Monday, May 30, 2011

State Track trip, day three - Whitman and Adams Counties

Sunrise on the Palouse
4:30 AM on Steptoe Butte.  As far from people as I could possibly get.... or was I.....?

Californians - 4:30 AM
I woke up to a couple of vans pulling up the winding road to the top of the butte.  They stopped, and 15 photographers got out and started setting up tripods!  The wind was pretty bad, but not as bad as it CAN get, by all reports.  This was a photography tour group from California, coming out to catch the rolling hillocks of the Palouse in the light of dawn.  While I had intended to leave a little earlier, they seemed to know what they were doing, so I stuck around, watched, and shot some pictures myself.  If I thought I was missing birds by staying there, those thoughts were removed as I watched a Rock Wren hop around the rocks in front of me for the next 30 minutes - the first one for me. 

Rock Wren - 5:30 AM
 The bollards preventing one from driving off the butte have some little holes which can be seen in this picture - they make wonderful wind flutes.  I looked around in all directions to see Mt. Spokane, Kamiak Butte, and other hills off in the distance.  Gratuitous shots below.

I finally started making my way down Steptoe Butte, and got my second life bird of the morning before 6 AM - a Gray Catbird!  I sat for a bit, and listened to quite a few different vocalizations - the Western Wood-Peewee, and cat sounds were among my favorites.  House Wrens, Flickers, Townsend's Warblers and Cowbirds were found that morning, and seemingly dozens of Ring-Necked Pheasants by the time I left.

Colfax - the riparian area at the bottom
of this hill was good for passerines.
I went from here to Colfax for coffee and a place to change clothes.  The Rosauers in town got me my coffee and a maple bar.  I didn't have time to order any of "The Stuff" - a potato and pepper and onion concoction made by their deli - but was mightily tempted.  Colfax itself was actually pretty birdy.  Following the signs to "City Park" brought me to a brushy area where there were flycatchers and warblers and a Western Tanager.  Some time around here, I actually started missing crows.  When was the last time I saw a crow?  Tons of Black-billed Magpies and Ravens, but no plain old American Crows!  I gassed up, and made my way back towards the town of Steptoe.

On the way, I saw a lovely barn, and who should pull over in front of me?  The Californians!  This barn really was worth shooting - one of many such during the next few hours.
The hills were beautiful, but they were so green... too green...and I started to harbor worries that the Teletubbies lived here (they always scared me).  Several glances at the sun showed me that it was not, in fact, a large giggling baby face, so I knew I was in the clear.

Bank Swallow colony
Driving the Highway from Steptoe to Sprague was quite productive too.  I was able to find raptors that I had not seen yet on my trip (Northern Harrier and Swainson's Hawk), and some warblers (Common Yellowthroat, and Yellow), and a first-of-year Lazuli Bunting.  I also found another Bank Swallow colony, and found them at several more stops that day.
Bank Swallow

St. John - in the middle of wheat country
I stopped in St. John for another cup of coffee, and continued up the road to Crooked Knee and Sheep Lakes.  Here disaster struck!  At some point, I left the binoculars on the car, pulled away and ran them over.  For what it's worth, a monocular caaaannn work, and it had to work for the rest of the trip, but I was bummed to not have them fully functioning.  Thank goodness they weren't expensive. 

The lakes I visited in Whitman County and Lincoln (I stopped briefly in Sprague at the sewage treatment plant, but missed any of the rarities that people have seen lately) were birdy enough - more Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and Ruddy Ducks, among others - but still no Avocets!  I was hoping to find those on this trip, and I was giving up hope! 

After Sprague Lake, I was easily able to make it to the track for day two of competition, my girl won the mile (4:46 was a meet record), and the 800!  At this point, I was done as the head coach... well for now.  This was a difficult decision, with a program that I started, but during some of this time on the road, I've been able to clear the head and think, and I feel like it's the right time to hand it off to the next head coach, whoever that may be.  I pulled away from Cheney for my tenth and last time as the head coach at peace with the decision, and with tears;  It's been such a wonderful time building something that's so good for kids.  There's a lot that I will miss, and the job now will be to become clear on what other good things I will do with the extra time.  Three or four things come to mind. :)

Ritzville - driving down I-90 I saw an American Avocet in a little pond right off the road..... and there it went, leaving me at 70 miles per hour in the other direction.  Not a life bird for me, but it was one I haven't seen in the state before, and this was as good a view as I got during the whole trip!  Then it was off towards Highway 26 and a return trip to Othello.  I hadn't gone through Columbia NWR the last time, so I was excited to see some new spots.

On the way to Othello, I had a Swainson's Hawk on a post, and a Barn Owl dead on the side of the road.  I'm not too surprised with the Barn Owl, as I've had them buzz my car before.  Heading  tnorth from Othello to Para Ponds, I passed these Cliff Swallows, gathering mud from a tiny puddle to build their nests.  The ponds themselves had a Sora and a Great Egret, but nothing else out of the ordinary.

Columbia NWR in Adams County was pretty quiet as well!  At Morgan Lake, I had Vaux's Swifts high up above the cliffs, and I also found a Red-tailed Hawk nest with youngsters waiting for food.  I had just over 40 species before crossing the county line - 50 would have been nice, but 40 would have to do - mission accomplished!  On the Grant County side, I had a Western Kingbird, and a Rock Wren, but none of the sage-steppe species that I'd seen back at Swanson Lakes two days earlier.

Blue-winged Teal
My final stop in Grant County on the way home was Birder's Corner on Frenchman Hills Road.  Here I found one more first-of-year bird - a pair of Blue-winged teals, before heading towards home. 

Grant County sunset - Kittitas County wind farm in the distance.

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