Ooh…A Quickie…300 Feels So Good…

At 6:40 P.M. tonight, Rick Tyler posted that he was looking at the Solitary Sandpiper that Houston Flores had reported earlier this afternoon at the retention ponds north of Perrigo Park in Redmond.  I had never even heard of Perrigo Park and was completely unfamiliar with the area (as soon became obvious).  What the heck, it was a beautiful night and Solitary Sandpiper was on my want list for the state this year.

By 7:25  p.m. I had pulled into the Park’s parking area and started looking for ponds.  I met some nice folks who had never seen any ponds.  I saw no ponds – not even any water.  Some really nice play fields though.  So I emailed Rick and asked him to call as I needed help.  If I had paid attention to Houston’s Tweeters post, I would have saved myself some trouble and looked north of the park as opposed to all through it and then to the south (the other north?).

Rick called and clarified the situation – the ponds are actually just north of 95th before you make the turn onto 196th to get to the Park itself.  I was now almost a mile away.  I jogged back to the car and drove to the right spot.  I quickly found the ponds and in the smaller pond, I quickly found the Solitary Sandpiper exactly where Rick had found it about two hours earlier.  The light was already dimming (what happened to that longest day on June 21st with sunlight past 10:00??!!) and I only had my point and shoot camera – but I got a fun photo.  No mistaking this identity.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

This was a new species in Washington state this year.  This meets another goal (admittedly arbitrary) for the year.  Goal 1 was 100 species in one day.  Goal 2 was my 200th County bird in Kittitas County.  Goal 3 was 300 species in the State of Washington for the year.  This Solitary Sandpiper is it.

I am one away from goal number 4 (hopefully to be written up later this year) and in 5 days I leave for Arizona where I hope to meet goals 5 and 6 and just possibly get within striking distance of goal 7.  Stay tuned.

Solitary Sandpiper – Another Photo

Solitary Sandpiper



Rule One takes Me Back to Neah Bay for a Horned Puffin

I got a message from my Canadian birding pal and info source extraordinaire Melissa Hafting, that a Horned Puffin had been reported from Smith Island in Puget Sound.  After numerous exchanges and some research it was determined that a single Horned Puffin had been seen by a research group surveying the Island’s Tufted Puffin population and that a primarily whale watching company out of Bellingham had trips scheduled to Smith Island on the following weekend.  I have seen Horned Puffins in Alaska and had organized a boat trip a few years ago to chase one that had been reported in the Sound.  That trip was unsuccessful so Horned Puffin remained as a coveted new State of Washington species.  The boat trip from Bellingham was long and was not focused on finding a Horned Puffin or any other birds.  There did not seem to be a high probability of success and I had other calendar obligations, so I decided to forego the attempt.

Horned Puffin – Off Adak Island Alaska – May 2016

Horned Puffin1

But Horned Puffins remained on my mind.  Then on the evening of July 19th, I got a Rare Bird Alert from Ebird of an observation by Jonathan Scordino: “(Horned) Puffin observed with rhinoceros auklets inside the outer breakwater at Neah Bay. There is a post (telephone pole size) sticking up out of an area with new rocks in jetty in general vicinity of puffin. Puffin had two dark points coming up above eye, white face, darker bill tip than rest of bill, and a black band around neck when observed in flight. My friend has photo on his phone that is suitable for identification and I can upload it when he sends it.”    As written in my earlier blog post, two special birds were cool coincidences (Red Necked Stint and White Winged Dove – at wordpress.com/post/blairbirding.wordpress.com/17102). Was this going to be great bird karma again?  One way to find out – follow Rule One and “Go Now”!

It was now after 10:00 P.M. so as close to “now” I could get would be to take the 6:20 Edmonds ferry the next morning and as I had done so often last year – get to Neah Bay.  I sent Steve Pink an email with the news of the Horned Puffin and told him my plans.  “Let me know if you want to go”.  I figured he was likely in bed which is where I was headed, but maybe he would rise early and see the message and at least have the chance to go.  But there was no return message in the morning, so I boarded the ferry alone and I was off.

It is about 130 miles to Neah Bay from Edmonds but time for the ferry and to navigate many twisting roads especially near the end makes it an almost three hour drive.  I was on the Boom Road – the long rock jetty/breakwater that protects the harbor by about 9:10.  I had hoped to see other birders – with the Horned Puffin already in their sights.  No such luck.  As it turns out and it would be thus the whole day – I was alone.  The weather was a bit overcast with rain threatening.  I looked for the “post/pole” mentioned in Jonathan Scordino’s report but could not find it.  I was at the end of the road and was not about to walk out on the jumbled boulders of the breakwater.  There were lots of birds out in the harbor.  Would my scope reveal one of them to be the prize?

The first birds seen were Scoters – both White Winged and Surf.  Then I found Rhinoceros Auklets – a couple closer in and then more and more and more further out.  In groups of 3 or 4 and in long rafts of as many as 50 birds, there were hundreds of them.  The harbor was relatively calm as the tide was coming in, but still with the distance and some chop, it made it hard to search through them for a Puffin.  But after maybe 15 minutes of scouring every group, there was one bird that was – different – a very distinctive white face and – YES – a very large parrot like colorful bill.  With the full magnification of my scope at 60x, I could conclude: “IT WAS HERE!!  This had to be the Horned Puffin.”  I watched it in the scope for many minutes and it would disappear and reappear as the raft reformed its order and when even a small ripple would bring the puffin behind a rise in the water and out of scope view.  It was frustrating but exhilarating as each subsequent view confirmed the identification.  Even with the power of the scope, it was not a great view, but I wanted to try for some kind of photo.

I abandoned the scope and raised my 100-400 mm lens.  Which raft was it again?  There were several.  In the dim light and at the distance and with the darkening effect of looking through the camera, I could not find the Puffin among the many Rhinos.  Back to the scope and as all of the rafts had moved, I repeated the search and it seemingly had disappeared.  This is when having other birders is especially helpful as many eyes are far more effective.  I kept looking and refound the raft with my white faced bird.  Again a move to the camera failed to work.  Maybe I was looking in the right spot, maybe not.  I had not just imagined it, but the birds were just too far out and seemingly getting further away.  It was now past 10:00 a.m. and I wondered if the show was over.  It started to rain and I retreated to my car.

My observations had all been on the harbor side, east of the jetty.  When the brief squall passed I returned to the road and I was hearing calls from the other side and now they got my attention.  Marbled Murrelets were seemingly in family groups and the young ones were calling for food.  They swam in closer and closer and I got nice photos – if only the Horned Puffin had been so close.

Marbled Murrelets

Marbled Murrelets

Marbled Murrelets2

I remained at my post and watched a Bald Eagle fly over, more Scoters, some Pigeon Guillemots, more Murrelets, and over and over scanned the many Rhinoceros Auklets hoping for another view of the Horned Puffin.  No luck.  At 11:15 I had been on watch for almost 2 hours.  Something needed to change.  It was getting close to high tide and maybe that would make a difference.  There is a Coast Guard station in Neah Bay.  A Coast Guard boat came into the harbor heading into the area where so many Rhinoceros Auklets continued.  They scattered.  Some flew north and east – out of or at least to the outer edge of the harbor.  Some others returned to the area they had just vacated and others flew closer towards me and the jetty.  As a small group landed maybe 100+ yards away, some white flashed in my binoculars.  I tried to get my scope on them but they were diving and bucking around in the chop.  I got a quick look at one with a white face and that parrot bill.  Finally the Horned Puffin was not buried in a large raft.  But it was still distant and hard to track.  Instead of using my “good camera and big lens”, I switched over to my “old camera”, the Canon SX that had stood me well for so long and which had a much greater magnifying power – if only I could find the bird in the chop.

I had it.  I lost it.  It bobbed up.  I had it.  It bobbed again and I lost it.  I took photos as quick and as best I could, but one of the big problems with this camera is that you cannot take photos in rapid succession. I would either get lucky or miss it entirely – and at best at this magnification, it was not going to be a clear picture.  But oh how I wanted one.  This continued for another 10 minutes or so and then this group of Rhinos and the Horned Puffin were gone.  I looked at my pictures and a couple looked “promising” but I would have to wait until I could get them onto the computer, use my pitiful Photoshop skills and – be lucky.  I watched for another 30 minutes – nothing.  I had good enough views to be sure of the ID and to “count” this new state species.  Maybe that would have to suffice.

I took a break and headed up the Wa’atch Valley and then up onto Bahokas Peak hoping for some Sooty Grouse.  It was very quiet – almost birdless.  Time to go home?  I had to try the jetty one more time.  On the way out there was a gathering of Bald Eagles, Northwestern Crows and some Turkey Vultures.  There must have been something in the rocks to scavenge.  The weather had changed and now there was good sun and the Eagles made for good photos.

Juvenile Bald Eagles

Juvenile Bald Eagle3  Juvenile Bald Eagle2

Back at the end of the jetty road, I returned to the scope.  Nothing was close and if anything, although the rafts of Rhinoceros Auklets continued, they were even further out.  In the middle of one, there was the barely discernible alcid with a white face – the Horned Puffin was still there now at after 1:00 P.M. but no more photo ops at that distance.  I left.

On the jetty I had wondered if a closer view might have been possible from some of the marina areas.  Behind the Warmhouse Restaurant I saw the dilapidated former dock that was now a bit scary to walk but I gave it a try.  There were lots of Pigeon Guillemots very close, a Purple Martin flew overhead, and I could still make out some Auklet rafts but they seemed to be moving out of the harbor.  What if I had started there earlier?  And I also noticed the “post/telephone pole in front of the new rocks at the jetty”.  Jonathan Scordino must have first discovered the Horned Puffin from this vantage point.  I took photos of the Guillemots and then called it a day – time for the long trip home – greatly pleased but worried about the photo.

Two men were bringing in a small fishing boat to a marina dock.  Would a boat trip get me close to the Horned Puffin (if we could find it at all)?  Could I convince them to try?  I will never know the answer to the first question as the amount of money required to interest them in taking me out was more than I was willing to risk.  So home it was.

Pigeon Guillemot

Pigeon Guillemot


I had posted my find on Tweeters and Ebird.  I advised Steve Pink and some others that the Horned Puffin was still present.  When I got home I went through all my photos and could only come up with one that was even ID quality – magnified almost beyond use.  I also put together an area map that showed where I had been, where I had seen the Horned Puffin and then the dilapidated dock behind the Warmhouse and the distant post/telephone pole.  I shared that with many others also.  In the following days MANY birders made the long trek to Neah Bay and also found the Horned Puffin. Carol Riddell figured out a way to rent a boat and it took her and several others out into the harbor for fantastic photos – wish I had figured that out.  After seeing her photos I was tempted to return but that rational thinking overcame that quickly.

The Map


As I wrote in a post last year Neah Bay is a gift that just keeps on giving.  Within less than one mile of the same jetty that had given me my Horned Puffin, I have also seen these amazing birds:  Dusky Capped Flycatcher, Brambling, Rustic Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Blue Gray Gnatcatcher,  Tropical Kingbird, Harris’s Sparrow, Clay Colored Sparrow, and Rose Breasted Grosbeak.  Charlie Wright found a Red Legged Kittiwake there (which three of us chased and missed the next day). Not much further away, I had seen Tufted Ducks, the famous Eurasian Hobby, my only Washington Cattle Egret, heard a Lucy’s Warbler, and saw a Hooded Warbler.  I have also missed a Dickcissel and a Prothonotary Warbler found by others in the same area.  Every one of these birds is a great species in Washington and most are extraordinary.

It’s a terrible photo – but it’s a Horned Puffin —– in WASHINGTON!!!



Two Coincidences and Sharing Four Great New Birds for the Year

I am going to try to mesh two different stories here and it might not work so well, but doing so at least makes sense to me.  On July 6, Barry Brugman posted a plea for ID help on Tweeters, our local birding listserv.  He had found a “different shorebird” at Canyon Park Wetlands and after checking his photos and various guidebooks concluded that it was a Baird’s Sandpiper – probably.  He asked for others to review the photos and share their thoughts.  At first I concurred as at least in one photo the wings seemed quite long and it appeared noticeably larger than the Least Sandpipers with which it was keeping company.  This was pretty early for a Baird’s Sandpiper but there are exceptions to most rules especially as to when a species might first appear in migration.

I communicated my feeling to Barry, and he replied that he had a number of other responses to the same effect.  I shared the photo with birding pal Steve Pink and Steve thought that the faint stripe over the eye and absence of buffy color suggested instead that the bird was more likely a Semipalmated Sandpiper.  I looked at some of Barry’s other photos and my various field guides and started leaning towards that conclusion as well.  The best way to find out I figured was to go to the Wetlands and see for myself.  Especially since I had not yet seen either a Semipalmated Sandpiper nor a Baird’s Sandpiper this year, it was a no-lose decision.

I arrived at Canyon Park early the next morning and found the small flock of shorebirds that included 7 Least Sandpipers and another that now looked much shorter winged and somewhat smaller than I had concluded from the earlier picture.  The dark legs, straight bill and overall color and pattern confirmed that it was indeed a Semipalmated Sandpiper.  Steve may not always be right – but he usually is.  Glad to have him as a resource.

Semipalmated Sandpiper – Canyon Park Wetlands, July 7, 2017

Baird’s Sandpiper for Comparison (Midway Beach August 20, 2015)

Baird's Sandpiper

I returned home, submitted my checklist with photos to Ebird, shared the info with Barry and Steve and then began work on a photo project organizing Washington bird photos in a Word document.  It was a laborious task as I had to select the best photo of each species and organize it in taxonomic order – no real way to short circuit the process.  Having almost 400 such species in my photos, it was going to take a long time – days.  I made progress and then put it away planning to return to the project the next morning.

And so I did.  By about 10:20, I had worked my way mostly through the shorebirds – the largest species group for me in Washington.  I had included my photos of Semipalmated and Baird’s Sandpipers as well as one that became very important – the Red Necked Stint that I had seen with George Pagos at Bottle Beach on July 22, 2013.  No more than three minutes after I had added the photo of the Stint and noted how poor it was, a message appeared on Tweeters from Ryan Merrill.  He and Adrian Lee were looking at a Red Necked Stint in breeding plumage at Crockett Lake on Whidbey Island.  It was barely 10:30 a.m.  I was sitting at the computer in my robe and had not yet showered,  I decided immediately that I had to follow Rule 1 for any chase: “Go Now!” – I advised Steve Pink of the find and he was an immediate co-conspirator.  He advised Ann Marie Wood and she was in also.  Not more than 30 minutes later – dressed and showered,  I had picked up Steve and got Ann Marie at the 128th Street Park and Ride and we were off.  It being a beautiful Saturday, we decided to take the longer route across the top of Whidbey Island and then down to Crockett Lake rather than risk a two hour wait at the much closer Mukilteo Ferry.

Red Necked Stint at Bottle Beach July 22, 2013

Red Necked Stint at Bottle Beach

The good news was that when we arrived at Crockett Lake – about 90 minutes later, and drove towards the Southeast end, we saw three birders standing at the lagoon’s edge with scopes out.  The bad news was that just as we arrived to join them (Ryan and Adrian and another), all of the shorebirds took off and flew away.  The Stint of course had been in the flock – had we really arrived two minutes too late??? Nope – Ryan found the bird about 125 yards away and we got scope views to at least confirm the ID for each of us – a new life bird for Ann Marie.  The even better news was that for the next 10 minutes, the Red Necked Stint worked its way back towards us and with the sun at our back, we had fantastic views and great photo ops.  At times the bird was less than 35 feet away.

The Stint is Out There Somewhere

Blair and RNST

Red Necked Stint – Crockett Lake – July 8, 2017 – a Much Improved Photo

Red Necked Stint 3


How great that Ryan and Adrian had found this very rare bird, that they had communicated its presence so quickly, that they remained at the spot and that the bird had remained for us as well!!  Over the next 90 minutes many other birders appeared on the site and got similarly terrific views.  Then just as another Edmonds birder, David Poortinga arrived, a Peregrine Falcon swooped over the water and scattered all of the shorebirds.  It had a pretty cool battle with a Northern Harrier which was fun to watch – but for the new arrivals, this was bad news.  Steve, Ann Marie and I left after another 10 minutes or so.  Later we learned that the Stint had returned to the same favored area and David got a great look at his life bird!

The coincidence was that I had just included that previous Red Necked Stint photograph in my project (now of course replaced with this far better one).  Interestingly though there were also many Semipalmated Sandpipers in the area and then the next day two Baird’s Sandpipers were found there as well.  Over the next several days, the Red Necked Stint remained in the same general area and was probably seen by more than 100 grateful birders including ones who flew in from Arizona and who knows where else just to see this Siberian species.

That was the first coincidence with two new birds for the year.  Another was coming soon.  It has been a great pleasure to get to know Bill and Deb Essman from Ellensburg/Kittitas.  We have shared great birding, fishing and jeeping times together.  On July 11, just a few days after the Stint trip, I was telling Deb about my Flammulated Owl experience near Liberty and she was telling me about a pair of Three Toed Woodpeckers they had discovered on Table Mountain.  Bill was also hankering for some fishing on the Yakima River so we agreed that I would come over and look for the Woodpecker and take Deb up to my Flammulated Owl spot (a life bird for her) and that Bill and I would go fishing the following day.  You ready for coincidence number 2?

Not more than 15 minutes after having worked out my visit to them, I got an Ebird alert that a White Winged Dove had been seen at a private residence in Selah, Washington – a bit more than an hour from where the Essmans live.  Some detective work determined that the Dove was coming to a feeder at the residence of Kevin Lucas – an excellent birder in the area and a birding acquaintance so I sent him an email inquiring about the possibility of a visit.  He very graciously responded with an invitation for the next morning.  Since I had plans to stay over for fishing, I could not drive anyone else, but I notified Steve and Ann Marie and they notified David.  I had seen (briefly and without any photo possibility) the White Winged Dove that had visited Butler’s Motel in Neah Bay, but it would be a new state bird for all of them – something hard to do for Steve.

I arrived at Kevin’s a bit after 8 on Wednesday the 11th.  His wife had seen the Dove earlier in the morning before she left but he had not seen it come down to the feeders yet – its normal activity.  About 15 minutes later, Steve, Ann Marie and David showed up.  We watched and waited and had a great visit with Kevin – marveling at his set up for taking photos and movies through his scope and also learning of his tracking activities including from a small plane.  But the Dove was a no-show.  Kevin took matters into his own hands and somehow managed to find the White Winged Dove perched in the close by large Sycamore tree – a favorite roost.  We all got good looks and decent photos – even with a branch partially in the way.  We also had a great look at a female Black Chinned Hummingbird that was almost too close to get in focus.

White Winged Dove

White Winged Dove1

Black Chinned Hummingbird Female

Black Chinned Hummingbird Female

A California Scrub Jay also made an appearance.  No longer rare in Yakima County, but not an everyday bird either.  Kevin made us all feel welcome and the White Winged Dove was a real treat.  I understand that many others have been to Kevin’s after us and the Dove put on a better show – but certainly we were thrilled with our views.  Depending on how a couple of “officially” non-countable birds are treated, this photo was species 400 in Washington.  But just to be “official” I am going to wait for one more to claim that distinction.  It is special for me in another way, though.  I am trying to get photos of every species I have seen in Washington.  Since some real rarities were seen many years ago before I began taking photographs, I don’t believe I will ever be able to reach that objective, but since this was one of those “seen but not photographed” birds on my list, I am getting closer.

So the White Winged Dove is the third great bird for this post.  It is also the second of the coincidences as well.  As I mentioned above, I first learned of the White Winged Dove observation barely 15 minutes after finalizing my plans to see the Essmans.  The coincidence is that Deb Essman had a White Winged Dove in her yard – and took a photo of it in June 2002.  There had been a couple of earlier historical records of White Winged Dove in Washington and a few more after that but having set the trip to come to the area and visit Deb moments before seeing the Ebird post for Kevin’s White Winged Dove certainly made an impression on me – another coincidence.

The fourth great bird also involves the Essmans as I followed their excellent directions to a spot far up Reecer Creek Road to the huge burn area on Table Mountain and hiked out on a jeep trail to look for their American Three Toed Woodpeckers.  The area is spectacular.  It is high above the Ellensburg valley at an elevation that Bill said is over 6000 feet.  Incredible views and beautiful flowers and scenery.  The fire burned many thousands of acres and the burned timber is a stark reminder of the danger and destruction from our too common wild fires.  But even the burned trees have their own silent beauty and there are already signs of rebirth as some young trees are emerging.

I did not find the pair of Three Toed Woodpeckers that joined the Essmans on their picnic lunch, but in the exact area that had been described to me, I found a single American Three Toed Woodpecker drumming in its unique patterned way in a grove of trees that had been spared by the fires.  It was my first record of this species for Kittitas County and my first for this year – number 298 in Washington.  So in this single day, I got much closer to two of my goals for the year – 300 species in Washington (for the year) and 400 species photographed in the state (lifetime).

American Three Toed Woodpecker – (Earlier Photo)

American Three Toed WP

But this already long day was not over.  At 8:30 p.m. I met Deb Essman and her friend Lana in the town of Liberty to try for night birds, especially a Flammulated Owl.  Per my previous blog post, I had located a Flamm here the previous week and came as close as I ever had to getting a photograph before two jeeps roared down the road and I had to move my car and myself and the owl that had been oh so close was afterwards oh so gone.  It had seemed to really like the spot and I was hoping that we would find it there again.

As I had done the previous week we drove to the top of the road and waited as the skies darkened.  It was after 9:30 when we heard our first Common Nighthawk and then got a visual as it flew over.  It was particularly fun to hear it “booming” several times.  Perhaps thirty minutes later I heard a distant Common Poorwill and then we all briefly heard what was probably the single hoot of a Flammulated Owl, but it would not respond or repeat so we dismissed it and moved on.  Slowly we worked our way down towards the spot where I had the interaction with the Flammulated Owl the previous week.  We heard more Nighthawks and then at least two more Poorwills, one of which called incessantly.  We arrived near “the spot” and parked – out of the way this time – and listened.  We were just above where I had the owl and there were two sharp calls from below – at the spot itself.  They were the alarm calls of a Flammulated Owl – almost cat-like.  We moved down the road and then began to hear first the single hoot and then the double hoot call of the Flamm.  There was no mistaking it.  We sparingly used playback and got calls in response but on this night the Flamm was just not going to move.  We remained another half hour and the little owl tooted intermittently and a Poorwill called continuously.  No photo tonight, but this was a life bird for Deb and Lana.  Very cool indeed.

When I saw Bill the next morning (not a whole lot of sleep for me after the owling and return to my motel) I asked if his wife had told him of her owl.  “She woke me up and was still high from the experience”.  Big smile on my face – that’s what it is all about.  Ryan had shared “his” Red Necked Stint.  Kevin had shared “his” White Winged Dove and the Essmans had shared “their” American Three Toed Woodpeckers.  Now I had somewhat returned the favor by sharing “my” Flammulated Owl.  Those possessives are only indicators of the observers who found the birds – there is no ownership.  I understand that in some birding communities, people do not share their experiences – keeping them for their own competitive reasons.  How sad and how wonderful that such is not the case here (again thank you Ryan, Kevin and Deb) – or at least usually so (and if someone reading this understands what I mean …well shame on you…)

Pend Oreille County and Hafer Road

For each of the last 6 years, I have made an annual pilgrimage to Pend Oreille County which has become not only a reliable spot for some special species but also just a favorite beautiful place in Washington.  The special birds are Bobolink, American Redstart, Red Eyed Vireo, Black Chinned Hummingbird and Northern Waterthrush.  All can be found elsewhere, but being able to reliably see all of them within a few miles of each other is a lister’s dream and a major reason for the trip.

These are great places to go in late May through late June for the shear diversity of species, the specialties and the beautiful scenery.  My visits have ranged from fantastic to fantastic plus plus plus.  The first visit was on June 9, 2012 on a WOS (Washington Ornithological Society) Trip led by Terry Little.  Terry knows every birdy spot in the county and he took us to all of them.  We had an amazing 114 species in our 10 hours of birding covering 100 miles.

The next year on June 5, 2013 George Pagos and I visited the area concentrating around Calispell Lake with Jon Isacoff – another expert who knows every spot and every bird.  In just 3 hours, we had 76 species on a gorgeous day.  The following year on June 18, I visited it alone and in 2015, Brian Pendleton and I visited the area on June 3rd.  Last year was another solo trip on June 16.  The weather was not as good and the species count was smaller, but the specialty birds cooperated.

This year my visit came later – July 1st – so I wasn’t sure if the birds would still be there or found as easily as some would be finished breeding and there would be less territoriality and accompanying singing.  My first stop was on McKenzie Road in Usk where the uncut high grass is home to a small population of Bobolinks.  I had barely reached the first field when I heard the Bobolink’s whistling, warbling, gurgling song.  One perched in the open for a so-so photo.  I continued around the bend in the road to Cusick where a Bobolink was much more photogenic.



I then went south to Westside Calispell Road birding in general but specifically looking for some of the specialties.  I had seen American Redstarts and Red Eyed Vireos earlier this year so even though I saw and heard both, I did not work hard for photos.  Although there were many species of birds along my route perhaps due to the late date, they did not seem as active and responsive as in earlier visits.  Red Eyed Vireos were in the same tree I had them on a previous visit but even though they would sing, they remained high up in the foliage.  The same was true with the American Redstarts in another specific spot where I had them last year.  The Northern Waterthrushes at the Bridge were also actively singing but they darted about in the open for brief seconds only – disappointing for photos – okay for listing.  I include pictures of those species from previous visits and another blog post.

Red Eyed Vireo

Red Eyed Vireo

American Redstart

American Redstart Singing - Copy

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Before getting to the Waterthrush bridge, I stopped at a small house with a hummingbird feeder that I had first seen on an earlier trip.  At least one male and one female Black Chinned Hummingbird were visiting.  It was private property so I did not go real close but I did get some OK shots.  As I was taking pictures a young man came out of a small house across the street and approached.  It is always potentially uncomfortable when taking photos near private homes, but this turned out to be fun.  He was the great grandson of the owner of the house with the feeder and many other relatives lived on adjoining properties – the original family homestead from early in the last century.

Black Chinned Hummingbird Male

Black Chinned Hummingbird

Black Chinned Hummingbird Female

Black Chinned Hummingbird Female

Not as many species as on earlier visits – largely because I had a long way still to go for other areas and was not real thorough but also because there just were not as many waterfowl as before and particularly there were not any Black Terns – a species I had missed the day before and hoped to have found at Calispell Lake.

Once during each of the last three years, I have stopped at Hafer Road in Stevens County on the way to Pend Oreille.  It is less than a mile long but it has proven to be one of the birdiest stretches of road for me – a must visit each year.  This was the case this year as well, even though I am writing out of order and covering it later.  In the past two years, in addition to just great birding in general, targeted species on Hafer Road have been Clay Colored Sparrow and Least Flycatcher.  Earlier reports this year had observations of the former but not the latter.  Fortunately I had seen Least Flycatchers in several places but the previous day I had failed to find a Clay Colored Sparrow on Stroup Road near Medical Lake where I have had them the last two years so this was a much wanted bird here.  There was concern however, because on the previous day a group of very good birders from the Tacoma area had visited Hafer Road and failed to find any Clay Colored Sparrows.  Uh-oh.

I had spent the night in North Spokane so I was less than an hour from Hafer Road.  An early start got me to the turn off onto the road at 5:30 a.m.  I immediately went to the grassy uphill field where I had Clay Colored Sparrows the past two years – no go.  But there was a second weedy field just a bit downhill and when I got there I immediately heard the buzzy song of the Clay Colored Sparrow – success!!  The sun was not high enough for good light on the field and the sparrows were not real close. They responded to playback but unlike in other years, they would not come close in for a visit and photo.  I was sure there were two birds and thought there might be some juveniles as well, but I could not get a good enough look for that ID.  (Photo from another visit.)

Clay Colored Sparrow (Hafer Road 2015)

Clay Colored Sparrow

Overall I spent about 90 minutes on this little stretch of road.  I had 42 species there including both Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Bank Swallows, a Sora (calling from the wetland below), a Black Chinned Hummingbird, Bullock’s Oriole, Say’s Phoebe, and a flock of 17 Wild Turkeys among others.  In the past three years, all told I have had 66 species here – an amazing spot.

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird1a

Wild Turkeys

WIld Turkeys

California Quail

California Quail

A nice add on to this day was that Bruce Labar noted that I had reported Clay Colored Sparrows – which the group he was with had missed the day before.  I gave Bruce the specific location but told him that while they had been singing when I arrived at 5:30 a.m., they had stopped by 6:00.  I don’t know what time they revisited the spot the following morning, but they found 5 Clay Colored Sparrows there just where they were supposed to be – a life bird for some in the group.  Hafer Road had delivered yet again.

Afterwards I went to Pend Oreille County as described above and then returned to the Spokane area including another try for Black Terns – this time at the southwest end of Sprague Lake.  They were distant (except for one) and I did not have a scope, but I did find four – my only ones for 2017.  I ended that night doing a feeder watch with Jim Acton hoping that the male Rose Breasted Grosbeak that had been coming each day would return.  It did not that evening although it did the next two mornings (rats!!!) but Jim is a terrific birder with great stories about a lot of rarities he has seen over his many years of birding.  It was still a lot of fun.

Here are the birds seen at Hafer Road the past three years.

Hafer Road Birds 2015-17
American Coot Cinnamon Teal MacGillivray’s Warbler Song Sparrow
American Goldfinch Clay-colored Sparrow Mallard Sora
American Kestrel Common Raven Merlin Spotted Towhee
American Robin Common Yellowthroat Mourning Dove Tree Swallow
American Wigeon Eastern Kingbird Northern Flicker Turkey Vulture
Barn Swallow Eurasian Collared-Dove Northern Rough-winged Swallow Vesper Sparrow
Black-billed Magpie European Starling Pied-billed Grebe Violet-green Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee Fox Sparrow Pygmy Nuthatch Western Kingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird Gadwall Red Crossbill Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak Gray Catbird Red-breasted Nuthatch Western Wood-Pewee
Brown-headed Cowbird Great Blue Heron Red-tailed Hawk Wild Turkey
Bullock’s Oriole House Finch Red-winged Blackbird Willow Flycatcher
California Quail House Sparrow Ring-necked Duck Wilson’s Phalarope
Calliope Hummingbird House Wren Ruddy Duck Wilson’s Snipe
Canada Goose Killdeer Savannah Sparrow Yellow Warbler
Cedar Waxwing Lazuli Bunting Say’s Phoebe Yellow-headed Blackbird
Chipping Sparrow Least Flycatcher    

One Very Good Day – Three Mini-Posts

July 2, 2017 – This was a VERY GOOD DAY!!  The day before I had been birding in Pend Oreille, Lincoln and Spokane Counties and another blog post will share some of that experience – also a good day – but not as good as this one.  A prelude and then three separate fun experiences – each deserving of its own post – but each is pretty short so I am doing three mini-posts as part of this one.  But first – the prelude.

Prelude – A Night Bird in the Daytime

I had spent the night in Ritzville and for the first time in a while, I delayed departure in the morning until after the breakfast that was included in the rate.  I was heading to the Blue Mountains east of Walla Walla and would have preferred to get there not long after dawn, but I was already tired from too many miles.  Fortunately breakfast was available early and I was on the road by just after 6:15 a.m.  This brought me into Washtuchna just before 7:00 a.m.  A remote spot for sure, it has been a great place for rarities in migration.  Too late (or early) in the year for that now, but a fun surprise was waiting for me.  It was already 68 degrees in perfect cloudless sunshine.  As I drove through town a medium sized bird with long pointed wings flashed in front of me.  My first thought of American Kestrel was quickly replaced with a most positive identification of a Common Nighthawk when it banked right in front of me and the two white wrist bars flashed in the sunlight.

I pulled over, got out of the car and got my best photos ever of a Common Nighthawk in flight including the only one I have showing the tail splayed out showing the black and white terminal bands. I had seen them in the daytime before – but never this early in the morning.  It  sure seemed like a good omen for a great day.  Definitely a great prelude!

Common Nighthawk – Flight Shots

Common Nighthawk Flight1 - Copy  Common Nighthawk Flight - Copy

Common Nighthawk Flight2 - Copy

PART I – “When You Come to a Fork in the Road – Take It…”

This famous statement is generally attributed to Lawrence Peter Berra – better know as Yogi Berra.  He said he used it in giving Joe Garagiola directions to his home.  I decided to take this advice when I came to the end of Coppei Road just south of Waitsburg, WA.  The fork I chose was the North Fork Coppei Creek Road instead of the South Fork.  I had birded both in the past but my primary target this morning was a Green Tailed Towhee and I had seen them on this road before, so the choice was clear.  It is easiest to find this secretive bird earlier in the year when it is singing which it is not supposed to be doing now.  But its preferred habitat of a brushy slope with a rose like bush is a good place to start and I went to the exact spot where I had seen one before and immediately heard the Towhee’s buzzy trill and there went that supposition.  I tried some playback to see if I could get the bird to come into the open and closer to the road.  A second bird responded and the two continued to sing.  One flew from one buried hiding spot to another giving me a quick view, but that was going to be it.  I was still a very happy birder as it was not a given that a Green Tailed Towhee would be found.

Green Tailed Towhee (same area in 2015)

Green Tailed Towhee Singing

This was a great start.  Would my good fortune continue and another special bird of the area be found?  That would be the Great Gray Owl – now dispersed from its nesting sites so not likely but I had to continue the route and try.  No Great Gray Owl but I did have a “great owl” experience.  Birders often use the call of the Northern Pygmy Owl to bring in other species  – small birds that seek to mob the little owl – a united line of defense and a communication to all around that this little predator is in the neighborhood.  I had been seeing or hearing lots of birds as I continued up the North Fork Road.  I found a good spot that was full of bird song and pulled over.  Time to try the Pygmy Owl trick.  WOW!!  Birds responded immediately and more and more kept coming in.

It was an absolute riot – by far more individual birds and more species than I have ever had respond before – to wit:  8 Black Capped Chickadees, 2 Calliope Hummingbirds, 1 American Robin, 2 Cassin’s Vireos, 2 Western Tanagers, 2 Cassin’s Finches, 3 Chipping Sparrows, 2 Red Breasted Nuthatches, 1 Dark Eyed Junco, 2 Golden Crowned Kinglets and 2 Yellow Rumped Warblers.

Nine of the Eleven Species that Responded at Once to Northern Pygmy Owl Call

Chipping Sparrow  Calliope Hummingbird

Black Capped Chickadee Golden Crowned Kinglet

IMG_1231 Yellow Rumped Warbler

Red Breasted Nuthatch Cassin's Vireo1

Dark Eyed Junco

In its own way it was one of the most fun and enjoyable experiences I have had birding – 11 species and at least 27 individuals.  (Of course I would have traded them all for a single Great Gray Owl.)  I continued to bird in the area for a while and then it was time to move on – and that leads to Part II.

PART II – Around and Around and Around We Go…

Leaving the Blue Mountains I continued on past Walla Walla on Highway 12 and turned north on Nine Mile Road hoping to find a Ferruginous Hawk.  I have seen them on a nest on this road in the past and they had been reported there on Ebird.  When I got to the nest site, no hawks were in sight.  I did see several Lark Sparrows in addition to many dozens of Horned Larks (and some other sparrows) and my photo of the Lark Sparrow was my first for the year.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow 1

I had a vague memory of another possible nest site further up the road and headed in that direction.  This is a very dusty gravel road, remote and rarely traveled.  So I was surprised when I saw another car approaching with a trail of dust behind me.  This same type of thing will play out in Part III of this post later – with a far different result.

The driver was a birder, an excellent one – Matt Bartels.  It was not the first time that I have met up with him unexpectedly in the field.  I drive insane amounts during the year in my birding pursuits.  What is a number that is “insane times two”?  That is probably how many miles Matt drives each year on his County Listing pursuits.  And now we were about to add some more miles together as he had “definite” info on another nest site – which he said was a little further up the road.  Since my info was a vague memory and his was specific, I deferred and followed him – getting buried in dust.  This is only the short hand version but we continued up Nine Mile Road for more miles than I thought were to be traveled.  Two large birds flew up out of the grass and at first I thought Ferruginous Hawk, but instead we had two juvenile Great Horned Owls – siblings sticking together.

Great Horned Owl


We stopped and checked directions on Matt’s computer.  “This way”, he said “and I guaranty we will find them”.   So we thought we had crossed Johnson Road but somehow turned onto it and then onto Touchet North Road thinking it was Dodd Road.  But it wasn’t.  So we stopped again and at the next intersection, this time we did go onto Dodd Road – except this time it was actually Sims Road.  After a while, I thought something was off, so we checked again and made the correction, retraced steps and this time really were headed to Dodd Road via Gluck Road.  Again Matt said, the nest tree was at Gluck Road and Britton Road “and I guaranty we will find them”.  Plucker Road did lead us to Gluck Road – and an intersection with Britton Road – but being completely disoriented – which way to turn?  We decided to try left and again Matt gave the guaranty – this time for MANY Ferruginous Hawks.  By the way, we had seen NO trees anywhere along the way.  We had seen some nice Swainson’s Hawks on some power poles as we had approached Britton Road and then not too far off, we saw some trees – it HAD to be the place – and thankfully it was.  A single bird was perched and it was our targeted Ferruginous Hawk – then another hawk flew over and relatively close – and a few minutes later a third one flew by – much lighter than the first two – although all were the light morph forms.  When Matt guarantees something – you can count on it – well usually – and also usually on a more direct path.

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk Perched

Ferruginous Hawk Perched

Ferruginous Hawks in Flight

Ferruginous Hawk 1 - Copy

Ferruginous Hawk Lighter - Copy

I promised Matt I would tell the story in the blog and now I have – and it was great to see Matt and the hawks were certainly there – and it was Washington species number 294 for the year – so definitely ok to see miles and miles (and extra miles) of wheat fields and gravel roads.  As I said in the beginning, this was a very good day.

Part III – “Close, Oh So Close”

The plan now was to bird some more spots in the area and then head north.  I had to be in Leavenworth the next morning so I thought I would stay in Cle Elum and bird the Liberty area that night looking for owls and woodpeckers.  I added some new birds for the trip but nothing unexpected or exciting and reached Cle Elum around 6 to check into the motel (getting the last room available) and then eat some fast food.  I have had good luck and good birds in the Liberty area but was particularly now interested in a Flammulated Owl – maybe even a photo op.

Flam’s would not be possible until it was dark so for the first two hours, I drove the main road through and then up from the town of Liberty – more dust for the car.  A White Crowned Sparrow was my first for the trip and there were many Chipping Sparrows and Swainson’s Thrushes.  Not too far from the town I heard a Great Horned Owl hooting.  Tanagers, Vireos and a number of Warblers were heard or seen. Pewees and other flycatchers were also found including one with a very long tail continually flicking its tail up.  Not a good look in the failing light and no calls so I am not going to attempt an ID.  I heard and then saw a couple of Townsend’s Warblers – again new for the trip.  Around 9:30 I heard my first “night bird” – a Common Poorwill in the distance.  A little later I heard the “peent call” of a Common Nighthawk and then another Poorwill.  I began playing the two-toot call of a Flammulated Owl as much to remind myself as to attract an owl.  No response but about 15 minutes later, with the memory of the call fresh, I was pretty sure I heard one off in the distance.  It was getting dark and it was time to get serious.

My approach is to stop every 1/2 mile and listen and play the call.  If no response I move on for anther 1/2 mile and try again.  As I approached the 4th stop (coming down) I heard a Poorwill and stopped in the middle of the road.  There had been no cars seen in the previous 2 hours and pull-offs were hard to come by, so I did not think much of it.  With the Poorwill still calling in the distance I heard an unmistakable two note call of a Flammulated Owl.  Not real close – but not real far either.  I started calling and it kept calling as well.  Without me seeing it in flight, the call that had been on the left side of the road (downhill side) stopped and then started up again on the right side – uphill – a little closer.  Then it was on the downhill side again – and closer still.  This continued for 20 minutes and now it was definitely very close.  Using my spotlight, I scanned the two close trees on the downhill side that were right next to the road and I was sure I was going to find the owl and I had my camera ready.  It was the closest I had ever been and this owl was the most responsive I had ever had.  I have wanted this photo for SOOOOO LONG.  And then…

Just as earlier when I saw a car coming up on me in the remote area when I was looking for the Ferruginous Hawk, in the distance I saw the lights of a car coming down the road toward me.  It was maybe 1/2 mile off but there was going to be no way for it to get by without me moving my car.  I could take a chance and hope it was a birder who would stop (if only it was Matt again!!!) and continue to try for the owl.  But it could just as easily be some crazy roaring down the road and I could be in danger.  I flashed my spotlight to warn the oncoming vehicle and then decided I  had to move my car.  I found a spot to just barely pull over enough for another car to come by.  It was maybe 30 yards down the road.  The other car came roaring by – slowing a little but definitely not a birder.  Then a second vehicle came.  Maybe three minutes had passed since I was within moments of getting that prized look and photo.  And the owl was still calling – but it was now way down the valley.  I tried playback again.  Now there was no movement.  I repeated and repeated again – nothing.  I waited five minutes – still nothing.  I was left to wonder what would have happened if I had been off the road, or if there had been no other car, or if it had come 30 minutes later.  I will never know.  I could either cry or laugh.  I decided to laugh – close, oh so close would have to do.  I will be back and will try again.

Flammulated Owl – Sadly Not my Photo


It had been a very long and a very good day.  Saying it again – great places, great birds, great people – got them all and a couple of good stories as well.  Sign me up for more.

And an added note:  earlier I heard another series of hoots that I am sure was an owl.  It was closer to Liberty than the top of the road.  I could not make a positive ID but it was more similar to Spotted Owl than anything else.  There are Spotted Owls in the area.  I had found one at a “secret spot” in the area in 2013.  Maybe it was – maybe it wasn’t.  Certainly not going to report it or count it.  But when I go back – I will keep listening.