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!

No comments:

Post a Comment