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

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