In unexpectedly good weather on Friday this week, Jon Houghton, Jean Olson and I took advantage of the lighter traffic on Veterans Day and ventured south to Clark County. Most of our time was spent at Ridgefield Refuge where we were most interested in finding a Red Shouldered Hawk that had been reported there consistently this month. Jon was also interested in his first of year Sandhill Crane, getting him very close to his goal of seeing 9% of the world’s birds this calendar year.
Ridgefield and Steigerwald Refuges in Clark County have been regular spots for Red Shouldered Hawk in Washington, but I had not visited either yet. The River “S” Unit at Ridgefield was our first visit. At the check in point the whiteboard listed recent sightings and the Red Shouldered Hawk was reported from the previous day, so we were confident we would find one. Also listed was a Cattle Egret. Very rare in Washington, I had not seen one reported on Ebird or elsewhere so, if accurate, this was certainly great news and became our most sought after bird.
Our first sighting of note was a Nutria along one of the water areas. These large rodents are non-native and unwelcome but still pretty striking.
As we drove on, what was most impressive were the large number of American Wigeon, Coots and Northern Pintails seen at almost every stop along the loop road. We also quickly saw raptors in some trees and checked carefully for the tell tale markings of a Red Shouldered Hawk. The first several hawks were Red Tailed Hawks but about half way around the loop we saw what seemed to be a smaller hawk in one of the trees and got close enough for a positive ID as a Red Shouldered Hawk with vertical striping on the upper breast and horizontal striping below, a relatively small head and a definite reddish cast. A few minutes earlier we had first heard and then seen some Sandhill Cranes, so we had covered the two main targets for the trip.
Red Shouldered Hawk – First View
We scrutinized every white form that we saw hoping for a Cattle Egret. Some turned out to be distant signs, some were gulls and some were partial views of upturned Pintails or Shovelers. Some were indeed egrets but all were Great Egrets. Can’t ever complain about seeing a Great Egret in Washington, even though unlike when I first started birding here in the 1970’s, they are now quite common at least in Clark County and a few other spots in the state. One Great Egret was particularly photogenic.
We saw a second Nutria on our tour but far better was a pair of Raccoons that were feeding in the grass along one of the waterways. Being safe across the water from us, they were often out in the open and made for some good views and photos.
We completed our loop drive and decided to give it another go – hoping that a Cattle Egret would magically appear or that we would have a better view of a Red Shouldered Hawk. Pretty close to the start of the second circumnavigation we saw a smallish hawk perched high in a tree that was partially blocked by branches. The small head, reddish cast and small orange feet suggested it might be a second Red Shouldered Hawk, a juvenile. I got a couple of not so hot photos which upon closer examination revealed it to be a Northern Harrier, one of many seen. Not too much further along, however, we refound the Red Shouldered Hawk that we had that seen on our first loop – now out in the open. The splayed tail feathers and hints of red on the shoulders visible from what was now a back view were pretty cool.
Red Shouldered Hawk – Round Two
No Cattle Egret or new birds on the second loop. The last photo I took was of some Teasel plants (the place was thick with Teasel everywhere) that at first we thought had moss on it. Closer examination of the photos showed some kind of green growth but we were not sure what – a parasite or a mutually symbiotic relationship somehow? Whatever – quite striking.
It was now about 11:00 a.m. What next? An Acorn Woodpecker had been seen about a half hour north and we wanted to give that a try, but since we were already this far south we elected first to go to Steigerwald NWR hoping for an appearance by a White Tailed Kite – something I had seen there last year but had not been reported in 2016. Steigerwald proved to be pretty birdless. We had great views of a couple of hovering American Kestrels and both male and female Northern Harriers and not much else.
American Kestrel Hovering
Time to start home with a stop at the feeders where the Acorn Woodpecker had been reported for a couple of days previously. Although not far from I-5, the route to the private residence was circuitous, but the excellent directions provided on Tweeters brought us to the home of Larry and Joanne Turner who had graciously opened their bird friendly home to visitors. With numerous hummingbird and seed feeders around, their grounds were a mecca for birds. We spent almost two hours there (joined by Mary Frances Mathis) and unfortunately never saw the out of habitat Acorn Woodpecker. Larry, who was a fascinating host, said it had not been seen that day earlier either. We were treated to an amazing show by maybe as many as 10 or 12 Anna’s Hummingbirds and a visit by a California Scrub-Jay and numerous Ruby and Golden Crowned Kinglets among others. One of the latter was really worked up and displayed as much red in the cap as I have ever seen. The photo is OK but would have been really special if the focus was a bit better.
Anna’s Hummingbird on a Quince Plant
Golden Crowned Kinglet
So no go on the Acorn Woodpecker. Hopefully it will return. How strange that it was there at all as there are no oak trees for miles. We encountered less than expected traffic on our return and had no rain either. The Hawk with Red Shoulders was the highlight of the trip but lots of other fun birds as well. An excellent day to be out with friends…