The Okanogan – Hits, Misses and Gorgeous Country

I try to visit the Okanogan once every winter with some birding on the Waterville Plateau on the way up and/or back.  Temperatures and snow conditions can vary greatly and so can the birding but it is pretty hard to beat for many “specialty” species and for great scenery.  Lots of great local folks as well and usually there are other birders around although in the vast remoteness, paths do not always cross.  I usually stay in Omak which has an average of 4″ of snowfall in February.  This February has been much colder and snowier than usual and the snowfall has been at least twice that much.  The same was true on the Waterville Plateau.  I was amazed at how clear most of the primary and even secondary roads were in the Okanogan but many of the secondary roads were impassable on the Waterville Plateau.  Did it help or hinder birding?  Yes on both accounts.  But no complaints.  It was gorgeous!!

Okanogan scene 1

Snow may or may not help with some of the birds, but fog does not and there were intermittent areas of dense fog on the way.  My first “target” was the Snowy Owl that had been reported off and on on Heritage Road on the Plateau.  It was very foggy when I got there and I counted myself very fortunate to get even a distant glimpse of the bird about .2 mile further north than last reported.  It was in flight from one rock to another or I likely would never have seen it at all.  I hoped for a better look and photos on my return trip, but I could not relocate it then – more on that later.  Further along Heritage Road I stopped at a woodlot east of the road that has been a good spot for American Tree Sparrows – not a single bird.

Usually I find many hundreds or even thousands or Horned Larks on the Plateau.  The hope is always that a Lapland Longspur or Snow Buntings will be in with the flocks.  This first morning I found far fewer Horned Larks but there was a single Lapland Longspur in a flock of fewer than 100 birds just south of the junction of Heritage Road (L Road) and Highway 172.   I had not seen another car for over an hour – until I got to this spot and this flock.  One car came up behind me and another turned onto Heritage going south.  All the birds of course flew off.  If I had been quicker to spot the Longspur I may have gotten a photo as the Longspur was visible within the flock – although constantly moving and even flying up ahead  – for a few minutes.  This is usually the case with Longspurs in flocks on the Plateau – very hard to get sufficiently close for a good look let alone a photo op.

Horned Larks on Road

Horned Larks

So not great looks, but two First of Year birds and it was not yet 9:00 a.m.  Oh yeah, I had departed Edmonds at 4:30 a.m. and I was then more than 225 miles from home.  It would be a long day – an excellent day.  It was also a very cold day.  When I first hit the plateau the temperature was 5 degrees.  I watched as it went down to 1 degree.  It never hit zero and thank goodness the wind was not blowing.  I wondered though at what temperature fog might start freezing.  Fortunately it warmed into the teens so I never found out.

It really was not very birdy and I thought maybe there was too much snow.  I found no Sharp Tailed Grouse at Foster Creek – hopefully Scotch Creek would be better.  I had a weird experience at Bridgeport State Park – looking for Northern Saw Whet Owls.  I knew some were there and often a roosting tree can be found with whitewash on the ground below.  The snow made that a challenge.  After searching many spots I found an owl absolutely buried in the dense branches.  As I went to try for some kind of photo, I realized that the lens shield was not attached.  Figuring it would be a very lousy photo at best – showing maybe a tiny bit of owl –  I abandoned the tree and retraced steps looking for the shield.  It took 15 minutes, but I found it and decided that was as much good luck as I would get on this visit so headed north.

Heading north on Highway 97, I saw four raptors in flight.  At first glance I thought maybe some eagles.  I turned the car around and got a better look at a very fun interaction.  There were two eagles – my first Golden Eagle of the year. But the other two raptors were Red Tailed Hawks.  When I first saw them I had just thought they were much higher in the sky and thus only appeared smaller.  Now I could see that they were on the same plane and were harassing the eagles.  One of the photos shows just how much different in size they are.

Red Tailed Hawk Harassing Eagle

Eagle and Red Taile

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle (2)

Rather than check in at the hotel in Omak I headed off towards Conconully stopping first at the Scotch Creek area along Conconully Road looking for Sharp Tailed Grouse.  My best luck finding them has been when they are feeding in the trees when there is snow on the ground.  There was plenty of snow, but despite a long look including going up Happy Hill Road into another area where I have seen them, nada.  Maybe it was already too late in the day.  There are many target species on my trips to this area, but the Sharp Tails are always on the top of the list – so a bad miss.  On into the town of Conconully itself.

The good start in the morning had definitely slowed down without the Grouse and Conconully was not cooperating either.  I did find a couple of FOY Cassin’s Finches (many had been reported the previous week) but none of the other “possibilities” like Canada Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, or Bohemian Waxwing all of which I have had there before.  But it was still beautiful and had warmed to the upper 20’s and I had fun talks with two local residents.  More birds would have been nice, but it was a really good time.  I did have lots of California Quail, Pine Siskins and Dark Eyed Juncos among other species seen.

It was time to head off to the Okanogan Highlands.  Another unsuccessful search for the Sharp Tailed Grouse at Scotch Creek and an unsuccessful search for Canyon Wren at my go to spot along Riverside Cutoff road.  I had already seen 5 new birds for the year yet had also missed at least that many – but there were some sure things (probable things?) ahead.  The first stop was at Fancher Road.  I cannot say so for sure, but I believe the first time I birded Fancher Road was January 19th last year when it was stunning to find at least 35 Chukar there.  They are generally not easy to find – usually for me at least they are on rocky hillsides around Vantage or in the Yakima Canyon.  They had been reported at this location last week so it never crossed my mine that I would miss them.  At the beginning of the road just before the grazing area, I saw a couple and then a couple more but not the numbers from the previous year.  Until…I kept going and there were more and more and more.  In the cattle field and on the other side of the road in the hilly area.  I stopped counting at 110 and know there were many more.  I reported 135 on my Ebird report and expect there were at least 150.

Chukar – Fancher Road

Chukar

And here is another one from my Hawaii trip just a couple of weeks ago.  Notice anything different?  Of course it is the snow.  So here is a bird that has been introduced as a game bird in these two very different environments.  It originates in Asia and the Middle East.

Chukar – Hawaii

Chukar

The trouble with go to spots (see earlier reference to American Tree Sparrows) is that sometimes the birds forget to be there.  Not the case for me, but I later learned that while the Seattle Audubon Field Trip had Chukars at Fancher Road the previous week, the ABC Field Trip missed them there earlier.  Keeps us all on our toes I guess.

Another FOY at Fancher Road was a Ring Necked Pheasant.  I saw a second one later on the trip.  On to the Havillah Sno-Park with visions of Great Gray Owls in my head.  It has been a few years since I have seen one there and am not aware of other sightings this year, but I had hopes and it can also have other nice birds like Three Toed Woodpeckers and Clark’s Nutcrackers.  Just before turning onto the road to the Sno-Park a Clark’s Nutcracker flew by in front of the car – making up for one of the misses at Conconully.  It was the 8th new bird for the year this day – proof of the richness of the area far more than of birding acumen.  Would the Sno Park deliver a Great Gray for #9?

Ring Necked Pheasant – Fancher Road

Pheasant

Nope.  In fact it was far quieter than I think I have seen it,  Beautiful but quiet. Well at least I did not get stuck in the snow which I have done there before.  At the parking area I met two Westside birders – Pam Cahn and Jen McKernan.  They had been in the area a couple of days and were staying for more.  I was encouraged that they had seen Sharp Tailed Grouse at Scotch Creek – but earlier than my visit and also they had a few Bohemian Waxwings at Conconully.   In turn they were encouraged by my Nutcracker observation and wondered if a bird they had seen at distance or perhaps as a flyby might have been that.  Always more to look (hope) for.  No owls but as we were talking I heard a Red Crossbill, a species they had seen there not much earlier.  So FOY #9 for the day.

Red Crossbill (Photo is actually from a better observation later but fits here)

Red Crossbill1 (2)

They were heading off to the Nealey Road feeders, so I headed that way as well – leaving the parking area first.  It took a while after getting onto Havillah Road to notice they were not right behind me.  I figured they had stopped for something and debated turning back.  I decided to push on as the light was beginning to dim.  If it had been a Great Gray, I would have greatly regretted that decision.  I later learned that they had seen a Northern Shrike.  I saw several later on my trip so not a big miss.

About a mile from the feeders I saw a flock of smaller birds in flight and then landing behind a red barn.  In the bright but low sun, they flashed dark and then white.  Maybe Horned Larks?  No – my first Snow Buntings of the trip.  I hoped that Pam and Jen would arrive shortly.  They did not and then the flock flew off to a hilly snowfield above me when a pick up truck drove by.  I waited ten more minutes and then decided to move on.  Just as I pulled out, I saw their car coming from behind me.  I backed up and signaled them to stop.  Fortunately the flock of maybe 100 Snow Buntings had remained and were visible at least when against the darker rock outcroppings or grass.

Snow Bunting Flock in Flight

Snow Buntings Flight

Snow Buntings on Hillside

snow Buntings Ground

There were no birds at all at the Nealey Road feeders (which have been great in the past but not so much the last couple of years).  In fading light, I started back to Omak expecting to see a Great Horned Owl on the way as I have done in past years.  Not to be and there had also been no Gray Partridge which had been seen in good numbers by many other birders.  But any day with 10 new birds for the year and such spectacular scenery and no mishaps was a great day indeed.   It ended with a very cool talk with a clerk at the convenience store where I got gas.  He saw my binoculars and camera and asked what I was watching.  I described some of the birds and particularly the Chukars at Fancher Road which was nearby.  He knew about Sharp Tailed Grouse but had never heard of a Chukar.  He really enjoyed the photos I shared with him.

A local woman had overheard part of the conversation and joined in and also liked the Chukar photos.  She had lived in the area all her life and enjoyed the snow as much as the summer heat which can get over 100 degrees.  She wanted me to know about the Bighorn Sheep that can be found at Loomis.  I told her I had seen some there in the past and that seemed to legitimize my visit more than the birding did.  A really good way to end the day.

I was very tired when I finally checked in having been awake since 3:00 a.m.  A larger than usual dinner did not help and I wondered how I could stay awake past even 8:00 p.m.  I worked on photos and watched a little basketball on TV which enabled me to make it to just before 10.  CRASH!!  I am a morning person – always up early – especially when birding.  So it was very much out of the norm when there was light streaming in through a crack in the window shades when I first awoke.  OMG it was past 6:40.  That may be the latest I have slept in years.  But it was probably a good thing as I was not on the road heading back to Scotch Creek until after 7:15.

Again a lot of searching and no Sharp Tailed Grouse at Scotch Creek.  This was beginning to feel too familiar as I had missed them last year as well.  I would try again after another visit to Conconully just a few miles further north.  Nothing exciting at Conconully but it was interesting that the day before I had seen more than 20 deer and this morning saw none.  And the previous day I had not seen any Wild Turkeys (neither had Jen or Pam) and today there were several groups totaling at least 35 individuals.  I would have traded them all for some Bohemian Waxwings but found none.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

It was now 9:15 a.m. and when I got back to Scotch Creek just north of Happy Hill Road — EUREKA!!  Sharp Tailed Grouse were feeding high in the trees below.  There were at least 25 and probably more.  They were actively feeding and within not more than 15 minutes all but a few were gone.  Timing, timing, timing!!  Terrible photos but ones I was happy to get at all.

Sharp Tailed Grouse

Sharp Tailed Grouse in Tree1

Sharp Tailed Grouse (2)

Very pleased, I thought I would try for the Canyon Wren again.  Not too far onto Riverside Cutoff Road heading southeast, rocky cliffs rise on the left side of the road.  I had one last year just past an iron gated road to a ranch on the right (and before two leather sofas that have been discarded on the left side of the road this year).  It had not been there yesterday, but then after the third playing of the familiar descending song, I had a response from high on one of the cliffs.  We had a “conversation” for a minute or so and then the Canyon Wren continued a solo without further encouragement for many more minutes.  I finally caught a glimpse of it on a rock outcropping but it never came in closer.  Another FOY and another example of how you have to just keep trying and how timing is so important.

Back on the main highway before heading Northeast into the Highlands again, I got a photo of a very dark Red Tailed Hawk.  It had been at the same spot the day before but traffic had prevented a try for a picture.  Truly a striking bird.

Red Tailed Hawk – Dark Morph

Red Tailed Hawk Dark Morph

I spent some time on North Siwash Creek Road hoping for a close up of Sharp Tailed Grouse in excellent habitat.  The Seattle Audubon trip had found them there and had great looks.  There would be no Grouse and no Partridge but I had my first of three Northern Shrikes.  Later on Davies Road on an unsuccessful search for the Northern Pygmy Owl that had been seen there repeatedly, I found a great small flock of Mountain Chickadees, Pine Siskins, Red and White Breasted Nuthatches and Red Crossbills.

Northern Shrike (N. Siwash Creek Road)

Northern Shrike (2)

Mountain Chickadee – Davies Road

Mountain Chickadee (2)

Pine Siskins – Davies Road

Pine Siskins

Red Breasted Nuthatch – Davies Road

Red Breasted Nuthatch with Seed

There may have been no owls on Davies Road, but I found a great “owler” as Khanh Tran was coming from the other direction.  Like many others, I drool over Khanh’s many fabulous owl photos – many from this same Okanogan area.  He shared some info and also told me his two secrets for finding owls: (1) perseverance and (2) great eyes.  There is no doubt that he has both.  He told me that the Davies Road Pygmy Owl was more likely to be seen closer to dusk.  I had other plans and considered changing them, but instead accepted it as another miss for the trip.

Including the time on the Riverside Cutoff Road, my visits to Conconully and Scotch Creek and then in the Highlands, I probably had traveled at least 60 miles that morning.  With the exception of the traffic (light) on Highway 97, Khanh’s was the first car I had seen and that would remain the case for most of the rest of the day.  The remoteness of this area is one of its great appeals.  We are so fortunate to share an activity that brings us to such beautiful places and at least at times to have the complete serenity of being alone in such wild country.  (As long as there is no car trouble, of course.)

More of the Countryside

Okanogan scene2

Khanh and I had talked about locations for White Headed Woodpecker.  Last year I had found 3 of them on the north end of Cameron Lake Road near the American Flag strung across the road.  The Seattle Audubon trip had missed them there this year.  Khanh said they were there – although better earlier in the morning and also in the Ponderosa pine area north of that.  Last year I had also had Gray Partridge and American Tree Sparrows on the road so I decided to head there next even though it was more than an hour away.  Less than a mile north of the “flag” just into the Ponderosa pines, I thought I heard a woodpecker.  I stopped and heard both tapping and some calls.  The calls were from a White Headed Woodpecker, but the tapping was different.  What happened next was really fun.  I played the 3 note “pred-di-dink” call of the White Headed Woodpecker which is what I thought I heard.  Immediately a male flew up from low on a nearby tree and posted on a nearby trunk.  Not more that a few seconds later a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers flew right at the White Headed Woodpecker and chased it away.  The male Hairy remained on that trunk and began tapping – the same sound I had heard earlier.  My assumption is that the two were a mated pair and were on territory with the White Headed the intruder.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker (2)

White Headed Woodpecker

White Headed Woodpecker

I added some Pygmy Nuthatches but was very disappointed as I found no American Tree Sparrows at the “go to” wetlands spot.  Jon Houghton had the same experience earlier in the month.  I had hoped for better luck.  The road was passable and I have had problems there before (as Shep Thorp did on the Audubon trip), but it was messy and had some serious ruts.  I traveled the lower few miles of Cameron Lake Road – hoping for Gray Partridge in an area I had them last year.  As I came around a sharp turn three Gray Partridge flushed off the road and disappeared into the distant snowy white.  If I had been coming up the hill in the other direction, I probably could have sneaked up on them for a good view and maybe a photo as had been the case last year.  Neither they nor I had any warning this time, so a countable but very unsatisfying look.

I hope to get a better look at Partridge with Deb Essman in Kittitas County later, but for now they are at least a check mark and FOY 14 for the trip.  The woodpeckers were the highlight of this visit and especially the White Headed – the 13th FOY of the trip and always a great bird to see.

Back to Omak and then a return to getting up earlier than I wished to start the next day caused in part by the visit of the garbage truck at 4 in the morning.  Ouch!!  I could have spent the entire day birding and gotten home late (after traffic since it was now Monday) but the wind had picked up and although no snow was predicted, I figured I would just head back spending time on the Plateau where “surely” I would find some Tree Sparrows and Partridge and then maybe look for a Sora at Rocky Ford where I had found two on the way home from this trip last year.  If all went well, I could then stop at the Stevens Pass Ski Area for Canada Jay as I had done last year as well.

No calamities but it was a strange day.  I started by revisiting the lower part of Cameron Lake Road, hoping for a better Gray Partridge intersection.  The wind was blowing much more than the previous day but at least the ruts in the road were “solid” as with the overnight freeze, they had not thawed into mud.  I saw a Cooper’s Hawk and some more Horned Larks and Snow Buntings but no Partridge or anything else of note.  Time to head south.

Snow Bunting on Cameron Lake Road

Snow Bunting (2)

Back on the Waterville Plateau it was now very windy with a lot of blowing and drifting snow – not falling, blowing from loose snow on the ground.  I stopped again at the woodlot on Heritage Road just south of Highway 172 where I have had American Tree Sparrows in the past and missed them on Saturday.  Not a single bird.  Now though there were lots of Horned Larks on the road – far more than the first day I came through.  In the same general area I had seen the Lapland Longspur on Saturday in a flock of maybe 100 birds, there was now an ever changing flock of more than 300.  I thought I caught a glimpse of a Longspur but lost it in the constantly reorganizing movements.  A few Snow Buntings were mixed in.

Much further south on Heritage Road, Shep had reported a good number of American Tree Sparrows on the west side of the road at an abandoned barn and grain silos.  I thought I found the right spot but as it was not possible to get near the buildings in the deep snow and there were fences.  I wondered if maybe I had miscalculated.  It was windy and cold.  I played all of the American Tree Sparrow calls I had.  There were two single responses from the brush near one of the buildings in the back.  I scoured the area with my bins but saw no movement.  The return call was right but a good visual would have been nice and a photo even better.  A reluctant check mark, but I hope for something better later this year.  I searched in vain for the Snowy Owl.  Maybe that fog had helped after all.

It was time to make a decision.  A good sized flock of Gray Partridge had been reported at the Withrow Grain terminals the previous day.  I have had them there as well.  This would take me in the opposite direction from Rocky Ford.  If all went well, I would find the Partridge there or better yet on the way and then could double back to Rocky Ford.  “Well” would mean finding them quickly as the trip back to rocky Ford would add an hour or more.  There was lots of grain on the ground at Withrow and many hundreds of Horned Larks were taking advantage of it.  They were very skittish, but I looked hard and saw neither Snow Buntings nor Longspurs.  And definitely no Gray Partridge.

Horned Lark

Horned Lark (2) Horned LArk Flight

I made the executive decision that I would be able to find a Sora somewhere later this year – even though I will be out of state for the better part of at least two months – and headed towards home.

With little traffic, I got to the Stevens Pass Ski area a little after noon and found a great parking spot.  I looked out of place with camera and bins as everyone else had skis or snowboards and there were hundreds of folks having a great time.  A bit windy but clear.  I figured there would be lots of folks eating and the Jays would be coming in begging for food.  But the strange day continued.  A single Raven greeted me at the parking lot.  I think it was munching on a Cheeto.  Was this a good sign?

Raven

Junk Food Raven

It was the only bird I saw.  I was shocked not to find “Camp Robbers” getting free food.  Strange.  But there was a happy ending.  I got in my car and drove around to check all of the other parking lots.  Several skiers were having tailgate lunches at their cars.  One offered me a hot dog – I would have preferred chips as bait for a Canada Jay.  As I turned back onto Highway 2 to leave, a single bird flew overhead.  Not blue, gray.  Not a Stellar’s Jay – which are also there, but a single Canada Jay.  Amen!!

Traffic on Highway 2 was less bad than usual – until the awful miles between Gold Bar and Monroe and I was home before the bad traffic for the day on I-405.  A visit to this part of our State is always a highlight of the year for both birds and scenery.  All of the snow this year certainly added to the latter and I am unsure of its impact on the former.  I did not keep a running account of all species seen and my Ebird reports were not complete – in part due to the absence of cell coverage in most of the area.

In addition to the birds mentioned earlier, I also had many American Kestrels, a Peregrine Falcon, several Rough Legged Hawks and some of these and some of those.  Altogether at most 65 species of which 16 were new for the year.  Many nice specialty birds but many missed possibilities as well including Great Horned, Northern Pygmy, Long Eared and Great Gray Owls, Sora, American 3 Toed Woodpecker, Bohemian Waxwing, Ruffed and Greater Sage Grouse, Northern Goshawk, Gyrfalcon and Evening Grosbeak.  It is a great area!!  See you again next year…

 

Life after Snow – Some Good Old Washington Birding

Following a week in Hawaii the week of record snow in Washington had me going stir crazy.  I so notified some birding friends and told them the remedy was heading off to the Coast for the first time in 2019.  Anyone else interested?  Frank Caruso needed some relief as well, and he joined me for some “good old Washington birding” on February 17.

With all of the snow the past week weather has certainly been constantly on our minds and it was interesting to process the weather data as we traveled first south and then west.  Still lots of snow on the ground in Edmonds, less and less as we traveled south until we got near Olympia where it picked up again and increased significantly for the first 20 miles or so heading west when it then again decreased and then disappeared.  However, the fog stayed with us most of the way and we wondered if we would be able to see any birds at all.

My Edmonds Snow at its Peak

Edmonds Snow

When going to the Coast, the first decision is generally whether to go towards the Ocean Shores area or to the Westport area.  Often I go first towards Ocean Shores stopping at the Hoquiam Sewage Treatment Ponds and then make the decision to continue West or to backtrack and head south to the Westport area.  Many times that decision is determined by the tide schedule since heading towards Westport often includes a stop at Bottle Beach where it is best to arrive at least 2.5 hours before high tide.  The night before I had mistakenly misread the tide tables and thought high tide was around noon.  Nope it was around 10.  If we forgot about the STP we could get to Bottle Beach maybe 2 hours before high tide – let’s go.  Second mistake, we did not realize just how high high tide was going to be.  The good news was that as we headed south, the fog cleared entirely and it was gorgeous sunshine.  We actually remembered what the sun looked like.

We parked, hiked to the beach and found the waves crashing on the shore with essentially no beach and definitely no birds.  It was still 2 hours before high tide and it was the highest either of us had ever seen it there.  Uh-oh.  Back to the parking area and now we were committed to head towards Westport.  The plan was to hit the beach entrance at Bonge Avenue to see if we could find some shorebirds there before the tide got even worse and then head further south to Tokeland.  Our tide woes continued.  There was essentially no beach here either – and no birds.  Pretty though if you liked heavy surf.

Waves

Now we wondered if we would find any uncovered beach or rocks at Tokeland.  Tokeland is THE go to spot to find Willets in Washington.  What started some years ago as more like one or two in the spring and later has now become up to a dozen or more all year long.  Before hitting the turnoff to Tokeland we passed North Cove where there are “always” lots of gulls – often many hundreds.  More super high water and not a single gull.  And when we got to the Tokeland Marina there was no mud at all and the rocks on the small islands were mostly covered by water and birdless.  BUT the good news was that looking back from the marina dock we found a group of 8 Willets in the grass just below the new Nelson Crab building.  A new year bird for both of us.  Later we went to the boat launch to improve our view and the original flock had been joined by 9 others.  I think 17 may be the most I have seen there.  Willets are pretty drab until they fly and flash that fabulous black and white wing pattern.

Willet Photos – Tokeland Marina

Willet2

Willets1

Willet Wings2

At Tokeland we also found some FOY Western Gulls, Western Grebes, Common and Pacific Loons among other birds – 24 species in all.  The high tide probably deprived us of some other shorebird species, but the Willets and sunshine certainly had us feeling better.  We headed back north with a stop at Graveyard Spit on Fisher Avenue.  Much of the birdy habitat was covered, but pretty far out there was some sand and mud and here we found some birds – hundreds of Dunlin and many Sanderlings (first of year for both of us).  We also had 2 surprising Common Mergansers and finally lots of gulls.

We continued north and again tried access to the beach – this time off Grayland Avenue.  It was immediately clear that it pays to attend to the coastline geography as unlike before there was open beach and we could drive some of it.  No go heading south to look for Snowy Plovers – one of our hoped for prizes for the day – and there were lots of people out along most of the way, so that may have made that quest impossible anyway.  We immediately found a small group of 4 shorebirds along one of the pools even before getting to the open beach.  Their yellow legs gleamed brightly in the sun – my first Least Sandpipers of the year.  My barely ID quality photo is purposefully omitted to avoid embarrassment.

We spotted a large flock of shorebirds and headed off towards them but they all took flight.  A moment later, we knew why.  A gorgeous and extremely dark backed Peregrine Falcon landed not far ahead of us.  I grabbed a photo and repositioned the car so Frank could get one as well.  His camera makes a sound as it turns back on and it sure seemed that the Falcon heard it and took flight immediately

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

We caught up with the flock and found it to be primarily Dunlin with many fewer Sanderlings.  This experience was repeated several times with a few other flocks.  Completely absent were any “Peeps”, larger shorebirds or Plovers.  We had expected to find some Semipalmated Plovers and maybe some Western Sandpipers – no go.

Sanderling

Sanderling

We continued north, and with the now receding but still high tide, we made it back to Bonge Avenue and left the beach.  Now to Westport hoping that maybe we could find some “Rockpipers” along the rocks – especially a Rock Sandpiper.  This was one of my key “targets” for the trip as it is a winter bird and will leave in the not too distant future.  They are never a sure thing and I have generally had my best luck at the Point Brown jetty at Ocean Shores, but that would not be an option this day.  As it turned out the water was so high and the waves so hard that we found no birds on the rocks at all and probably would not have at Point Brown either.

We were, however, able to get a view of part of what now seems to be a permanent flock of Marbled Godwits at one of the floating docks near the Coast Guard station.  Around 100 birds.  In the summer the flock in the Westport Marina can number well over 500 and for the past several years has often included a Bar Tailed Godwit.  These birds often feed at Bottle Beach and were one of our hoped for species there, so this finding somewhat made up for that earlier disappointment.

Marbled Godwits

Marbled Godwits

This stop also gave us great views of several Western Gulls.  So many of the gulls seen in our area are Western Gull/Glaucous Gull hybrids that we call “Olympic Gulls” that making an ID can be challenging.  We felt pretty good with these and their darker mantles, clear white heads and striking black wing tips.

Western Gull

Western Gull

We also had much closer looks at some Western Grebes than we had at Tokeland.  I had seen some in the distance and rain at Semiahmoo so was glad for the view and photo op here.

Western Grebe

Western Grebe

The day had certainly not gone as planned but we had done ok and were truly enjoying the sunshine.  It was just after noon and we decided to reverse course and leave Westport.  Even though the tide had receded it was still very high so we elected not to stop again at Bottle Beach and headed to the Hoquiam STP.  If only it were possible to get there without going through Aberdeen and Hoquiam.  Not the case.  Pretty depressing. Water was high at the STP and again not a single shorebird but we had lots of ducks – 9 different species and also added Pied Billed Grebe to our day list.  It’s one of those stops that often disappoints but can also have wonderful birds.  It was approaching 2:00 p.m.  In our original planning we thought about a stop in Tacoma to look for the Hermit Warbler that has been seen regularly at the University of Puget Sound Campus.  We concluded that by the time we got there, it was not very likely that the bird would be active, so we opted for a stop at the Nisqually Refuge instead.

We know it is a popular place and it was a Sunday, but we had never seen it so crowded.  Maybe everyone else was stir crazy from the snow as well.  We found a single parking spot and then first checked the pond near the headquarters hoping for an American Bittern.  No Bittern and not much else.  We heard some American Wigeon off in the distance (surprisingly our first of the day) and also added a Ring Necked Duck to our day list.  We moved on to a second pond and almost immediately saw a stalking Great Blue Heron lunge for some prey.  Zap!!!  Success – and it had a large frog for a prize.  I caught much of the action in photos as did many others (it was a busy day).  We watched for some time as it positioned the frog for the swallow but we left before it actually did so.  On other occasions I have watched Great Blue Herons catch fish that I thought were much too large to be swallowed but after many moments when it had positioned it just right, down it went.  This frog was still very much alive and wiggling so I expect it would have been a while.

Great Blue Heron with Frog

GBH with Frog Best

GBH with Frog1

We walked the boardwalk trail and picked up some new passerines for the day but it seemed pretty quiet.  Even more to my ears compared to Frank’s which are famous for their range and processing prowess.  We finally found our first  Black Capped Chickadees for the day and our only Wren – a Pacific Wren.  Several Yellow Rumped Warblers were fly catching from branches over the water.  Pretty easy to see how the species gets its name from one of my photos.

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Time to go.  No Great Horned Owl this time and no American Bittern, but the Great Blue Heron/Frog battle was a reminder of how there is always something engaging and rewarding by just getting out.  I dropped Frank off at his home and made a quick stop at the Edmonds Waterfront in failing light adding a couple of species for the day but failing to get a photo of the Eared Grebe that continues to be seen there.

Fortunately the end of Snowmaggedon gave us a break to do some birding.   There had been some misses and no real rarities for the day.  We had not tried at all to maximize species and in fact had lost many opportunities because of the high tides and impact on timing if nothing else.  Yet, including some species heard only by those Caruso ears, we had about 70 species for the day.  I have worked hard recently in a number of States – but with lots of local help – to get my 50 species in a day in those unfamiliar places as part of my 50/50/50 adventure.  This day was a reminder of how bird rich we are in Washington and how knowing one’s turf sure makes it a lot easier.  It was also a reminder to check tide tables and that there is life after snow!!

 

 

 

The Big Day on the Big Island

Logistics, logistics, research, research, planning and more planning are all critical and to me are enjoyable parts of each of my 50 species in a day quests for each state.  I need to know not only which species are possible and where to find them but also how to best plan a route that allocates the right amount of time in each place that I have to stop to find the different species that I need.  In many states that is simply a matter of picking some terrific Ebird Hotspot or two and then covering them sufficiently to get the count.  Especially with the shorter days of winter which means less time for birding, travel time and distances between areas are critical considerations.  Efficiency is essential.  For the most part Hawaii does not have hotspots where with diligence and maybe without even any luck 30 or 40 or maybe even 50 species at a single location are possible.  There would be some some spots where 20 or more species might be found, but they would most likely be many of the same species to be found at another good spot.

Accordingly, adding one or two birds here and there in multiple places to get to 50 species for the day would be necessary.  And the more stops that were necessary the more critical efficiency becomes.  Knowing which spots to visit and then exactly where to go within each spot can save 10 to 30 minutes at each of the multiple places.  That adds up especially when the locations are distant.  I am not a good birder by ear but with the help of various apps I can at least confirm the ID of a song or call that I might hear.  In Hawaii, I would know none of the calls and had no app to use to help.  Finally there are just not that many species in Hawaii, period.  For all of these reasons, I decided that this was a state where professional assistance was necessary.  Furthermore this would be the best way to get a really local perspective and an education on the culture and natural history of the area.  I was able to arrange a full day of birding with Lance Tanino and it worked out very well.

My Guide – Lance Tanino

Lance Tanino

In many ways this was a new kind of experience for me.  Not only was I unfamiliar with the area and the birds, I was also going to be relying entirely on the logistics of my guide to choose places, timing and route.  Lance had himself done a couple of Big Days which gave me a lot of confidence but they had been later in the year when the birds were somewhat different and the days longer.  In a preliminary phone conversation he suggested a long route that would have us birding in many areas all over the Island … if there was time.  I did not recognize it then, but a key spot was to be the Aimakapa Ponds that I had visited in the afternoon the day before the Big Day after flying in from Maui.  As described in my previous blog post, I had excellent birding there with 23 species including some rarities. [The Day Before and the Day After the “Big Day” in Hawaii – https://wordpress.com/post/blairbirding.com/21687%5D

As with other states in my 50/50/50 adventure, getting to 50 was the most important factor but hopefully that would include some species of special appeal which in Hawaii definitely meant some of the endemic native species.  They are only found in native forests – primarily at small preserves at altitude on Mauna Kea or at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  The number of species is relatively low and the time spent finding them – including possibly long hikes can be significant.  Balancing interests, I made the executive decision that getting some of those species was very important and that if necessary I could stretch the rules a little bit and include that hour of birding at Aimakapa the previous day on the species list for the Big Day – and then I would not count any birds seen during that same hour on the Big Day.  That hour could be used for travel or lunch but no birds … again if necessary, which I hoped it would not be.  This gave some security in case it took a long while to see the native birds and we would not have to get to Aimakapa Ponds on the Big Day which was to have been an important but time consuming stop.  Lance modified the plan accordingly and we would start the Big Day at 7:00 a.m. the next morning beginning at the same Ulu La’au Waimea Natural Area that I had birded late the previous day.

Our Big Day Route

Map

At Ulu La’au, It was immediately obvious that having a great guide would make a huge difference as Lance had great ears and quickly identified many calls and songs that I had missed the day before or heard but could not identify in any event.  We had all of the species I had seen the previous day except for Common Waxbills and African Silverbills, but also added four gallinaceous birds – Black, Gray and Erckel’s Francolins and Kalij Pheasant – plus Northern Mockingbird, Saffron Finch, House Finch and Japanese Bush Warbler.  The Black and Gray Francolins and the Bush Warbler were heard only.  Lance had asked if “heard only’ species would count.  My response was “yes” but only if I heard them and if with his instruction I could then on my own identify the calls.  Fortunately the calls were distinctive and repeated enough to qualify.  The one bird we missed that Lance expected “for sure” was the Red Billed Leiothorix.  As reported in my previous blog post, I was able to find them in this location the next morning.

Waimea Natural Area – Ulu La’au

Scene

Erckel’s Francolin

Erckel's Francolin

Kalij Pheasant – Male and Female

Kalij Pheasant Male

Kalij Pheasant Female1

The most numerous birds were both Spotted and Zebra Doves and Northern Cardinals which were calling almost constantly while we were there.  The Cardinals and Mockingbird seemed so out of place.

Zebra Dove

Zebra Dove 2r

Northern Cardinal Female

Northern Cardinal Female

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird 1

Saffron Finch

Saffron Finch1r

We left around 8:30 a.m. with a list of 20 species – an excellent start.  Next we headed Southeast to open country along Saddle Road (Highway 200 after leaving Highway 190).  We found more Gray Francolins along the way to an open area that was good for Eurasian Skylarks and hopefully a Short Eared Owl.  At first Skylarks were heard with their distinctive calls high above us.  Then we had several fly closer and land on the ground not too far away, grazing and then taking off again.  Counting the ones seen here and then at several other spots later, there may have been two dozen – more than I have seen during my entire life.  We also at first heard the “clucking” calls of a Ring Necked Pheasant and then had a distant visual.  Later one came very close behind a fence separating us from one of the fields with some of the Skylarks.

Gray Francolin

Gray Francolin

Eurasian Skylark

Eurasian Skylark3

Ring Necked Pheasant

Ring Necked Pheasant

It took longer than expected but we finally saw first one and then a second Short Eared Owl hunting low over the field maybe 250 yards out.  We also had two Hawaiian Geese fly by in the distance.  Each species mattered for the count of course.  We continued our  drive climbing onto the lower slopes of Mauna Kea and had a very close flyby of another Short Eared Owl.  Unfortunately there was no opportunity to pull off the road for a photo.  We watched the fields hoping for some Chukars and were shortly rewarded with a feeding group of more than a dozen.

Chukar

Chukar

All of the game birds on the Hawaiian Islands have been introduced for hunting.  Some are restocked on a continuing basis but the populations are self sustaining.  The only game bird we missed were California Quail.  We searched for them along the road and also at the Pohakuloa Cabins (formerly Mauna Kea State Park).  At the cabins, we found the first of our native Hawaiian species, though, a calling and then flying Hawaiian Amakihi.  Missing the Quail and the Leiothorix earlier put us two down for the day.

Hawaiian Amakihi (This photo is by Grace Oliver another Seattle area birder from her trip in 2014)

Hawaii-Amakihi Grace Oliver

There was one confusing stop/nonstop.  We had started up the Palila Discovery Trail – the best place to find the endemic Palila with a chance for other native species.  Four wheel drive is required as is a permit.  My jeep was 4 wheel drive but this was misunderstood and it was not clear if Lance had the necessary permit.  When we saw a government vehicle not far up the road, we turned back.  Another miss…

Palila (Internet Photo)

Palila

We continued along the highway until we reached our only true native forest area at an elevation of over 6,000 feet, the Kaulana Manu Nature Trail .  It is what is known as a “kipuka” – in this case Kipuka 21.  A kipuka is a forest pocket spared from lava flows. There are only remnants of what used to be an extensive native forest full of native birds.  Today they are found only on the slopes of the high volcanoes.  Thousands of acres have been destroyed by lava flows and from grazing by feral goats and cattle and clearing by ranchers.  As we hiked into the thick forest, Lance identified one native plant after another – dozens of them.  Many were flowering or with seeds – the reason that the birds survive.

Most prolific of the native honeycreepers,  were the Apapane – brilliant red with black wings and bright white under tail.  Usually buried in the thick foliage, one posed in the open for several moments.  Harder to find, harder to see and much harder to photograph was the I’iwi with its extremely decurved bill.

Apapane

Apapane4

Apapane2

I’iwi

Iiwi1

Iiwi2

Another native bird we found was the Oma’o or Hawai’i Thrush.  Unfortunately the trail was so narrow that I could not get past Lance for a photo without flushing it.  I settled for great looks of one and heard calls from many others.

Oma’o or Hawai’i Thrush – Another Photo by Grace Oliver

Omao

Lance’s keen ears picked out the chattering call of the Hawai’i Elepaio.  I had a two second look of the bird buried in foliage above me and then it flew across the narrow trail into even thicker brush past Lance.  The only ID marks I could make out were a brownish color and a cocked tail – wren-like.  The photo is from a blog by Pedro Lourenço.

Hawai’i Elepaio

Elepaio

Lance motioned to come quick.  Soaring above us was a Hawaiian Hawk.  Another endemic, it was a species that I had not expected to see.  It circled in brilliant light for several moments and then disappeared.  Lance said that most people found it reminiscent of a Broad Winged Hawk, a similarly sized buteo.  Although it quickly disappeared we were very happy with the observation.  Several minutes later as we continued through the forest, we heard a crashing noise in the trees and then the Hawk flew right past us and perched in a snag overhead.  This was probably the highlight of the day for me.

Hawaiian Hawk

Hawaiian Hawk Flight

Hawaiian Hawk1

We commemorated the moment with a photo of me (with new beard) in the native forest – definitely the oldest bird of the day!!!  When we left the forest, our species count was at 33 species.  There was work to do and we headed east towards Hilo for waterfowl and other lowland species.

Native Forestr

At Lokowaka Pond, we had the best bird of the day for Lance as we located a Cinnamon Teal that had previously been seen at the next pond we would visit but had been missed on several tries by Lance.  We also added Mallard, Black Crowned Night Heron, Hawaiian Coot and Lesser Scaup.  As is still the case for Mexican Ducks, the “Hawaiian Ducks” we found are considered subspecies of  Mallard and are not countable.  There were also more than 100 Cattle Egrets.

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal

Black Crowned Night Heron

Black Crowned Night Heron

“Hawaiian Duck” – Koloa

Hawaiian Duck1

Cattle Egrets

Cattle Egrets

Our next stop was Wailoa River SP — Waiakea Pond, a much larger area with lots of waterfowl including Canada Geese, Hawaiian Geese, a very hard to find Greater White Fronted Goose, Muscovy Duck, Mallards and 3 Ring Necked Ducks.  Lance also located a single Wandering Tattler.  We searched unsuccessfully for the Pied Billed Grebe that had been seen there regularly and we also failed to find a couple of other duck species that were possibilities.  However, the new waterfowl at both ponds brought our species count to 43.  I knew that there were 6 species “in reserve” from the previous day’s visit to the Aimakapa ponds. So one way or the other, I was now relaxed that the magic 50 would be reached – but hopefully with new species ahead for this day.

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck

Ring Necked Duck

Ring Necked Duck

Greater White Fronted Goose

Greater White Fronted Goose

We headed off to areas along the coast north of Hilo looking for small finch like or grass birds to add to our count for the day.  Chief among our targets were Chestnut Munias and Red Avadavats.  We failed to find the Chestnut Munias but were successful in finding a few Red Avadavats which due to its mix of colors and marking became one of my favorite birds for the day and the trip as a whole.  We also had many Saffron Finches, Common Waxbills, Yellow Fronted Canaries, House Finches and Scaly Breasted Munias.  Many of these birds eat the seeds of Guinea Grass (among others) and we found these grasses in many areas, but often the grasses had no seeds having been already stripped bare and it was fascinating to see how in these cases there were no birds while in areas where the seeds remained, there were often many.

Yellow Fronted Canary

Yellow Fronted Canary1

Scaly Breasted Munia on Guinea Grass (with seeds)

Scaly Breasted Munia 1

Common Waxbills

Common Waxbill1

Red Avadavats

Red Avadavat1r red-avadavat-3.jpg

Red Avadavat Front

We also did some ocean scans looking for any marine birds, but just as my experience had been throughout my week long visit, no birds were seen.  The Avadavats were the only new species added and it was beginning to look like I would have to add the Aimakapa birds to get to 50.  But Lance had other ideas and we headed back west towards Waikoloa.

Along the Waikoloa Road just before getting to Waikoloa Village we saw first some Gray Francolins and then later two Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse.  The latter was one of the species that I most hoped to find and photograph.  Unfortunately they were on the passenger’s side of the road and as I pulled over and tried to position myself for a photo, a truck came by and off they flew.  Lance thought there would be a good chance for more and we did revisit the road later, but we never found another one.  I include a photo that I sure wish was mine.  It is by Michael Weaver from a tour in the same area last October.

Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse

Sandgrouse

Another species that was very high on my list was the Bristle Thighed Curlew.  They can be found, with luck, in breeding season in Nome, Alaska and in winter they are on some islands in the South Pacific – 4,000 miles away – a long over water migratory flight.  The bottom line is that we did not find any at the Francis Brown golf course where they normally hang out.  Fortunately I did return and find one there and get a photo the next day, but they would not be on the Big Day list.  A consolation prize however was a visual of a Mourning Dove.  We had heard one earlier but this observation made it a definite add to the day list.  We also had a small flock of Ruddy Turnstones on the course.  I had missed the one that Lance had seen earlier so this was a major add.  I want to add that Pacific Golden Plovers were found at many of our birding stops.  On this one hole at the golf course we had more than a dozen.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone Maunu Lani1

Pacific Golden Plovers

Stacked Golden Plovers

The Sandgrouse, Mourning Dove and Ruddy Turnstone brought us to 48 species.  How wonderful it would have been to have had one of our misses and then have the Bristle Thighed Curlew for #50, but we were now oh so close and Lance had a guaranteed new species up his sleeve – Rosy Faced Lovebirds at the Waikoloa Village Shopping Center.  Sure enough, a flock of more than a dozen were waiting for us there.  We now needed just one more.

Rosy Faced Lovebirds

Rosy Faced Lovebirds1

Recall that at the beginning of the day, we had missed African Silverbills at the Ulu La’au Nature park in Waimea.  They had been expected.  Lance knew another spot that was good for them an also could have Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse – the Skate Park at Waikoloa Village.  Hopes lessened when we got there and saw that there were people at the Skate Park and at both upper and lower fields.  So no Francolins and no Sandgrouse, but there was a small wet spot next to some brushy trees and we could see lots of activity as birds came down to the wet area to drink.  On branches just above the wet area, there were two groups of little brown grey birds – African Silverbills.  Drum roll please – we had seen 50 species in one very fine Big Day.

African Silverbills

African Silverbill Lineup1

African Silverbills1

In my other 50/50/50 quests there have been two other times when I wondered if I would reach the goal.  In each case I did and then shortly after found additional species to bolster the list.  This would be the case again this day.  We returned to Waikoloa Road for one last chance to find a Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse.  No such luck but our consolation prize was a flock of 13 Wild Turkeys.  They had been another miss earlier and now provided one last species for the day.

Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys

When I first considered a Big Day in Hawaii, I thought it possible but by no means guaranteed.  I was aware of two Hawaii Big Days with more than 50 species but each had included a number of marine species and all had included good birds at the Aimakapa Ponds and a Wastewater Treatment plant.  They had also been done by local birders (including by Lance Tanino).  With the benefit of hindsight I think with LOTS of research and LOTS of luck I may have found 50 species without hiring a local guide – but it would have been unlikely.  I recently learned that the son of a birder I know here in Washington is a serious birder on the Big Island.  Maybe I could have made it with his help.  But I am extremely pleased with the decision to bird with Lance.  Not only was he an expert at identifying all of the birds including by sound only, he was also great company and a deep resource for all of the history – natural and cultural for the Island – an important part of my 50 state adventure.

There had been a couple of surprise or improbable birds during our trip, but there had also been a number of misses and as I said – no marine birds whatsoever.  We had also not visited the Aimakapa Ponds or the  Wastewater Treatment Plant.  With some luck and the longer days later in the year, I think it would be possible to have a 60+ or maybe even a 70 species Big Day but 70 would be incredible.  I was thrilled with my 50 species.  At the Aimakapa Ponds the day before I had 5 species not found on this day and the following morning when I revisited first Ulu La’au and then the Francis Brown South Golf Course, I had both the Red Billed Leiothorix and then the Bristle Thighed Curlew.  They were great adds to my great Big Day.  The weather had been perfect on my Big Day  – and there was no certainty that it would be, as rain is frequent.  In fact just upslope from the city of Hilo, annual rainfall can be an incredible 300 inches!! I returned to 5 days of snow in Washington and then Hawaii also had some brutal weather with high winds and even some snow at the higher elevations.  I had been lucky.

I hope to return to this beautiful place someday and spend more time in the remnant forests looking for and hopefully getting my own photos of more of the endemic birds.  For now Hawaii is state number 25 finished for my 50/50/50 project.  I am halfway there and have a very busy spring, summer and fall ahead of me.  I just may make it to the finish line.

Map of completed states

The Day Before and the Day After the “Big Day” in Hawaii

The main reason for the trip to Hawaii was to spend time with my Grandson, Daughter, Son-in-Law and Sister in Maui.  Knowing I was going to be there, I planned a try to get my 25th state of 50 species in a single day.  Research suggested that it would be a challenge and the best way to do it would be to go with a guide on the Big Island of Hawaii.  After 4 fun days in Maui which included only some incidental birding, we were all heading off to different destinations.  My sister was going back to Seattle.  Grandson and parents were off to Honolulu where mom and dad were attending a medical conference, and I would be off to the Big Island.

Our flights were all scheduled for different times so my sister and I had a couple of hours to kill.  Top priority was to return to the Cowboy Town of Makawao where we remembered fabulous donuts from a visit 35 years ago.  The Komoda Store and Bakery was still in business – going on 104 years and the donuts were even better than remembered.  [Being snowed in in Edmonds today for who knows how long with Snowpocalypse 2019, a dozen or two of those donuts would be very welcomed!!]  Truly the best donuts anywhere…

Donuts…Yum!!

Komoda Store

Donuts

The Kanaha Pond is a great birding spot very close to the airport in Maui.  We had been there once before and returned for a last look before returning the rental car.  It is best known as a preserve for the Hawaiian Stilt – an endemic race of the Black Necked Stilt but is also a good place for the Hawaiian Coot and other birds.  The Hawaiian Stilt or Ae’o is readily identified by the extensive black on the side of the neck and face compared to our mainland version.  Many of the birds at the preserve are approachable and photo friendly.

Hawaiian Stilt — Ae’o

Hawaiian Stilt Head

Hawaian Stilt Flight

Also numerous and approachable are the Black Crowned Night Herons (Auk’u) and  Hawaiian Goose (Nene).  The latter were near extinction in 1951 due to predation by Mongoose and feral cats when a captive breeding program was started that has been very successful and the geese are now found in their original open country habitats as well as in city parks.

Black Crowned Night Heron (Auk’u)

Black Crowned Night Heron

Hawaiian Goose (Nene)

Nene Kanaha

There had been no intensive birding on Maui and I did not even visit birding hotspots and thus had only 22 species for the whole time there.  One of the most striking was the Red Crested or Brazilian Cardinal.  I saw one on this last day in Maui, but the much better photo is from the previous day at the I’ao Needle Monument.

Red Crested or Brazilian Cardinal

Red Crested Cardinal

Then it was back to the airport to drop off the rental car and catch my flight to the Big Island.  I think there was more time taxiing, ascending and descending than in level flight.  I arrived on Hawaii around 12:30 and by 1:00 p.m. I was on my way to Aimakapa Pond only about 5 miles south of the airport.  I had seen great reports from this Hotspot during my preliminary research and it was a planned stop on the actual Big Day on Thursday, but I wanted to test the waters so to speak.  It was a fabulous place.

In just over an hour at the Pond much of which was spent walking out from the visitor parking area, I had 23 species including four that were considered rare by Ebird.  Although much of the area is birdless black lava, there was some brush and there was both saltwater beach and the fresh or brackish water pond.  One of the rarities was a Black Bellied Plover that had been seen often but was still a lucky find.  It was one of 5 shorebird species there – a lot for Hawaii.  Others were Pacific Golden Plovers (which are abundant throughout the islands), Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone and Wandering Tattler.  Most of the birds were not people shy and the great light helped with photography.

Black Bellied Plover

Black Bellied Plover

Pacific Golden Plover

Pacific Golden Plover

Sanderling

Sanderling

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone1

Wandering Tattler

Wandering Tattler

On the way out to the Pond I found my first Yellow Billed Cardinal.  It looked very much like a crestless Red Crested Cardinal but the yellow bill certainly jumps out and the red extends down onto the top of the chest on the latter which is black on this little beauty.

Yellow Billed Cardinal

Yellow Billed Cardinal1

Green Sea Turtles rest on the lava outcroppings at the ocean beach and are protected there.  They were the main attraction for the other visitors and hard to pass up for observation and photos for me as well.  One had been a highlight for my daughter when we snorkeled in Maui.  I had missed that one.  At one point the Wandering Tattler foraged within a foot or two of one of the turtles.  It moved on before I could get a picture.

Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea Turtle

As I was scanning the pond looking for ducks – rare in Hawaii – a pair of large birds flew by.  One landed and the other continued on.  These were the second of my rarities for the visit, a pair of White Faced Ibis.

White Faced Ibis

White Faced Ibis Flyiover1

White Faced Ibis1

I managed to find a Northern Shoveler and some Lesser Scaup but did not find the American Wigeon that had been reported off and on recently.  There were no Stilts but there were several Hawaiian Coots and a third rarity was a Laughing Gull that was resting in the shade.  This would be the only gull that I saw on my entire trip.  I read a comment somewhere that visitors are always surprised to not find gulls with all the water around, but the reality is that most gulls are found on or near large land masses and not islands far out at sea.

Hawaiian Coot

Hawaiian Coot

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull1

No pictures, but another common bird here and throughout the trip was the Cattle Egret.  When I first arrived on Maui and saw one in flight I mistook it for a Snowy Egret and then realized that they are not found on the Islands although often misreported by mainlanders like me.  Not nearly as common as the Cattle Egrets, Black Crowned Night Herons are seen often and there were both adults and juveniles at this location.

Black Crowned Night Herons

Black Crowned Night Heron  Black Crowned Night Heron Juvenile

On the way back to the parking area I found two new birds for the trip – Yellow Fronted Canary and Common Waxbill.  I would see both later that day and on the next days as well.  A photo of the Canary comes later but as poor as it is, this is the best I could do for the Waxbill.

Common Waxbill

Common Waxbill1

As I was trying to get a photo of the Waxbills, I heard a raucous call that sure sounded like a parrot or parakeet.  None had been reported at this location, so I was quite surprised when I easily found a parakeet on top of a snag.  It was shortly joined by another.  The only species that came up on the Ebird list was a Red Fronted Parrot and at first I mistakenly reported them as that.  They were Red Masked Parakeets – as in many parts of the Continental U.S. fairly numerous but not yet recognized as a sustaining species.

Red Masked Parakeets

Red Fronted Parrots

It was barely 2:30 and my lodging in Waimea was less than an hour north.  Now what?  Including ones from earlier in the day, I had seen 31 species.  I wondered if I knew the area better if it would be possible to get to my magic 50 species…but I did not know it better so abandoned that idea.  I considered a seawatch.  Instead I decided to get some lunch (oh yeah, I had forgotten that) and head to Waimea.  My guide for the big day tomorrow had suggested a good birding area very near where I would be staying in Waimea and so I headed north.

I checked into the somewhat inaptly named Waimea Country Lodge.  Definitely adequate but no “Hawaii” to it except for the Red Junglefowl constantly crowing.  This is the predecessor/progenitor species for all domestic chickens.  It was brought to the Islands by the Polynesians many centuries ago.  There a few wild ones in a couple of forest parks on Kauai.  All others are feral – similar to the situation in the Florida Keys.  They call throughout the day and start very early.

Red Junglefowl

red-jungle-fowl-domestic.jpg

I then went to the Ulu La’au (Waimea Nature Park) – or tried to.  My Google Maps GPS took me close by but on the wrong side of a small stream.  With some local help, I figured it out and arrived at a lovely preserved area with a good trail.  There were lots of birds and lots of bird song but I had no idea what I was listening to except for the frequent calls of Spotted Doves, Zebra Doves and Northern Cardinals.   I am sure I missed lots of birds, and added only Java Sparrow, African Silverbill and Scaly Breasted Munia for the day.  I also had a much better look at Yellow Fronted Canaries.

I had seen all but the Munia earlier on Maui.  There were hundreds if not thousands of doves everywhere there.  I still have not seen a Spotted Dove in the ABA area – having just missed one at a Los Angeles park last year.  They are very attractive as is the much smaller Zebra Dove which fooled me into thinking it was a Mourning Dove on many occasions.

Scaly Breasted Munia

Scaly Breasted Munia3

Spotted Dove

Spotted Dove 2

Java Sparrow

java-sparrow.jpg

Zebra Dove

Zebra Dove

Yellow Fronted Canary

Yellow Fronted Canary

At the end of the day I had seen 34 species.  Applying what I learned during the next two days, looking back now, I think it may have been possible to get an earlier flight from Maui and visit several other places to get 50 species in that day – but it would have been hard and the rarities I saw at Aimakapa Pond may have been missed.  In any even that would be the task the following day and will get covered in a separate blog post.  This one continues with the day after the Big Day – a short day before catching my flight back to Seattle in the afternoon.

During the Big Day, we started again at Ulu La’au Park and this time with expert eyes and ears and knowledge in the form of my guide, Lance Tanino, there had been many more species.  But we missed one that Lance thought was a given and that was high on my “wish list” – the Red Billed Leiothorix.  Proving that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, when I returned to the same trees where Lance had expected it the day before, I heard a scolding chatter call that I was pretty sure was my bird.  It was very low light and difficult to see the tiny and fast moving birds, but I got a good binocular look to confirm the ID and then as light improved I was finally able to get some nice photos.  A very cute little guy indeed.

Red Billed Leiothorix

red-billed-leiothorix1.jpg

Red Billed Leiothorix

I wondered if maybe I had seen one before in low light and confused it with the somewhat similar, much more common, and equally as quick moving Japanese White Eye.  There were many in the park and some in the adjacent trees. It is easy to see from the picture how it gets its name.

Japanese White Eye

Japanese White Eye in Cherry Tree

Finding the Leiothorix on my own was a highlight.  Feeling lucky, I thought I would go after another miss from the day before.  We had gone to the South Golf Course at the beautiful Maunu Lani Resort looking for a Bristle Thighed Curlew.  They nest in Nome and then fly 2400 miles nonstop to winter on South Pacific Islands.  They were regular at the golf course but eluded us.  We had seen MANY Pacific Golden Plovers and a number of Ruddy Turnstones.  I returned to the same exact spot and again saw many of those two shorebirds.  On my third scan of the area I saw a larger bird with a long decurved bill.  Reminiscent of the Whimbrels we see in the Northwest and possible but very rare in Hawaii, it was a single Bristle Thighed Curlew and I could even see the bristles on the “thighs”.  A highly magnified and very distant photo but I was thrilled to get it.

Bristle Thighed Curlew

Bristle Thighed Curlew

Now I was feeling very lucky indeed.  There was time for one more stop so I returned to an area near Waikoloa where we had seen Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse the previous day.  They had flown off before I could reposition the car for a photo and it was a big “want”.  No luck this time, so I went to the playfield at Paniolo another place where they had often been seen.  There are two fields.  On the lower field I saw 5 large birds that I thought might be the Sandgrouse.  Nope – all were Gray Francolin.  There were also a number of Eurasian Skylarks on the grass and flying and singing above the field.  Also in a wet spot where we had found Silverbills the day before there was a small flock of Rosy Faced Lovebirds and some Saffron Finches.

Eurasian Skylark

Eurasian Skylark 2

Rosy Faced Lovebirds

Rosy Faced Lovebird 2

I headed to the upper field and in the distance again saw birds that I thought could well be the Sandgrouse.  Unfortunately I arrived at the same time as a woman with her off leash dog.  The park is signed as not allowing any animals.  I later found out she knew that but could care less.  I also learned she voted for Trump.  Figures…  In any event the possible Sandgrouse flew off as soon as she arrived.  No photos…

It had been a great morning and a great trip  The weather had been fantastic with no rain on the Big Island at all even though it had been forecast.  I will leave totals for the blog post on the Big Day.  Somehow it seems fitting to end with a bird that was found everywhere on both Maui and Hawaii, was probably the most numerous species seen and was the last bird I saw as I returned the car to to airport – the Common Myna.  There are no Robins, or Starlings on the Islands and I think this species fills both of those niches to some degree.  This is the same species found and countable in South Florida.  They are loud and gregarious and very striking especially in flight with large white wing patches.  They truly were everywhere and now end this report.

Common Mynas

Common Mynas

 

Mahalo Hawaii!!!