Sunday, April 17, 2011

4/15 - Going home the long way. Kittitas and Yakima Counties.

Snow on Snoqualmie
I included this picture just because I had announced the beginning of spring in the last post.  Seems I'm eating crow... so to speak. 

Bluebird box in snow - Umptanum Road
This was the first year that our track team had an athlete competing at the Pasco Invitational.  Our distance coach went over as the 'official' coach for the trip, and I decided to make it a birding-visiting with family-see some awesome running weekend.  Growing up in Yakima, I had made the trip from Ellensburg to Yakima so many times on Highway 82, and a handful of times on the Canyon Road (Highway 821), but I'd never gone all the way over Ellensburg Pass (heading up Umptanum Road from Ellensburg, then descending on Wenas Road to Yakima).  I made a late morning start to make sure that I beat whatever weather might come, and got to Umptanum Road by 1:00.

I made it to this road for the first time last May on an awesome trip through Kittitas county.  I may have had a full dozen lifers on that trip - I'd just never reallly birded the East side in the summer!  Sage Thrashers, Vesper Sparrows, and Western Bluebirds were new for me last year here.  I knew it might be early for them, but by heading over the top of Manastash Ridge, I was hoping for some other birds I'd never seen before.  The first real stop for me was to see if the Red-tailed Hawk nest was still there in the same tree as last May - yes indeed!  Last year, I only caught this because of a hawk flying into the tree, but it's nice to be able to find it again, and to see the nest in use.

Spring colors on Umptanum Road
 Even with Kittitas County being a just-passing-through county, I've been able to add to the county list along the way, and the trip up Umptanum Road actually got me into the 30's for the county.  A few Western Bluebirds scattered as I drove the road, and little bunches of trees like the ones above had Ruby-crowned Kinglets and White-crowned Sparrows.  After passing into Yakima County briefly, I pulled off into the parking lot for the hike to Umptanum Falls, taking me back into Kittitas.

This is the first place I ever backpacked - with Boy Scouts years and years ago.  It was a fun trip (and we did take Wenas Road - with our troop leaders pointing out the bluebird boxes as we went), and doing this hike again last year.  I hadn't planned on doing this hike today, but couldn't pass it up!  In a month, this will have flycatchers and warblers and Red-naped Sapsuckers.  It was a quiet walk today for both birds and people.  Three thrushes (American Robin, Townsend's Solitaire and Varied Thrush) joined the Western Bluebirds I'd seen
part of the 'trail'
 earlier for a four thrush day.

I had kind of wished that I had brought the old mudders on the walk - would have made parts of it much easier - but I was happy to find that, even when it was muddiest, there was a way across.  Sometimes there was a short way or a long way through the mud, but it always seemed like if I looked around a little, someone had been there before and left good places to walk - a few thick branches, or maybe rocks.  Made a mental note of that and kept moving.

Getting to the "bridge" at left had me using colorful language for a moment.  I don't think cameras respond well to going into rivers.  It was passable, though.  The end of the my walk was at the falls.  Waterfalls, like lighthouses, are one of those things that Bre and I both really enjoy (she never gets tired of Snoqualmie Falls), but we haven't been to this one together yet.  We'll have to remedy this soon!  I traipsed back to the car, and hopped back into Yakima County.

Umptanum Falls

On most of these trips, I 've been sending out queries for ideas and help.  This time around, I ended up getting a hold of Jeff Kozma, a wildlife biologist who has been studying White-headed Woodpeckers nesting in managed stands of Ponderosa Pine.  This stretch of road is in some ways 'the office' for Jeff on a fair number of days!  He let me know about some of the species I was looking for, and was especially helpful with information on the woodpeckers, as well as White-breasted Nuthatches, which often share the same kinds of habitiat on the east side.    Driving over Ellensburg Pass looking for one of the first stands of pines that Jeff suggested, I had to stop the car at Observatory Road!  As an astronomy major a the University of Washington I had been able to use (and nearly fatally wounded) the telescope at the Manastash Ridge Observatory.  This was one of the most amazing remote places I'd been to, and being able to stay up all night looking at the stars was a dream.  We used to take the shortcut back then, coming directly from the north, but that road is no longer passable, so this southern entrance (gated) is the way in now.  Walking the parking lot, I was treated to booming from a Sooty Grouse!  This was a sound I had never heard before - I've only seen these grouse flushed (Naches Pass area) or scattering off of the side of the road (Hurricane Ridge).  No visual today, but the booming was quite a treat.

 I kind of struck out on woodpeckers and nuthatches in this area (although the meadowlarks were singing, and I did find a  Vesper Sparrow), so I continued on to Maloy Road.  This road took me to some dense Ponderosa Pine stands where I did find the WB Nuthatches I was hoping to find - my first life bird of the trip!  Red-breasted Nuthatches were also there, making their more familiar tin horn calls, and Steller's Jays and Ravens were also making noise in the canopy.  Two interesting things on the ground:  first were what I thought were golden-mantled ground squirrels (but the google shows something different for them), and second was a pair of Vesper Sparrows.  Two birds were foraging in the open -  if you look at the picture below, you can see why I almost stepped on them more than once!  They blended in so well, that I sometimes could only find them if they moved!  Camera batteries conked out, I went back in the car to change them, came back out, and couldn't find them.  I looked around, and started slowly walking to where I'd seen them last - and they scattered from my feet! Best pic below.
Townsend's Chipmunk

Vesper Sparrow in stealth mode

Swainson's Hawk - Wenas Road
From here, I made my way down Wenas Road.  I was hoping to head down Hardy Canyon, or any of the other little canyons to look for Ruffed Grouse.  Whoops!  Completely missed all of these roads!  I would love to go back and see just how primitive they looked.  Anyway, I came across two life birds on this little stretch that I was not convinced of or aware of until after I got back home.  First, I stopped to take a picture of what seemed like a very cooperative Red-Tailed Hawk.  I will tell you that I really don't enjoy trying to identify buteos (the hawk family that Red-tails belong to).  The thing is, it seems like Red-tailed Hawks are so variable, I just figure (as I did here) that every big hawk I see is some juvenile or morph that I just don't recognize.  When I got home I saw a Tweeters post from Randy Bjorklund that included a link to a picture of a Swainson's Hawk - and it seemed verrrryyyy familiar!  Going back, I realized that this is not a Red-tail, but a bird I hadn't seen before.  You get so used to seeing a lot of the same birds, the new ones get missed sometimes!

Wenas Valley (ween ASS  for those wondering.... there's no good way to say it)
Yakima Canyon

The next lifer went sprinting across the road shortly thereafter - a Chukar!  No picture - they hide pretty well - but I was not convinced at first that it was a Chukar, thinking that the little ridges around us were not Chukar habitat, but it seems that they are seen in this area.  California Quail skittered around on the hillside where I saw it run, so I thought maybe it was just a quail... that looked exactly like a Chukar.  The chickens at the farm nearby also confused any calls they might have been making!  Wenas Lake had a few ducks, and a Common Loon calling - something I'd never heard before!

I made it down to Selah fairly early - my brother was going to be getting back home at 7:30 - so I poked around on the south end of the canyon road (821) and I-82 before heading into Yakima.  The canyon road didn't produce anything extraordinary, but was beautiful.  Farther up the road at Roza Dam was the little area where we spent so much time waterskiing in the summer.

Highway 82 itself was not so productive, so I pulled over at the Selah rest stop.  House Finch, House Sparrow, Killdeer, and at the little ponds behind the rest stop - a Say's Phoebe!  I had only one brief encounter with this species before, so it was nice to sit and watch it flycatch.

Say's Phoebe flycatching

I made it back onto I-82 southbound (please don't ask how) and ended the day of birding.  I stopped at an important park in my hometown of Yakima - Randall Park.  Here's a few pics which are important to me, and maybe a handful of others who might read this. 
Them's the rules - we may not have followed all of them. 
I have been in this creek intentionally and unintentionally.

The smell here was beautiful.  30 years ago, and on this evening.

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