Slammin’ Again – Walla Walla Again

In an earlier blog post, I wrote up two “Birding Slams” that I was fortunate to have in January 2022. On January 27th, it was the “Zono Slam” – all four of the Zonotrichia sparrow species on the same day and in fact at the same location in Snohomish County, Washington – WHITE THROATED SPARROW, WHITE CROWNED SPARROW, GOLDEN CROWNED SPARROW and HARRIS’S SPARROW. Four days later on January 31st it was the “Falcon Slam” as Jon Houghton and I had AMERICAN KESTREL, MERLIN, PEREGRINE FALCON, PRAIRIE FALCON and GYRFALCON in Skagit, Washington. On May 21st, on a mixed birding, wine and food trip to Walla Walla centered around attending Mike Denny’s presentation of “Secret Life of the Desert: Deserts of the Pacific Northwest”, it happened again – another Birding Slam – all of the hummingbird species regularly seen in Washington – ANNA’S, RUFOUS, CALLIOPE and BLACK CHINNED with the bonus of the COSTA’S HUMMINGBIRD that first visited a feeder in Ellensburg, Washington last year and has made a return this

EBird has records of a BROAD TAILED HUMMINGBIRD seen by many observers in the Walla Walla area in 2005 (no photos) and there is a report with photo of a female RUBY THROATED HUMMINGBIRD in Ridgefield, Washington, in 2017. The Washington Bird Records Committee also has a BROAD BILLED HUMMINGBIRD on the state list but there is nothing on EBird. The hummers in the first paragraph are regular and not too difficult to find in the right areas and at the right times – except for the COSTA’S which has been very rare with very few records. As far as I know there have been no other occasions in Washington where five hummingbird species have been seen by single observers on the same day. Since the COSTA’S has been regular for multiple weeks both last year and this year, I expect this is simply because nobody thought to try to do it – although finding the BLACK CHINNED and CALLIOPE’S are by no means guaranteed. So a nice first “Five Hummer Slam” even better because Cindy got to see it with me. [I noted that on one checklist for the BROAD TAILED HUMMINGBIRD by Mike and MerryLynn Denny, they also reported CALLIOPE, RUFOUS and BLACK CHINNED.]

Costa’s Hummingbird – Ellensburg, Washington
Anna’s Hummingbird – Cle Elum, Washington
Calliope Hummingbird – Cle Elum, Washington
Black Chinned Hummingbird – Pasco, Washington
Rufous Hummingbird – Hyak Feeders, Snoqualmie Pass

In May it is almost a requirement to stop at Bullfrog Pond just west of Cle Elum whenever I travel to Eastern Washington. We had seen both ANNA’S and RUGOUS HUMMINGBIRDS at Snoqualmie Pass but the Hummer Slam was not yet on the agenda. The stop at Bullfrog would hopefully give us looks at some newly arrived migrants and I was particularly hoping for new birds for Cindy with WESTERN TANAGER at the top of the list. Bullfrog was not super birdy but we did manage to find CASSIN’S and WARBLING VIREOS, NASHVILLE, YELLOW and WILSON’S WARBLERS and most importantly BLACK HEADED GROSBEAK and WESTERN TANAGER. Afterwards we found the CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD at Aja Woodrow’s feeders on Denny Avenue.

Black Headed Grosbeak – Bullfrog Pond
Western tanager – Bullfrog Pond
Nashville Warbler – Bullfrog Pond

It was only after seeing the CALLIOPE that the idea of a slam took hold. I checked with Walter and he confirmed the COSTA’S was still there and then also checked with Vic Hubbard and he confirmed that his BLACK CHINNED had been seen that morning. The hummers were hopefully to be a highlight but only one of several on the first day of our three trip. After the COSTA’S HUMMER at Walter Szeliga’s home and before our stop at Vic Hubbard’s home in Pasco, we made stops at County Line Ponds in Grant County and at Para/McCain Ponds in Adams County. As had been the case earlier on my trip with Tom St. John, the goal was to find BLACK NECKED STILTS and AMERICAN AVOCETS. Cindy had seen the STILTS in Mexico but not in Washington and the AVOCETS would be new. I was also hoping for WILSON’S PHALAROPES, which I had seen at the “Dwayne Lane Pond” in Snohomish County a few days earlier but which again would be new for Cindy. The County Line Ponds delivered with great looks at all of the targets. A first experience with the twirling phalaropes is memorable. Beautiful birds and the circling feeding technique is simply mesmerizing to watch. Also memorable was the photo that Cindy got of one of the STILTS – her first foray into bird photography – and a beauty!!

American Avocet – County Line Ponds – Grant County
Cindy’s Photo of Black Necked Stilt at County Line Ponds
Wilson’s Phalarope – County Line Ponds – Grant County

At Para Ponds we did find a few TRICOLORED BLACKBIRDS but were not able to get decent photos. Interestingly there were numerous BLACK NECKED STILTS but neither AVOCETS nor PHALAROPES which I had expected. So we were on to Vic Hubbard’s place in Pasco where at the very last minute before leaving, we did finally see the BLACK CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD to make the slam. A big bonus was Vic taking us to his BURROWING OWL site on private property – part of a study program with Jason Fidorra. This was new for Cindy and greatly appreciated.

Burrowing Owl – Pasco Washington

And then there would be another bonus as Vic told us about a HUDSONIAN GODWIT that MerryLynn Denny had found at the 2 Rivers Unit of the McNary NWR that morning and that Vic had seen afterwards. Our plan had been to look for FERRUGINOUS HAWKS on 9 Mile Canyon Road, but this was a very rare bird for the state and we changed plans. We had a little trouble fining the “trail” out to the water from the parking area, but finally got on the right path. When we got to the river we could see a large shorebird a couple hundred yards away. A scope view confirmed that it was the HUDSONIAN GODWIT – only the 6th one I have seen in Washington and the first in Eastern Washington. We tried to hike out to get closer for a photo but it took off and the only photos I could get were of an undiscernible brown mass flying away. I am including a wonderful photo that Vic took earlier.

Hudsonian Godwit – Photo by Vic Hubbard

With that success, we called it a day and carried on to Walla Walla where we would stay for two nights. Thanks to the “World’s Noisiest Ice Machine” our stay at the Comfort Inn ranked pretty low for our stays anywhere, but the rest of our visit was great. There had been a lot of birding and there would be more, but the main reason for coming to Walla Walla was to attend the “Secret Life of the Desert: Deserts of the Pacific Northwest” presentation by Mike Denny the next day, but hey, while we were there we were going to take advantage of the great wine and food offerings in the area, starting with dinner at TMac’s that first night. Really good food with the highlight being a Brussels Salad that was one of the best starters we have ever had. Fun place with great service as well.

Brussels Salad at TMac’s in Walla Walla
TMac’s – Walla Walla

The next morning Cindy slept in and I left very early to look for the SNOWY EGRET and WHITE FACED IBISES that had been reported at Millet Pond. I got to Millet Pond around 7:00 a.m. and was able to get a scope view of the SNOWY EGRET only the third one I have seen in Washington (although with multiple observations of one over several years). I continued on to the furthest parking area and hiked in looking for the WHITE FACED IBIS. This has been a hit and miss species in Washington. In the last few years, they have been seen somewhat regularly at this location but can easily be missed in the vegetation and this year only three had been seen. It was a great walk with lots of species including my first LARK SPARROW, EASTERN KINGBIRD and RED NECKED PHALAROPES for 2022 but no IBIS. Some other fun species though were multiple winnowing WILSON’S SNIPE, several whinnying SORA, a BULLOCK’S ORIOLE, WESTERN WOOD PEWEES calling constantly and LAZULI BUNTING.

Lark Sparrow – Millet Pond

I had intended to stop again at 2 Rivers, but forgot that it was just West and not just East of Millet Pond, and after heading 8 miles in the wrong direction decided to continue on back to Walla Walla where we had a wine tasting scheduled at noon before going to Mike’s presentation at 3:00 o’clock. We had heard good things about the Walla Walla Bread Company and stopped there before the wine for a late “brunch”. We did not have a great experience. First since they were “out of bagels” I could not get the Bagels, Lox and Cream Cheese that I wanted and is one of their specialties. Then we had to wait 30 minutes from the time we placed our order until it was ready to be picked up (not even served). And they were not really all that crowded. The servings were large but there was no taste to the scramble and the panino that we got. Oh well.

The experience was much better with our wine tasting which was at Kontos Winery’s tasting room in downtown Walla Walla. The winery had been recommended by our wine guru extraordinaire, Adonis Mclean who has never led us wrong. Walla Walla is an amazing wine place with more than 120 wineries and excellent wine. We were quite surprised that Kontos was not crowded. Two other couples were there when we arrived but departed soon after and we had the place and Andy, our wine steward and server, to ourselves for almost two hours. Our six tastings included a white that we were not crazy about and then 5 reds that we were very fond of especially their Cabernet Sauvignon, their Syrah, their Alatus Red Blend and their featured Boss Red which comes only in magnums and is a blend of 47% merlot, 47% cabernet sauvignon and 6 % cabernet franc. We are hardly experts but are trying to learn and definitely do enjoy. We purchased a couple of bottles to bring home. Andy was great company.

Kontos Syrah – Walla Walla

Mike’s presentation debuted to a full house and was fantastic. What we saw was a compendium of the 19 episodes of “Secret Life of the Desert: Deserts of the Pacific Northwest” – a work of love and art by good friend and great naturalist/historian/birder Mike Denney and photographer/producer Daniel Biggs. There is no way to do justice to their creation which was several years in the making. A brief video introduction can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqiukdUQSdw. Really a great show.

Photo from Secret Life of the Desert

After the presentation we were off to our second culinary visit of the trip to Hattaway’s Restaurant – self described as “Inspired by the local ingredients of the Pacific Northwest, Hattaway’s on Alder brings the cooking traditions of the Southeast and rural America to downtown Walla Walla, Washington.  Honest food with the charm of Southern hospitality.” The food was really good, the service really really good and the hospitality, really really really good. We liked the Etouffee better than their trademark fried chicken but enjoyed both with more Walla Walla wine of course.

Hattaway’s – Walla Walla

We got a relatively early start for home on Monday morning with a first stop on Highway 12 where we were able to get nice photos of a SWAINSON’S HAWK eating its morning meal before we continued on to 9 Mile Canyon Road searching for the FERRUGINOUS HAWKS that nest there. One nest is not far up the road but is up a narrow draw and quite distant. We could see one adult sitting on the platform nest – good scope views but a distant photo at best. I had hoped to show Cindy some LARK SPARROWS along the way as it is a good place for them, but they did not cooperate. Other observations were a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE and a couple of calling ROCK WRENS.

Swainson’s Hawk with Prey
Ferruginous Hawk on Nest

Continuing East and still hoping for a LARK SPARROW, we turned off Highway 12 onto Hatch Grade Road. No sparrow but we had great views of one of Cindy’s favorite birds, LAZULI BUNTING. They seem to prefer brushy slopes and that is exactly what we had. We also had several WESTERN KINGSBIRDS, an EASTERN KINGBIRD and a SAY”S PHOEBE.

Lazuli Bunting
Western Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird

I especially wanted Cindy to see Millet Ponds, even if only from the high road without walking in. Of course I was hoping that maybe the WHITE FACED IBIS would make an appearance as well. As soon as we stopped on the road above the ponds, we saw some large dark forms that were promising. Bins, cameras and the scope confirmed that we had found some WHITE FACED IBIS. At first there was a group of 3, then another group of 4 and then a flock flew in and altogether we had at least 30. Distant photos only but a great find for us. We did not move in closer and did not stay long but we had CINNAMON and GREEN WINGED TEAL, GREAT EGRETS, YELLOW HEADED BLACKBIRDS and a calling SORA.

White Faced Ibis

Again continuing west, we drove up Dodd Road to the sand cliffs where BARN OWLS have nested for many years. We were only able to see owls in the larger of the holes in the bank and I later learned that there were probably owlets in another of the holes, but we were happy with the looks we got, even if the owls were pretty far back in the cavities. They really are odd looking creatures with their heart shaped faces.

Barn Owls

The HUDSONIAN GODWIT had been seen at the 2 Rivers Unit of McNary NWR the previous morning. Would we get lucky and have it again this morning? Unfortunately not. Cindy rested her recovering knee and I retraced Saturday’s hike out to the river. On the way out I ran into another birder, Pam Cahn, who said that the GODWIT had not been seen that day but that a BLACK TERN had been seen earlier although it had flown off to the East. One of the main reasons for returning to the spot was to look more closely at the other birds there including both COMMON and FORSTER’S TERNS which had been seen there regularly over the past few days as well as a chance for a FRANKLIN’S GULL. All would be FOY’s for me as would the BLACK TERN which would be a great bonus. The good news is that they were all there – albeit a long way off – best seen with a scope. I was particularly happy to find the BLACK TERN sitting on the sand bar with the others, visible only when it was on the side of the bar closest to me. The photo is terrible but confirms the ID. Usually I have to travel to Spokane County to find BLACK TERNS, a trip I was not planning on making this year, so a bonus indeed.

Black Tern

There would be one more stop on the way back, a small diversion to Horn Rapids State Park where I have had COMMON NIGHTHAWKS in the past and where several had been reported the previous week. We walked through the campground and through the trees. Maybe they were there and we missed them, but it was not to be. A bonus was a decent view and photo of a male BULLOCK’S ORIOLE which were heard singing and chattering.

Bullock’s Oriole

We left Horn Rapids around 2 pm. Normally it would be around 3.5 hours to reach home about 210 miles away. We never did figure out why, but there was a terrible traffic jam and delay on I-90 adding an unpleasant hour to our journey, but it had been a great trip for birds, scenery, food, wine and friends. We had not specifically tried to add species, but still ended up with 101 species for the trip – of which 13 were new for 2022 for me. Without question the Hummer Slam had been the most fun and memorable birding part of the trip, and the BLACK TERN and HUDSONIAN GODWIT at 2 Rivers were unexpected treats. I think the best part of the trip, though, was Cindy starting to get into the photography. I have found it to greatly enhance my pleasure and definitely improve my ability to identify birds. I am sure it will be the same for her.

One thought on “Slammin’ Again – Walla Walla Again

  1. Wow what a fabulous post. Congrats on the Hummer Slam! COHU is great. Broad-tailed is far rarer in BC than COHU. I really enjoyed reading this and seeing the gorgeous photos.
    My friend found a FEHA nest in WA just recently such a great state bird too. Glad you saw it even if distant.

    Nice job on the HUGO and everything . Love the BUOW too. I’m so in love with BLTE. They have become really rare now in BC even in places they used to breed a bird that’s sadly declining rapidly.

    Cheers and hope to see you soon off to NFLD and NS very soon.
    Mel

    Like

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