Bird and Memory of the Week – Black Rail

The Bird and Memory of the Week this week is the tiny Black Rail, Laterallus jamaicensis.  It is the smallest American Rail measuring barely 6 inches and weighing just over 1 ounce.   It actually looks even smaller or at least that is how I remember it.  It is a very secretive bird that is rarely seen even when present.  I was very lucky.

I expect all birders are asked the question:  “So what got you started in birding?”  Although it was not the first bird I saw as a beginner, the experience that I think really got me going as a “birder” was seeing a Black Rail at an extremely high tide at the Dumbarton Bridge/Dumbarton Point in Alameda County on November 22, 1972.  At the time I was in law school at Stanford and my actual and honest answer to that getting started question is that I found I enjoyed birds more than law school lectures so the interest developed that way, but the Black Rail punctuated the interest.

Black Rail (Larkwire Photo)
 Back then, there was no internet, no cell phones, no listservs etc. so bird news was mostly word of mouth or by phone trees.  I do not remember how it happened but somehow I found out that there was to be an exceptionally high tide that day and that there was a likelihood of actually seeing the Black Rail that had been observed briefly the previous two days on somewhat lower tides. This was the highest tide so the best viewing was hoped for and sure enough there were many birders who positioned themselves at a strategic point that would enable them to see the last tuft of ground in the rising waters with the hope that a rail/rails would show up.  And indeed they did.  As the tide rose, I was able to observe not only a Clapper Rail (now reclassified as Ridgway’s Rail) but also a Virginia Rail and a Sora, especially for me extraordinary observations on their own.

Ridgway's Rail
Ridgway’s Rail (Ebird Photo)

I have never seen or heard a Black Rail anywhere again.  There are many Ebird records from the San Francisco Bay area from the 43+ years following my observation – BUT reading through many of them, most if not all are “heard only” so the actual sighting in 1972 was special indeed.  There was great anticipation from the gathered throng as the water level continued to rise and finally this little black bird climbed onto the disappearing island and eventually was all alone on the grassy tuft that was hardly much bigger than it was.  Shrieks of joy were actually heard.

As with most of these blog posts, the bird memory that is the main subject also reminds me of other experiences.  One was being fortunate to actually see a Yellow Rail at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in 1978 when the rail buggy was still in operation.  So I have seen all of the regular North American Rails, but the Black Rail will always be the most special. The Yellow Rail was part of the Eastern Airlines whirlwind described in a previous blog post.  I know there were other great birds seen at the Refuge but the only record I have is for a Sedge Wren – the only time I have ever seen one was with the Yellow Rail.

Yellow Rail
Yellow Rail (Houston Audubon Picture)
Rail Buggy at Anahuac – no longer in service

Another favorite Rail memory is seeing a Sora at the Montlake Fill.  I was sitting with Connie Sidles enjoying her endless stories of Birds of the Fill and a Sora emerged out of the grass reeds and walked across the path not more than 15 feet from us.  We were stunned.  No time for a photo but fortunately I was able to get a Sora photo last year at Wylie Slough on September 6th when I also got a good shot of a Virginia Rail – one of at least 6 heard or seen at the Slough that day.

Virginia Rail 2
Virginia Rail Wiley Slough August 6, 2015
Sora – Wiley Slough August 6, 2015

What stirred the memory of the Black Rail was being at the Montlake Fill this morning and hearing at least 4 Virginia Rails and seeing at least 3 at different spots around the Fill.  It brought to mind the other Virginia Rail sightings and that there have been many more really good looks this year than I can ever remember including incredible photo ops at the Edmonds Marsh and Pitship Pocket Estuary near Sequim.

Virginia Rail 3 - Copy
Virginia Rail Edmonds Marsh March 19, 2016
Virginia Rail - Copy
Virginia Rail Pitship Pocket Estuary March 24, 2016

I have not yet seen or heard a Sora this year but have hopes for one soon.  And someday I hope to see a Black Rail again.  The first one would have made for a great photo – but that was way before I could afford a camera and way before the era of digital photography – so an opportunity lost.  But the picture remains in my head – and it is a VERY GOOD ONE!!

Kittitas County Birds – Changing Experiences in March

In the past three weeks I have made three trips to Kittitas County culminating in a Seattle Audubon Society trip that I co-lead with Jean Olson on March 26th.  The other two trips were a scouting trip with Jean for that SAS trip on March 20th and a trip on March 5th with two friends that was driven by a barely successful search for the White Winged Crossbills that had been seen on the Central Washington University campus. Continue reading “Kittitas County Birds – Changing Experiences in March”

Bird and Memory of the Week – Lark Sparrow (and the Locked Gate)

Some of my posts have been about fairly exotic or charismatic birds.  There is nothing wrong with a Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) – not bad looking and not all that common but definitely neither exotic nor charismatic in comparison to those other featured birds.  But my aim in writing these posts is to share some experiences that may have some meaning or value to others and admittedly to relive some past moments for me and to recall the joy or excitement of the time.

I saw my first Lark Sparrow on June 20, 1975 on Dodson Road near Ephrata.  I cannot remember a thing about the day or the observation.  Later recorded observations were at Toppenish, Balch Lake, Gingko SP, Wilson Creek and several other spots.  On Decker Road in Pasco on May 15, 2014 they seemed to be everywhere and I saw 10 in less than an hour – for sure a memorable experience.  All were nice times, but the memory that is the basis of this post was a single sparrow almost exactly a year later on Road C Northeast in Grant County between Moses Lake and the Potholes – May 19, 2015.

I was heading off to Walla Walla for another great trip with Mike and MerryLynn Denny this time up onto Biscuit Ridge hoping for a Great Gray Owl and earlier that day had success in tracking down a pair of Long Billed Curlews on Hungry Junction Road in Kittitas County and then a Yellow Breasted Chat hiking in from the Black Throated Sparrow spot on Recreation Road in Gingko State Park.  I had fished on the Yakima River the previous day and it was my fishing guide who told me about the grass farm on Hungry Junction Road where he had himself seen some Curlews.

Long Billed Curlews

Long Billed Curlews

Yellow Breasted Chat

Yellow Breasted Chat

When I left Vantage I did not have a specific plan in mind but thought it might be fun to visit the rookery area at North Potholes – a place my Master Birder Class had visited and enjoyed in 2013.  Since I had not planned ahead, I relied on my GPS to get me there and plugged in the destination and followed directions.

I cannot recall what preceded it but at some point the GPS told me to turn south on Road C Northeast an unpaved road.   At least several miles in I passed through an open gate.  It registered as odd but the gate was open and the direction seemed correct so on I went.  Some miles in I passed by a corral on my right where a bunch of cowhands were working cattle into the corral or possibly from the corral onto trucks.  This is open range and cattle are not uncommon even if cowhands might be.  I waved as I passed by and they waved back.

Maybe another 4 miles later I arrived at North Potholes – well sort of.  It was definitely North Potholes but not the area I remembered from the Master Birder trip and in fact there was another gate – this one closed that led to what looked like the more familiar area.  It seemed wrong but the area was quite birdy looking and just as I arrived at the locked gate I saw a Black Headed Grosbeak and then a pair of Eastern Kingbirds – my first of the year – so how bad could it be?

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird (2)

Black Headed Grosbeak

Black Headed Grosbeak

Then it hit me – HARD – two and two really does add up to four.  What if the reason the first gate was open was because the cowboys had the key and had come in to work the cattle AND what if when they were done, they went back out and locked the gate behind them AND what if I did not get there before they did?????  Trouble – BIG TROUBLE – because the rest of the area was completely fenced in and I would have been many miles from any help – if any help really would have been a useful help in any event.

I no longer was at all concerned about how birdy this area was, I got back into the car and went as fast as I could back towards what I hoped would be a still open gate.  Sure enough, I arrived at the gate just as the last of the cowboy vehicles had passed through and one guy was walking back towards the gate to lock it up and prevent weirdos like me from getting in – BUT of course in this case had it been a tad earlier or I had gotten there a tad later, it would also have locked this weirdo IN!!

I had lots of adrenaline racing through my system and once through the gate, I just stopped to catch my breath, settle my heart and thank all my lucky stars.  And as I did so what flew up and landed on that infamous gate – a Lark Sparrow of course – my first of the year and a wonderful consolation prize.

Lark Sparrow (on the sage next to the re-locked gate)

Lark Sparrow2

The good news (in addition to the Lark Sparrow) was that I was not trapped.  The bad news was that I had not had a chance to see the great birds at North Potholes.  The further good news though was that I definitely had time to get to Walla Walla early and try to find a White Faced Ibis at Millet Pond.

At Millet Pond I indeed found not just one but at least 10 White Faced Ibis and also had some other nice birds including Cinnamon, Green and Blue Winged Teal, Avocets, Black Necked Stilts, a Solitary Sandpiper and a single Yellow Headed Blackbird.  Four Bullock’s Orioles on the way out put an exclamation point on the day.

White Faced Ibis

White Faced Ibis 2

Although I am not going to add much detail – saving it for another blog post, the following day I was joined by Jon Houghton and we accompanied the Dennys onto Biscuit Ridge where the birding was as great as the great company.  In addition to a dozen each of MacGillivray’s and Yellow Warblers and 25 Townsend’s Warblers, we also had 5 Lazuli Buntings, 10 Calliope Hummingbirds and’ oh yeah, a photogenic Great Gray Owl and a similarly photogenic Green Tailed Towhee – one of three.  And a bunch of other great birds.  Indeed a super trip!

Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl (2)

Green Tailed Towhee

Green Tailed Towhee 2

It did occur to me that if I had not raced to the gate, I may never have made it to Walla Walla and had the great trip.  So what are the lessons here:  One might be – don’t trust your GPS or at least your Garmin (my version).  Another is maybe to use the GPS but be sure you have looked at a map personally.  Another is probably that when you get to an unlocked gate, think of why it might be unlocked and proceed if at all – very carefully.

But maybe too the lesson is that all’s well that ends well and as I have said before – life should be about gathering experiences that provide good stories and then being sure to live to be able to share them.  I hope you like this story – whether or not any of the lessons are of value.  And maybe the ending is that if you let it happen there is usually a silver lining or a consolation prize when first prize is not attained.  The Lark Sparrow was certainly that and will remain a favorite bird because of the associated story for me.

Birding Semiahmoo, Birch Bay and Blaine – with Pilchuck Audubon

Pilchuck Audubon Society has a very active and dedicated group of birders who are off on a field trip somewhere almost every Tuesday morning.  I have not been able to join them as often as I would like, but always have a good time when I do.  This Tuesday the group headed off to Whatcom County to bird at the Blaine, Semiahmoo and Birch Bay area.  After threatening skies, the sun came out (sort of) and we had an excellent day with about 75 species seen.

As has been the case with every trip I have been on, Virginia Clark was the intrepid trip leader.  She is an excellent birder, a great leader and comes with a fabulous bonus – her wonderful homemade cookies and breads.  In addition to banana bread this time, Virginia brought cookies with bright green frosting – anticipating St. Patrick’s day later in the week.

We started at the Blaine Waterfront.  Tide was a bit higher than best for shorebirds so we settled for a variety of ducks and grebes, a dozen plus Golden Crowned Sparrows, a beautiful Killdeer and a single Greater Yellowlegs.  We had a distant look at a Long Tailed Duck – one of the hoped for species and some beautiful Greater Scaup with their iridescent heads colorful in the light.



Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

We moved on to Drayton Harbor on our way to Semiahmoo and found fewer ducks than generally seen and nothing of note.  Our fortunes changed at Semiahmoo though – one of my favorite birding spots in Washington.  Here we had both Goldeneyes, Red Breasted and Common Mergansers, the three Cormorant species, and Common and Pacific Loons, the former starting to come into their beautiful breeding plumage.  We also had some nice shorebirds many Black Turnstones, Killdeer, a single Black Oystercatcher and then a large group of  Dunlin and Sanderlings on one of the rafts.

Black Turnstone

Black Turnstone

Dunlin and Sanderlings

Dunlin and Sanderlings.jpg

But the treat here was the variety and quality of looks at the sea ducks.  There were many Long Tailed Ducks, mostly females, and two that were in very close.  We had numerous Surf Scoters and some White Winged Scoters as well.  Nice Red Breasted Mergansers and close ups of Barrow’s and Common Goldeneyes. A female Belted Kingfisher provided a beautiful photo op perched on a colorful metal roof.

Long Tailed Duck Female

Long Tailed Duck Female

Barrow’s Goldeneye

Barrow's Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye Female

Goldeneye Female

Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter

Red Breasted Merganser

Red Breasted Merganser

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

As we departed for our lunch stop at the base of the spit we had a Fox Sparrow and at the lunch stop, super views of a Pileated Woodpecker female and a flyover of the male.  A gorgeous Bewick’s Wren serenaded me as I searched for the male Pileated.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated WP2

Bewick’s Wren

Bewick's Wren

We went through the town of Birch Bay and had another Greater Yellowlegs but not many birds and not much of note.  At Birch Bay State Park though we finally got our Black Scoter, a distant view of an Eared Grebe and distant Red Throated Loons in addition to more of many of the birds we saw earlier and more Long Tailed Ducks.  On the way there a large flock of Wigeons included a single Eurasian.  At the Park we had many Brant included three up close one of which had a bright yellow leg band.

Banded Brant

Banded Brant

Our final stop was Lake Terrell.  Not real birdy but we had our only Swallows of the day including a huge number of Tree Swallows and at least one Violet Green, my first of the year.  We also added our first Pied Billed Grebe and some Ruddy Ducks.  In the woods, Pacific and Bewick’s Wrens serenaded us and we had a good look at a Brown Creeper.  It was here too that we had our only Ruby Crowned Kinglet of the day…go figure.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren

We called it a day and shortly after leaving we found a Kestrel on a wire.  The group is very cordial and shares their expertise, observations and experience. Art and Carlos were great passengers – and Virginia delivered like always.







Bird and Memory of the Week…Crested Caracara in Skykomish- and its cousins around the world

The Bird and Memory of the Week is the Crested Caracara, Caracara cheriway, a member of the Falcon family and considered a bird of prey but also very much a scavenger. I have seen this species and its cousins in many locations but the spark for the memory was the very rare visitation of this species to Skykomish, Washington from June 15th through July 5th in 2014. The Caracara showed up while I was in Maine and I had no faith that it would still be there when I returned. This would have been a major disappointment as I had never seen one in the state before (the only other state record was in Neah Bay in early 1998). But the bird gods were kind this time and although I missed it on my first attempt to find it and there were thoughts that it had departed.  On Independence Day, July 4th, finally success…better than fireworks for me.

As I have stated before, a big reason for this “feature” in my blog is that each individual memory brings back additional memories and much of this post deals with these. My first Caracara was seen 37 years earlier on a wonderful trip that included great birding in Texas, Florida and Trinidad with friends taking advantage of an incredible offering on the long defunct Eastern Airlines. Eastern had a special that allowed travelers to go anywhere in its route system as long as they did not land in any city twice. As the name suggests, most of their cities were on the East Coast. The one exception was Seattle. The price for this incredible opportunity was $299.00 Round Trip. So we were able to go from Seattle to two different locations in Texas (enabling us to bird several spots in South Texas) and then to Florida and then to Trinidad and then back to Seattle. Ah, the good old days.

Back to the Caracara. We missed it in Texas, but after some really fun birding in the Florida Keys, and before heading to the Dry Tortugas, we visited Kissimmee Prairie Preserve and found our Caracara. We also had Short Tailed and Short Tailed Hawks there – both life birds at the time. My early record keeping was manual only and was on individual checklists from refuges etc. I did keep track of life list additions but otherwise it was primarily those individual lists many of which got lost over the years. Some other “lifers” seen on the Florida part of that remarkable trip were Swallow Tailed and Snail Kites, American Flamingo, Brown Noddy Tern, Masked Booby and many other specialties.

Swallow Tailed Kite

Swallow Tailed Kite

Brown Noddy Tern

Brown Noddy Tern

So it is very possible that I saw a Caracara again in later Texas trips but as best I know it was not until 2013 that I next recorded this species. First at Laguna Atascosa on April 16th and then again at Aransas the next day. Other great birds at those birding hot spots were Aplomado Falcon, Bronzed Cowbird, Green Jay, Roseate Spoonbill and Scissor Tailed Flycatcher.  Later that year I saw a Caracara at Abra Gavilan in Peru in November. It was identified as a Crested but may have been the very closely related Southern Caracara, which I had seen in 2005 at Iguassu Falls in Brazil.

Crested Caracara at Laguna Atascosa


Bronzed Cowbird at Laguna Atascosa

Bronzed Cowbird

Aplomado Falcon at Laguna Atascosa

Aplomado Falcon

Green Jay at Aransas

Green Jay (2)

Scissor Tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

Roseate Spoonbill at Aransas

Roseate Spoonbill

In the intervening years in addition to the Southern Caracara, I had seen Yellow Headed Caracara at Tiskita in Costa Rica, Chimango and Mountain Caracaras in Junin de los Andes, Argentina and Black Caracara also in Brazil. All are very striking birds and were valued observations at the time. These were all bird rich areas: 409 species in Peru; 273 in Brazil, 152 in Costa Rica and 41 in Argentina even though Argentina was primarily a fishing trip and Costa Rica was a family vacation with little birding and Brazil was at most 50/50 birding and other activities. Future posts will likely provide details. But I have included a few photos of birds seen on the trips along with the Caracaras as I did above in the Texas and Florida Caracara sightings.

Hyacinth Macaws – Pantanal, Brazil

Hyacinth macaws 4

Magnificent Spatuletail – Peru


Yellow Headed and Black Caracaras (Pictures by Others)

Yellow Caracara       Black Caracara

All of that is prelude to the Washington Caracara. All of my other Crested Caracara observations had been in open areas – with little if any forestation and in general the birds were seen scavenging rather than perching or foraging. Often those observations were at distance, but the Washington experience was just the opposite. Skykomish is generally logging country. There are a couple of open areas but mostly lots of trees. One of the open areas was “the Goat Farm” and after looking there and in MANY other areas on both July 3rd and July 4th, it was finally at the Goat Farm, that the Crested Caracara was found.

There were many birders searching for the rarity on both days even though it had been around for more than a week and had already been seen by many. But perhaps because of the terrain, it was not seen every day as I had found out the day before. But on this lucky day we found it perched and on the ground at the Goat Farm but unfortunately that also meant we had to interact with the “Goat Farmer”.

Crested Caracara in Skykomish

Crested Caracara - Copy

Although we were on a public street and never went onto any private property, this sad character was tired of “outsiders” being in his world especially with their cameras and binoculars “spying” on him. Grace and Ollie Oliver were with me when we saw the bird and we were confronted by the farmer (who was with his son and another guy). Cursing and fuming, he got into my face and actually threatened to beat me and then, the coward he was, he changed instead to “getting his boys” to take care of us. His son prevailed and pulled him back – perhaps avoiding an even uglier scene. He had also threatened to “shoot the damn bird” and we worried that he might do it. Fast forward to the sad end of the Northern Hawk Owl at Cassimer Bar a few months ago, and such interactions and threats are all too dangerous.

The Caracara was reported again the following day and then it was gone. Who knows maybe Goat Man indeed did kill the bird…a horrible thought. As with all rarities, there is a fascinating question of “why here” and “why now”. The speculation was that however the Caracara had gotten to Skykomish, it had found many snakes there to eat and when finally it had cleared them all out, it left…if it was not shot that is…

Bird and Memory of the Week – Ross’s Gull

The Bird and Memory of the Week is Ross’s Gull, Rhodostethia rosea, a super rare small gull rarely found out of the Arctic. I believe the Gull was first found at Palmer Lake in far north central Washington by Fish and Wildlife biologists on December 13, 2011 but it did not make it to the public grapevine until December 20th. When I learned of the sighting I immediately posted on Tweeters that I was going to go early the next morning. Three responses came in quickly – Michael Willison, Knut Hansen and _______.

Palmer Lake

We met at the Starbuck’s in Issaquah. Palmer Lake is approximately 280 miles from Seattle. December 21st is the shortest day of the year and there was snow on much of the route. We were all VERY keen on getting to the lake as soon as we could. I acknowledge a love for driving fast, especially when there is a potential treasure trove at the end of the journey, so I asked if anyone had a problem if I went fast. Being focused on the Ross’s Gull possibility, nobody objected. That was all I needed. Snow be damned, we made it to the lake in just about 4 hours…no tickets, no incidents, but I think there was some fear of loss of life along the way and definitely questioning about giving the “Go Sign”.

Snowy Roads – Clear Skies


Palmer Lake and the surrounding country are gorgeous, especially with the snow and especially since it was a bright sunny day. When we arrived in the town of Loomis, we were greeted by a herd of Bighorn Sheep. I see them often on the cliffs along the Yakima River Canyon, but these were up close and personal…impressive animals. There was some confusion as to where the gull might be and when we scanned the Lake from the South, we found some Common Mergansers, some Trumpeter Swans and some Canada Geese but no gulls at all.

Bighorn Sheep

The reason there was no gull was simple – it was tight against the eastern bank feeding on a deer carcass which apparently was the major reason it had remained so long. When we found the carcass, we found the gull – WOWSERS!!! Truly a gorgeous little gull, delicate and dove like with a hint of a dark spot behind the eye and a dark smudge around the eye. A tiny black bill and if the light was just right, a faint rosy pink on the breast. It was not yet even 11:00 a.m.

Ross’s Gull

Ross's Gull 2



We watched it for a long while as it pecked at the carcass and then flew off briefly only to return and continue its feast. This was only the second Washington State record and it was a life bird in the State and I believe in the ABA area for all of us. As bad as it feels when there is a chase and a miss, the elation and adrenalin rush when you find a target bird is much greater. Multiply that several fold for this super bird – a bucket list bird for many. It was exhilarating. Other birders arrived and joined the party and some had been there before we arrived. The Ross’s Gull remained for the rest of the week and was seen by many birders from Washington, B.C. and probably elsewhere – probably between 50 and 100 sightings.
We had other birds in the area and on the way home, including two Snowy Owls, but they fade from memory as the Ross’s Gull, as little as it was, remains a giant super fond memory in my birding life.

Snowy Owl (Distant) on Highway 17


Kittitas County March 5, 2015

Spring was definitely in the air as Steve Pink, Frank Caruso and I headed off early Saturday morning for some birding in Kittitas County with a special effort to find White Winged Crossbills reported for awhile at the Central Washington University Campus in Ellensburg.  The weather was predicted to be warm but with a good chance of precipitation and some wind.  Weatherman was wrong again as we had a mostly sunny, dry and wind free day after early morning fog.

White Winged Crossbill from Okanogan

White Winged Crossbill3

Our first stop was in Cle Elum where we drove through town (and South Cle Elum) checking feeders and hoping for Evening Grosbeaks and Cassin’s Finches and whatever else.  Not a lot of birds and nothing of note.  We had little trouble finding  4 or 5 Pygmy Nuthatches at their favorite spot at the Northern Pacific Railroad Ponds but no Evening Grosbeaks or Cassin’s Finches and generally pretty quiet even though the fog had broken and we had nice sunshine.  We did however have at least 5 Tree Swallows – first of year for all of us. Also some Mountain Chickadees with their rasping calls.

Pygmy Nuthatch

Pygmy Nuthatch

We made the required stop at the Cle Elum Bakery for coffee and a donut and then returned to I-90 heading to Ellensburg and CWU.  As we got out of the car in the parking lot at the University, we saw a birder with camera intently watching a cone laden tree and we wondered if it was going to be a target quickly found.  Alas Lamont ? did not have Crossbills or anything else of note but he was a great source of info and told us two Seattle area birders (Grace and Ollie) had seen a single White Winged Crossbill earlier up by the Japanese Garden where they had been reported by Walter Szeliga earlier in the week.

As we wove our way through the campus construction projects and to find the  Garden, we heard a call that was “different”.  Steve was the first to suggest Townsend’s Solitaire.  I played the call and the bird came in immediately from a rooftop to a tree within 5 feet of us.  Posed for a few seconds and then left for its unseen rooftop hangout.

Townsend’s SolitaireTownsend's Solitaire

We finally arrived at the Garden and found another birder, Woody Wheeler, also intent on more cone laden trees. And now there were Crossbills – lots flitting around – mostly not in the open.  After a few moments, Frank and I independently got quick but fairly good views of a single bird with distinct wing bars – and then it was gone.  We all searched for quite a while longer and never again saw the singleton.  About 90% sure it was our target – especially after learning later that this was the same experience Grace reported.  There were also lots of Red Breasted Nuthatches and Black Capped Chickadees and a few Pine Siskins.  Sadly no photo of the disappearing “probable” WWCB.

Red Crossbill in Thick Cones

Red Crossbill2

Red Breasted Nuthatch

Red Breasted Nuthatch

After an hour plus, we gave up and headed East.  Deb and Bill Essman have been great friends and tour guides in the area before so we took a chance and stopped at their home east of Ellensburg not far off the old highway.  Frank and I had a wonderful trip with them up Coleman Canyon last year and any visit is always fun and informative.  Deb was home and we introduced Steve to the “trophy collection”. (They are serious, successful and ethical hunters as well as excellent birders.)  We shared stories, got some tips and then headed off.  BTW many years ago a White Winged Dove was at her place – long gone now LOL!!

Steve with New Friend (Jon Houghton will Recognize this photo)


We headed towards Vantage on the old highway.  We stopped first at a spot where Frank and I had Burrowing Owl last year – but no go – too early still most likely.  Then we birded some spots in the Quilomene.  At the Corral we were treated to several of the Sage/Shrub Steppe specialties although it is still a tad early for some others.    We had killer views of Mountain Bluebird, Sagebrush Sparrow and Say’s Phoebe.  We continued on to Gingko State Park and Recreation Road where we had very few birds including a distant heard only Rock Wren.

Mountain Blue Bird

Mountain Bluebird1

Sagebrush Sparrow

Sagebrush Sparrow3

Say’s Phoebe

Say's Phoebe

It was now getting late so instead of returning for one more try at the White Winged Crossbills we headed down Huntzinger Road to a good spot for Canyon Wren. When we arrived I mistakenly played the Rock Wren song and almost immediately had a Canyon Wren reply and fly in towards us.  This feisty guy almost never shut up afterwards – definitely one of the best songs in the bird world.  He kept coming closer and closer – maybe only 15 feet away – best views ever.  Later returning the favor, we had at least 3 Rock Wrens respond when we played the Canyon Wren song followed by the Rock Wren.  They did not come in close for photos but provided nice views in the downhill mini-canyon.  And then out of nowhere a small falcon zipped through.  We had seen two Kestrels up the road, but this was a very dark Merlin – an unexpected treat.

Canyon Wren

Canyon Wren1   Canyon Wren4

So we ended on a high note and headed back to Edmonds.  I will be co-leading an Audubon field trip to the area on March 26 with Jean Olsen.  I hope these birds remain and some of the other special birds will join them and show off for us as well.