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    

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