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!
|Columbia County... don't worry, I'll be back|
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:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNBIyGxV7Ek. 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...
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!
|Yet another one of these signs!|
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.
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!
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.
Quick stop at the hummingbird house
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!
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.
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.
|Female Black-headed Grosbeak|
|Ticks live here....|
|Blackberries? On a tree? Would love to know what these are...|
A little stop in Wine Country
http://www.grangerchamber.org/tourism.htm. Interesting, as long as you can get past the words "mastodon dinosaur".
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!