Hitting One of My “Double Zero” Goals – A “Biggish” Day

I enjoy being almost anywhere there are birds to be seen and at almost any times that work well for seeing them.  The nature observer aspect of birding is challenging and rewarding – and to repeat – enjoyable.  But there is definitely a part of my personal make-up that responds to the chase, the hunt, the planning and execution that comes with targeted pursuits – in birding and in other activities.  Having goals has always been a part of my life – some attained and many more not – and even if attained – finding new ones or changing the old ones to find something new or something more or better – defining that differently than perhaps someone else would – but in a way that works for and has meaning for me.

As I have written earlier, this is not going to be a Big Year in Washington – been there, done that, loved it – but now I want and need to look more to other aspects of my life, other people, other activities and other needs.  BUT…I cannot imagine a birdless year and I still want the organization, thrill, enjoyment and sense of accomplishment that comes with setting, pursuing and hopefully meeting goals.  Not the single goal of a Big Year but of several others – arbitrary perhaps but tied to numbers that at least provide some perceived unique quality – because they have two zeroes at the end – multiples of 100 and somehow that makes them more “special” to me and maybe to someone reading this post.  I have set a lot of Double Zero goals for the year.

An earlier post outlined how I hope to reach one of those Double Zero goals – the one with a 3 and two zeroes – seeing 300 species in Washington this year – a far cry from earlier true Big Year pursuits of up to 365 species in a year – but respectable and motivating.  My last post included the realization of one of my other Double Zero goals – the 200 goal – finding life species number 200 in Kittitas County – accomplished with the observation of an Anna’s Hummingbird at the Hyak feeders at Snoqualmie Pass.   That last post dealt mainly with 4 Edmonds birders looking for some rare birds in Yakima County and in the process observing almost 90 species for the day.  This post is about pursuit and attainment of the first of the Double Zero goals – the 100 goal – finding at least 100 species in Washington in a single day.  It was set as a goal some months ago, but the success of that trip with my Edmonds friends motivated me to get out and give it a try this past Saturday.

Even though I think some additional stops and focus on that earlier trip might have gotten us to 100, this time I would be on my own and thus would not have Steve’s knowledge, Frank’s great ears, Ann Marie’s good eyes (and stellar record-keeping),  and also we had seen some really good birds on that earlier trip that were not guaranteed this time.  So in planning my pursuit I decided to repeat most of that earlier route but adding some new spots that would increase the odds of hitting that magical 100 species.  First and foremost that meant some close to home birding in hometown Edmonds – particularly at the waterfront where there would be the chance of birds not possible east of the mountains.

On a whim, I made a first stop at Yost Park – less than 1/2 mile from my house.  Maybe I would get lucky and hear the morning serenade of the resident Barred Owls even though it was now way past breeding season and the only Ebird report of one there this month was from June 3.  My whim was immediately rewarded at 4:40 a.m. when the song of a Black Throated Gray Warbler greeted me as soon as I opened the car door.  It was a species not seen in that 90 species day.  Another new bird came almost as quickly – a Brown Creeper with its high pitched call notes.  I figured both Pacific and Bewick’s Wrens should be around and short plays of their songs resulted in both – coming up to the low growth near the parking area.  It had not yet been three minutes and I already had 4 new birds.  Could an owl be added as well?  It took a single call to answer the question.  I do a reasonably good “Who cooks for you” call and this one immediately brought a response and the Barred Owl flew from its roost near the tennis courts immediately over my head and then, chased by American Crows, down onto a tree in the forest below.  The Crows continued to harass it, and the Owl continued to call for the 10 minutes I remained there.  A Downy Woodpecker made an appearance as I got back into my car (another bird missed on that previous trip). A Great start!!

Yost Park Barred Owl – A Good Omen

Barred Owl

Yost Park was a spur of the moment add – and a bare 15 minutes into the day, I was already at 14 species.  Next was a stop at the Edmonds waterfront hoping for seabirds.  Unfortunately the tide was very high and the birds relatively few, but I easily added Heerman’s and Glaucous Winged Gulls, Pigeon Guillemot, Belted Kingfisher and Caspian Tern – 4 of which were not possible elsewhere on this day.

Heerman’s Gull

Heerman's Gull

The last planned stop was the Edmonds Marsh.  On a mini-scouting trip there the day before I had Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren, Killdeer and Purple Martin – none of which were seen on that previous trip.  No Purple Martin this time but the others were immediately heard and there were three other swallows species, a Great Blue Heron and both Mallards and Gadwalls – neither species a sure thing elsewhere.  I had now been birding about an hour and had seen 35 species – 14 not seen on the previous trip.  Time to head east.

As in the Edmonds Birders Go East trip, I made my Eastern first stop at Snoqualmie Pass.  The place was alive.  I heard an Olive Sided Flycatcher as soon as I got out of the car and then quickly added Swainson’s Thrush, Yellow and Townsend’s Warblers,  Pine Siskins, Rufous Hummingbird, Chestnut Backed Chickadees, Northern Flicker and Brown Headed Cowbird.  Eleven new species for the day and one more that had not been seen on the previous trip.  A quick stop at the Hyak Hummingbird feeders again added Anna’s HummingbirdNashville Warbler, Willow Flycatcher,  Evening Grosbeak, and Common Raven.  Nothing new from the earlier trip but now I was at 50 species – half way there.

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak

My next stop was to be Bullfrog Pond – a favorite place and one not visited on the previous trip.  As usual Bullfrog Pond delivered well.  37 species were seen in the hour spent there including 18 new for the day and 5 that had not been seen on the earlier trip (Williamson’s and Red Breasted Sapsuckers, American Dipper, Gray Catbird and White Breasted Nuthatch).

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

On to another favorite place, the nearby Railroad Ponds in South Cle Elum – also not visited before.  Thirty-one species were seen – 9 more new for the day and two not seen previously (Purple Finch and Bank Swallow).  A special observation was an adult Pileated Woodpecker feeding a juvenile.

Pileated Woodpeckers

Pileated Woodpeckers

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

The day count was now at 77 – three quarters of the way there – with lots of birds new from the earlier trip – looking good but many of the great birds from the last trip were not guaranteed – part of the fun.  An Osprey on I-90 made it 78.

On that earlier trip, we had not spent much time looking for Shrub/Steppe birds.  I decided to bird Durr Road on this trip to look for some.  It was a good decision – only six species seen but 5 were new for the day and two – Vesper Sparrow and Sage Thrasher had not been seen on that other trip.  83 species and counting.  By the way – great views of Mt. Rainier and the Stuart Range – always enjoy them and this time I remembered to take pictures.

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow1

Views from Durr Road – Mount Rainier and the Stuart Range



The next couple of hours repeated the previous trip – Umptanum Road with a stop at the parking lot for the Umptanum Falls trail, North Wenas Road with a stop at Bluebird Box 7 to look for the Calliope Hummingbird and then to Maloy Road hoping the Least Flycatcher remained and to the Wenas riparian area hoping the same for the Indigo Bunting before heading on to the Wenas Campground area.

Nine species new for the day were added before getting to Maloy Road with the only new one from before being a Cooper’s Hawk.  But no Chukars or Townsend Solitaire this time – so two misses.  Now at 92 species – more than seen on the entire previous trip – thanks primarily to those early Edmonds birds.

Western Tanager

Western Tanager

The Least Flycatcher was che-bekking loud and clear at Maloy Road – even had a peek-a-boo view but did not try for a photo considering myself fortunate to get one on the earlier trip.  On the way in to the Wenas Riparian area to look for the Indigo Bunting, I had a fun sighting of both an Eastern and a Western Kingbird within maybe 30 feet of each other on a wire.  Both were new for the trip and the former had not been seen on the earlier one. Now at 95 species.

Eastern and Western Kingbirds

When I got to the Indigo Bunting spot, two birders were looking into the Cottonwood where we had seen it before.  I heard it singing and with some joint effort we got decent views (No. 94).  Another birder arrived and we got him on the bird, too.  I shared directions to the Least Flycatcher, and then proceeded to the Wenas Campground.  It was pretty slow there in the rising heat of the day, but I added another 6 species for the day and had now hit that “magical 100 species”.  The only species not seen from the earlier trip was a Gray Flycatcher.  Before we had heard Red Crossbills and this time I got a photo of one – although I had misidentified it as an odd colored House Finch when I first saw it.  A pair of Black Headed Grosbeaks were particularly photo worthy

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill


Male and Female Black Headed Grosbeaks

Black Headed Grosbeak  Black Headed Grosbeak Female

On the way back out, I stopped again for a last look at the Indigo Bunting and tried to lure it in with playback.  I was now closer to the yellow gate and could hear it singing.  No response.  On a whim, I tried the Lazuli Bunting call, and the Indigo Bunting immediately flew right at me and perched up for a good photo.  Hmmm?

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

This trip had originally had multiple goals – 100 species for the day but also importantly a try for Black Backed and Three Toed Woodpeckers at Bethel Ridge.  I had located nests for each there in years past but had seen neither this year on two tries.  Paul Baerny had both last week and I had his directions.  Brian Pendleton was already there looking for those species.  I was optimistic.  Getting there included the road past Wenas Lake and through good agricultural habitat and a stop at Oak Creek Canyon (as on the previous trip).  Surprisingly perhaps, the trip down Longmire Road produced the only Black Billed Magpie and American Kestrel of the trip.  There were Canada Geese on Wenas Lake and my only California Quail nearby plus my first Western Meadowlarks and Brewers Blackbirds.   I was now at 106 species.

At Oak Creek Canyon I got my biggest and most pleasant surprise of the trip.  About a quarter of a mile in, a medium sized flycatcher flew down form the uphill area to my right and into the canyon.  It had a grayish head with a crest, was pale yellow below with a reddish tinge to the tail and a distinct ASHY THROAT.  I saw another one later.  These were my first Ash Throated Flycatchers of the year.  They had been reported from the Canyon earlier but I had looked for them and missed them twice including on our Edmonds Goes East trip.  I figured they had departed and had no thought that I would see one – in fact stopping there only for the Lewis’s Woodpecker and a Lazuli Bunting (which I had somehow not yet found) plus a hope for White Throated Swifts – seen here on that earlier trip and maybe Canyon or Rock Wrens.  No Swifts or Wrens, but I had two Lewis’s Woodpeckers, a Lazuli Bunting and remarkably those Ash Throated Flycatchers.  Now at 109 species.

Ash Throated Flycatcher

Ash Throated Flycatcher 1

I got to Bethel Ridge much later than I had planned and should have tried earlier.  It was hot and mostly quiet.  No Black Backed Woodpecker, and unlike the previous trip – no White Headed Woodpecker.   As I got up to the area with the big burn towards the top near where the Three Toed Woodpecker had been seen, I saw a Woodpecker fly onto a tree trunk and my hopes soared.  Hard to be disappointed with a beautiful male Williamson’s Sapsucker but it had one toe too many.  Just before that I had my only Clark’s Nutcracker for the trip (and only my second of the year).

Clark’s Nutcracker

Clark's Nutcracker

Williamson’s Sapsucker

Williamson's Sapsucker

At that point I heard a familiar voice – Brian Pendleton was there with spouse Darchelle.  They had looked for hours for the Three Toed Woodpecker without success.  We joined forces and found beautiful wildflowers, views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier, Hairy Woodpeckers, Rock Wren, Townsend’s Solitaire and Hermit Thrush – but no woodpeckers with three toes.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Townsend’s Solitaire

Townsend's Solitaire

Rock Wren

Rock Wren

Mt. Adams



The five new for the day species brought the total to 114.  Clark’s Nutcracker and Hairy Woodpecker were not seen on the previous trip.  I had seen many elk and deer throughout the day including a very clumsy elk calf.  Coming down from Bethel Ridge, I came upon two striking bull elk with sizable racks.  I checked them out and they checked me out and they kept grazing.

Elk Calf

Elk Calf1

Elk Cooling Off

Swimming Elk

Bull Elk

Big Bull Elk

Back on Highway 12 on the way home, I stopped at Trout Lodge hoping for the Black Chinned Hummingbird that had been reported from the feeders there – no luck.  Later I had a Common Merganser on the Tieton River so my “Biggish Day” total was 115 species.  Maybe some day I will try a true Big Day and add stops, limit time at various spots, bird at night and hope for great luck.  I am sure that 145 species are possible even in late June.  Probably more are possible earlier – maybe many more either time.

None of my goals are noteworthy to anyone but me but maybe my stories of attempts to reach them recall attempts to reach different goals by others.  I think in fact that it is the collecting of “stories” as much as it is the collecting of bird observations that makes birding so enjoyable to me.  My goals help organize that collecting process – give order to the pursuits.  I have now accomplished two of my Double Zero goals for the year.  I am getting closer on some others and future blog posts will recount the stories that come from those quests – whether successful or not.

Species Seen June 24, 2017
1 American Crow Edmonds 59 Red-breasted Nuthatch Bullfrog Pond
2 American Robin Edmonds 60 Red-breasted Sapsucker Bullfrog Pond
3 Bald Eagle Edmonds Marsh 61 Red-naped Sapsucker Bullfrog Pond
4 Barn Swallow Edmonds Marsh 62 Red-winged Blackbird Bullfrog Pond
5 Barred Owl Yost Park 63 Turkey Vulture Bullfrog Pond
6 Belted Kingfisher Edmonds Waterfront 64 Veery Bullfrog Pond
7 Bewick’s Wren Yost Park 65 Warbling Vireo Bullfrog Pond
8 Black-capped Chickadee RR Ponds 66 White-breasted Nuthatch Bullfrog Pond
9 Black-headed Grosbeak Wenas Riparian 67 Williamson’s Sapsucker Bullfrog Pond
10 Black Throated Gray Warbler Yost Park 68 Yellow-rumped Warbler Bullfrog Pond
11 Caspian Tern Edmonds Waterfront 69 House Finch Cle Elum
12 Common Yellowthroat Edmonds Marsh 70 House Wren RR Ponds
13 Dark-eyed Junco Edmonds 71 Pileated Woodpecker RR Ponds
14 Downy Woodpecker Edmonds Marsh 72 Purple Finch RR Ponds
15 European Starling Edmonds 73 Pygmy Nuthatch RR Ponds
16 Gadwall Edmonds Marsh 74 Bank Swallow So. Cle Elum
17 Glaucous Winged Gull Edmonds Waterfront 75 Dusky Flycatcher RR Ponds
18 Great Blue Heron Edmonds Marsh 76 Red-tailed Hawk RR Ponds
19 Heerman’s Gull Edmonds Waterfront 77 Mountain Chickadee RR Ponds
20 House Sparrow Edmonds Waterfront 78 Osprey I-90
21 Killdeer Edmonds Marsh 79 Brewer’s Sparrow Durr Road
22 Mallard Edmonds Marsh 80 Mountain Bluebird Durr Road
23 Marsh Wren Edmonds Marsh 81 Western Bluebird Durr Road
24 No. Rough-winged Swallow Edmonds Marsh 82 Sage Thrasher Durr Road
25 Pacific Wren Yost Park 83 Vesper Sparrow Durr Road
26 Pigeon Guillemot Edmonds Waterfront 84 Eurasian Collared-Dove Umptanum Road
27 Rock Pigeon Edmonds 85 Mourning Dove Umptanum Road
28 Song Sparrow Edmonds 86 Say’s Phoebe Umptanum Road
29 Spotted Towhee Edmonds 87 American Goldfinch Wenas Road
30 Steller’s Jay Yost Park 88 Calliope Hummingbird Wenas Road
31 Tree Swallow Edmonds Marsh 89 Cedar Waxwing Wenas Road
32 Violet-green Swallow Edmonds Marsh 90 Cooper’s Hawk Wenas Road
33 Virginia Rail Edmonds Marsh 91 Western Tanager Wenas Road
34 Western Wood-Pewee Yost Park 92 Yellow-breasted Chat Wenas Road
35 White-crowned Sparrow Edmonds Marsh 93 Least Flycatcher Maloy Road
36 Brown-headed Cowbird Snoqualmie 94 Eastern Kingbird Wenas Riparian
37 Chestnut-backed Chickadee Snoqualmie 95 Western Kingbird Wenas Riparian
38 Northern Flicker Snoqualmie 96 Indigo Bunting Wenas Riparian
39 Olive-sided Flycatcher Snoqualmie 97 Gray Flycatcher Wenas Campground
40 Cliff Swallow Snoqualmie 98 Pacific-slope Flycatcher Wenas Campground
41 Rufous Hummingbird Snoqualmie 99 Red Crossbill Wenas Campground
42 Swainson’s Thrush Snoqualmie 100 Bullock’s Oriole Wenas Campground
43 Townsend’s Warbler Snoqualmie 101 American Kestrel Longmire Road
44 Willow Flycatcher Snoqualmie 102 Black-billed Magpie Longmire Road
45 Yellow Warbler Snoqualmie 103 Brewer’s Blackbird Longmire Road
46 Pine Siskin Snoqualmie 104 California Quail Longmire Road
47 Anna’s Hummingbird Hyak Feeders 105 Western Meadowlark Longmire Road
48 Common Raven Hyak Feeders 106 Canada Goose Wenas Lake
49 Nashville Warbler Hyak Feeders 107 Ash-throated Flycatcher Oak Creek Canyon
50 Evening Grosbeak Hyak Feeders 108 Lazuli Bunting Oak Creek Canyon
51 American Dipper Bullfrog Pond 109 Lewis’s Woodpecker Oak Creek Canyon
52 Brown Creeper Bullfrog Pond 110 Clark’s Nutcracker Bethel Ridge
53 Cassin’s Finch Bullfrog Pond 111 Hairy Woodpecker Bethel Ridge
54 Cassin’s Vireo Bullfrog Pond 112 Hermit Thrush Bethel Ridge
55 Chipping Sparrow Bullfrog Pond 113 Rock Wren Bethel Ridge
56 Gray Catbird Bullfrog Pond 114 Townsend’s Solitaire Bethel Ridge
57 Hammond’s Flycatcher Bullfrog Pond 115 Varied Thrush Bethel Ridge
58 MacGillivray’s Warbler Bullfrog Pond 116 Common Merganser Tieton River

Edmonds Goes East – But First, What About those So-called Goatsuckers?

My last blog post dealt in part with the logistics ahead for reaching one of my 2017 Birding Goals – observing 300 species in the State of Washington.  I still have that big Eastern Washington trip ahead, the one that I said would likely add 10-12 new species for the year.   Since writing that however, I have had the occasion to make two shorter trips into Eastern Washington and both forays have involved some of my Edmonds birding buddies and both have added some new species in Washington for the year and both have been fun.

The first was an evening foray to Robinson Canyon just west of Ellensburg.  It has been a good spot in the past to find Common Poorwills and Common Nighthawks.  No Nighthawks had been reported from there yet in 2017, but these voracious bug eaters were just arriving in Washington and new reports had been showing up in Ebird from elsewhere so I thought the chances were good.   Common Nighthawks can often be seen (or more likely heard) during the day, but the best time seems to be at dusk, and the Common Poorwills are also likely just as the skies darken as well, so the plan was to arrive at the Canyon around 8 and hopefully find both birds.  Entrance to the upper Canyon is through an unlocked gate and my first good find that night was at that gate.

As I was pulling up there was another car stopped at the gate and someone was opening it.  Small world, it was Steve Pink – one of the Edmonds birders – and who featured prominently in my previous blog.  He was there with wife Connie – also hoping for the same two species.  Just before arriving at the gate, I thought I had heard the familiar “pe-ent” call of a Nighthawk but it was distant and faint so not a for sure observation.  Not too long after parking at the end of the road, we began hearing first Western Wood Pewees and then unmistakably the call of the Common Nighthawk.  They often fly high in the sky and it can be difficult to locate them, but in this case, there were at least three birds and we finally found them flying almost directly overhead – even if quite high in the sky.  If you look real hard at the ID quality only photo, you can even make out the white “wrist” bands on the wings – definitely not my best photo. (A better photo from last year adjoins it.)

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk  Common Nighthawk3

And then as it got darker, we began to hear the repetitive “poor – will” call of our main quest – the Common Poorwill.  They roost up on the Canyon’s rocky slopes and once one starts calling there can be a veritable chorus.  We heard at least a half dozen.  With luck, you can often find one on the road, their eyes reflecting the light from your car’s headlights.  I left first and unfortunately had no birds on the road.  Steve and Connie left 10 minutes later and did find one Poorwill on the road. (The picture is mine of one on the same road last year).

Common Poorwill

Common Poorwill

Common Poorwills and Common Nighthawks are taxonomically pretty closely related and belong to a group of birds often called “goatsuckers”.  Here is probably way more information than you would ever want to know about the origin of that terminology and application to these species (and others).  Goatsucker is

“based on a superstition that goes back well over 2000 years. They (Goatsuckers) all have tiny beaks that open to reveal an impressively large mouth used to catch flying insects, and they are active mainly at night. Their nocturnal habits made them mysterious, and their bizarre appearance required an explanation, and as early as the 300s BC Aristotle wrote about the trouble these birds could cause with goats. Four hundred years later not much had changed, and in 77 AD Pliny passed along the prevailing wisdom:  The Caprimulgi (so called of milking goats) are like the bigger kind of Owsels [Thrush]. They bee night-theeves; for all the day long they see not. Their manner is to come into the sheepeheards coats and goat-pens, and to the goats udders presently they goe, and suck the milke at their teats. And looke what udder is so milked, it giveth no more milke, but misliketh and falleth away afterwards, and the goats become blind withall. (from the 1601 translation)
It’s not clear how many people ever believed this. It sounds like Pliny may have had some doubts, and the superstition faded away centuries ago. We still use the name but the “goatsuckers” eat nothing but flying insects and have no interest in, or effect on, goats.”  (from the SIBLEY GUIDE)

Just so you know, no goats were seen in the Canyon by any of us.

During the following week, Ebird reported that both a Least Flycatcher and an Indigo Bunting were being seen regularly in the Wenas area.  I was pretty sure I had heard one of the former on an earlier trip to Umptanum/North Wenas Road but had not seen it.  They are uncommon in Washington although seen usually at recurring locations each year.  Indigo Buntings are quite rare and generate lots of interest (and chasing) in the birding community.  I had one open day on my calendar and figured a chase was in order, especially if it would also provide some good birding company.  Ann Marie Wood, Steve Pink and Frank Caruso were all game and available, so off we went on June 16.  Four birders from Edmonds (close enough Ann Marie) heading East…

On trips east, a first stop is often the summit at Snoqualmie Pass – a chance for restrooms and the possibility of something good at the hummingbird feeders there.  No hummers there, but when we drove a bit further east (most importantly into Kittitas County) the Hyak feeders were alive with hummingbirds.  West of the Cascades, we have both Rufous and the much more plentiful Anna’s Hummingbirds. the latter often overwintering sustained by feeders and non-native plants.  East of the Mountains, Anna’s Hummingbirds are generally quite uncommon or even rare.  I had not realized that this applied even the few miles east of the Summit at Hyak, and thus when we saw two Anna’s among the two dozen or so Rufous at these feeders, I was quite surprised and very pleased to find that they were my first record of this species in Kittitas County.  More notably, it was the 200th species I had seen in Kittitas County – thus fulfilling one of my goals for 2017 – to bring that county list to 200.

We decided to take the shorter route to get to Wenas by going up over Umptanum Road to North Wenas Road and then first to Maloy Road where the Least Flycatcher had been seen before doubling back a mile to try for the Bunting.  I have birded this stretch many times including often this year and it is always a treat – many bluebirds and sparrows as well as flycatchers, thrashers, warblers and others.  We stopped a few times and saw a number of species, but did not “work” it hard since we were on a mission.  At one stop I head a “chucking sound” up on one of the hills.  We never got a look, but the calls were from at least a few Chukars – new for the year.  I made sure we stopped at Bluebird Box #7.  It is a go-to spot for Calliope Hummingbird.  Two weeks earlier I had seen one briefly but not gotten a photo.  This time, the hummer was more cooperative.

Calliope Hummingbird at Box #7

Calliope Hummingbird2

Directions for the Least Flycatcher were pretty specific – in the Aspen Grove on Maloy Road before the bridge over Wenas Creek.  I pulled over when I saw the bridge about a hundred yards ahead and there were Aspens south of the Road.  As soon as I got out of the car, I could hear a faint “Che-bek, Che-bek” call – the Least Flycatcher was there, but it was distant – at least 50 yards in and up in the Aspens.  We tried to lure it to us and it did not seem to want to move at all.  We were going to settle for an identification as “heard only”, but for whatever reason the bird decided to fly in to a last attempt with our recording and it was in the open for split seconds, here and there, flying back and forth across the road.  I timed its brief perch in the open right once and got an ok photo.  It is the smallest of the Empidonax flycatchers and the call and that noted size made the ID certain.

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

Now we were on to try for the Indigo Bunting.  Those directions were just as good – “at the yellow gate at the Wenas Riparian area”. As we neared the gate, another car was coming towards us.  Was it a birder?  Had he seen the Bunting?  Or was this going to be a shared disappointment?  The license plate “Osprey” answered the first question in the affirmative.  When he turned around and came back to us, he gave an affirmative on the second as well — BUT — after he had observed the Bunting, it had flown off over the hill and was perhaps gone – forever…Uh-oh.  The birder was Denny Granstrand – one of Yakima’s finest – a completely reliable source.  We drove the two cars to a good pull out area just past the gate and started to search.  After a few moments I was attracted by a song back up the road that I thought might be our guy.  I am not good at bird song.  That is Frank’s domain.  But I had earlier played the Indigo Bunting song to familiarize myself with it and this sounded good.  It continued but it was hard to get a spatial sense…until that is we went a little further, and there it was out in the open in a dead cottonwood.  Poor light meant poor photos, but an unmistakable bird and we were feeling pretty good.  Then, just as Denny had said before, it flew off across the road and up the hill.  Satisfied we went back to the car and loaded up to leave.  As we drove past the dead cottonwood, there it was again on its favorite branch – singing away.  As an aside, another Edmonds birding friend, Jon Houghton visited the spot two days later and found the Bunting on the same branch.  (A better photo is included – my first Indigo Bunting in Washington – from Steigerwald NWR in June 2014).

Indigo Bunting (Wenas June 2017)

Indigo Bunting3

Indigo Bunting (Steigerwald June 2014)

Indigo Bunting3

We continued into the Wenas Campground hoping to add some woodpeckers and more flycatchers, but it was not very birdy and we picked up only a few new species for the day – nothing exciting.  Our total was around sixty species so far but our success in finding both special targets, Indigo Bunting and Least Flycatcher plus adding the Chukars and Calliope Hummingbird (and my Kittitas County Anna’s) meant it had already been a great day.  It was still early so what next?  I felt we had time to go to Oak Creek and a short while on Bethel Ridge where we would hopefully find some good woodpeckers and just maybe an Ash Throated Flycatcher.

At Oak Creek, it took some doing to find a Lewis’s Woodpecker.  Only maybe five – the fewest I have ever seen there – and not as close as usual – still a gorgeous bird.  More of a disappointment was that we did not find any Ash Throated Flycatchers.  I had not been able to look for the one at Marymoor Park, so if I still need/want one, I may have to go to Klickitat County later.  Now on to Bethel Ridge.  We would not have a lot of time, but good to share some of my past experience and hopefully find something new – particularly some woodpeckers.

Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker

Oak Creek Scenery

Oak Creek Scenery

After hearing a number of Swainson’s Thrushes and Veeries earlier in the day, I was pleased to hear and recognize a Hermit Thrush at one of our stops about midway up the road.  Not uncommon in Washington, but I had not found one earlier when they were at lower elevations, so this was my first for the year,  (It was also our seventh thrush species for the trip as earlier we had Veery, Robin, Swainson’s Thrush, Western and Mountain Bluebirds and Townsend’s Solitaire.  Unfortunately we did not see any Varied Thrushes or we would have had all of the Washington thrush species.)

Now it was time to leave and as we approached the bottom of the road, we saw someone with a tracking antenna off to one side.  We wondered if he was a birder/researcher.  I pulled ahead a little bit to both observe him and also to “take one last look”.  This proved a good move as serendipitously, Steve Pink saw a White Headed Woodpecker on the side of a conifer immediately adjacent to the road.  We were able to get out and get photos.  The fellow with the antenna noted our activity and came over and we told him it had been a White Headed Woodpecker and he took off to track it after it had flown.

Later when photos were checked at home, we noted that the Woodpecker was banded and Ann Marie sent the photo on to Jeff Kozma – who is a researcher in Kittitas and Yakima Counties – and who was the fellow we had seen.  Ann Marie got this information back after he identified the bird as one in his study.

White headed Woodpecker

White Headed Woodpecker2a

“Ann Marie, We know a lot about that bird. His transmitter is still functioning and we visit him every 2-3 days. He was banded as a nestling last summer in Tieton Meadow, 1 mile upslope, making him the shortest-distance disperser in our research.

He is a carrier for avian malaria, which can be deadly though he has survived for 1 year despite infection. His infection may explain his sedentary lifestyle – we can’t be sure. He was unsuccessful in attracting a mate this spring, so was unable to nest this summer.

We have tracked his paternal side for 3 generations. His father was hatched in Rattlesnake Creek in 2014. Unfortunately, his maternal side is completely unknown which is pretty common. We’ve never been able to track a female-line for more than 1 generation. The females tend to be more mobile than the males.”

What a great way to end a great day.

As the trip ended we counted up all of the species seen that day and came to just under 90.  Since we had no shorebirds or gulls and only two duck species and we really had not tried for numbers, that was pretty darn good.  When I got back to Bellevue, I added a couple of species of Swallows a Mallard and two species of Chickadee, so I am pretty sure I was over 90 and know we could have hit 100 with targeted effort.

Great birds, great places and great people – the ever present recipe for a wonderful day!

Ann Marie, Frank and Steve

blog-ann-marie  blog-frank 036a0647

(Now at 282 Species for 2017 in Washington and counting…)

Big Years and Not – Logistics, Chases and Comparisons

My last blog post shared some experiences and photos from my first visit to the Washington Coast this year including a pelagic trip out of Westport.  Even though I am not doing any form of a Washington State Big Year in 2017, I do have a modest goal of seeing 300 species and since I report all of my observations on Ebird, I have a continuous self report that keeps me aware of my totals as I go. On Thursday morning May 18 before embarking on that trip to the Coast, my Washington Year List stood at 234 species.  In the previous four years when I had done some form of a Big Year in the state the totals ranged from a low of 251 species to a high of 290 species – an average of 275 species.  So IF I were doing a Big Year this year, I was seemingly way behind previous attempts.

Species in Washington as of May 17th
2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
251 286 290 278 234

But as is almost always the case in comparisons of any kind and certainly ones with experience based numbers, it is just not that simple.  For example, in each of those previous years, by May 18, I had already visited the Coast and done a Pelagic trip – birding ventures sure to add many new species.  Doing a Big Year includes several different approaches to “birding”.  There is first the general activity of covering a lot of different habitats at different times and just spending time in the field.  Then there is “reactive birding” – chasing “needed” birds as they come up whenever and wherever they come up.  As I am sure I have stated in some earlier blog, Rule Number 1 for a chase is “Go now” as often the birds stay briefly and just do not wait for you to try to see them at your convenience.  Rule number 2 is “If you fail to follow Rule Number 1, then you cannot whine about missing a bird – it’s your own fault.”

As important as those two aspects are to a Big Year, probably the most important part is excellent informed planning on where to go when – the logistical planning to get to the right spots at the right time when needed birds are most likely to be there.  As much as I have enjoyed the general birding and the chases, it is the logistical planning and execution that I have enjoyed most and have been most successful at doing – making it possible to get the large totals I have been able to accumulate in each of those years.

Back to this year.  Not striving for the Big Year, it has not been imperative to chase every new and exciting bird nor to include some trips (to the Okanogan for example) that have been a part of each previous Big Year pursuit.  But while the goal this year is far more modest, 300 species is by no means easy and it does require that logistical effort to find birds at likely spots and at the times that they are going to be there.  Looking forward on that May 18th morning and knowing that the Coast and a pelagic trip were close at hand, it was time to do the logistical planning that would enable me to reach 300.

So…on May 18th I headed to Camano Island to find a Wild Turkey and other species.  I had missed this species on an earlier trip there and had looked for it and failed to find one on a Teanaway Valley trip earlier in the year – where they are almost a gimme.  English Boom on Camano Island is also a guaranteed spot for Purple Martins by mid May, and there was the possibility of a new bird or two at Eide Road.   When I got to Hanstad Road, a tom turkey was strutting on a grassy lawn – a good start.  Even better was that when I got out of the car to take a photo, I heard the plaintive song of a Swainson’s Thrust – another new bird for the year.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

On to English Boom, but on the way I heard one of the most recognizable of bird calls.  An Olive Sided Flycatcher was calling for liquid refreshment – “Quick three beers” – and there it was on a nearby tree branch.

Olive Sided Flycatcher

Olive Sided Flycatcher

English Boom delivered as always as Purple Martins were at most of the gourds, well into their mating and nesting and posing for photos.

Purple Martin

Pruple Martin

I had hoped for two new species and now had doubled that.  Would luck hold at Eide Road – well only a little as I did find some Blue Winged Teal but no shorebirds.

The previous blog recounts the trip to the Coast and the Pelagic Trip with a stop off at Capitol Forest where I had first of year Hermit Warbler, Pacific Slope Flycatcher and Sooty Grouse.  Those were both general birding experiences and logistical requirements to get to my intended total by year end.  At the end of that trip with the Camano birds, by the end of day on May 20, I now had 264 species for the year.  The chart looks different a couple of days later.  Might even be good for a Big Year try, but that was not the plan AND there were birds I had not tried for in the right season and would not likely to be added later anyhow.  There was still going to be a lot more work to do to even reach that 300 number.

Species in Washington as of May 20th
2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
251 286 290 278 264

Back to logistics.  I knew I had a big trip to Eastern Washington coming up in late June but that was not going to be enough to get to 300 even with good luck.  I was hoping to avoid a second pelagic trip in the Fall so I now needed to plan that Eastern Washington trip carefully, add a species or two here and there and combine a couple of chases and some good luck.  And another twist was that I was balancing a more substantial social and non-birding schedule than in previous years, so the challenge was to find ways to include some spots to visit that would “kill (see) two birds with one stone” for example.  A first opportunity to do that was the next week at the off leash area at Marymoor Park.  We took Bailey for a walk and found the Pectoral Sandpiper that had been located in the mud adjoining that area the day before and also had my first Willow Flycatcher of the year out amidst the dogs.  (I did not bring a camera and the phone proved incapable of a viable photo.)  Similarly the next day we chose to visit Paradise at Mount Rainier – great scenery, a picnic and yes a couple of new birds – Gray Jay and Clark’s Nutcracker – logistics!!

What next?  A chase of course – hoping for the Golden Plovers that had been seen at Eide Road.  Unfortunately chases are not as reliable as good logistics – no Golden Plover – but the bonus was that there were two Wilson’s Phalaropes and a fun photo op for a flock of Blue Winged Teal in flight.

Wilson’s Phalaropes

Wilson Phalaropes

Blue Winged Teal (6 of 18)

6 Blue Winged Tea

The total was growing but that is what has to happen in May – always the best month to add new species as migration brings in both migrants that continue on and those that will be breeding in Washington as well.  But there was now only one more day in May – time for a “logistical chase”.   The Newhalem Agg Ponds are a known spot for American Redstarts.  I was counting on seeing some at Calispell Lake in Pend Oreille County on my big Eastern Washington trip later, but a “bird in the hand is better than one in the bush” as it is said.  Steve Pink was interested in visiting that area so it would be fun and a great chance for me to visit places I usually do not and which Steve knows very well.

We had a great trip in beautiful weather.  First Steve took me to a new spot – the Whitehorse Trail where we found Red Eyed Vireos – another bird I could count on at Calispell Lake but my first in Snohomish County and my first in 2017.  Later we found numerous American Redstarts at the Agg Ponds and also had the bonus of a drumming Ruffed Grouse – a species that I could not count on later in the year so very much appreciated.  It was a new county bird for Steve in Whatcom County – important to him.

American Redstart

American Redstart

That was the last new bird for the month bringing me to 272 species for the year.  Again let’s look at the comparison with previous years.  I had added 40 species in the two weeks from May 17th.  On the surface it looks like another big year possibility, but I had made my target list for the rest of the year and getting to 300 seems pretty reasonable but even that is going to take work .

Species in Washington as of May 31st
2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
286 290 305 278 272

June has been far less productive than May every year but especially with a long Eastern Washington trip ahead, I am optimistic.  I have very specific stops planned along the way that should put me in good shape but some new shorebirds better show up and that second pelagic trip may be a necessary.  And of course I have not yet been to Neah Bay and that could make all the difference.

I have been out once in June – chasing a Scissor Tailed Flycatcher that was reported by a single observer on Umptanum Road – no luck on that one, but I did add five species – all ones that were planned for on my upcoming trip to Eastern Washington in late June.  The five were Least Flycatcher, Calliope Hummingbird, Lark Sparrow, Veery and Gray Catbird.  I was only able to get a decent photo of the Catbird, so when I see them again later, I will hope for those pictures.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

Now I am at 277 species.  How do I get to 300?  Logistics, chases and luck.  Here is how I see the breakdown (and I will report back in another blog later to see how it went in reality.)   10-12 new species in Eastern Washington trip that will include Calispell Lake, Spokane County, the Blue Mountains and the Cascades.  5 or 6 more shorebirds.  3-4 new species at Neah Bay.  5-10 miscellaneous.  And if need be another pelagic trip in the fall that should be good for another 5-6 species.  And then there are a lot of “ifs” – if there are surprises, if I go to Salmo Mountain, if I go the Okanogan and some species show up well (and early).  In a really good Big Year, you need all of these things to go well – the upper ranges of possibilities to be found, some unexpected rarities to show up, a second (or even a third pelagic trip) and all the “ifs” to happen.  Those seemingly small differences can add 30 or 40 or even 50 species.  Some others are doing Big Years this year – I wish them well.  I have a big trip coming up for Arizona and may do some more ABA area birding as I have some goals for the ABA area this year – but that will be another blog post – or two – later.