Finishing April in Washington

After Texas and before heading off to Massachusetts, I wanted to catch up on some birding in Washington – a little ahead of the busy month of May but able to watch some early migration and chase after some rarities close to home.  My first foray was back to some favored places in Kittitas County and beyond with Frank Caruso and for some of the time with Deb Essman.  Before joining Deb, Frank and I picked up Rufous Hummingbirds at the Hyak feeders on Snoqualmie Pass and then found some First of Year birds (FOY’s) at Bullfrog Pond including Red Naped Sapsucker and Cassin’s Finch.

After checking in on the Great Horned Owl that was nesting across from Deb’s House and finding two fluffy owlets, Deb joined us and we first visited a known nesting site for Bank Swallows and even though it was quite early, we found 5 Swallows flying about – no nests yet.  We doubled checked to see the dark chest bands to be sure they were not Northern Rough Winged Swallows.  Frank and I had not yet seen any Swainson’s Hawks and that was our next “find”.

Great Horned Owl with Owlets

Great Horned Owl and Owlets


Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk Flight

We did not find much in the Whiskey Dick area above the corrals off Vantage Road but did have a quick look at a FOY Brewer’s Sparrow and Sagebrush Sparrows as we had had there earlier this year.  Just as we were leaving two Prairie Falcons flew over.  We also heard Sandhill Cranes somewhere off in the distance.  Not much at Recreation Road either – Rock Wren only and no Canyon Wrens.  Frank and I continued on to Frenchman’s Coulee after Deb had to leave and found our FOY White Throated Swifts.  I did not even attempt a photo of these ultra-fast fliers.  We then went Southeast to the County Line Ponds on Highway 26 and picked up FOY American Avocets and Black Necked Stilts.

Black Necked Stilts

Black Necked Stilts

We had been looking for a Loggerhead Shrike all day without success.  Somehow even zooming along at 60 MPH, we finally saw one on a post and a quick U-turn got a photo.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

One last stop on the long way home resulted in a very fun time with the American Dipper nest under the Teanaway River Bridge.  We watched in fascination as first one parent and then the other would catch food in the river, pause briefly at a riverside rock near the bridge and then fly up and deliver the food to the two babies.  It was non-stop for the whole time we were there.

American Dipper with Food Ready to Go and then Delivery to the Babies at Nest

Dipper1  Dipper at Nest

A couple of days later, I made a quick visit to Yost Park and with Frank had our FOY Black Throated Gray Warblers.  Too high up and uncooperative for photos, but I am sure I will get some later.  I tried several places looking for newly arrived migrants like Wilson’s or Yellow Warblers without success.  At Wylie Slough where I had Yellow Warblers at this time in year’s past, I did find my FOY Lesser Yellowlegs for Washington. On the way home, I stopped at Maxine Reid’s place on Tulalip Bay and got a distant view of a couple of Purple Martins coming to her gourds.  Maxine had shared that they had arrived a couple of days earlier. With the exception of the Dippers, I had seen all of these birds in Texas two weeks earlier – that’s how migration works.

On April 24th, the ABC Club in Tacoma was having a program that I wanted to attend as much to see friends there as to see the program.  As a good way to avoid traffic on the trip down, I decided to chase some of the new birds that had been reported there in the previous few days at places I had not visited before as my Pierce County birding had been very limited.  My first stop was the Puyallup Fish Hatchery.  I was hoping to see a Wilson’s Warbler as one had been seen two days earlier and also figured it a good spot for a Yellow Warbler or other migrant.  I batted only .500 as I found a Wilson’s but not a Yellow.  Still a fun place and I expect it can be very productive.

My next stop was Chambers Lake – another new spot.  I almost blew it.  My GPS took me to the location which turned out to be on the Joint Base Lewis McChord property.  I knew you need a pass to be on the property but I thought I would run into a gate that would either deny me access or would allow me to get a pass.  No gates were encountered so I kept on going and made it to the Lake where I got my FOY Chipping Sparrow.  I later learned from Bruce LaBar that I still needed a pass and might have been in trouble if patrols had come around.  I need to attend to that detail for any future visits.

One last stop was the Mountain View Cemetery where Bruce and Ed Pullen had reported a House Wren.  Even though Bruce provided excellent directions, I couldn’t match landmarks and was uncertain if I was in the right location.  Slowly it started looking familiar as I realized I had been to the same location three years earlier also looking for a House Wren.  I had found it then and finally found it again this day – another Washington FOY that I had seen earlier in Texas.

The program was Dave Slager talking mostly about Crows and the question of whether there really is such a thing as a Northwestern Crow as a separate species.  It was fascinating to learn of the work that has gone into the examination of this question and the question of speciation in general.   For the time being the two species both exist but I think the clock is ticking and a determination will be made to lump them into a single species.  Much better than the program was a very fun dinner with Bruce and Ed beforehand.  Outstanding birders and outstanding people – they make it fun to be part of the community.

The next day I made a quick visit to Homeacres Road in Snohomish County for a quite rare Black Necked Stilt that had been found by David Poortinga and was then relocated by a number of local birders.  A distant view only, but a new bird for the County.  I later stopped at Pine Ridge Park hoping to find some FOY Pacific Slope Flycatchers that Frank had seen earlier that day.  I found a couple of Pac Slopes but the real prize was the friendliest Pileated Woodpecker I have ever seen.  It flew onto a log on the ground literally five feet from me.  It paid me no attention as it drilled on that log and then on some low trees nearby.  VERY photo friendly.  I could choose any of a dozen good photos but will go with this one.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated head

I wanted to do one more long foray into Eastern Washington before heading off to Boston.  Ann Marie Wood and Steve Pink were game and we left very early – revisiting some of the territory Frank and I had covered the previous week but adding Para Ponds and a Burrowing Owl site on Lemaster Road following in part the success of an Audubon trip the previous weekend.  In beautiful weather with no wind we had a wonderful long trip to Kittitas, Grant and Adams Counties today.

We started with 20 plus Rufous Hummingbirds at the Hyak feeders.  Our next stop was at Bullfrog Pond where highlights were Red Naped Sapsucker, Western Bluebird, Chipping Sparrow, Mountain Chickadee and a probable Warbling Vireo.
At the Railroad Ponds in South Cle Elum, we had a gorgeous male Rufous Hummingbird posing for us, numerous Pygmy Nuthatches and three FOY Nashville Warblers.  I had hoped for a Nashville but they had just begun to appear in Washington so were definitely not expected.
Chipping Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird1
Pygmy Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
On our way to the County Line ponds on Highway 26, we had several Western Kingbirds.  This species had just begun showing up in Washington and like the Nashville Warbler, it was on our “hoped for but not expected” list for the trip.  At the County Line Ponds we had Black Necked Stilts and American Avocets plus some Least Sandpipers and 5 duck species.
Western Kingbird
Western Kingbird1
American Avocet
American Avocet1
After more Western Kingbirds, we made it to Para Ponds starting with 200 Cliff Swallows at nests.  We had four species of Blackbirds including outstanding looks at a dozen plus Tricolored Blackbirds and 20 plus Yellow Headed Blackbirds.  These two species actually outnumbered the Red Winged and Brewers Blackbirds – something that never happens.  We also had lots of Ruddy Ducks, 4 Cinnamon Teal and 2 Redheads, plus White Pelicans and Great Egrets. Also 2 Virginia Rails, and more Black Necked Stilts and Avocets.  We all agreed that this was our best experience ever at this sometimes hot and sometimes not location.  The views of the Tricolored Blackbirds were perhaps our best ever and it was my best photo of one.
Cliff Swallows at Nest
Cliff Swallows at Nests
Yellow Headed Blackbird
Yellow Headed Blackbird Yellow Headed Blackbird Flight1
Tricolored Blackbird FOY
Tricolored Blackbird
In Washington, the Tricolored Blackbird with its dull red and white shoulder epaulets compared to the yellow and larger and brighter red ones on the Red Winged Blackbird are found only in a few places and are often missed.  Para Ponds is maybe the most reliable spot to find them but are missed there as well.  Another good field mark compared to the ubiquitous Red Winged Blackbird is the thinner bill.
Red Winged Blackbird for Comparison
Red Winged Blackbird
It was then on to Lemaster Road where we had some Horned Larks and thanks to Steve’s good eyes, we quickly found a Burrowing Owl at its burrow surprisingly close to the road.  These owls have nested in this area for many years now but can be difficult to find.  Often they are in their burrows and are invisible on the surface.  If you know the exact location of the burrow this becomes a waiting game, but they change their burrows and it was at a different spot than last year.   We were lucky to have the owl outside when we arrived.  This was a First of Year for me as I had missed one in Benton County during my January Big Month.
Burrowing Owl at Burrow FOY
Burrowing Owl
We were in great spirits after our good birds at every location and particularly after such great views of our two most important targets for the trip – the Tricolored Blackbirds and the Burrowing Owl.  We decided to head back via Lower Crab Creek Road – a long dirt road that parallels Highway 26 and goes through beautiful country with some ponds, lots of sage and rocky cliffs.  Notable observations included numerous Loggerhead Shrikes, dozens of White Crowned Sparrows, and several Swainson’s Hawks.  But the highlight was when we flushed two Gray Partridge and a Chukar.  Unfortunately the Partridge disappeared but the Chukar posed in full magnificence.  I had seen and photographed both species in the Okanogan in January but they are always a treat and they were new year birds for Ann Marie and Steve.
 Chukar2 Chukar1
As I had with Frank, we then made a stop at Frenchman’s Coulee where we found 10 plus White Throated Swifts, a Rock Wren and many Cliff and Violet Green Swallows.  This time I was able to get a photo of the difficult to catch White Throated Swift.  They are in Washington (Eastern) only in the breeding season and purportedly reach over 100 mph in level flight.
White Throated Swift
White Throated Swift1
On the way back, I called Deb Essman to see if she had any information on Long Billed Curlews,  the only target we had missed on our trip.  She had no up to date info but earlier in the day she had found some Least Sandpipers in a small pool of water at the same place we had the Bank Swallows last week.  Shorebirds are extremely hard to come by in Kittitas County so of course we went and we easily found a Cinnamon Teal and 3 Least Sandpipers – a Code 4 species in Kittitas County.  It was a new County bird for all of us.
Least Sandpiper – Code 4 for Kittitas County
Least Sandpiper Kittitas3
We continued west along Highway 10 and found a small pond with Wood Ducks, a Sora and possibly either Nashville or MacGillivray Warblers (too distant to tell).  A quick view of an American Dipper at the Teanaway Bridge ended our day.  All told we had about ninety species and had a great time finding all our main targets except that Long Billed Curlew but compensating with some surprises.  Migration is definitely starting.
I made a last quick trip today before I depart tomorrow.  I needed to be in the University District so I swung by the Union Bay Natural Area and quickly found a pair of  Blue Winged Teal (FOY in Washington) at Shoveler’s Pond.  It was an overcast day and the sky was full of Swallows – mostly Tree, but there were also many Barn Swallows and some Violet Green Swallows.  High in the sky there were also at least a few Vaux’s Swift (FOY in Washington) probably many more.
Birding in Washington is done for the month. Mostly as a result of that Big Month in January I have seen a lot of birds in the State – 261 species so far even though except for January, my goals have primarily involved ABA birds.  I wondered how that compared to observations in years past.  I won’t be back in Washington until May 3, so I checked Ebird for data from the previous five years.  On average over that period I had seen 235 species as of May 3 with the highest number being 272 in 2015.  Proving the impact of migration in May, however, the latest I have ever hit 261 was May 20th last year which was the year I paid the least attention to Washington birds AND on average I have added 56 species in May every year.  Definitely won’t be doing that in Washington this year.
The catch up in April has been fun with some nice birds but the most rewarding experiences have been with friends, shared times and shared stories old and new.







One thought on “Finishing April in Washington

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