned larks.

Moving onward we stopped at Bassatt Park in Washtucna. It's just a simple city park but it has the reputation for being a crazy birding spot. How could we pass it by? At first it didn't seem like too much activity but we saw mourning doves, western tanagers, bullock oriole and then a Wilson's warbler (#134) jumping around in a pine tree. Also flying about were Eurasian collared doves (#135) and band-tailed pigeons (#136). It was very worth stopping for.

It was getting late and the only hope we had of finding any accommodations in this very unpopulated part of the state is Othello. So we headed over there and found what seemed to be the only hotel, Best Western Othello Inn. The front desk gal gave me a good rate and upgraded us to a executive room--complete with recline--and we walked over to the pizza place next door and had a late dinner. It all worked out beautifully.

Sunday, May 27, 2012 Eastern WA cont.

Woke up to a beautiful day and after a McD breakfast and Starbucks stop we headed out of Pasco to the Big Flat Habitat Management Unit. It's about 13 miles east of Pasco on the Pasco-Kahlotus road. It's a unique area in that it has a freshwater lake just next to the Snake River. It was mainly fishermen and families out there but we did run in to a couple of other birders. It was quite windy but I think this area always has some good winds. We headed out on the dike that crosses between the lake and the river and then goes into a couple miles of trails in Russian olives, cottonwoods, birches, shrubs and grassland. The first thing we saw was a group of white pelicans (#122) flying in formation overhead. It is a vision so awsomely beautiful that until you see it I don't know how you could appreciate it. These huge soaring white birds just going in a line and copying everything the leader was doing. One goes up, they all go up, he serpentines , they serpentine, down and around, down and around. It is mesmerizing. How could you not be a birder forever after you've seen that? Lucky for us we got to see them a number of times throughout the day. Also sharing the sky were gobs of swallows that we soon realized were bank swallows (#123). They were oddly enough, living in a bank next to the river. The fun thing about these birds is the sound they make. It is kind of a buzzing totally akin to the sound you hear when you walk under high tension power lines. We continued on the trail that took us away from the water and more into the grass/tree section of the park always hopeful for one of those birds we had always heard about but never seen--like a bullock's oriole (#124), oh yes we did seen them. Another amazingly beautiful bird, the color is so bright orange it looks like a bit of fire dancing in the trees.We also saw a western wood pewee (#125) and then...wait for it....a lazuli bunting (#126)!!! There he was singing away in a bush, just happy to pose for us while we excitedly watched and listened. Oh man, I love eastern Washington.

Bullock's Oriole

lazuli bunting

We finally pulled ourselves away from there and headed back to Pasco and checked out Sacajawea State Park. We had past it so many times when we use to go to Walla Walla to see Flynn at college but we had never stopped. It's a very nice park with lots of history but the main feature is it is located at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. We didn't see any new birds but we ate a snack.

Our next stop was McNary NWR located just south of Pasco. It's actually a big area but we first checked out the headquarters as there is a nice trail that goes around the McNary Slough. It was Sunday so the Education Center was closed but there was access to the trail so we headed out and the first bird we saw....another huge moment...a yellow-headed blackbird (#127)! I had so wanted to see one and we saw many on that trail. I could hardly contain myself. What a day of birding we were having. That ended up being the only new bird we saw along the trail but it was a great little hike and I would love to go back at another time of year to see the difference in the birds that travel through.

yellow-headed blackbird

By this time it was getting late and we had to start thinking of where to spend the night. It looked like Walla Walla so I got on the phone and set up a night at La Quinta. This way we didn't have to rush into town to find a place to stay,we could stop at a couple more places and bird. Which is what we did. We stopped at the Walula Unit of the NWR. We walked some of the trail and drove to an overlook but didn't see anything new. We continued out Hwy 12 toward Walla Walla but Rudy found one last turn out to look over the tidal area. We could see some birds feeding in the pool areas, binocs up, American avocet's (#128). A very cool looking, long legged water bird that uses his beak to swish the water to stir it up for feeding. We got some nice shots of them. A perfect ending to a perfect birding day.

American avocet
We drove into Walla Walla and had dinner at El Sombero Restaurant--been there before with Flynn. Took a little time to be nostalgic about that season in our lives and then crawled into bed in anticipation of another day of birding.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday May 26, 2012 Eastern Washington

Being a travel agent it is not often when I go off for 3 nights and don't have everything planned. This weekend was the exception. Life had been too full and busy and I just hadn't had the time to research or make plans. So here we were driving east on I-90 with no plan about where we were going to spend the next few nights. It was really quite fun--also it was my 60th birthday so I knew we couldn't go wrong. First new bird black-billed magpie (#112) flying over the road--not a hard bird to spot east of the mountains but you don't seem them on the wet side. We turned off I-90 just after the Columbia and headed south on the east side of the river and turned off at Beverly on Crab Creek Road. Oh, what's that sitting in that tree? Bird book out, eastern kingbird (#113), sweet. We also saw brown-headed cowbirds (#114) and California quail (#115).

 Eastern kingbird                                                         California quail
There were groves of Russian olive trees along the road. We stopped to look at what we thought was a nest but it turned out to be a porcupine sleeping in the boughs. Not too far a way was another one. Who knew they slept in trees?

We headed back to highway 240 and stopped at a rest area just across the Columbia and ate some lunch. There we saw some ravens (#116) and western kingbirds (#117) flying around in the trees. Lunch hit the spot and we were ready to take another diversion, crossing back over the Columbia to State Route 24. At 60.1 milepost we took a road north to the Wahluke Slope Wildlife Area. It was a nice quiet road and we heard the melodious song of the western meadowlark (#118). They're not too hard to find-just follow the song. They love to sit on top of a post or shrub and sing away. In the road we saw some medium size birds jumping around--binocs focused--horned larks (#119)--really cool looking!
horned lark
They was quite a bit of sage brush around and we heard and finally saw a sage sparrow (#120). The road kept going up to the ridge top and up there we got a birds eye view of the valley below crowned by a beautiful great egret flying through the hilltops. Before ending the day we also saw a rough legged hawk (#121).

We ended the day staying at the Red Lion in Pasco. They were pretty full but I worked them down to a good rate. We ate at a nice local restaurant and they brought me a dessert with Happy Birthday written in chocolate on the plate--they must know me. Back at the hotel Rudy gave me a Kindle Fire and wrote me a beautiful poem for my birthday. Nice day birding--nice way to spend my birthday.

Friday May 11, 2012 Titlow Beach

After being gone all last weekend we really needed to stay around this weekend and do some work on the yard. But not to be totally shut out for the week we decided to devote some time Friday night. I had an eye appointment in Tacoma in the late afternoon so we decided to go back to Titlow beach. This time I did my homework and read reports that the purple martins were now being sighted. My eyes were pretty dilated and it was a beautiful sunny day, but I donned my sunglasses and we set out. Sure enough there they were when we first arrived. Swooping around out by the pilings about 5 purple martins (#109). Also we spotted a nice osprey (#110) flying over.

We still hadn't had our fill of birding and we had to go over to Kent before going home so we headed out to the Green River Resource Area (Kent Ponds). It was such a nice night and it produced a beautiful common yellow throat (#111).

OK now we can feel good about staying home and working outside for the weekend.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sunday, May 6, 2012 Coast Migration Part II

Woke up early and saw the "big moon" setting over the ocean. It made a nice start to the day. The second bonus was a clear, blue sky as the sun was coming up. A beautiful day at the beach...just proves it can happen however rare. Flying in formation we saw small groups of brown pelicans (#105). It was follow the leader, up then down, and all tracing the line of surf--they were mesmerizing to watch.

Our first stop of the day was Ocean Shores jetty. There we found where many of the brown pelicans called home. The tide was just coming in and the rocks of the jetty were quickly getting covered by the waves. There were colorful starfish clinging to the sides of the boulders. There were cormorants, sea gulls and we saw some Savannah sparrows but not much else. We decided to head to a place call Bill's Spit. Our last time at Ocean Shores we had tried to find Bill's Spit to no avail. This time I had precise directions and we did find it. The trail out to the spit is not marked and very narrow. It is easily missed and is in between many homes. But this time we found it and headed out. The tide was still very far out so we didn't see much except there were some seals sleeping on a beach a ways out--we were told there were babies there but they were so far out we really couldn't tell. One home on the beach did have a bunch of bird houses in their yard and tree and violet-green swallows (#106) were making their homes there. We decided not to wait for the tide as we wanted to go back to Bottle Beach when the tide was better for viewing. On the way out we checked out the lake but nothing was happening there this time of year.

violet-green swallow

At Bottle Beach we arrived perfectly timed with the tide. Instead of a semi-barren beach we were greeted with western sandpipers, dunlins, short billed dowitchers, black bellied plovers and a few red knots (#107) and some ruddy turnstones (#108). We were able to get quite close to some of them and it was a thrill to watch. The western sandpipers were the smallest and closet, then the dunlins and dowitchers, and the ruddy turnstones were running rapidly between them all. Once the tide got pretty high and covered most of the mud the little sandpipers all tucked their heads under their wings--all in the same direction--and took a bit of a nap. They were so cute you just wanted to scoop them up and take a few home.

snoozing western sandpipers in the foreground

We had a long drive home and we decided to make it a bit longer by going south and then cut over to I-5. There were a few areas we wanted to check out along the way. None of them proved anything of interest but you never know until you try. We arrived home in the early evening with visions of shorebirds still etched in our minds. It was a very enjoyable weekend even if it ended a bit down on the bird count. We did add 15 birds to the list and we saw thousands of birds over the course of the weekend plus we had a great time. I think that counts for a good way to spend a weekend.

Saturday, May 5, 2012 Coast Migration part 1

Destination - the ocean beaches of Washington state. Reason - the height of the shorebird migration.
Late April and early May is the time many shore birds are coming from their southern winter homes to their Alaska summer homes and they stop along the way to fuel up for their journey. Rudy and I were going to get a piece of that action. We got up early and made our first stop at Bottle Beach State Park at 8am. Bottle Beach is between Westport and Aberdeen. When we got to the beach the tide was way out. Birdwatching is at it's worst when the tide is out because the birds are far out where the water is. We could see some birds but didn't have any idea what were there as they were too far away. However, close to shore we did see a small herd of semi-palmated plovers (#94) so that was good.

We decided to head down the road to Johns River, an estuary/woodland area back toward Aberdeen. We took the trail for a short ways and heard a new song coming from the trees. To our delight we spotted a brilliant yellow warbler (#95) singing away. He was like a drop of sunshine sitting on a branch. Just beyond that there was a place where the estuary went under the trail and just below us was about 20 least sandpipers (#96). Oh the were busy poking the mud for food. We went a bit further but didn't see anything else new. There were some marsh wrens and mallards and such but we had bigger goals set for ourselves so we turned back and headed for Hoquiam for the Gray's Harbor Shorebird Festival.

least sandpiper

The event was easy to find, at the high school, and there was a good turn out with booths, classes and tours. We looked around and grabbed some soup and a huge brownie for lunch and then boarded the shuttle that was provided to visit the Gray's Harbor NWR. We were timing it to be there 2 hours before high tide--the primo viewing time. We'd been to Gray's Harbor NWR before when we had come out to the beach for the snowy owls. We stopped by but never actually found the trail out to the tide flats. So this was a great opportunity to learn the layout of the refuge. It actually is next to the airport and has a wonderful trail and boardwalk out to the harbor. From the shuttle we were dropped off at the trailhead. The trail is lined with small trees such as willows and makes a nice haven for warblers and such. Closer to the shore there were areas that wrens find homey and sure enough their songs filled the air. Up to our right and out toward the flats was a small group of white-fronted geese (#97). That was kind of a surprise. The tide flats were just beyond and there flying in were hundreds of birds. Mostly western sandpipers (#98) but there were a few dunlins (#99) mixed in. It took us awhile to get out to the best viewing area for the shorebirds because we were stopping to watch for birds in the shrubs, grasses and the mudflats. We saw one in particular that we knew must be a warbler but we couldn't put a name to. We'd have to get out the bird book and figure it out later. When we did get to where most people were gathered for viewing, the birds had moved on. Being new to this we didn't exactly know how this whole thing works. Timing is everything. So the best viewing times are about 1-2 hours before and after high tide but not necessarily at high tide. At high tide the mud is covered by water and the birds have no foraging areas. The good thing was the birds were still around, we just had to go to another section of the trail. Sure enough there they were--thousands. Each of them trying to find the last bit of high ground and rest awhile before they would eat again. Looking out it looked like a bunch of small islands by the shore, until you got the binocs on the "islands" and saw it was solid birds--not land. The movements of the flocks were something to see. All of a sudden, as if on some hidden command, hundreds of birds would swarm at the same time. Sometimes flying in circles and landing back where they started. Other times flying off to try some new part of the basin.

There is an island way out in the harbor where we could see thousands of birds swarming like a giant cloud moving to and fro. It was amazing. It was like it was alive.The tide came in higher and the birds flew off for higher ground. It didn't help that a merlin (#100) flew over at the same time--birds of prey always upset shorebirds and it kind of put an end to the viewing time at that part of the boardwalk.

Rudy and I decided to go back to the place we'd been when we first got out to the mudflats and wait for the tide to go out to see if the birds would come back. Many of the birders had left, except for the volunteers with scopes, and we found a bench to sit and wait. We ate a snack and looked in the bird book for that warbler we had seen. It turned out it was an orange-crowned warbler (#101). After about a half hour - 45 minutes there were patches of mud starting to appear again. Then a few birds, then more, then - well you get the picture. This time we had a front row seat. Western sandpipers, dunlins, semi-palmated plovers--then a shout--"black-bellied plovers (#102) coming in on the right!" Sure enough, there they were along with short-billed dowitchers (#103) and in the sky caspian terns and their flying antics.Migration--you bet. What a wonderful time being there in the midst of such an event. We watched as long as we dared--we had about 45 minutes until the last shuttle so we needed to start heading back. It worked out well, we had plenty of time to scan the path on the way back. We saw a wonderful yellow-rumped warbler and another yellow warbler. Watched a song sparrow give us a show and a song from a branch of apple blossoms. Found a marsh wren perched and trilling in his reeds. We were high on the thrill of it all.

That night we stayed at Ocean Shores at the Best Western Lighthouse Inn. We went down to the beach before dinner and saw more birds poking their long beaks in the sand for dinner. New to this group were a number of marbled godwits (#104). They had really long bills and were sticking it in the sand so even their head went under. Must have been some good stuff there.

We ate at the restaurant at the hotel--not the best--but it was easy. That night was one of those times when the moon was as close as it gets and appears bigger than normal so we were anxious to get a glimpse of it rising. Luckily the hotel has a "lighthouse" viewing room with 360 degree view. Moonrise was just about the same time as sunset. We were able to watch the sunset from our room and then high tailed it up to the lookout. Sure enough it appeared big and yellow and gave us a nice show for the end of the day.

A video to show some of the masses of birds: