Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Big ol' Trip: Day Three

Little Pend Oreille NWR

Aladdin Valley  -   earrrrllly
 Veeries!  I woke up to the sound of the bird I'd met just yesterday singing outside of my tent.  It was probably 4 in the morning, which would be upsetting to most people, but not for me, waking up with schemes in my head.  I was going to have a chance to spend one of the longest days of the year (and part of another), in one of the most distant counties in the state, chasing down birds in places I'd never visited before.  I wanted an early start, and the Veeries helped.  I packed up camp, gassed up in Colville, using hot water from the mini-mart to make my oatmeal and coffee before heading up Aladdin Valley Road.

The drive here was beautiful, and I kept getting glimpses of snowcapped mountains beyond the mountains directly on my east.  My first stop of the day would be Big Meadow Lake, where I was hoping to get a good start on 100 species in Pend Oreille County before leaving.  I honestly wasn't sure how hard this would be.  I haven't really done a Big Day before, although this was a little different, having two days.  I was hoping a good plan and a long day would make up for my inability to find woodpeckers, or to see warblers.

Big Meadow Lake
Trail at Meadow Lake
Big Meadow Lake is just inside Pend Oreille County, coming from Stevens.  It sits at 3400 feet elevation in Colville National Forest.  So it's Big, it has Meadows, it has a Lake, and it has Forest.  I got out of my car and started listening and looking.  Dark-eyed Juncos (1) flew into the trees near the little cabin at the start of the hike, and I soon heard the singing American Robins (2), Pine Siskins (3), Swainson's Thrushes(4), and Warbling Vireos (5). 

Meadows at Big Meadow Lake
The walk started through conifers, and heard Hammond's Flycatchers (6) in the trees.  I watched them flycatch, and they also gave their 'Peek' call, in addition to their song.  A flock of Red Crossbills (7) flew overhead.  As I continued on the walk, I could see a small pond through the trees.  I was disappointed that this was Big Meadow Lake (it wasn't), but a Song Sparrow (8) sang from the edge of the pond, and there was a pair of Ring-necked Ducks (9) swimming in it as well.

The path broke to a small opening where I had Willow Flycatchers (10), a Red-naped Sapsucker (11), and a Raven (12), before going back into some deeper conifers.  In here, I got a lot of the birds I know from home: Black-capped Chickadee (13), Townsend's Warbler (14), Brown Creeper (15), Chestnut-backed Chickadee (16), Pacific Wren (17), Red-Breasted Nuthatch (18), and Golden-crowned Kinglet (19) are all birds I see in my yard in Renton.  A Mountain Chickadee (20) made it a three chickadee morning, just in that stretch of the trail! 

...not a Hairy Woodpecker (varmint sp?)
The trail followed the edge of a meadow for a bit, and I could hear the crazy winnowing sound of Wilson's Snipe (21) who would later be posing on fence posts throughout the campgroud.  A Hairy Woodpecker (22), called from behind a tree, and I made sure to see it because of the squeaky rodents that seemed to be evvveerryyywhere in this part of the state.  Breaking into the open, the deciduous trees on the other edge of the opening had Chipping Sparrows (23), Western Wood-Peewees (24), and Yellow-rumped Warblers (25).  Tree Swallows (26) flew over the opening.

The path finally took me to the lake itself, on my left, with the Big Meadow on my right.  Here I had Spotted Sandpipers (27) in breeding plumage.  Common Loons (28) chased each other on the lake, Ruby-crowned Kinglets (29) sang from the trees (it took me a minute to figure out what they were - it had been a while!), along with Red-eyed Vireos (30), Red-winged Blackbirds (31) and Yellow Warblers (32). 

As the path went past the lake, I picked up two more birds - a Northern Flicker (33), and a bird I had to record (my camera has a video feature - why didn't I use it more??) - Northern Waterthrush (!)(34).  It was yet another warbler that would not show itself on this trip.  I pished, but it reallly didn't seem to care, and after 5-10 minutes, with a recording in hand, I figured it was time to head out.

8:00, and I'm heading down the hill to Ione.  On the way, I caught a Mountain Bluebird (35) in a field, and as soon as I got into town, House Finches (36) everywhere.  A hummingbird feeder had some visitors, and I picked out a Rufous Hummingbird (37), and a Calliope Hummingbird (38), but not a Black-chinned... In town, I also found Violet-green Swallow (39), House Sparrow (40), Starling (41) and Lazuli Bunting (42).  And then it was over the Pend Oreille River, hoping to reach Bunchgrass Meadows by 9:00.

Bunchgrass Meadows... I made it to Harvey Creek Road, and started up towards Bunchgrass Meadows.  A stop at some talus gave me a Nashville Warbler (43).  I was several miles up, when disaster struck.  About 3 or 4 miles short of the turnoff for the meadows, the road was barricaded.  I looked at the list of possibilities listed in Opperman (Fox and Lincoln's Sparrows, 3Toed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee!), and decided "Dammit... I'm here, I'm walking it."  It was pretty early in the day still, but this was really a poor decision, in terms of trying to get 100 species for the day.  A looooong walk up and back for a chance at a few species.

Most of the way up was pretty poor birding, only because the water of Harvey Creek was rushing so loudly that only Townsend's Warblers and Pacific Wrens could be heard.  Close to an hour passed with no new birds! 

I eventually made it to some forest roads with some clear cuts and clearing off to the right side of the road.  Following them in, and away from the sound of the river, I caught two species that I wouldn't see anywhere else in the county - Fox Sparrow (44), and a very loud Olive-sided Flycatcher (45).  I got very excited thinking I had Golden Eagles at one point, but nope - Red-tailed Hawks (46).  Back at the main road, and a truck passed me. (???)  How did the truck get here?  I walked a little farther for Orange-crowned Warbler (47), and when the truck came back, I flagged him down and got a ride back down!

Bad decision rewarded!
I can't tell you how happy I was to get an hour and a half of my day back, and to ride down a forest road in the back of a pickup truck (his dog had shotgun).  This was a Stimson Lumber employee who had come up to investigate the washout (which was pretty significant, but drivable in his truck... I got out at that point!) 

We chatted about Bunchgrass meadows, and he spoke excitedly about what great habitiat it was (Western Tanagers are his favorite bird there).  Apparently there was significant snow before even getting to the meadows, so I really did luck out here with this ride.  I got back to my car at 11:30, and pondered where to go from there.
Sullivan Lake and Sullivan Creek

Sullivan Lake - Pend Oreille County
Sullivan Lake is beautiful.  I caught it right at lunch time, and there were birds singing everywhere.  New for the day was a Cassin's Vireo (48) as I took this picture.  I went to the Ranger Station to check on road conditions, and to chat with the wildlife biologist about where to find some target birds.  Along the lake, and at the ranger station, I picked up Cedar Waxwings (49), Northern Rough-winged Swallows (50) and Cliff Swallows (51).  I learned that the road was not clear all the way up to Salmo Pass, only a mile or two past Gypsy Meadows.  I was going to be driving this road regardless of how far it was open, so he asked me to look for Harlequin Ducks on the way, as they had a few nesting pairs on Sullivan Creek.

Lunch in the parking lot, then I set off for the end of the road, however far up that might be!  With some searches at several stops in the first mile, I did find some Harlequin Ducks (52) resting on a log crossing the river.  No American Dippers despite several searches!  I passed Gypsy Meadows, getting out to find a Wilson's Warbler (53), then pushing on farther up the road. 

I got to a point where two forest service workers were turning their truck around at a snowy part of the road.  I pulled over, and they confirmed that this was as far as a car should go today.  I got out and started walking again.  This was as far to the Northeast corner of the state as I was going to make it today, maybe ever.  I thought back to when I was 5? 6? fascinated by a map of Washington, and looking at the names of mountains and rivers in the remote corners. Even then, I had this longing to see those places, and it was obvious that I had to honor the wishes of that five year-old today.

The first bit of snow was really not that bad.  200-250 feet of snow that would probably be gone by the time the Washington Ornithological Society made their field trip up here next week.  Then it was clear road for 1/2 mile?  Hard to say.  For whatever reason this walk was a Very Important part of my trip, and I lost track of mileage and time a little.  Eventually, the road did get to some serious snow.  I looked longingly across it, and hoped for at least one more bird before I had to turn around.  My favorite birds of all started singing for me in the trees - Varied Thrushes (54) sending their haunting, fluting sounds from their hiding places up in the trees in this beautiful snowy place.  I don't know if I could do a very good job of explaining why all of this combined to bring me to tears, and I'll probably tear up again if you ask me about it, as I am even now typing about it.

As far as my feet would take me today
 I waved goodbye to Canada... goodbye to Idaho... and turned back to my car.  Passing a bridge on the way down in my car, I thought "Dippers like bridges...".  I got out, and looked over the river from the bridge, and found American Dipper (55).  I stopped in the Ranger Station to report the Harlequin Ducks, and made my way towards my motel in Metaline Falls.

Evening in Pend Oreille

It should be noted at this point that I was heading into the late afternoon and evening not having picked up an American Redstart or a MacGillivray's Warbler.  Spoiler alert - I left the county without them.  I think at this point that I had just become unreasonably fed up with all of the warblers.  They were singing and hiding, and I decided that, unless an American Redstart was going to come up and kiss me on the cheek, that I was very well going to get to 100 species without them.  I'm sure they were everywhere, and if someone could summon up audio replay of my day, they would be staggered by how many of these birds I passed.  This decision, however, was the only way I was going to enjoy the rest of this little quest, even if it led to failure in the end...

Metaline gave me a Barn Swallow (56), a Brown-headed Cowbird (57), and a Brewers Blackbird (58).  The people of Metaline gave me directions back into Metaline Falls to the Circle Motel where I was staying (Jill, the GPS girl, had never heard of the place, unfortunately... Mappy was once again shaking his head on my passenger seat, wondering why we needed Jill on this trip).  I got a shower, and looked at what I had, and what I had left.  There were still some hours of light, and there might be some owls to be had.  Calispell Peak Road was described as a pretty treacherous road, but it might have Barred Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, and maybe some other high altitude species like Gray Jay.  I thought there were some other birds I might be able to pick up along the way, so I grabbed a quick shower (aaahhhh), a 10 minute nap (yes, that actually works for me) and got on my way down the Pend Oreille.

This turned out to be a productive stretch!  Metaline - American Crow (59).  Down to peek at the river, Canada Goose (60).  Roll the window down at this grassy field - Savannah Sparrow (61).  Pull out a mile south of Selkirk HS - Bank Swallows (62) and Bald Eagle (63).  Crossing the road - Wild Turkeys (64).  Another mile up - Osprey (65).  Bird flies into a tree, pull over and look and listen - Black-headed Grosbeak (66).  On a wire - American Kestrel (67).  Window down again for a finch flying over - American Goldfinch (68).  Another wire - Mourning Dove (69).

Here I stopped at the wetlands at the bottom of Tacoma Creek.  This stop gave me a Gray Catbird (70), Mallard (71), Spotted Towhee (72) Double-crested Cormorant (73), and... a Goldeneye female with young... too far out to tell whether it was Common or Barrow's.  Drat!  Driving up Tacoma Creek Road, I pulled over once to snap this picture.  Metal sculptures on the hills... creepy!  Do they walk at night??  These thoughts may have been in the back of my head later on in the evening.

Common Goldeneye - Sportsman's Pond - Pend Oreille County
A little farther up the road to Sportsman's Pond, and I found Common Goldeneyes (74), with young, and enjoyed some Common Nighthawks (75) flying overhead.  I started up Calispell Peak Road, but it was 7:30... 7:45... and the road was as rough as advertised.  I got to one point, pulled off to the side, got out, listened for anything... thought of those creepy metal sculpture people waiting for me at the bottom... and turned it around for the hotel.  Jill tried to send me off on things that absolutely were not roads, and she got shut off for the evening.

75 species in a day!  I don't think I've done that before, let alone in a place that I haven't previously explored.  I looked over what I had left, and actually jotted down notes on warbler songs (those notes were not used), and flycatcher calls (now those, I did use), and wondered if I had a chance to find 25 morespecies in Pend Oreille before heading down to Whitman County to camp the next night. 

Gratuitous flower shots
Flower sp?

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