Barely Consoled by a Consolation Prize

As I arrived home just before midnight yesterday after a very long day that had started with me leaving Edmonds at 4:00 a.m., titles and portions of this not yet written blog post were being tested in my head.  The one now used was not one of them – but things change and the post that was originally going to feature the observation of a very rare  hummingbird in Walla Walla now includes that story as “a bird not seen” with a consolation prize that honestly just barely consoles.  BUT…much of the content that was to be in that originally conceived post remains – positive and wanting to be written about – at least by me. So I will just deal with the disappointment first and then move on and not let the downer overcome many definite uppers for the day.

It is disappointing to fail in any undertaking.  For birders, that often – too often – means failing to find a bird that was reported the day or days before or maybe even just hours before you look for it.  Even worse, especially after a long trip or many hours looking, is to “find” the bird and then later learn that it was not the sought after bird after all.  As written in an earlier blog post, that sometimes happens when our “want” clouds our judgment and powers of observation – emphasizing the details that support the “want” but blinding us to details that do not support the “want” and at times even disprove it.  The “want” in this case was a Broad Tailed Hummingbird.  Ebird reported such a rarity from a feeder in Walla Walla last week.  I did not know the observer, but the details were good even without a photo.  Then another report from excellent birders “confirmed” the identification.

Broad Tailed Hummingbird (Photo from others – in Colorado)

Visit to Ridgway, CO

It would be a state life bird for me – having only seen one in Arizona almost 40 years ago.  I decided to go for it. My early start got me to the feeder location around 8:45 a.m.  There were 3 birders already there – I had actually expected more since it was such a rarity.  Russ Koppendrayer from Longview was there – so was Jim Parrish from Walla Walla – both of whom I knew.  Another birder with a camera/lens/tripod set up that I can only lust for was also there – Larry Umthun from Tri-Cities.  If life were really sweet they would all have been looking at the feeder with the prize sitting on it sipping sugar water.  No such luck – and they had not seen it.

Making a very very long story relatively short – we watched that feeder for hours and hours (with Russ and Jim taking lunch breaks and Larry finally leaving around 2:15 p.m.).  We saw lots of Black Chinned Hummingbirds – both male and females – but nothing with a red gorget – the field mark we were concentrating on as the clincher. Our homeowner host was very gracious and had provided some lawn chairs and we moved them around often to find whatever shade we could since it was a very bright and hot day – with temperatures in the mid-nineties.

Black Chinned Hummingbird Male

Black Chinned Male Flight

Black Chinned Hummingbird Female

Black Chinned Female3

We had one other interesting bird, an American Goldfinch with a distinctly pale or white back – something none of us had noted in other Goldfinches anywhere before.

Pale Backed American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch with Pale Back1

Around 3:15 we moved the chairs to a recently shaded spot that gave us even better views of the feeder but we wondered if maybe we were too close and no hummers would come.  The return of one of the Black Chinned Hummers assuaged our fear. Jim had returned with his lovely wife Sue – always good to have more eyes in the field.  Russ heard and then spotted some Vaux’s Swifts flying overhead maybe an omen.  Exactly at 3:30 p.m. a hummingbird made perhaps a 2 second appearance near but not on the feeder.  Some of us noticed a flash of red – and we thought we had our quarry – but it flew off without any real chance for an ID.  Then Jim saw the bird buried in the foliage of a nearby tree – the red gorget apparent even though buried.

Before he could get any of us on the bird, it flew out and landed on the feeder in great light and clearly visible to all.  We noted the green back and most distinctly the red gorget glistening in the sun when it turned the right way even though we never got a look at it fully lit.  We “saw” the white line behind the eye that seemed at certain angles to continue down to the nape. The hummer was photo friendly and we snapped away.  After it departed moments later, we reveled in our good luck, our beautiful photos and we exchanged high fives.  I posted our find on Tweeters to let others know that the rarity was indeed there.  Russ did the same on Ebird.  It was state bird 400 for Russ and a new state lifer for me and for Jim and Sue.  Wow were we happy…

Our “Broad Tailed Hummingbird”


Anna's Hummingbird3

So now it was on to other pleasures – the long day a great success.  Russ was off to add new birds to one of his county lists.  Jim and Sue had a short trip home and my original plan had been to find the Broad Tailed Hummingbird in the morning and then head off to either Biscuit Ridge or Coppei Ridge or Jasper Mountain – hoping to get lucky finding a Great Gray Owl or a photo of a Green Tailed Towhee – photographed there last year but heard only with the Dennys on an earlier trip this year.  Afterwards it was then going to be off somewhere trying yet again for a photo of a Common Poorwill, one of the three species I had seen or heard but not gotten a photo of last year and had failed to photograph on three more attempts this year.  I also had hopes for a photo of a Common Nighthawk – easily found and photographed in past years but so far heard only this year.

Last Year’s Green Tailed Towhee from Coppei Ridge (Heard but not Photographed this Year)

Green Tailed Towhee Singing

Given the heat and the lateness of the day, I gave up on the Blue Mountain options and headed west hoping for the Poorwill or Nighthawk and maybe lucking into some Gray Partridge. I planned to stop at Horn Rapids Park where I had a very photo friendly Common Nighthawk last year and then head over yet again to Oak Creek and Bethel Ridge.  But I had learned that there was some kind of road closure on Highway 12 and not being completely clear exactly where I decided to try a favorite spot, Robinson Canyon for the Poorwills instead.  I found and got a very distant photo of a Common Nighthawk at Horn Rapids – not very satisfying but good enough for an ID.  It was now after 5:00 p.m. and the temperature had hit 100 degrees.

Common Nighthawk – Horn Rapids Park (2015)

Common Nighthawk

I was still a couple of hours or so away from Robinson Canyon (southwest of Ellensburg) but did not want to get there until after 8:30.  I detoured along Vantage Highway and drove into the Wild Horse Energy area where I had heard Gray Partridge were sometimes found.  No such luck but a very interesting area that I had not realized was so accessible and I will return some other time.

I have heard (and even seen) Common Poorwills at Robinson Canyon every time I have visited and the name brings a smile because of good associations from birding trips with Samantha Robinson, so I felt good about my chances this night. The problems in the past have been either that there has been too much traffic on the road – keeping the Poorwills away from the best photography opportunity to be trapped in my headlights – or my own ineptitude – having the camera settings such that the one time I had one on the road clearly in my headlights, the shutter would not activate.  This time I changed the settings and took several practice shots to be sure I was ready.  Even before I got to the first (always open?) yellow gate, I saw some birds on the road in the diminishing light.  It turned out to be first one and then a second brood of California Quail – each with a single hen and numerous chicks.

California Quail Brood

California Quail with Chicks

After snapping that photo I heard the familiar peent call of the Common Nighthawk.  Two and maybe three birds circled overhead.  Not great light and not the quality of the photo of the perched bird above – but much better than the photo I had taken hours earlier in bright light at Horn Rapids.

Common NighthawkRobinson Canyon July 26, 2016

Common Nighthawk3

Still riding the high of the Walla Walla hummingbird experience, this find gave me confidence that maybe this would indeed be the night for a Poorwill photo.  But now about that traffic…  Much of Robinson Canyon Road is a single lane.  Sure enough as I made my way into the Canyon – just at its most narrow spot I heard another vehicle coming down the dirt road.  I backed up maybe 100 yards to let first one and then a second pickup with horse trailer by.  Not even a thank you wave as they sped by … no comment (aargh!!).  But it was still early and I had not heard any Poorwill calls yet so I remained optimistic.

I went through the second gate (it is loosely chained and easy to open, proceed through and then close again).  The road ends not more than a quarter mile further up and this has proven to be prime Poorwill territory in the past.  Two more Common Nighthawks called overhead – and I was good to go as I turned the car around expecting to find my Poorwill on the road on the way down. After just a few moments (around 9:00 p.m.) I heard my first Poorwill calling.  It seemed very close.  Although I had little hope of actually seeing it on the hillside I got out of the car and moved towards the sound.  It repeated and was answered by a second bird and they both sounded very close–like they were roosting in the nearby evergreen tree.  I played a few Common Poorwill calls on my phone and WOW!!!!  All hell broke loose as two Poorwills came right towards me circling and looking for their rival.  More than once they came within just a few feet – the only Poorwills I have ever seen except on or just above a road.  It was pretty dark and I did not have a spotlight, but even so I could readily see the white in the throat, tail and wings.  This continued for several minutes and was very exciting.  The following photo is terrible but you can see the bird in the upper right corner – impossible to keep up with it as I turned and turned to try.

Common Poorwill Flying All Around Me (terrible photo in very low light as I swirled around trying to keep up with it)

Common Poorwill Flight

I was very exhilarated and had at least gotten a photo.  Moreso I was now sure that I would be fortunate and get a photo coming down the road.  And indeed I did.  Above the chained gate, again below it and above the yellow gate and then again much further down I had four Common Poorwills sitting on the road – eyes shining in my headlights.  I got an ok picture of the first one through my windshield – so mission accomplished. But now I changed the mission and wanted a better photo.  The second bird flew before I could get a photo and the third was cooperative only for a second – again a just ok photo.

The fourth bird was the winner.  Dan Reiff had shared a technique he uses and I patiently waited for the bird to become comfortable in my headlights.  I then held my breath and inched the car closer and closer again.  I was now maybe 50 feet away.  Turned off the motor but kept the lights on and s-l-o-w-l-y opened the door (remembering to take the key out so it would not  scold me with a loud beep).  I took a quick picture – my best yet.  Then I walked again even more s-l-o-w-l-y – five feet closer at a time – stopping and taking a new photo and then repeating.  I got within perhaps 15 to 20 feet – took the last photo and the Poorwill flew up – and moved down maybe another 50 feet and landed and waited on the opposite side of the road.  I was more than satisfied – ecstatic actually and left it to its apparently favored hunting territory and I headed homewards.

Common Poorwill – Robinson Canyon

Common Poorwill

I remember distinctly thinking that if we had not found the Broad Tailed Hummingbird this first ever photo of a Common Poorwill would be a nice consolation and would have made for a good day.  But since we had found the hummingbird, now it was just lovely icing on a very yummy cake.

Or not…I got home too late to even look at photos on the computer and went to bed exhausted but very happy indeed.  This morning those photos were the first order of business and I was very pleased with how at least some of them turned out.  I added photos to the Ebird reports, sent some to people who had requested them, posted some on Flickr with a link on Tweeters and thought of coffee.  Then the fall from the pinnacle of glee and joy.  Thud!!!

Birders far more skilled than I suggested (with quite differing styles) that the photos were of an Anna’s Hummingbird and not a Broad Tailed.  In our excitement at the feeder, we had emphasized some field marks and ignored others that were determinative.  Anna’s Hummingbirds are rare for the area as well and there had been speculation earlier by some that the original observation was of an Anna’s also.  A report by one questioner that it was a Broad Tailed was one of the factors that led to me making the trip even though I still felt it a longshot to actually see the bird.

Anna’s Hummingbird – Walla Walla – Rare but Barely a Consolation (Note the wasp)

Anna's Hummingbird with Wasp

Truth in writing I was pretty unhappy – not just for my own mistake – and loss of a super state record – but also because my error may have encouraged others to make the try.  I immediately posted a cautionary warning on Tweeters, changed the Ebird report and removed the Flickr photos.  Maybe that would help others but even though as a rarity for Walla Walla Anna’s Hummingbird was a nice consolation, it was not very consoling. I was pretty down and decided to forego any blog and brood alone.  BUT then later when I added the photo of the Common Poorwill to my photo list, and relived the entire day, I felt better – even good.  It had indeed been a great day – hitting all of the Big Three of birding that are important to me -great people, great places and great birds – even if the greatest of the birds had disappeared.  It was another story added to my long list of birding adventures – and misadventures – and in the end it may have helped to set the record straight – an important part of any record list – mine or something far more official.

Taking photos has become a big part of my birding life – enjoyable at the time and often thereafter – something more easily shared – with birding and non-birding friends – than just my limited verbal descriptions.  Photos generally help with identification at the time or later in the comfort of home on a big screen.  Sometimes they prove the point, sometimes like here, they prove a different point. My eyes (yours too?) are fallible and my processor is flawed as well.  The eyes of others and their processors too are welcome additions to my birding education and experience.  I look forward to many more instructive reviews – and someday to seeing a real Broad Tailed Hummingbird in Washington – probably the only way I will ever get over losing this one.



Paying it Forward at Scotch Creek

On December 27, 2015 I finally got my first photo of a Sharp Tailed Grouse.  It was at the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area near Happy Hill Road in the Okanogan.  There is a good story that goes with it.  And it connects to another good story with an unexpected sighting of a pair of Sharp Tailed Grouse at the same place yesterday (July 19, 2016).  I will tell both in a bit, but first some preliminaries.

Midday on Tuesday I got a message from a birding friend/acquaintance saying he was in Washington with his wife at Sun Mountain Lodge leaving the next day.  He had lost and then found my contact information – the reason for the last minute contact.  I had told him previously that I was always game for some birding if ever he visited Washington but I had envisioned a pre-planned trip of a day or two.  One of his Washington target birds was a Dusky Grouse and I had told him that Sun Mountain Lodge had been my “go to spot” for them – the reason he was there.  By the time I received his message, he had already seen a Dusky Grouse and he was leaving the next day heading north on his way to Calgary.  I had not seen a Dusky Grouse in Washington this year – having only a very poor quick observation on my Colorado Grouse trip – the only “chicken” seen on that trip without a photo.

A visit to Sun Mountain Lodge was on my “to do” list – possibly in fact this upcoming weekend.  Even though it meant a mad dash with a late start, I decided to go for it and left Edmonds at 3:30 P.M. to see Paul and hopefully my own Dusky Grouse and maybe some other birds.  In years past I had generally found Dusky Grouse in the Sun Mountain Lodge employee/visitor parking area or even near one of the Lodge buildings.  The plan was to get to the Lodge essentially non-stop, look for a grouse on Patterson Lake Road on the way up, have dinner with Paul and then to spend the night on Thompson Ridge Road in my car – trying for Flammulated Owl there, and then to get back to the Lodge for a dawn watch being pretty sure that Dusky Grouse would be out foraging then.

Everything worked perfectly with a bonus or two thrown in.  When I arrived at Sun Mountain I first did a quick sweep of the grounds and parking area – nada – but just as I got back onto Patterson Lake Road out of the employee parking area, I saw a familiar form on the side of the road.  There was just enough time and light for a quick photo – I now had my Dusky Grouse observation and photo for Washington in 2016.  I was supposed to meet Paul and spouse for dinner at 8:00 – the exact time I found the male grouse.  A quick call and being there only ten minutes late was certainly excusable for this bird.

Dusky Grouse Male on Patterson Lake Road

Dusky Grouse Male

A bonus was the quick phone photo of Patterson Lake below – always a beautiful scene – even moreso with the sun beginning to set.  Dinner was great and it was great to revisit with Paul and to meet Karen – another one of those spouses that enjoys the out of doors but believes her man a bit crazy when he chases off after a bird.  Chasing a bird at a great place like Sun Mountain Lodge was perfectly okay however!!  We could not convince her to try for a Flammulated Owl, and since Paul did not need it for his life list, he too passed when I explained the process and probability – fifty/fifty at best.  Also they had to leave early and he correctly calculated that hours left for sleep might be too few.  But he had a nice going away gift – and in part to make up for the late contact.  An old friend had property on Scotch Creek.  He and Karen had visited the day before (wish I had known) and although the friend had said he regularly had Sharp Tailed Grouse there, none were seen that day.  He gave me the name and said he  would probably allow me to visit.

Patterson Lake

Patterson Lake

I had discovered Thompson Ridge on a visit to Sun Mountain Lodge last year.  It is an easy road off of Patterson Lake Road and has great forest habitat and a couple of pullouts with primitive restrooms – perfect for a night of owling and sleeping in the car.  There are always deer at Sun Mountain Lodge and squirrels and chipmunks are easy to find.  In the back of my mind I was hoping that a Cougar would cross the road – the top of my wild animal bucket list.  No Cougar – but not even a half mile up Thompson Ridge Road a dark form did cross right in front of the car – maybe 30 yards out – a young Black Bear – maybe a yearling.  I had not seen one in Washington for many years – a definite treat even if there was no chance for a photo.  Definitely reaffirmed my decision to sleep in the car and not on the ground.

It was quite dark by now – perfect for the birds of the night and just like the previous year about 3 miles up the road, I heard a Flammulated Owl.  As usual -I could not locate the exact spot or get him to come in for a photo.  Additionally I was able to hear at least two calling Common Poorwills and a Common Nighthawk flew directly overhead, its “pe-ent” call quite clear.  A nice threesome for the night with a bear bonus!

Sleeping in the car is “okay” but a definite problem in these parts in the summer is that the light floods in very early – which in this case was okay as an alarm clock so I could get an early start to get back up to Sun Mountain Lodge and see if more grouse were about.  Indeed they were.  It was before 6:00 a.m. and I am not sure if the front desk was open to check anyone in but if guests had arrived just then and parked in the spot reserved for registrations, they would literally have had to step over grouse to get in.  A mother and five chicks were grazing without care on the lawn right at the main entry.  At the next building over I found an additional four Dusky Grouse – mother and three chicks – paying me almost no attention.

Dusky Grouse Female (one of two)

Dusky Grouse Hen

Dusky Grouse Chick (one of nine)

Dusky Grouse Chick

I left Paul and Karen a good bye note and then headed off to the Okanogan to check out Scotch Creek and Conconully and maybe more.  On the way out I could not pass up some deer photos – at least a dozen on the grounds – bucks, does and fawns.

Deer Buck


Grazing Doe

Doe with Flowers

And the final gift was yet another grouse – another female on the road near Patterson Lake itself.  This made it 12 Dusky Grouse for the trip – definitely more than I have ever seen there or anywhere else before.

Last Dusky Grouse of the Visit

Dusky Grouse Hen2

Now – back to the pay it forward stories that are the important part of this post.  I had been to the Okanogan with Jon Houghton in late November 2015.  We had a great trip but there had been little or no snow and when we tried to find Sharp Tailed Grouse at Scotch Creek and elsewhere, it was the usual story – none.  During the next month, however, the area had lots of snow and reports were out that Sharp Tails were being seen eating in the water birch along Scotch Creek – driven up out of their normal grass habitat where they are a challenge to find/see.  Samantha Robinson and I headed over to try our luck.

There was a lot of snow on the roads and a lot of snow on the ground in the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area.  When we arrived I could see some forms in the willows off the road that were promising.  Still from the road, through my bins I could confirm that they were Sharp Tailed Grouse – but a bit too distant for a photo – something we both wanted.  There was so much snow, it was hard to tell where the road ended and the shoulder began, but I picked what I thought was a likely and safe spot and pulled over so we could get out and pursue our quarry.  I thought I was on solid ground but it turned out that there was a drainage ditch and one wheel was okay – but the other not.  My four wheel drive was not up to the task – uh oh!!

But first things first, we left the car and moved towards the birds.  Indeed the snow was a plus in this case and we could identify at least 6 Sharp Tailed Grouse and there may have been more.  One perched at the top of one of the Water Birch and I finally had a picture of a Sharp Tailed Grouse in Washington.

Sharp Tailed Grouse – Scotch Creek December 2015


But as I said – the snow was definitely not a plus for our car – stuck alongside the road.  Remember my main mantra – birding provides the opportunity to intersect with good places, good birds and good people.  So far the trip had given us two of the three and now good people were to be included as well.  As opposed to us “city folk”, the locals there knew how to be prepared for snowy conditions.  Almost as soon as we got back to the car, two other cars stopped to help.  We tried to just push the car out – no go.  But they also had a shovel and within a few minutes enough snow was removed to get the traction to get us unstuck and on our way.  In addition to a very large thank you, I tried to offer some “gas money” – politely refused with the statement – just doing what everyone should  – helping others when needed just like we would want to be helped if we needed it.  Saved our day and brought big smiles to our faces – and they had smiles too – a very fine experience.

Later that day we visited a number of other spots in the Okanogan Highlands, and Conconully including Common Redpoll, Bohemian Waxwing, Northern Pygmy Owl, Black Backed Woodpecker and some large flocks of both Gray Crowned Rosy Finches and White Winged Crossbills.  Great birds but not able to top the Sharp Tailed Grouse at Scotch Creek.

White Winged Crossbill (Okanogan Highlands December 2015)

White Winged Crossbill 2

Fast forward to yesterday.  I arrived at Scotch Creek and there was definitely no snow – already 72 degrees and clear skies.  I had not been able to reach Paul’s friend .  I first hiked in to the area that is accessible and noted the very tall grass.  I had low expectations of finding any grouse but it was beautiful and there were other birds including some very active Lazuli Buntings that reacted to simple “pishing” no need to use playback at all.

Lazuli Bunting with Insect

Lazuli Bunting with Bug

When I returned to the pullout where I had parked the car I saw that another car was parked nearby but paid it no attention other than wondering if another birder had arrived.  I checked messages and had one from Paul’s friend saying that while he was not able to meet me, he gave permission to enter his land and said to have anyone contact him if I was stopped.  Just then I heard a knock on my window.  It was a young woman who had been in the car I had noticed.  She was not just parked there, she was stuck there – with a completely flat tire.  Her three year old son was in the back seat and although she had a spare tire, she did not have a jack or tire wrench.  Could I help?  Of course and also of course, images of being helped out of the snow in December came immediately to mind.  We spent the next 20 minutes plus trying to get the car jacked up and the tire changed.  I could not get enough lift from the jack to get her car up sufficiently high to get her tire off.  She also did not have a cell phone, so I let her use mine to call her husband who was at work – at an auto shop in Omak.  He was out.  Our plan B was to get her, her son and her groceries to her home in Conconully.

I was planning to go there anyway but now I had permission to go on the private property about where we were and would have headed to Conconully only after that.  No matter – it would add a bit of time but the priority was clear.  Off we went to Conconully and the only damage may have been a little melted ice cream.  A big thank you from her and her extremely well behaved son, smiles all around – deed done – feeling good.

Birding was slow in Conconully – not a single Woodpecker or Nutcracker and definitely no Goshawk.  Would it be any different back at Scotch Creek?  Well it would be a new experience and high grass or not, it would be fun.  So back to Scotch Creek and onto the ranch land and it really was a beautiful drive – on a primitive road/track in fields with high grass, some sage, some water birch and no grouse – until almost at the end two Sharp Tailed Grouse flushed from the field and flew directly across the car before quickly disappearing in the grass again.  No photo this time – except for a Western Meadowlark with an insect – but maybe a little local thank you and reminder of good people to be found everywhere.  Scotch Creek is a very special place in my birding life now.

Western Meadowlark with Insect

Western Meadowlark with Bug

I tried some other areas in an unsuccessful search for woodpeckers and then called it a good day and headed home.  About half way I looked at tide tables and thought they looked good for a visit to Eide Road to see if the shorebird extravaganza reported by Marv Breece might still be around with my hope being a photo of a Semipalmated Sandpiper.  It added some miles and time to an already too long trip but despite the usual slow go on U.S. 2 I arrived at Eide Road at just after 6:00.  Two cars in the parking area suggested that other birders might be there and hopefully were on some good birds.  As I walked towards the pond, I noted two birders with big lenses on the far side, but they did not seem to be watching anything and when I could finally see the pond, there were no birds to be seen.

When I joined Gregg Thompson and Andy (Anderson?) I asked if I had missed the show or if they show had been a “no show”.  They said there had been a large flock of shorebirds until a Peregrine chased them all off about 5 minutes ago (now I really hated Highway 2).  And yes there had been at least one probable Semipalmated Sandpiper in the mixed flock.  They are both good company so I hung around and a couple of birds came in.  Andy took off but Gregg and I stayed and slowly some birds returned.  They remained a little skitterish and took off and came back a couple more times.  All told there was a nice assortment of Long Billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and some peeps – including at least one and probably two Semipalmated Sandpipers.  Good light helped enable a decent photo.

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated SP1

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Long Billed Dowitcher

Long Billed Dowitcher

I know I have never had 24 hours of birding that included Sharp Tailed and Dusky Grouse, Flammulated Owl, Common Poorwill and Common Nighthawk and Semipalmated Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs and Long Billed Dowitcher.  Probably never will again.  But I do hope I will have many more 24 hours that include good people – birders and helpers and friends and those that I can help – throw in any good birds and some beautiful places and what more can you ask for…


Birding with The Rolling Stones: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want…”

1969 was quite the year for me.  Graduated from college, got married, moved to Baltimore to teach school for a year, somehow got out of the draft despite having lottery number 10, and loved The Rolling Stones.  One of their albums of the year featured one of my favorite songs, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.  No you can’t…but as the song also advised, “if you try sometime, you find you get what you need.”

I almost entitled this “Hits and Misses” or actually in this case, “Misses and Hits”.  In some of my earlier posts I have written of looking for targeted birds, missing them but then finding something terrific as a consolation.  That is a pretty good kind of “miss” or “dip” as we generally admit.  And especially if you try a lot, you are going to have some flat out misses – bird not there, or gone 5 minutes before you arrived or it’s your nemesis and you should not have even tried.  You just can’t always get what you want

But aha!!  There is always tomorrow or even the next day and “if you try sometime. you find you get what you need.”  As in, why sure we missed the Baird’s Sandpiper found by Spencer Hilde at Carkeek Park when we arrived too late on July 7th, BUT when I went back yesterday on the 9th – early in the morning, I was alone and there it was – a definite Hit.  With long wings, black legs and definitely larger than the Least Sandpipers also present, one of which was there on our earlier visit and, which “WANTING” badly, we ignored all of the field marks and convinced ourselves was the Baird’s – until it kept getting smaller and smaller (despite getting closer and closer) and the legs got yellower and yellower and the wings shorter and shorter.

Least Sandpiper – Clearly NOT a Baird’s

Least Sandpiper

Baird’s Sandpiper – Clearly NOT a Least

Baird's Sandpiper

Baird’s Sandpiper – Now Those Are LONG Wings

Baird's Sandpiper Wings

When you can’t always get what you want, sometimes you just make it into that something anyhow.  Not a good idea and another reason I take so many photos – out of the excitement in the field, a lot of field marks magically appear in the photo and either prove or disprove the find.

We had great looks at the peep in the creek outflow on the 7th – but we saw what we wanted and not what was there.  It has happened before and will happen again.  Sometimes the “want” is just that great.  I will leave out the name, but I recall being in Neah Bay during the Hobby frenzy out along the Wa’atch Valley where the bird had been seen frequently.  A problem was that there were also Peregrine Falcons in the area.  Steve Pink and I tried to make each one into the Hobby but our filters were working well and there must have been truth serum in our coffee earlier.  We stayed with Peregrine despite desperately wanting that Hobby.  Rarity and distance traveled probably distort reality sensors and supercharge want overrides.  As we watched yet another Peregrine zoom overhead, another birder just a few feet away was exclaiming that he now finally had the Hobby…but he was looking at the same bird we were and we had double and triple checked it -NOT the Hobby.  Later that day we finally saw the real thing and had a pretty close flyby of the mega rarity – the Hobby moved from WANT to GOT.

Eurasian Hobby (Archive Photo) vs Peregrine Falcon (Eide Road)   Peregrine Falcon at Eide Road

Don’t know what happened to the other birder,  He was not with us when we finally had our success.  He reported it as an observation on Ebird.  He probably found it elsewhere…probably.  Reminds me of some reports of Chestnut Sided Warbler – a real nemesis bird for me.   But that is a story for another time – hopefully when I finally actually see one in Washington.

Chestnut Sided Warbler – Unfortunately from Maine and NOT Washington

Chestnut Sided Warbler

So my Baird’s story had a happy ending as I did “find what I need”.  And it was even better, because as we arrived on the 7th, we saw Sarah Peden who was leaving.  This was her turf so it was doubly unfair that the peeps she saw as she arrived earlier had been spooked by an Eagle flyby – not to be seen by her again that day – probably including Mr. Baird.  But she too must like The Stones, because she returned the next day and found it – a LIFER!!  Great for her and encouragement for me to try again on the 9th.

And similarly, George and Terry Pagos arrived on the 7th to join us in missing the Baird’s – a shared downer.  They, too must be Stone’s fans (isn’t everyone!!?).  I had an eagle experience on the 9th as well.  I found the Baird’s in the outflow of the creek – easily observed and, as per the above, photographed.  It was foraging with 4 Least Sandpipers and several Killdeer – just as reported the first day.  Then three crows arrived and the birds moved to the pebbles on the south side of the creek, but still close and maybe in even better light.  A couple of minutes later, a Red Tail Hawk and Bald Eagle appeared and off they all went – much further down the beach to the south across the stream.  I did not have appropriate foot gear so I could not follow them.  George and Terry arrived a few minutes later and I gave them the good news that it was “here” but the bad news that it had flown south although I was pretty sure was still nearby.  I departed and I was happy to see later that they had refound the bird (or maybe it had refound them) and their Ebird report included another of George’s always fine photos.

So a happy story all around – those special chased birds are definitely best when shared – they belong to nobody and to all of us.  Birding with The Rolling Stones in mind – pretty damn good stuff.




In the “Catbird Seat” on a “Veery” Good Day of Birding

Ok, Ok … I know I am definitely overdoing the cutesy punning, but it’s my blog and I get to write what I want!!  So just go with it and there are even baseball and literature references ahead for those of you whose interests go beyond birding.

Frank Caruso wanted to go birding.  Ann Marie Wood ALWAYS wants to go birding.  I almost always want to go birding.  So we joined forces and headed east.  Our choice among several options was clear when my fun friend Deb Essman in Ellensburg/Kittitas said she had time and could join us.  We decided to head up into Coleman Canyon – north out of Kittitas – repeating a terrific trip that Frank and I enjoyed with her and her husband Bill last year.

As with most trips there were target or hoped for birds.  Deb and Bill have very serious jeeps and spend a lot of time up in the Colockum and Naneum canyons and hills and have seen many good birds (and other wildlife there) including Spruce, Dusky and Ruffed Grouse and Goshawks.  Frank and I had seen Dusky Grouse there last year but I believe Spruce Grouse may not even have been officially accepted as a Kittitas record so this was a major “want”.  (And more on that later.) And a Goshawk anytime is very special.  But there were others as well, including for me a photo of a Williamson’s Sapsucker for the year.  We had a nesting group on our visit last year and I had already seen one this year but no photo.

BUT first back to my puns.  Whichever way we were eventually going to go, a first stop was going to be at Bullfrog Pond.  This is definitely a fan favorite and since Ann Marie wanted a Gray Catbird and Frank wanted a Veery, this should be a great place as I have had both species there often and recently.  An early start got us to Bullfrog pond at 7:30 in the morning.  The somewhat hidden restrooms that had been closed on all my earlier trips were now open – always welcome.  I had also had my Veery close up there on my last trip so that was our first attempt and – failure – no songs, no thrushes, nada.  It was a bit bizarre though as the only bird that responded – immediately – to our Veery call – was a Virginia Rail.  OK both begin with “V” but what’s with that????

Veery (from Earlier Visit)


I was beginning to regret my promise – “They will both be easy at Bullfrog Pond”.  But now puns were to meet reality for after all, I was in the Catbird seat – which as you will see  – means being in a very advantageous position.  We headed over to my regular birding spot at Bullfrog Pond – down from the gated pullover off Bullfrog Road – and immediately we had a Gray Catbird for Ann Marie – just where I had one last time – and then another and then another.  All were raucous and even in the rain were photo worthy.  AND – we started hearing Veeries and I mean LOTS of Veeries – first just the short “Breeuh” call and then the full beautiful ethereal song.  We only listed four individuals of each species, but there may well have been many more.

As an aside, we also looked for American Dippers along the Teanaway River.  They nest under the bridge that crosses the river on Bullfrog Road and I have seen them there on my previous visits.  However, as was later explained to us by Bill Essman, lots of water was released from the upper dams per agreement with the Yakima Valley farmers who needed more irrigation water after a particularly hot and dry week.  Thus the river was running at least 18 inches higher than just two days ago – not leaving many places for the American Dippers to hang out – or at least to be seen by us.

Gray Catbird in the Rain

Gray Catbird

So what about this Catbird seat thing?  Most sources attribute its popular use to a James Thurber story which appeared in The New Yorker in November 1942, appropriately entitled In the Catbird Seat.  Here is part of the story:  “Are you scraping around the bottom of the pickle barrel? Are you sitting in the catbird seat?” It was Joey Hart, one of Mr. Martin’s two assistants, who had explained what the gibberish meant. “She must be a Dodger fan,” he had said. “Red Barber announces the Dodger games over the radio and he uses those expressions — picked ’em up down South.” Joey had gone on to explain one or two. “Tearing up the pea patch” meant going on a rampage; “sitting in the catbird seat” means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him.”

Now after delivering on my promise, I indeed felt like I was “in the catbird seat” – sitting pretty and everything else would be like whipped cream on top of the sundae. We spent less than an hour at Bullfrog and ended up with 22 species without even crossing the road to the drier woodland area where I am sure we would have added many more.  Next we visited the Northern Pacific Railroad Ponds – another favored spot – with the main quest being a Pygmy Nuthatch for Ann Marie.  This is my go to spot for these definitely cute little birds and they made a great appearance again.  AND we had more Gray Catbirds.  We also added a gorgeous male Black Headed Grosbeak at my favorite South Cle Elum feeders.

Pygmy Nuthatch

Pygmy Nuthatch

Black Headed Grosbeak

Black Headed Grosbeak

I had told Deb that we would meet her at her place on Brick Mill Road at 10:00.  Being a man of my word – and still being in that catbird seat – we arrived EXACTLY at 10.  Usually I am greeted by a throng of their bird dogs, but this time it was silent.  Both jeeps were there so I figured they were home but this was different.  No worries, my knock brought the dogs and Deb and all was good.

She will probably hate me for this, but here is a bit on Deb Essman – really one of my favorite folks.  She (and Bill) spent many years as game wardens in the Park Service and are as knowledgeable as anyone I know (except maybe Mike Denny) about “the wild” – weather, trees, animals, wildflowers, plants and yes definitely birds.  They are also fabulous hunters and their home is like a museum in evidence of that with beautiful trophies everywhere – any one of which would make most hunters proud. Deb apologized after our trip for being such a “redneck”, but I told her we liked her red neck and her ethics and love of the outdoors and her big heart are far more important.  Many friends have visited the Essmans with me now and there is a ritual of sorts – the bearskin pose in their home.  Ann Marie is the latest to oblige – pretty darn cute huh?!!

Ann Marie and the Ritual Bearskin Pose

Ann Marie

And this is the place to get back to the earlier reference to Spruce Grouse in Kittitas County.  Deb and Bill are up in the canyons many times a month and with their heavy duty jeeps and winches get farther up and in than us  flatlanders.  They have seen many things there that I can only dream about – wolves, cougars, bears AND Spruce Grouse.  They know their birds and unlike some of us listers – have no agenda – just enjoying the wildlife and sharing it with others.  Deb is just now starting to take pictures and does not yet have one of a Spruce Grouse but I am sure one will be forthcoming.  If she reported a Spruce Grouse – it was there – photo or not.  And she has had some amazing finds – like a White Winged Dove (many years back – seen by many visitors) and a Grackle (photographed) this year.  This lady knows and loves her birds.  I hope to be with her (and her red neck) when a photo of a Spruce Grouse is taken in them thar’ hills.  And I hope for a Goshawk there as well.

Back to the trip.  Coleman Canyon is beautiful, birdy and completely “other”.  It really is like visiting a new world after leaving the flat and frankly pretty boring farmlands in Kittitas.  The streams provide water for a great variety of plants, trees and wildflowers and the elevation gains create new habitats to support a rich diversity.  There are wonderful views of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams as well as the Stuart Range and the riparian areas are great passerine hideouts.  I am not going into a lengthy description of what we saw where as I hope to do another blog at a later time to better cover that and the beauty of the place.  We had around 40 avian species (without any waterfowl, shorebirds or gulls) and this time no grouse and no accipiters but there were lots of woodpeckers, warblers, sparrows, vireos, and flycatchers.  And I did finally get my photo of a Williamson’s Sapsucker – one of at least 4 that were seen. Some photos below:

Williamson’s Sapsucker

Williamson's Sapsucker3


Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak1

MacGillivray’s Warbler

Macgillivray's Warbler

White Breasted Nuthatch

White Breasted Nuthatch

Red Naped Sapsuckers

Red Naped Sapsuckers

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Unfortunately no bear or cougars or wolves were seen but we had a number of elk, some deer, lots of squirrels and arguably as cute a Chipmunk as could be found anywhere.



Young Bull Elk

Young Elk Buck

We returned to the Essman abode and said our goodbyes.  Heading home now would put us in the worst of the Seattle traffic so we extended our stay with a trip to Vantage with a single Burrowing Owl (on private property) along the way and with numerous Rock Wrens (another Ann Marie target) on Recreation Road.  The Columbia River had a few Western Grebes and nothing else.  We planned one more stop on the way home – briefly up Umptanum and Durr Roads out of Ellensburg looking for Bluebirds and hopefully swifts and a Common Nighthawk.

Burrowing Owl (from same location last year)

Burrowing Owl

Rock Wren

Rock Wren2

We found a few Vaux’s Swifts almost immediately upon starting up Umptanum Road – my only photo of one this year but too far away to even post the picture.  Light was also not very good for most of our bluebirds, but there were many with Mountain Bluebirds (Ann Marie’s target) outnumbering Western Bluebirds by at least 2 or 3 to 1.  We had more than 20 all told.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

It had been a great day – hitting all three of the important parts of birding for me – great people, great birds and great places.  And a word about Ann Marie.  I expect most people reading this know her and love her.  She is a terrific birder with an easy smile that may belie the toughness below.  She is the just right combination of driven and patient and thus finds birds that I often overlook.  She is on a crazy quest this year.  I am certainly no stranger to crazy quests, but I would not like to undertake the one she has chosen.  Her goal is to see a different species every day.  This means no days off and very strategic planning – and executing.  And you cannot stockpile any of the new birds on one day for another that may not otherwise have one.  Ann Marie had a number of new birds for the year on this trip – but she could only uses a single one for that day. Choosing which one is tough and calculated.  For example both Gray Catbird and Williamson’s Sapsucker were new.  She chose the Williamson’s Sapsucker.  Can’t carry over the Catbird for another day … but now knowing where they are … easier to go back for one on another day than finding the sometimes unobliging Williamson’s Sapsucker which is also harder to get to.

It was fun to help Ann Marie on her quest.  She has helped me in the past on mine as have many others.  Hats off to all who help by guiding, sharing, accompanying and supporting others – in birding and in all else that makes life worthwhile.  And Hats off to Ann Marie on her quest and to Deb Essman for all her help.  And to Frank for putting up with all of us.

Signing off until next time – and still enjoying the (Gray) Catbird seat – Veery much!!




Catching Up Between Three Mountains

Although I am not quite as obsessed about it this year as I was last, I am still trying to get photographs (and improved photographs) of the birds I see.  Certainly there are some birds (yes I am talking about you Flammulated Owl and Common Poorwill) that are always difficult at best, but sometimes the situation just does not make it easy or maybe even possible.  And even when we KNOW what we have seen that photograph is certainly the best proof and on occasion even is what let’s us know that indeed we saw something different after all.

For a variety of reasons, there have been a number of birds seen this year where I just was not able to get a photo.  As the first half of June drew to a close this week, the report of an Indigo Bunting which was one of those photo misses,  caused me to decide to play “catch up” – to try for some of those missed photos and maybe to hit the “magical” 300 mark for species seen in Washington this year as well.  It meant a lot of miles and would require a lot of luck as well as effort.  And it also turned out to be full of both disappointment and excitement.  It took me to beautiful spots between three mountains – Rainier, Hood and Adams.  Seeing them is another bonus for all of us who bird in the fabulous state of Washington.

Mount Hood from Lyle, Washington

Mt. Hood

Mount Adams from Highway 142

Mt. Adams

The first order of business was to find the Indigo Bunting that was reported by Bill Tweit and Whittier Johnson near Randle on Highway 12 in Cowlitz County.  Usually when I head off on such ventures I leave very early in the morning trying to avoid the horrendous traffic that now ensnarls Metro Seattle at almost all times.  On Monday, however, I had early morning obligations that meant I could not leave until late, so when I started out I really did not have a long agenda…things changed.  They changed in part because this was definitely one of the easiest chases ever.  I made my way onto Highway 12 and found Peters Road.  Within seconds I found the referenced barn and there was a single bird perched on the telephone wire across the street.  As soon as I parked and opened the door, I heard the song of an Indigo Bunting.  I took a distant photo immediately and then spent the next while watching it fly from wire to tree to another spot on the wire and another tree across the road.  It sang incessantly.   The sun was bright but high in the sky so not the best for photos, but eventually I got one that was “good enough”.

Indigo Bunting (Peters Road)

Indigo Bunting1

I had seen the Indigo Bunting that visited a feeder in Mukilteo back in March but had a fleeting look in the rain and had no photo opportunity.  My first Indigo Bunting in Washington was a lovely male seen at Steigerwald NWR in June 2014 with Samantha Robinson – resulting in a beautiful photo for each of us.  I never expected to see another one in the state.

Indigo Bunting (Steigerwald NWR June 2014)

Indigo Bunting3

Check off one “catch up”.  And despite my late start it was now still just before noon and I wondered what to do with the rest of the day.  The Bunting had been such a positive success I was feeling bullish and decided to try for more.  Options were to head back west to Rainbow Falls and try for a Hermit Warbler photo (another miss) and maybe to go look for those “are you kidding me” Monk Parakeets in Yacolt or to really push the envelope and head further east and try for a photo of an Ash Throated Flycatcher (another miss) at either Bear Canyon or Oak Creek with the possibility of other birds along the way.  I chose the latter…a bad choice as it turned out.

Especially on chases, there is the possibility of great excitement (even sometimes with fist pumps) but also the possibility of big disappointment.  The latter can really ruin a day – a feeling that at least for me at times remains until the next fist pump…  The rest of Monday was mostly full of disappointment.  Very hot…not real birdy…no Ash Throated Flycatchers at Bear Canyon (at most one heard in the distance) or at Oak Creek Canyon where I had seen one before but only in flight on May 17 this year.  No Common Nighthawks (another photo miss) and in fact I added another photo miss.  It was a good news/bad news kind of thing.  I decided to bird Bethel Ridge and found it to be as slow as I have ever had it there.  I was hoping for a photo of a Black Backed Woodpecker – a miss from that same May 17 trip.  Did not get a photo, or hear one or see one…BUT…in the same general area I found the Black Backed on May 17, I located an American Three Toed Woodpecker.  It was a FOY but would not come in for a photo so I actually moved backward on my photo listing.  I had nice photos of both last year on June 4 so it was a big disappointment this trip.

American Three Toed Woodpecker (Bethel Ridge June 4, 2015)

American Three Toed WP

Black Backed Woodpecker (Bethel Ridge June 4, 2015)

Black Backed WP at Nest1

So after such a great start I headed home on a down note.  The Three Toed Woodpecker was species 297 for 2016 but I did not realistically figure on any more for the month nor did I think there would be any new photos and with one up and one down, the photo percentage had actually dropped … so that was that…well not quite.

I left my bedroom window open on the night of June 29/30 and around 2:30 a.m. was awakened by some loud voices in the neighborhood.  The combination of too much on my mind anyhow, the tone of the voices and the hour somehow conspired to get me fully awake and unable to return to sleep.  Maybe the error in not visiting Rainbow Falls again and images of parakeets in Washington were still in my head.  After an hour of tossing and turning, I made an executive decision – go birding.

Even at oh-dark-hundred i.e. 4:15 a.m. there was traffic on I-5…aargh.  Not super bad but I was definitely not alone.  Fortunately it cleared once through Seattle and I made it to Rainbow Falls at 6:30 a.m.  My friend and superbirder Melissa Hafting from Vancouver had been there recently and had gotten some beautiful Hermit Warbler photos so that was probably a large part of my motivation.  She said she found the warblers as soon as she parked the car.  So when I heard a Hermit singing as soon as I opened my car door, I felt it was a shared karma thing.  But not so fast.  Hearing a singing bird and getting a photo are often but not always related.  I could not find the bird and after hearing song from another and then another direction, I figured this guy was either a ventriloquist, a skilled stealth flier or was not alone.  It took a full 20 minutes of very frustrated chasing and accidentally disturbing at least one campsite, but finally one of the warblers made a nice appearance in front of me and even though the light was poor and there was some light mist/rain I had my photo.  I had determined that there had to be at least three birds as I heard songs from three different spots at the same time and then later heard two more at a spot far enough away to think there were at least five.  FIST PUMP and check off another catch up!!

Hermit Warbler

Hermit Warbler2

When I had found the Indigo Bunting it had already been after noon.  This time it was only 7:00 a.m. – plenty of time left for more.  I have been birding off and on in Washington for 43 years – amazing since I don’t look or feel a day over 50 and I was certainly much older than 7 when I started.  OK – yeah that look and feel statement is somewhat of an exaggeration…but as I set off to find Monk Parakeets – which I had not even been aware of for 41 of those 43 years, I felt energized and maybe even younger than 50 again.

I had never been to Yacolt or even near it.  Hell, I had never even heard of it – but here it was the Parakeet Capital of Washington.  Getting there was a pleasant drive through very rural territory.  It is a very small town, but not so small that you can just pull up to the one tree or telephone poll and see the resident parakeets.  I drove around and wondered exactly where they might be, expecting to hear raucous calls at every corner.  Then I recalled a reference to Hubbard Road in one Ebird post and GPS got me to the right road.  Now what…”What” turned out to be that that luck entered in, because as I stopped to get out and walk, I was in exactly the right spot – a grassy area next to 508 Hubbard and two parakeets flew directly overhead and into some trees behind the house.  I walked down the grassy area (it is not private) and found a huge stick nest.  Then the two Monk Parakeets flew onto the nest and were then joined by a third.  They flew off and returned a couple of times before finally leaving for good.  My camera was ready and became busy and I was very happy with the photos.  If I had done a better job planning my visit I would have seen that this address was specified in a recent Ebird report.  When preparation fails, sometimes luck bails us out.

Monk Parakeets (Yacolt, Washington)

Monk Parakeet

Monk Parakeets on Nest

It was now barely 10:00 a.m.  I mailed something from the Yacolt post office (won’t the recipient be surprised at the post mark) and decided to try for more “check offs” and maybe to add another bird or two.  This meant heading to Klickitat County and trying to find Ash Throated Flycatchers, Lesser Goldfinches and if I was really fortunate an Acorn Woodpecker. Lyle was not all that close – but closer than if I had gone directly from Edmonds  – and the day was going well so why not.  I had spoken to Ann Marie Wood the night before and she said that she had Ash Throated Flycatchers everywhere but had not seen an Acorn Woodpecker there during her visit earlier this week.  Acorn Woodpeckers were downright strange last year as they showed up in many very unusual spots including in the Redmond backyard of Grace and Ollie.  Usually they are found only in the Balch Lake area near Lyle and this year they had been relatively hard to come by even there…a few Ebird reports but I had not seen any photo.

Acorn Woodpecker (Redmond Washington 2015)

Acorn WP1

My GPS sent me across the Columbia and into Oregon to travel east along the river.  Really a beautiful trip even without birds.  I crossed back over the Columbia and paid my $1.00 toll and then turned east on Highway 14.  It was already getting warm.  It was also getting windy – great for the many windsurfers on the river – not so great for birding.  Ann Marie was right – Ash Throated Flycatchers were everywhere and I quickly located first one pair and then another and another.  They seemed to be mated and I am not aware of any differences between male and females. It seemed that both were calling/noisy and were very responsive to my calls and very active.  Not prize winners, but acceptable photos showing the ashy throats and I checked off another catch up.

Ash Throated Flycatcher

Ash Throated Flycatcher1

So much for the easy bird, what about the Acorn Woodpecker?  There had been a number of Ebird repots for woodpecker in the area but nothing in June.  I had posted for information on Tweeters and got some encouragement – they’re there – but again nothing recent and also recognizing that many had failed to find them this year and no photos were included.  I drove the area several times with stops near the cemetery, at Balch Lake etc.  Finally I ventured up Tuthill Road which runs north off Balch Road.  Nothing on the way up but on the way down a bird with undulating flight passed over joined by a second.  I knew they were woodpeckers and figured it was most likely a pair of Acorns.  I tried some playback and got a response as first one and then a second bird flew back over the road and up into some tall trees in front of a red house.  They criss crossed the road several times and were joined by a third woodpecker – always perching very high and/or on the back sides of tall Oaks.  Finally one perched on the front side of a tree – still high up and distant but sufficiently photo friendly for a shot.  My first record for 2016.  Double fist pump!!

Acorn Woodpecker

There were not a lot of birds in the area but there were a lot of squirrels – their squeaks and squeals often leading me to look for the bird but the last time I checked, no birds have fur.  One squeal was particularly loud and this time there was a bird as a Prairie Falcon had swooped in and grabbed a squirrel maybe 100 feet from me and then flew off before I could even get the camera up. A much easier photo was of some Wild Turkeys crossing the road – a hen and 10 chicks.  The chicks hid quickly but I was able to grab a shot of mom in the shade.  This was sort of the reverse of a catch up.  On an earlier trip to Walla Walla I had seen a very large flock (maybe 50 birds) in a field on the way home and had snapped a picture.  When I submitted my checklist for Balch Lake, Ebird told me that “Wild Turkey” was a new year bird – number 300.  I guess I had forgotten to submit the Walla Walla area report because it was an incidental observation from the road only – despite the photo.

Wild Turkey (Balch Road) 


I knew of some weedy fields along High Prairie Road off Centerville Highway and hoped that even in the heat I might find some Lesser Goldfinches there – another hoped for “catch up” on the trip.  Sure enough as I was driving on the road next to some good looking candidate fields, I heard the birds singing in flight.  It took a while to locate them and then for some to finally perch nearer to the road.  Not real close and they did not stay long but a good ID photo anyhow.  This may have been my worst “miss” of the year as I had seen them in January in Arlington and twice in Walla Walla and either forgot to take a photo or was not able to.  So this was a great way to end the day and check off another miss.

Lesser Goldfinches

Lesser Goldfinches

It had already been a long day and an excellent one.  It was going to be a long drive home so time to get going.  My GPS said that the quickest route home was back through Oregon and up I-5.  I figured that would take me through the worst of traffic in both Tacoma and Seattle so I opted for Highway 142 up through Goldendale and then Highway 97, I-82 and I-90.  I thought this would also at least give me a chance for Common Nighthawk – another photo miss.  If I was not so tired I would have stopped at many of the birdy and beautiful places along the way, but that will have to wait for another time.  No nighthawks and frankly not much of anything else either.  And fortunately not too much traffic…at least until I hit Mercer Island – at 6:45 P.M. – it then took me another 45+ minutes to get home to Edmonds from there.  AAARGH!!

It had been a wonderful trip with as high a hit list success ratio as I can remember and good bonus birds as well.  The scenery had been spectacular – any time you have clear views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount Hood on the same day is awesome.  Probably saw what is left of Mt. St. Helens as well but do not remember it.  Washington is beautiful and so are its birds!!!

Mount Rainier