Monday, April 25, 2011

Ocean Shores - Grays Harbor County 4/23

Bowerman Basin mudflats - Grays Harbor County
 From Tokeland, I knew it was close to high tide at 5:45, so I made my way over to Bowerman Basin near Hoquiam.  I had never walked the boardwalk here to see shorebirds, and had heard that near high tide was best, because it pushes the birds in closer to the boardwalks.  There were a couple of dozens of birds, but nothing like I had seen in Tokeland.  I'm sure that years ago, I may have given it a try at low tide in June, found nothing, and included it with my mounting evidence that shorebirds don't exist!  It's been fun to learn the subtleties about when and why you find shorebirds where you do.  This still puzzled me, and the birds (dowitchers, Least Sandpipers, Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlins) were a bit too far out for any good pictures.  There were dozens of Marsh Wrens on the way out and back, however! 
Sunset at Ocean shores - gull passing by the sun.

Sunset at Ocean Shores
My wife had picked up my son and daughter from school early enough that sunset should have been an easy goal.  Traffic made it otherwise!  I checked us in to the hotel, and then started shooting sunset shots, texting her to let her know the sun was still up.  She made it just in time to see it slowly touch the horizon and end the day.  The sunsets and the sounds of waves are two things that bring us back at least once a year. 
The next day was gorgeous - just flat out gorgeous.  It's so often that we get to Ocean Shores thinking "beach" and leave thinking "cold".  This was by far the warmest clearest day we'd ever had here.  No picture included here, but we did have a plain view of the Olympic Range throughout our trip - something I don't recall seeing from the beach before.  We drove the cars to the beach, unpacked the kites and sand toys and all had a blast.  Bre and the kids are certainly more into shell collecting, and it was fun to go over things with Declan - that the purple Sand Dollars are still alive, and should be left alone; that the shells with the tiny little holes in them were victims of Moon Snails. 

Short-billed Dowitchers
The shorebirds were actually good here today, compared to what I'm used to.  Even though I didn't get out in the morning, I saw quite a few making their way up and down the beach.  Sanderlings, Marbled Godwits, and Short-billed Dowitchers were all moving along the surf, stopping now and then for snacks.  Usually I think the people are part of the deterrent for the birds, but today, it didn't seem to matter that threre were hundreds of people out on the beach.

Razor Clamming

One of the big reasons that there were so many people on the beach - razor clams!   I have never been out when it's been okay to dig, and I was amazed at the process, and at how many people were doing it.  One gentleman was pretty good at it, dropping the tube every minute or two and popping out another clam.  Many were walking away with full bags of clams.  This warrants a return. :)
Everyone was enjoying playing in the waves.

Today may have been Maura's first unassisted kite-flying.

Razor Clam
Point Brown Jetty

After lunch in town (fish and chips!) and some miniature golfing, and a licorice ice cream cone (mandatory), we made another run to the beach - this time at the southern end of Ocean Shores, Point Brown.  Declan really enjoyed hopping around on the rocks.  I was scared bringing the scope and camera out through these, but was surprised to find it was quite easy to make my way over the rocks with equipment in hand.  Black Turnstones and Surfbirds were on the rocks at the far end of the Jetty, but that was all I had here for shorebirds.  I've never seen a Rock Sandpiper, and this is a good place for them in cooler months.

One of many people fishing on the jetty.
Black Turnstone

Point Brown beach before leaving for home
I'm hoping to make it back to Grays Harbor in August for a different bunch of shorebirds, although without trying too hard, I ended up with 40 species on this trip.  14 counties down!  The ones that I haven't visited and/or finished are farther and farther away, so there may be some down time here, but I should have a trip, maybe two in May to Eastern Washington before my big trip in the last week of June.  We shall see!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

On the way to the shore - Lewis and Pacific Counties 4/22

Goodrich Pond - Lewis County

Wood Duck - Goodrich Road
Spring break is almost over, and I was able to get out for a trip that started with birding, and rolled into a family trip to Ocean Shores.  I dropped the kiddos off at school on Friday morning, and make my way down towards Lewis County.  (I did make a side stop at Nisqually - not even to the visitor center - and found some shorebirds in the slough just off of the freeway - Greater Yellowlegs, and Least Sandpipers).  Goodrich Pond in Lewis County is north of Centralia, and is a spot that I had visited back in February on the way down I5.

I knew that shorebirds were on their way through the state right now, so I thought I'd give this spot a try.  No shorebirds here, but there were some Bonaparte's Gulls, which are usually seen more often on salt water.  Talking with a gentleman I met at the pond, I learned that Galvin Road had a flooded field with some Dunlin and other sandpipers - a quick trip, and I found them, some Western Sandpipers, Dunlin (sporting black bellies) and a Greater Yellowlegs. 

A lot of these signs on Highway 6!  That's 
why you might not have been on it before.
Each of these got me closer to 39 for the county, but it was time to get going to some different habitat.  Lewis County has farmland that runs all the way up into the Willapa Hills, which lie between I5 and the ocean.  Highway 6 takes a person through these hills from Centralia (where I picked up a Eurasian Collared-Dove) to Raymond, switching over to Pacific County along the way.  One stop that I had always wanted to make was to Rainbow Falls State Park on Highway 6.  I love me a good waterfall, and this sounded beautiful.

Rainbow Falls - Lewis County

The American Dipper was there a second ago, I swear!
This waterfall was not exactly what I was expecting!  It was very splashy, but allllmost looked like something you could take a kayak through.  One thing I had hoped to find here was an American Dipper.  I just hadn't found one yet this year, and they really are fun birds.  

They hang out in places just like this, hopping around in the rapids and eating larvae out of the rivers.  Fun to watch them do their thing, and I wasn't disappointed this time.  I found one almost as soon as I got there - although shooting him turned out to be a challenge.  In the end, the picture here was as good as it got, although the picture tells a lot!  The bird is in the picture somewhere, standing on a rock, happily letting the water run over him as he dipped under the rapids for a few seconds. 

Varied Thrush, Purple Finch, Tree Swallows, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Pacific Wrens, and an Annas Hummingbird at the feeder at the ranger station rounded out a lovely stop.  On the way back to Hwy 6, I passed a sign I had missed on the way in (I saw another similar one as I actually passed through Pe Ell further up the road.

Willapa Hills near Rainbow Falls State Park -
leaving Lewis County with 50+ birds.
Elk Heights Road - Pacific County

Pacific County:  Once I crossed the county line, and before getting to Lebam, I pulled off at Elk Heights Road, found a spot by a creek, rolled down the windows and listened.  Pacific Wren, Downy Woodpecker, and lots of noise from the creek.  It was beautiful, so I shot some pictures before going.  By the way, Lebam had me curious, and a quick search for "how did Lebam Washington get its name" led me to a site I have not seen before! claims that Lebam, Washington is indeed Mabel spelled backwards - the daughter of an early settler.

From Highway 6 - between Lebam and Raymond

Case Pond - Raymond, WA

Raymond was full of these nature sculptures throughout the town - birds, animals and fish.  This picture is from Case Pond - a little fishing hole reserved for kids 14 and under.  I chose to go south - towards Astoria (but not all the way there, and certainly not up to Leadbetter Point on the Pacific from there, although I will get there someday!)  Time was short enough - already coming on 2:00.  I took the turn at Bay Center Dike Road, and found the Bay to be full of Western Grebes, Common Loons and Red-breasted Mergansers.  Marshy areas on the other side of the road had ducks, marsh wrens and blackbirds.

Willapa Bay - fishing boat
Oyster burger? Yes indeed.  If I'd brought a cooler,
it would have been nice to bring some oysters home!

After grabbing an oyster burger in South Bend, I made my way towards Tokeland.  Between the Tokeland Marina and Graveyard Spit, this is the most reliable place in the state to find Marbled Godwits.  The first time I came through here, a good birding friend had 'guaranteed' that there would be godwits at Graveyard Spit - no dice, but they were found at the Marina later.  It was the reverse today.  Graveyard Spit was full of thousands of shorebirds - seven species at least.

Black-bellied Plover and dowitcher
Here was one of many breeding plumaged Black-bellied Plovers that I saw on this trip, along with a dowitcher.  Long-billed? Short-billed?  Probably short - there were hundreds of those here - but I didn't pick through the dowitchers all that carefully to see if the less common (for here) Long-billed were mixed in.  Most of the birds there were godwits, dowitchers, and Dunlin.  Later some Western Sandpipers twirled in.

Long-billed Curlew
 I was hoping to find a Whimbrel on this trip, and got excited by the droopy billed shorebird at right, not a Whimbrel, but the best look I've had at a Long-billed Curlew!  It was interesting to see this here after seeing them for the first time in farmland in Grant County!  Below are the last pictures from Pacific County, where I finished out with 56 species for the day.

Shorebirds in flight - Graveyard Spit

Tokeland Marina - empty of birds today, but not always!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pasco and back - 4/16

Wilson's Snipe - Lateral C, Toppenish
I had a very good stay with my brother Friday evening - we talked a lot of family and a lot of track - and I left bright and early for Fort Simcoe.  Along the way, I stopped at a mini-mart in White Swan, and it was already busy with people stopping in on their way to work in the fields.  That used to be every summer - working with apples, pears, cherries and hops - and always early, and always long hours.  There are smells that would have brought me back a little -  the smell of a full field of hops, or a CA warehouse full of Gala apples - but I was too early in the year for any of those.  Maybe on another trip!

Great Horned Owl - Fort Road

On my way out to the fort, I was hoping to see Barn Owls swooping over the fields as it became light.  None appeared, but I did spot a Great Horned Owl roosting in a tree along Fort Road.  As I drove, and drove, and drove, I considered the wisdom of squeezing in a trip to Fort Simcoe.  It is a looooong way (20+ miles) off of the freeway!  I had not been there in 20 years or more, though, and this was the time to make the side trip.

Sunrise outside of White Swan

If I had been out later in the year, perhaps, I may have found more at the fort, but Lewis' Woodpeckers, which enjoy the acorns provided by the oaks, were either not here, or here in small numbers, or here in large numbers and hiding.  With this and missing White-headed Woodpeckers the day before, it was not turning out to be a good trip for woodpeckers! (I only saw flickers during the trip!)  There were four species of corvids however (crow, raven, Steller's Jay, and Western Scrub-Jay), as well as a Cooper's Hawk.
Fort Simcoe - Yakima County

Toppenish NWR - Lateral C
 From here, I made my way towards Pumphouse Road, which runs along the Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge.  The first real stop here was Lateral C - heading up this road I came to a bridge over the Toppenish River.  In the river itself, there were numerous Northern Pintails and American Wigeon.

 Hundreds of swallows were back for the summer - Violet-green, Tree, Barn and Northern Rough-winged.  Snipe were winnowing in the marshes - a crazy sound that I had not heard until last year!  I also found 5 Greater Yellowlegs, before continuing down the road.  Several spots along the way had spots to pull over and scope out some ducks.  The refuge headquarters had not much new, but a Ring-necked Pheasant flushed at one point - maybe the first I've actually seen this year!

I made one quick stop before leaving Yakima County, at a pond along the Yakima Valley Highway between Granger and Outlook.  I had heard that Black-necked Stilts had arrived for the summer - a bird I'd never seen before.  I found 5 of them there, and got a few pictures of these crazy looking birds. The one below was from the far side of the ponds, but catches the legs out of the water.

Black-necked Stilt - Yakima Valley

Passed by a lot of vineyards (and wineries!) on the way
 From here, and with 60 birds for my home county, I drove into Benton County.  As soon as I was across the county line, I turned in towards Prosser, and up Rattlesnake Mountain.  Growing up in Yakima, I was always surrounded by these long ridges and mountains, but very rarely drove up any of them.  It was amazing to get so high above the valley, and to see that there is still life up there - even homes at the top! 

Sage Sparrow
The new bird on this stretch for me was a Sage Sparrow.  I heard a few, but this one sat on some sage for me and sang.  I saw it do a strange head tilt several times, and caught it once in a photo - it almost looked like it was crooking its head to hear me better.

Excuse me?
Some pictures from the top:

And more critters!  Any help with these?  Some kind of ground squirrel...
I made my way down the hill, which took longer than I had anticipated (twice today, including the trip to and from Fort Simcoe), so I was starting to cut it close for the meet in Pasco.  This was a pretty exciting race!  Two of the top girls in the nation in the mile are in Washington State, and one of them happens to be at our school!  They finished 1-2 at a meet in California the previous weekend, with Maddie coming out on the short end, so (even if I wasn't coaching!) I wanted to make sure to make it there in time for the rematch!  The Pasco Invitational is an amazing meet, and this was the 30th anniversary of the meet.  Over 80 schools from around the state (and a handful from Oregon and Idaho) had sent athletes to compete here.  I pondered how many of the schools I must have driven within 5 miles of!  I made it in plenty of time, as it turns out, and watched the two girls battle it out - both finishing under 4:50, with Maddie holding on for a win this time!

Horned Lark
Being in Franklin County for the meet, I made one quick birding stop in the Pasco area before heading back over the mountains - at Sacajawea Park.  By this time, the wind was pretty severe, so most birds were hunkered down.  I was still able to scope out the Columbia a little, and walk through some of the park to pick up 23 different species.  The most surprising one was a Great Egret, which popped out of a slough on the way out of the park.

Sacajawea Park - Franklin County
Returning through Columbia Park which runs between Kennewick and Richland on the Benton side, I also found a few more birds, but not many in the wind.  My last birds for Benton as I continued on towards home were a dozen American White Pelicans along the Yakima River, putting me at 30 for Benton - I'll need to return!

Gratuitous flower shot

Highway 82 scenery - southern Kittitas County on the way home