Wednesday, July 20, 2011

This Is Not A Birding Trip - 7/16 and 7/17

It had been a few weeks since I got back from the Big ol' Trip, and Bre thought it was time for the family to get the heck out of Dodge together.  She had work late Friday night, so we packed up Saturday morning to run off to Skamania and Klickitat Counties.

"Are you bringing your lists....", Bre asked (in a way that implied that This Was Not a Birding Trip)

"Um... You picked the county that I'm probably gonig to have the most trouble with... (we were staying in North Bonneville in Skamania County), but I know this isn't a birding trip."

Bre looked me over carefully, raised an eyebrow and kept packing.

Our kids have to be complimented - they really entertain each other fairly well most of the time when we head off on long road trips.  The DS came along, some coloring books, and a "Where Are They?" book that has kept them well occupied.  Bre and I cajoled them several times on the way down to stop and look out of the windows... "Look at the river!" "Look at the train!" "Look at the trees!"... and they've gotten very good at feigning temporary interest.  They keep the peace fairly well.

I-5 South between Seattle and Vancouver is a stretch Bre and I have gotten to know pretty well this year.  We stopped where the sun don't shine (the rest stop in Cowlitz County... and it continued to be true today.  I've never been there on a sunny day), and tried to get a picture of Bre's favorite spot, where the Columbia comes a little closer to the road, and you can see it lined with so much green and so many trees through the openings. 

On into Skamania County - "There it is... sitting like a sentinel over the Columbia..."

"How did I know you were going to say sentinel?" Bre mused.  She still hasn't warmed up to Beacon Rock.

We finally got to a point where we had to pull over, because the view was too great to pass up.

The kids got out, and we told them, "That... is the Columbia River."  Maura asked us how we knew it was the Columbia, and we talked about big rivers, and how this was the biggest river in our part of the country.  After a few more stops and Maura asking "What's that river?", it became a bit of a running joke for us.  Still, it was nice that they weren't just pretending to be interested here.  They were pretty impressed by the size of the river, how high above it we were, and how nice the scenery was around it.

Klickitat County

The drive at the start of our trip was a little ambitious - although we were staying in Skamania County, there were places we really wanted to visit in Klickitat.  I had found a winery(Waving Tree) right next to Maryhill State Park, and there was a wine I wanted Bre to try, so we refound it and did some tastings, coming away with a couple of bottles.  One of them was a Dessert Barbera - a sweet and sparkling (!) version of a normally quite dry red wine.  They don't do the champagne tops on the bottles, though, so they won't sell to people that are headed for, say, Seattle. 

After that stop, we were off to a place I had to skip on my trip - The Maryhill Museum of Art.  This is where I had found my first Lesser Goldfinch (and the grounds were full of them again, along with several Ash-throated Flycatchers).  We had to park on the far end of the lot, and as we got out of the car, the skies opened up and we got drenched.  It's amazing how little it rains here, but how hard it rains when it does.

Once we got in, we enjoyed...

Objects donated by Queen Marie of Romania...

...Rodin sculptures...

...and chess sets! (Maura and Declan's favorite part)

Outside, it had stopped raining, so we enjoyed the grounds for a bit.  I think Maura got the most out of this, splashing around in puddles in her rainboots, tumbling down the grassy hills, and enjoying the 'fuzzies' (if anyone knows what this low-growing plant is, I'd love to know). 

Golden Eagles? Ferruginous Hawks... didn't
find any, but... it wasn't a birding trip.
We left Maryhill in the late afternoon, and made our way to dinner in White Salmon, then on to the hotel.  All the way back, the sun was casting shadows on the hillsides.  We stopped three times on the way back (the limit that Bre put on herself for the drive... so many more stops would have been possible!)  We finally checked in to Bonneville Hot Springs Resort.  The kids put on the fancy robes to watch TV (finally!), and Bre set out for sunset pictures.

Skamania County

Bridge of the Gods - Skamania County

Sunset near Bridge of the Gods - Skamania County
The evening was lovely, and Bre and I were able to enjoy it from the deck.

From the balcony - Bonneville Hot Springs Resort
The next morning, I was up early, ready to walk some of the trails around the resort.  Once I was out the door, I realized it was raining again... hard.  I went back inside and asked the fellow at the desk for an umbrella.  I made it outside with flowery umbrella in hand, and lightning hit the hill above the resort.  At this point, I "had enough sense to get out of the rain" as they say.  No long birding walk before breakfast, but that's fine - this was not a birding trip.

Raven in the misty morning - not many
more birds were out this morning.
We had a great morning - Good breakfast, and an hour or so in the pool (the swim lessons are helping...), and mini golf... the most harrowing round of mini golf we've ever had.  Holes at the top of little hills... puddles at the bottom.  Dante, or maybe one of the Greek poets wrote about punishments like this. 

I did get out for 20 minutes before we left, and was amazed at how few birds there were!  Not a single flycatcher, warbler or vireo was singing in the woods on this July morning after a rain.  Once I got back, we were packed up and ready to go off on our hike.

Our hike

Falls Creek
 On the Internet, Falls Creek Falls was described as "a juggernaut" despite the fairly boring name.  We saw that it was 1.7 miles each way, so we got the kids out there with a full stomach.  It was a great start.  Kids were looking at plants (Maura and I played "Name that plant" for a bit, but the answer was "maiden-hair fern" too often, so she kind of gave up on that.)  Declan was moving pretty fast, as was Falls Creek next to us.

Licorice ferns
Things continued to be pretty un-birdy.  The only birds I heard on the entire walk were a Pacific Wren and a single flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets.  By the end of the walk, I'd found more species of fern than birds!  Sword ferns were the primary fern in a few areas, replacing the maiden-hair ferns, and one area also had licorice ferns.

We may have gotten about 3/4 of the way there when there were grumblings.  The kids really wanted to go back to the car, rather than continue for a waterfall.  It took a good bit of convincing to get them to continue, but in the end, we were successful:

Falls Creek Falls

Declan and I at Falls Creek Falls
Declan said it was "totally worth it", and Maura told us thanks for taking her to a 'real waterfall' (she's been to Snoqualmie Falls before, so this was a bit of a puzzle to me... but she liked it!)  The walk back was a little faster (downhill), and we were off to home.  Bre and I let Jill (our GPS unit) choose the route home, and I was happy to see that we would get to go on Forest Road 25.

Oh, whoops... not open
The change in plans added a half hour, but we made it home by evening.  Checking over lists at the end of the trip - 35 species for Skamania, and really nothing out of the ordinary: Osprey, White-crowned Sparrow, nearly all of the corvids (Western Scrub-Jay, American Crow, Common Raven, Steller's Jay), some finches, Canada Geese... but no Red-tailed Hawks, not a single pigeon, and no new warblers.  I'll be back later in the year once the ducks are back!

Not a birding trip, but a very good trip nonetheless!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Big ol' Trip: Day Seven

Brooks Memorial State Park

I spent some of the night wondering if that was an owl... but it was the Park Ranger's dog barking from the other side of the highway.  I did get Nighthawks again, though, and I was up and packing up a tent at 5 AM. 

I was excited for my day.  Klickitat County...well, I'm not allowed to have favorites this year, that's part of the deal, I think, is to give all of the counties some love.  Still, though, it's got one of the largest observatories in the country which is regularly open to the public for observing (Goldendale), it's got Mountains all around it (Adams, Hood, St. Helens), it's got huckleberries (the purple ones... something I don't need to explain to most people, but maybe someone else grew up eating the red ones Vaccinum Parvifolium like me.), wineries, some quirky museums, the Columbia River, and Stonehenge! 

Brooks Memorial State Park
Klickitat County also has some birds I've never seen (Lesser Goldfinch, Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Gray Flycatcher), and some birds that I've only seen in King County last fall when poor oak crops sent woodpeckers all over the state (Lewis' Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker).  I found the first of these before 6AM.  Opperman's guide talks about an area in the campground that is good for Gray Flycatchers - walked there, saw one.  That easy!  I was hopeful that my day of dipping on birds yesterday was just a fluke.

I finished walking both sides of the campground.  Another beautiful morning - I'd been really fortunate with weather on the trip - and I had chosen to wear shorts.. It was cold now, but it was a good call down the road.  Once I was all packed up, I went back up to Satus Pass and took the little Ski Lodge Road as far as I could go.  It was not nearly as far as I had hoped, but still found a House Wren, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Bushtits, to make it 25 species before breakfast.

Goldendale to Bickleton

The views were big coming down the hill.  Mount Hood was in the distance, and the sun was already shining brightly at 7.  I stopped in Goldendale for a Sausage McMuffin with Egg, filled up the hot water for coffee and oatmeal, filled up the water bottle, and hit the Bickleton Highway.  Before I got in the car, I saw my first Western Scrub-Jay of the trip.  They're making their way north, but aren't so common up there yet.  Here, they're all over!

Oak - Klickitat County

Along the side of the road, oaks were the common trees, and I stopped every mile or so hoping to find some of the birds above.  I finally did find some - two Ash-throated Flycatchers and two Lewis' Woodpeckers at the same stop.  I wish they'd all been closer to get some better pictures, but it was fun to watch the pair of flycatchers working from the same tree - darting up after bugs and returning to their perch.  The Lewis' Woodpecker I'd seen in Seattle had actually been flycatching when I saw it - something they'll do when it isn't acorn season!  I enjoyed the birds for a little, and eased on down the road.

Western Bluebird
 Approaching Bickleton, things got grassy, and I found a lot of bluebirds (this is one of the better places for them in the state), and Vesper Sparrows.  I rolled into Bickleton by 10 AM with over 50 species of birds in the county, and I was wondering if it I should try for 100, as I had in Pend Oreille.

Carousel Museum - Bickleton
After getting another cup of coffee in town, I was ready to head out and I stopped in my tracks at the sight of the Carousel Museum.  Here?  Seriously!?  I thought over my options for a minute, took a deep breath and went in.  Admission was $4.  I paid the woman and slipped in.  I was the only one here, and she was ready to walk me through.

There wasn't really a good way to tell her that I needed a minute, so she was right next to me as I came around the corner and saw the carousel horses.  It wouldn't have been fair for her to have some guy walk in on a Friday morning, and start crying without any explanation. (folks... I'm sorry about all of the crying in the blog... there should be a warning sign "Primitive Blog:  No Warning Signs").

Sweeeeeet lunchbox collection!  They even
had Mork and Mindy!
I got myself as together as I could, and explained that my son who had passed had really loved carousels.  Like reealllly loved them.  He would have gotten a kick out of this place.  These were all horses that come out each year for the carousel at the County Fair and Rodeo.  Real horsehair on each, and beautifully restored.  That was just part of the museum - they had a lot of interesting collections, historical pieces from the area and a wall of honor for all of the residents of the Bickleton area who had gone off to war.

Rock Creek Road - Klickitat County
I pondered getting a bluebird mug as I left... but there was nothing on it that said Bickelton, so I passed.  It was nearing 11:00, and I set off for Rock Creek Road.  This was by far one of the dustier areas I'd been through!  I wasn't sure what all I was looking for down this road, but the explorer in me wanted to check out a new area.  I added Bewick's Wren, Black-billed Magpie, Yellow-breated Chat, and Great Blue Heron before disaster struck.

The Creature
I cannot tell you how much pain it caused me to find this information, but the name of the insect that flew into my car window was an Ammophila thread-waisted Wasp.  My eyes grew enormously big as it bounced around against the rear window... over and over and over... it had to eventually realize that something stingable was sitting in the front seat. 

There were so many factors coming together here to make this one of the most traumatic moments on my trip.  1) I have a fear of stinging insects.  This fear is sometimes modified by other factors, all of which were not in my favor today.  2) If I have somewhere to run... I'm okay.  This wasp, however, was in my car, and I was on Rock Creek Road.  Do you know where that is?  Exactly.  Nowhere to run, and even the geography of the place (river on one side of the road, steep cliffs on the other) worked against me.  3) If I don't know what it is, it must be worse.  This may not actually be true, but trying to get my brain to believe this when there is an Ammophila thread-waisted Wasp in my car is pointless.  I was going to be stung, and probably killed by an unknown creature in the middle of nowhere. (I have read now that they only kill caterpillars.... really, it would not have mattered if you had told me).

I finally got out of the car - weary of driving with the back windows down, half-watching the road, seatbelt off (so I could run).  I got out and thought of how to kill it.  It wasn't flying out... I grabbed a notebook from the passenger seat...dang, won't reach.  Then I saw exactly who was going to save the day.  Mappy, my Washington Gazetteer.  Mappy had spend much of the trip sulking because I had been using the new GPS to get where I needed to go, but this was his shining moment.  "Can you do this?" I asked Mappy.  "Bring it on." he replied coldly.  One shot with this oversized gazetteer, and the wasp didn't even have a chance to get pissed off and charge me.  In taking this swing, though, I accidentally tightened the other hand, which had been holding my car keys, turning on the alarm. 

The video replay on this would have been hysterical during that brief moment where my brain was thinking about danger, and my ears were suddenly presented with alarms.  I turned off the alarm, looked around to make sure nobody had seen this, high-fived Mappy, and cautiously got back into the car, watching the back corner to make sure The Creature did not reemerge.  I was relaxed again when I got sight of the Columbia River ahead.

The Lewis and Clark Highway

The Lewis and Clark Highway, Highway 14, runs the length of the Columbia River along the Washington Oregon border.  I imagined the two intrepid explorers encountering their first Ammophila thread-waisted wasp.  Would either of them have run around like a little girl, as I had...?  In any event, the Columbia was beautiful, and the cliffs gave me Ospreys and Rock Wrens and Turkey Vultures.  I made my way along the river and arrived at Stonehenge.

I wanted to do my homework on this one - who in the Sam Hill built this thing?  As it turns out, it actually was a person named Sam Hill. 

Stonehenge replica - Klickitat County gives a nice summary of Sam Hill, his life, and how he followed the path of many people late in life - building something really big out of concrete.  I checked the grassy areas around here for Lesser Golfinches - not quite sure if I had them, so I went back up the hill to the shady trees around the Maryhill Museum of art to have my lunch. 

Maryhill Museum of Art - Rodin, Orthodox
icons, and chess sets!
Crazy sounds from the trees told me that I had a new bird above me - Lesser Goldfinch!  These guys are really gregarious, like so many of the other birds that were highlights of the day (Western Scrub-Jay, Lewis' Woodpecker, Ash-throated Flycatcher).  I love the birds down here, and the people aren't bad either.  They're a little nutty, and there's some Collectors of Odd Things (lunch pails above, chess sets in the Maryhill Museum, license plates.. but that's later).  I joined in on the theme of collection and penciled in Lesser Goldfinch, while wondering if the museum sold mugs so I could have one for Klickitat County.

Lesser Goldfinch
Umm... email me and tell me which tree it was..
(Balch Lake Road)
My last stop along Highway 14 was to visit a tree.  On Balch Lake Road near Lyle, there is a tree known as an Acorn Woodpecker granary.  It's riddled with holes for the woodpeckers to store acorns from the oaks around them... and I couldn't find it.  At least, if I did find it, I couldn't quite see the holes in the tree, and I certainly didn't see any of the Acorn Woodpeckers.  I'd have been more inclined to wait for these birds if I was more confident about which tree, and had someone else to chat with while waiting it out.  Today, Trout Lake was calling me.

Trout Lake
Note the license plate collection on the wall.

I had a crush on a girl from Trout Lake back in high school, but had never made it down.  Seeing a recent trip report from Klickitat County that highlighted the huckleberry ice cream cones eaten in Trout Lake, I had to go, if only to break the spell this place had on me...  KJ's Bear Creek Cafe provided the yummy cone while I tidied up my lists for the day, and looked over maps to plan out the end of the day.

Mount Adams reflected in Trout Lake - Klickitat County

After the cone, it was up to the Trout Lake Marsh.  Turns out the vegetation in Trout Lake has made it more of a marsh than a lake these days, but that hasn't hurt the view at all.  It is... by my estimation... about two feet from Mount Adams, and I decided to take the walk (less than a mile) to a viewpoint above the marsh.  Lots of flycatchers, warblers and sparrows sang here, even in the heat of the day, and I had Virginia Rails and a Belted Kingfisher calling from the marsh below.  Of course at the top, my favorite warblers of the trip - MacGillivray's - came out and gave me good views.

I don't know if the pictures capture how awesome the sight was, but when I got down to the bottom, I was beyond content with the day I'd had.  It was only a matter of figuring out what to do for dinner, where to make my last stop of the day, and where I was going to rest my head for the night.  I got in the car, and punched my destination in so that Jill the GPS girl could give me an ETA.  Took her a bit, but she gave me a good answer, and I knew my plan from there.

Beacon Rock State Park

That rock is even bigger than it looks here..

Bre and I travelled so much of the state together, and this is a stop we made years ago.  We enjoy so many of the same things, but this magnificent monolith standing guard over the Columbia is not one of them.  "It's a big rock..." Bre would say.  Our stop had been brief last time, but I wanted to take a couple hours here: to hike to the top, and to find one more first-of-year bird, a Canyon Wren.

I leaned against the hood of my car eating the sandwich I'd picked up in Husum, and drinking a Mountain Dew White Out (I'd never tried the new Mountain Dew flavors... but I had given in during the trip, certainly inspired by some micronutrient deficiency developed during the trip.).  I listened carefully for the whistle of this wren as I ate.  I've only heard it once before, in a canyon outside of Grand Coulee years ago, and I was excited to hear it again.  Dinner came and went, I grabbed my camera and binoculars, and started up the 'big rock'.

I don't know exactly how long the hike was, but it was pretty manageable, and the temperature was nearly perfect, with a late afternoon breeze cooling me on the way up.  I stopped several times on the way up to listen for other birds (I was in Skamania County now), especially the Canyon Wren, and to enjoy the views.  The view from the top was easily worth the walk, and I eventually realized that the big shadow on the river below was in the shape of Beacon Rock!

A woman at the top was enjoying a beer, and sharing some with her dog, who had also made the trip up.  I had been listening for the Canyon Wren for a while to no avail. 

"Well... I guess I should give up on it."

"What, your inkpen?" she replied. (I had dropped my second favorite pen over the side of the railing.)

"No, there was a bird I was listening for, and I figure I'm not going to hear it sing today. Another day!"

"Are those the ones on the other side?  The ones they protect because of the nests?"

I was intrigued!  Maybe I just needed to check on the Northeast side of the rock, which I hadn't really been to.  I confirmed with her how to get to that side from the bottom, I took one more look at the Columbia, and made my way down.  I got to the bottom of the rock, made my way to the Northeast side and listened. 

Then I heard a song that I hadn't heard yet on my trip.  Hermit Warbler!  I wasn't expecting this one here, but this would be a life bird for me, and it sounded like the song described in my Sibley guide, so I pished... the bird came closer... again... and I got one of the best views I've ever had... of a Black-throated Gray Warbler.  Stupid warblers!  I took this as a signal that it was time to call it a day.

Back in the car, I sent Bre a text:  "Near Beacon Rock right now.  Sleeping somewhere awesome tonight!  Can't wait to see you." 

Maybe it was wussing ou, cutting my trip a day short... I could say I just wanted a shower and a comfortable bed, but this had been a near perfect trip, and this day had been a nearly perfect day;  Home seemed like the right place to be at the end of it. 

160 birds or so during the trip.  10 life birds, and ten more counties complete.  I'll probably revisit Columbia and Benton when I head out for Franklin County in mid-November, my last planned trip of the year.  A loooot of counties down, and trips are planned out to finish the ones I'm missing by mid-November.  There will be other trips in between, but none like this one!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Big ol' Trip: Day Six

Tucannon Campground
Tucannon Campground

I woke up early (surprise!) in Columbia County.  Stupid birds woke me up again. :)  I was in Columbia County, which I really hadn't birded.  I mean, I had gotten lost there the evening before last, trying to get a room, and had accidentally seen a dozen birds or so (Red-tailed Hawk, Western Meadowlark, Horned Lark, Bank Swallow), and I made a few stops while driving down this one road the night before, seeing and hearing some more (actually quite a few more... it's really good habitiat: Kingbirds, Warblers, Gray Partridge, House and Rock Wrens, Western Tanagers, Cliff Swallows, American Kestrel, and Nighthawks as I went to bed). 

I was at 30 species or so, and I really hadn't seen Columbia County more than an hour away from dawn or dusk.  I wanted to see some more birds in the morning (owls...?), but I had to be careful!  The whole point of this year, and of putting the goal of 39 out there was to really get to see each county, not just pass through it.  If I got to 39, it would be hard to justify coming back (it's a loooong way from home), but it would be a county where I really only saw one road at one time of year... booo!

Several birds got added to my list just while packing up my tent, including MacGillivray's Warblers.  They have been such a tough one for me to find at home in King County, and I had missed them altogether during the brief misunderstanding I'd had with warblers on days three and four.  Now for the second day in a row, they were singing clearly, not mixed in with other warbler songs.  I might almost start to like them! 

I read in Opperman that the cliffs along Tucannon Road are home for Great Horned Owls and Short-eared Owls, so I scanned the cliffs on the way, and watched the fields below for a Barn or Short-eared Owl on patrol.  I had marked a location on my GPS the night before, calling it "Owl?".  It had a nice combination of cliffs above, and fields below, but even here I came up empty on owls for the morning.

Columbia County... don't worry, I'll be back
I checked my list after waiting for the owls for a bit.  36 species in Columbia.  Perfect.  But looking at the list, I knew that I was doomed!  Disaster struck one junk bird at a time.  Next field up:  American Crow (37).  Two farms later: European Starling (38).  I got to Highway 12, but had too much of it left to drive... and the final blow fell... House Sparrow (39) in Dayton.   Ack!   In all seriousness, I'll have to be back for Frankllin County in November, so I'm sure I'll pop back in to get another look at Columbia County as well.

Walla Walla County

I was on my way to a 7AM meet up with MerryLynn Denny.  MerryLynn is quite a birder.  She's seen more species on the east side of the state than any birder, she's one of a dozen or so people who have seen over 400 species in the state, and last year, she saw over 250 in Walla Walla County alone!  Before this year, I hadn't even seen that many in the state!  She also makes herself so available to people coming through Walla Walla, and nearly every birder I've talked to has been out birding with her, finding great birds, and enjoying good company. 

Hmm... a less experienced birder who's been fumbling around for a few days, meeting up with an experienced birder that he's really excited to meet... I didn't realize it at the time, but this day would have been fun to replay while thinking about the Chris Farley Show from Saturday Night Live.  If you've seen it, you'll know what I'm talking about, and I hope you enjoy the references sprinkled in below.  If not, here's a link to a clip on YouTube:  I'll just put CFR next to any Chris Farley references in there.  It may kill the flow, but I don't want to overly confuse people that don't recognize the references...

After coffee in the wheat/hipster town of Waitsburg, I made my way to McCown Road, just outside of town.  There's a bridge over a creek there, and my instructions were to meet at the Least Flycatcher!  I got out of the car, and despite the windy day, I was able to hear the little dude right away: CheBEK CheBEK CheBEK.  The call was unmistakable, and the fact that it remained hidden completely in the trees matched the behavior of the other two times I've seen... erm.. not seen this bird.

MerryLynn arrived at 7, and we had our hello's and got right into these flycatchers (it seemed there were two here) - how many records there were of them in the county, how likely they were to be nesting, what they had been doing over the last weeks.  Do you want to see it?  MerryLynn asked.  I passed on this one, and we got into talking about "counting" birds, and what to do about heard-only birds.  She was surprised that I was attempting this whole birding trek without an iPod (I should have gotten an iPod!... Idiot! CFR).  We talked about the birds I'd seen the day before (Um... do..doo you know the Mountain Road.. the Mountain Road that goes through.. um.. the Blue Mountains?  Do you know that road? yeah... it's awesome... And do you know um... Northern Goshawks?....Yeah.. um.. I saw a Northern Goshawk yesterday... it was awesome....CFR).

We birded Coppei Creek Road around to Dixie, and picked up some more warblers, and flycatchers, including a Say's Phoebe.  A Veery was singing at another stop.  This whole stretch was really birdy, but MerryLynn seemed to know the good spots to stop.  I would have done the whole thing at ten miles an hour, and stopped every hundred feet or so, so I smiled as she flew up the road, thinking "Wow.. she's not f'ing around!".  It didn't mean missing birds, and by the time we got to Dixie, I was probably at 30 or so!

Biscuit Ridge

Yet another one of these signs!
At Dixie, MerryLynn parked her car, and hopped into mine for the ride up Biscuit Ridge.  I tried to keep the speed up, but my eyes and ears were taking in all of the new places and sounds as we went.  We saw Wild Turkeys cross the road, and I said something like "You know turkeys... yeah, they're awesome" (CFR), only to find out that these guys, since they were introduced, have been taking over habitat that used to support other birds like Ruffed Grouse. 

We heard a Raven fly overheard... "Ravens are awesome... we mostly get crows where I'm from, so I know when there are ravens, that I'm somewhere awesome."  MerryLynn shared stories of Ravens watching over Ferruginous Hawk nests, taking the fledglings when they were left alone.  (Idiot!... CFR). 

It was actually very cool to get a picture of how the birds interact with eachother, and compete for food and space.  It got me thinking more... If a bird is increasing in an area, or if a bird is on the decline.. why??  MerryLynn has been watching this part of the state closely and asking these questions.  When she records birds, it's not just adding something to a list, but something that helps her to know how they're doing, and how the land is doing.  I knew I'd learn a lot about birds this morning, and it wasn't just about finding and identifying them.

We made one stop listening for Great Gray Owls.  At this time of year, they've got little fledglings that would be making dog-like owlet sounds.  We missed them today, but did find a Red Crossbill - one of the first she had found in the county this year.  MacGillivray's Warblers were out and singing as well.

Further on, we got to one of the Green-tailed Towhee 'spots' - a South facing slope in the Blue Mountains is a happy place for these birds, and they just barely make it up into Washington.  I'd never seen one in my life, and was excited by the prospect of seeing one today.  We got out of the car and MerryLynn played the song of the towhee on her iPod.  My expectations were not too high, since it was so windy, and she had not heard the bird here the previous week.  After a few minutes though, she pointed down to the brush at the bottom of the slope.  It was singing down there! 

Biscuit Ridge
With the wind, and the Lazuli Buntings around me, I was having trouble picking up the strange song, and the bird was staying back in the brush.  MerryLynn asked "Are you feeling like a mountain goat today?", looking down the slope.  "That," I responded, "fits my idea of fun this morning quite well."  I carefully made my way down through the lupines, with the iPod tucked in my pocket.  Slipped a couple of times, but always backwards. 

When I reached a nice flat area near the spot where the towhee had been singing, I stopped.  After a minute, I caught a sparrow making its way to a small shrub 20 feet from me.  Binoculars up, and I got a very nice look at a beautiful bird.  No camera - didn't want to smash it on the way down - but it was a nice minute of watching it before it ran back for the cover it had come from.

Wild onions
 Getting back up was a bit harder than down!  I was huffing pretty good by the time I got there, and MerryLynn and I continued up the road a little farther.  No chickadees yet on the trip, until we got to the end of the road;  Chestnut-backed Chickadees - common in my back yard, and less common here - were the only ones we found up here.  It was also a good spot for thrushes (Townsend's Solitaire, Varied and Hermit Thrushes), and we found one Northern Harrier flying along the side of the ridges.

Quick stop at the hummingbird house

Black-chinned Hummingbird

On the way back down, we stopped at a house that everyone hits on the way up to or back from Biscuit Ridge.  Dozens of hummingbird feeders are out and always full, and it was easy for us to find all three expected species (Rufous, Calliope, and Black-throated).  Right around here, we also looked and listened for Lesser Goldfinches.  They've been around here, and MerryLynn did see and hear them this morning, but I just couldn't pull out the song from all of the other sounds around me, and they never came in close.

Got one with her tongue sticking out!
MerryLynn and I had our goodbyes back in Dixie, and talked about some of the other targets I had for the day, as I planned to make my way through Walla Walla, Franklin, Benton and Yakima Counties on my way to Brooks Memorial State Park in Klickitat County that night.  Confirmed the Burrowing Owl Spot in Franklin where I'd missed them before, learned of a good spot for Ferruginous Hawks, and a place on the Columbia to scope for Forster's Terns.  It was a great morning of birding with a knowledgable, and friendly birder!

Bennington Lake

Bennington Lake

I was not sure if I would be stopping at Bennington Lake, but Jill sent me to the right exit to get gas, so I thought it would be good to see if it was still easy to find Yellow-breated Chat here, as I had a few years back.  Yes indeed!  Five minutes of walking up the side of the lake, and there were several singing from high perches in plain sight. 
Yellow-breasted Chat
I was on a heck of a roll at this point!

Did you bother knocking on wood?
Time again to get out and walk

Strike one:  MerryLynn had marked the place on my map, down in the Southeast corner of Walla Walla County, where Ferruginous Hawks were nesting.  I pulled off the highway into the dry, dry farmland and sage that dominates this little corner.  I was looking for the tree where they were nesting.  Could it be that tree? Probably not... (that was the last tree I saw here).  I once again arrived at a point where I had to get out of the car and walk.

Loggerhead Shrike
I was a little freaked out here.  Rattlesnakes?  What about the buzzing I heard everywhere?  There are unusual birds here, are there also unusual insects with unusual levels of aggression and unusually painful, possibly fatal stings?  The fear of the unknown is a funny thing, and I'm telling you... stinging insects freak me out a little.  I put in a good five minute walk and decided I was not approaching a tree, maybe not for hours... and turned back.

Strike two:  I picked up another strike here with the bat on my shoulders.  I passed on Forster's Terns, figuring I'd look for them later on Bateman Island.

Strike three: Burrowing Owls... I looked, I really did, and I swear I must be looking in the right place at the interchange between Highway 12 and Pasco-Kahlotus Road... but I missed them. 

Still, I left Walla Walla County with 66 species for the morning, and made my way towards my stay in Klickitat with a few stops.

Bateman Island - Benton County
Yes... it says no paintball.

Okay, I got to the parking lot here at Wye Park, and looked for my Benton Year List.  Drat!  Did I leave that at home somehow?  I was hoping to close this one out (I knew I had seen 30 birds last time I was here, but which 30?).  Ideally, I'd want to hit 50, but I'd probably have to settle for 39+, not knowing what holes needed to be filled.  So I walked the island (the sunscreen was on now - the Tri-Cities get HOT in the summer), and found a lot of lovely birds.

Bullock's Oriole

Female Black-headed Grosbeak

Great Egret

Ticks live here....
I was a little freaked out here again by the prospect of Insects of Ill Intent.  After exploring a little ways into the brush to try to get a better view of a duck, I came out and passed another walker who warned me of ticks.  "They've been reaaalllyy bad this year.  I came back with two of them in me last time I was here."  I itched the entire rest of the trip, although I never got a tick... that I know of....

Blackberries? On a tree? Would love to know what these are...
I left Benton County, not knowing that I was at 48 species for the year - ah well!  November!

A little stop in Wine Country

After all of these days on the road, with peanut butter sandwich lunches, oatmeal breakfasts, and fried food dinners, I made a stop for some good food and wine for dinner.  In Granger, I found this Wine Bar that was serving some good food to go with their wines.  I grabbed a pizza - pear and bacon. :)  Apologies to anyone who thinks that sounds like a ridiculous thing to do to a pizza, but it tasted reallly good that evening.

Granger has also got dinosaurs.  I was gassing up, and saw a sculpture, then another, then another... what was going on??  All was explained by a quick search for "Granger dinosaurs" on the Google.  Here you go:  Interesting, as long as you can get past the words "mastodon dinosaur".

Some views from my trip from Granger to Brooks Memorial State Park

Another long day of driving, and a lot of little stops in a lot of counties in the afternoon.  I was looking forward to really exploring Klickitat County the next day!