Thursday, July 7, 2011

Big ol' Trip: Day Five

Clarkston, Asotin County
Clarkston to Anatone

I woke up with some excitement - here on day five of a Saturday to Saturday road trip, with June closing out, and a whole day to explore the Southeast corner of the state in the Blue Mountains.  While I had originally planned on camping in Garfield County, hitting dry areas and the Snake River on the way to Clarkston, then heading over the Blues, starting in Clarkston would get me into the mountains sooner, so it was not a big problem either way...

Hell's Canyon's thataway
I was up eeearly again.  I think I hit Starbucks soon after they opened at 5.  So nice to get a cup brewed up here after days without a Starbucks (although I'd been tearing through the little instant Via packets which aren't so bad).  After walking around a little in Clarkston, I started heading up the road to Asotin.  Just above it, I got a nice view into the start of Hell's Canyon, one of the deepest gorges in the country.  We've taken the boat tours in there before, and it's just beautiful.  On a hot summer day, it's great to go down the Snake River with the wind cooling you.

Lark Sparrow!
 It had been a couple of days since I had seen a lifer, so it was nice to get my first at 6AM today:  A Lark Sparrow on the highway from Asotin to Anatone.  After days of trying desperately to find warblers hiding in thick foliage, this was a nice change.  If only all of the birds would give me good views today...

Approaching Anatone
When the family had come down to visit Hell's Canyon, we had not continued on to Anatone.  The drive up this way was interesting.  Starting in Asotin, there were a lot of deciduous trees along the river;  Then you climb into some farmland and dry country (I was going to say "sage-steppe" here, but don't know if it technically counts), and approaching Anatone, you can start to see signs of trees again in the distance - the deep woods of the Blue Mountains.

Chukar - Asotin County.  A life bird for me earlier this year,
but this was the best I'd ever seen one.

I'd kind of sort of been hoping to hit a bathroom, maybe fill up the water bottle, top off the coffee in Anatone, but there were no signs of any such services as I drove through town.  With all of the little towns I've passed through this year, this may have been one of the first such times, although maybe I just hadn't noticed before because there was always another town farther down the road.  This was the end of the line in Southeastern Washington - farther into the corner than any other town.

Field Springs State Park

Past Anatone, I arrived at Field Springs State Park, and quickly got ready for a hike up Puffer Butte.  Getting here before 7:30 was absolutely perfect.  It was a cool morning, but not too cool, and the birds were singing all of the way up.  The most magical thing happened on this walk.  Some MacGillivray's warblers were singing, and the actually came out for me to see them when I pished them out!  Seeing and hearing the birds at the same time restored my faith in warbler identification.

Townsend's and MacGillivray's were the main songs I heard on the way up, as far as warblers go.  Swainson's Thrushes sang all of the way up, and were joined by Hermit Thrushes higher up.  The trail was shaded the whole way, but it was a trail to a butte, so I was hopeful that I'd get a good view at the top.

The view from the top was just awesome.  You can see from here deep into the Blue Mountains in Oregon.  Even with stops to look and listen, I'd made it up by 8:15.  I knew this was supposed to be a good place for woodpeckers, so I waited and looked and listened.  American Three-toed and Williamson's Sapsuckers were still eluding me, and they did again here.  Thought I had the former, but it was a Hairy Woodpecker instead, and then a Red-naped Sapsucker had me thinking I had the latter.  Quite a few flickers came through as well, and Mountain and Western Bluebirds were ridiculously blue in the morning light.

Gratuitous flower shots...

Grande Ronde

From Field Springs State Park, I continued farther down the highway towards the southeast corner of the state.  Golden Eagles are another bird I've never seen, and I'd heard they nest in the cliffs along the Grande Ronde.  So I made my way to this view point, stepped out and ate my lunch.  While watching for anything flying through the canyon, Rock Wrens sang from the cliffs around me.  A half hour passed, and it was beautiful, but it was time to go!

Into the Blues

Heading back through Anatone to get onto West Mountain road, I got two things: 1) Wilson's Snipe on a fence post, and 2) turned around.  Jill the GPS girl had been off for a bit, and I was driving by feel a little bit.  I finally stopped and asked a fellow in a truck how to get up to Wenatchee Guard Station in the Blues.  He gave me a "Follow me." and I did.  We wound around a few roads, and eventually got onto the right road (confirmed by the GPS).  He wished me a good morning and told me I'd enjoy the drive - "A lotta country up there!  A lotta country..."

Meadow flowers - probably right in front of the
Wenatchee Guard Station
I was busy looking at a lotta country on the way up, including some more flowery meadows.  In the process, I drove right past the Wenatchee Guard Station.  Apparently, there is nobody guarding anything from there anymore.  Would have been nice to have some guards on duty to tell me about road conditions... but I pressed on.

I was somewhere that looked a bit like this when I had one of the coolest bird moments of the trip.  A huge gray raptor dove in front of me and flew in front of the car for 100 feet or so before dodging off into the forest to the south.  It might be a long time before I get to see a Northern Goshawk that well!  Apparently, they love the clearcuts up here, so it's possible for people that spend a lot of time up here to be unsurprised by these sightings.  That's not me yet!

Whoops!  Am I in Garfield County...?

Near Wickiup Campground - Garfield County
 I had driven up into the clouds at this point and on my right, there was a sign for Wickiup Campground.  I had enterred Garfield County without realizing it!  I checked the map, and it looked like I had to have passed the Wenatchee Guard Station a ways back.  I stepped out and listened.  Ruby-crowned Kinglets everywhere (that song surprised me), Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, Hermit Thrushes, Mountain Chickadees, Dark-eyed Junco, Chipping Sparrow, Townsend's Warbler, and Yellow-rumped Warbler.  It was a great start, and I was excited to see what was farther up the road!

Really...? Realllllyy...??
There wasn't much farther up the road, because it was closed.  Dig out a map, and look at where Wickiup Campground is, and how much it would suck to get a mile or two past that and find out you had to turn back, instead of driving down to Pomeroy.  That's how much it sucked.  The first tree in the road... well, I thought it might have been an accident, and I actually moved it and drove on (sorry forest service people!), but then it sunk in.. Ohh... this road is closed!

So I pulled the car over, and once again did a little hiking past the end of the road.  Before it got to a snowfield at the bitter end (maybe 1/4 mile up), a woodpecker with an all dark back landed on a tree in front of me.  The lighting was poor, so I walked up for a better view.  It flew behind a tree, let out a loud QUEEYAHH!, and gave a quick rattling drill into the tree.  Then it flew out of view for good.  Williamson's Sapsucker!  My second lifer of the day, although this was one that would need a better view some time.

I cursed a little bit more about the road, and then asked Jill how long it would take me to get to Clarkston.  (calculating.... calculating.....)

Back to Clarkston

Cloverland Road - Asotin County
 I found that Jill preferred Cloverland Road, and this was one I had recognized from a previous post from people birding in Asotin County, so I got going down the road.  I stopped once to hear an Olive-sided Flycatcher, and soon after, saw a person standing on the side of the road looking up into a tree.  I was right with my guess - another birder - he had also heard the flycatcher. 

I told him about my morning, and he said "yeah, too bad about the road closure"  (would have been nice to know about!).  He and a friend were heading up to the Wenatchee Guard Station to look for rare flowers (some peony that is the only one that shows up in Washington), and a rare bird (Green-tailed Towhee - also just barely enters Washington).  That was one I'd be looking for tomorrow, and he brightened up when he heard that I'd be birding with MerryLyn Denny the next day, telling me to pass along a hello.  He told me to look out for Vesper Sparrows on the way down (found them!), and I finished my ride out of Asotin County, and back around to Garfield.

Garfield County one more time.

As soon as I got into Garfield County, I looked for a turn off for Alpowa Creek Road.  Things are pretty dry around here, so any creek bed looks a lot like the picture at right, with places for songbirds to nest.  Although it was a quick stop-and-listen, I added a dozen or so species here before going farther down Highway 12.

That last step is a dooooozy....
it's good to drive carefully here
At 3:30, I arrived at Sweeney Gulch Road.  Just a heads-up - if the road is in Garfield County, and has 'gulch' or 'grade' in the name... it will be some combination of dusty, rocky, bumpy, steep or otherwise treacherous.  Still, I had some nice views here, and got more passerines - Western Wood Peewee, Black-headed Grosbeak, both Bluebirds, Vesper Sparrow, and Pygmy Nuthatch - and some game birds  - Gray Partridge and Ring-necked Pheasant.  I found my 50th bird in the county just as I rolled into Pomeroy - a Bullock's Oriole in the brush.

Snacks for the next day... check!
Dinner was at Donna's Cafe in Pomeroy.  I tried to squeeze a free dinner out of Donna, since she said I wouldn't have trouble making it over the Mountain Road.  She laughed and said, "I loooove your sense of humor."  The fish n chips were a good finish to my day.  I gassed up and made my way to Tucannon Campground in Columbia County to camp for the night.

Views from Garfield County

Tucannon Campground

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