Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spring Birding in Southwest Washington: Lewis, Cowlitz and Clark 5/7

A Saturday of birding!  On the condition that I go with someone!  I was in contact with a few different people who were planning some interesting trips, and decided to join Guy McWethy for a trip down I-5.  Guy's from my neck of the woods, and has also taken to birding the counties in the state - he's hit 100 species and is working on moving each of them up a little this year.  We met up at 6:00 and headed off to our first stop.

Lewis County:
Goodrich Pond is a place I'd never been to before this year, and I found myself making my third visit! Guy and I discussed the ominous Great Wolf Lodge that we passed on the way (your kids will love it... your money will go away quickly... very quickly), and I picked up two more Thurston county birds on the way through (Brewer's Blackbird and Eurasian Collared-Dove).

The bridge along Goodrich Road still held Wood Ducks, but there were a few Hooded Mergansers as well - Woodies and Hoodies sharing the river.  We started what would be a warbler-filled day with a Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warbler.  More Collared-Doves (I think we had them in four counties), and then we reached the "pond".  Goodrich Pond had shrunk quite a bit since my last visit!  Least Sandpipers circled it indecisively and left.

Rather than leave (as I had done the last two times I visited here), we made the walk to the Chehalis River Discovery Trail.  Along the way, we passed a barn swarming with Cliff Swallows - the eaves already crowded with little nests of mud. 
Wilson's Warbler

The trail itself was beautiful, and even without walking the whole length of it we found several species that I had not yet seen this year - including Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Wilson's Warbler and Swainson's Thrush.  These three birds are all distinctive, and all can be tricky or very easy to identify.

The Pacific-slope Flycatcher is a member of the Empidomax family - a bunch of birds that look identical at a glance, but have subtle field marks that can help you to identify them by species.  If they call, it becomes easy!  They have very different calls that make it easy to separate them.  This one wasn't singing for us, but Guy was able to help me pick out the important field marks on this one.  Wilson's Warblers, by contrast, are easy identify if you see one!  Their song... well... each year I start hearing juncoes singing fairly early in the year... then Orange-crowned Warblers start singing... which sound a little like juncoes, then the Wilson's start singing, and they sound a little like Orange-crowneds.  It gets tricky.

A distant Swainson's Thrush sang.  90 percent of the time, I only hear them sing, and never see them, and the song is amazing. While I usually hear Varied Thrush on winter mornings, Swainson's Thrushes seem to be loudest on summer evenings.  Summer's coming!

We left from there for Galvin Road - a stop I had made during my last trip through.  Lots of shorebirds there, but not the really rare ones we were hoping for.  I had five species of swallows swarming around, and Guy found a sixth - a Bank Swallow that I never could pick out of the crowd.  Farther up the road, another first-of-year bird - Warbling Vireo.

Willapa Hills trail near Chehalis

From here, Guy and I hit a spot that neither of us had been to before - the Willapa Hills Trail south of Chehalis. We had a report that Sora and Virginia Rail were "easily heard" from the trail, but were a little skeptical.  Neither of these species really make their presence known all that often.  Today we were pleasantly surprised, and I finally heard a Sora call!  Well... more like 10 of them.  A Ring-Necked Pheasant called from the fields behind the road.

Cowlitz County:
30-35 birds for the year in this county at the start of this day, and 80 by the time I left!  We had some good luck with ducks (many of which have left), songbirds (many of which aren't here yet), and shorebirds (which always require a little luck in these counties).  Our first stop here were retention ponds behind the Mint Farm outside of Longview.  First of year bird here was a Cinnamon Teal - it flew, unfortunately - very pretty bird! 

Red-breasted Sapsucker at nest
 We were hoping for shorebirds, and were a little sad that we were only able to find one Wilson's Snipe.  By the end of the walk, however, we were over 30 species for the day in the county.  Walking along the trees on the way back to the car, we found a Red=breasted Sapsucker nest.

Here was our next stop.  Guy had directions, I didn't know exactly where we ended up, but we had a short walk to some flooded fields with more Least Sandpipers, and our first Purple Finch of the day.

Next we hit Woodland Bottoms - a place I'd hit before, but this time it was very, very birdy.  The flooded fields at the far north end of this area had shorebirds, Bonaparte's Gulls, Caspian Terns, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Great Egrets.  A walk down to the Columbia helped us find some Wilson's Warblers, Golden-crowned Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows.
Greater Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper and Least Sandpiper

Kuhnis Road, south of Whalen, was one of the best stops of the day.  Hundreds of Least Sanpipers were in a flooded field - picking through them, I was able to find a Semipalmated Plover, and Guy picked a Western Sandpiper out of the bunch.  8-10 Greater Yellowlegs were on the other end of the field, and one of them turned out to be a Lesser Yellowlegs.  A Solitary Sandpiper was also in the same part of the field!
Kuhnis Road

Behind us, along the side of the road in the trees, was the loudest bunch of Wilson's Warblers I'd ever heard - dozens of them calling from the trees all along the road.  A careful look helped us to find our first Western Tanagers of the year, as well as our first Western Wood-Peewee.  Guy's eyepiece was a bit bigger than mine, so I tried a camera shot of the Peewee through his scope.  Camera phones would have been a bit better, but not bad!

Clark County

Carty Unit - Ridgefield NWR
 Our last stop of the day was the Carty Unit at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.  We got caught in some heavy drizzles, but in between them, we found some trees with some nice mixed flocks of warblers.  One of them had Yellow-rumped, Wilson's, Orange-crowned, and a bright Townsend's Warbler.  There was also a little walk through some conifers - giving us the species you'd expect - Brown Creeper, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Chestnut-backed Chickadee.

If you run into this...

...use some of these.

White-breasted Nuthatch

I liked the interpretive signs along the way - especially nice to see Stinging Nettle and Sword Fern with signs.  It would have been nice if they had noted how important it is that these two plants often grow near each other.  Growing up, we knew very well that a run-in with the nettles could be remedied with the spores from the ferns.  No rash if you rub it on there right away.  After we made it out of the conifers, we also found a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, a bird hard to find on the west side, but fairly common here.

Very very good day of birding.  90+ species for each of us for the day, and the rain was never unbearable.  I could have added more counties if I had run off by myself in some other direction, but was very glad to have done some exploring with a pleasant Guy.

Proooobably no big trips until the state meet in Cheney on Memorial Day Weekend!
Oak to Wetlands Trail - Ridgefield

Scarecrow - Woodland - Cowlitz County

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