Wednesday, October 19, 2011

To the Middle of Nowhere: Chelan and Douglas Counties 10/14-15

Notes on the title before proceeding:

1.  "Nowhere" is a heavy, heavy compliment on a good place.  Read on for the explanation.
2.  "The Middle" of that nowhere is a place that I am aching to go back to.

Okay, I feel like I can go on now.  Friday morning came, and I had to make my way from Renton to Redmond by 8:00 for a teacher's conference.  Had a lovely and inspiring time, and was happy when the final keynote speaker wrapped up about 15 minutes early, letting me get a start on one of my last trips!
Fall foliage on Highway 2

From Redmond, I made my way up to Highway 2.  As I neared Stevens Pass, I had to stop at Skykomish.  Last year, in getting ready for my year around the state, I had really focused on King County.  The original plan had been to see 150 species for the year in the county, but one thing led to another... and I finished the year at 202!  This corner of the county was one of the few places I hadn't been to. 

This is about as long as one can drive to "get to" King County - winding up through Snohomish County and back south into King before hitting Stevens Pass.  I was fascinated looking around Skykomish - totally disconnected from the rest of the county, unless you wanted to hike to it through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (which I may have to do sometime...).  It made me think of Point Roberts - the part of Washington that you can only get to via Canada - up and around through a little bit of British Columbia - like a little separate colony of the Motherland.

Chelan County
Continuing up and over Stevens Pass, I grabbed one of the forest roads on the east side of the pass to do a little hike before it got too dark.  The trailhead was totally empty, and the mist was starting to roll in for the evening as I started the walk.  It was good habitiat for Northern Pygmy-Owls, so I decided to try the recordings on my phone to call one in.  It wasn't as loud as I could whistle by myself, so I switched to that as I hiked up the trail.

I struck out on the owls I was looking for - I've still only seen them, but haven't heard the calls, which is unusual for me with owls - when I started to get a different owl call.  Three hoots... unevenly spaced... then a big pause.  I pulled up the app on my phone and listened to what I thought it might be.  Spotted Owl!  I quickly shut it off and listened.  More calling!  Spotted Owls will actually eat Northern Pygmy-owls if they get a chance, so that must be what called this one in.  I called once or twice back, just to be friendly, then listened for five minutes more before the voice in the distant trees finally stopped.
Octoberfest at Gustavs, Leavenworth

Making  my way down the east side of Stevens, it continued to get cloudy and darker, so I stopped for dinner in Leavenworth... on October 14th.  Now, it was not my intention to make it over specifically for Octoberfest in Leavenworth, but it still seemed like a beer and a brat were in order for dinner, so that's what I ordered at Gustav's.  My wife texted me to have fun, but not too much fun - "No liederhosen!"  I think were her exact words.

A couple from Lake Tapps sat next to me, and we chatted for a couple of hours about baseball, small towns, private schooling, Puerto Rico, parenting and soccer.  We did talk about the birds, and the wife actually understood the idea of the 'sense of place' that I got from watching and listening to the birds in different places.  For her it was more about the geology and the trees, but it's still the same kind of feeling.  You know you're somewhere different - sometimes if you look around and listen, you can put your finger on it.

I finished my evening with the 40 minute drive down the hill to my hotel in East Wenatchee.  On the way, I thumbed through radio stations and stumbled on the Friday night matchup between the Cashmere and Chelan High Schools.  It was an awesome finish, and Chelan alllmost upset the highly ranked Bulldogs, but they went for the touchdown instead of kicking the game winning field goal from inside the ten yard line.  I know... I don't understand either.   So nice just to get to listen to some high school football, anyway!

Head hit the bed, and I was out.

Douglas County

I got up too early.  Sunrise isn't until 7:30 now!  That hadn't sunk in, so I was toying with the idea of going owling... then I looked at the places I wanted to go, and... in the end, I went back to bed, kind of, and got back up for breakfast in the hotel at 6:00.  Typical continental fare, and I was surprised to see quite a few people also up at 6:00 on Saturday.  Ahhh!  Octoberfest and opening day of hunting season! 

Bridge over Lake Pateros - Okanogan to Douglas Counties

A very small fraction of the ducks I saw
I was actually making Wells NWR near Bridgeport my first destination.  Heading up along the Columbia during twilight, and crossing over near Chelan, I went through Pateros in Okanogan County before getting to the Bridge over the Columbia (or, rather, Lake Pateros, as it is called here).  Over the bridge, and to the left, I pulled over at the first pullout, and saw more ducks than I have ever seen at once.  Ever.   Thousands of ducks.   As I have said before in this blog - thousands of anything is cool.

Redheads, American Coots and Ruddy Ducks
I looked through with binoculars first - Redheads, Canvasbacks, Greater and Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, and a bazillion Coots and American Wigeon.  With my scope, I was able to pull out a couple more species, including a lone Bufflehead, Ruddy Ducks, and Northern Pintails.  I have also said before in this blog, I am not a hunter, but I did briefly consider the edibility of the ducks below me, and the inner Elmer Fudd even went so far as to think "Bwam! Bwam!  It's duck season!", but that's as far as it went.
Eurasian Collared-Dove - Bridgeport Bar

Farther up the road, I stopped at Wells National Wildlife Refuge, and also walked some of the neighborhoods in the area.  I thought at the time that I was in Bridgeport, but realize now that Bridgeport was a little farther down the river.  I found some sparrows and doves and even a Brown-headed Cowbird in these neighborhoods before heading up to the Bridgeport Bar area of the refuge.
Bridgeport Bar sparrow and warbler patch
I actually did not walk very far from the parking lot, but found that I was able to spend my time pretty well picking through a little copse of trees, and some large piled up branches scattered around a grassy field.  There were a lot of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and I also picked out an Orange-crowned Warbler (around a little late-ish).  In with the numerous White-crowned and Song Sparrows, were a couple of Lincoln's Sparrows, and I was able to get a picture of one of these skulky birds.
Lincoln's Sparrow - Bridgeport Bar

The highlight of this time was getting to see this falcon fly in with a bird in-talon, and proceed to pluck it!  I watched for a bit, but didn't want to be a nuisance.  I moved on and looked for any other interesting sparrows, but all I found were White-crowned Sparrows - all of them east-siders, based on the songs, which are a little different than the ones sung here at home.

I left the Bridgeport Bar area and headed back past the bridge, and up Central Ferry Road leading back up towards the Waterville Plateau.  This took me through a small stretch of Ponderosa Pines, where there were Pygmy and Red-breasted Nuthatches, as well as Pine Siskins. A Cassin's Finch sang a song that I'd never heard from a Cassin's Finch before - this had me thinking I had a Red-eyed Vireo in October!  Several emails and listening to recordings on-line, and I finally uncovered the song that I heard. 

Onto the Waterville Plateau - Douglas County

Lumpy landscape
Continuing from here, I broke out of the pines, and things got gigantic, flat, stark and beautiful.  This plateau is simply unique in the state.  It's so high, and the terrain is so bizarre - lumpy in some places, while other areas have been prepared for farming, with all of the giant glacial rocks piled here and there.  I tried to imagine that work;  I had cleared rocks from the soil in my side yard for a vegetable garden, and some of those seemed annoyingly large, but nothing at all like these rocks.

Insert Snowy Owl here
 In the winter, some of these piles would be home to Snowy Owls, and the roads would be home to Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings.  Today, they were mostly empty.  Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels were scattered around the plateau, and even they were fairly well spread out.  I also found a juvenile Northern Shrike.
Juvenile Northern Shrike
I thought I knew where I was at this point...
I did not.

For anyone making their way up here, it's worth noting that the road names might be different from what you'll find on your maps.  After almost an hour of guessing what direction I was going (thankfully there were clear skies, and I know a little astronomy...), and choosing this dirt road, and that gravel road, and this pavement... I finally thought I knew where I was.  Then I wasn't sure...

At one point, I thought I saw a major road ahead, and also some birds on a wire.  I knew I was heading south, because it was just about local noon (probably 12:55 or so here), and these birds were completely backlit.  I rolled up to pass them, and they would fly up ahead of me - about a dozen of them.  We repeated this several times, and when I finally gave in and sped past them, they flew off into the distance.  I got one backlit bird pictured here - There's a lot of buffy color on the breast, so... Western Bluebird?
Mountain Bluebird!

I needed to get to Lake Chelan to pick up wine we had ordered, so when I finally got to the major road (McNeil Canyon Road) and wound my way down to the Columbia.  This road is steepish in parts, and I have actually been dumb enough to try to drive up it with a fresh blanket of unplowed snow a few years back.  This was a bit less frightening!

Chelan County

Western Grebes - Lake Chelan
Orchard near Manson - Chelan County
My trip to Lake Chelan only took me up the north side to the town of Manson.  I stopped in for the wine at Wapato Point Cellars, and then made a quick run up to the lakes in this area - Wapato Lake and Antillon Lake.  During this trip, I added a few more birds to the year list for Chelan, including some Pygmy Nuthatches, and a Virginia Rail at the marsh on Wapato Lake - bringing me almost to 50 for the year.  Not surprising that returning to the same basic habitat in the non-breeding season was giving me mostly the same birds!

From Antillon Lake - towards mountains
I was surprised to see a sign to Cooper Mountain - 8 miles up the road past Antillon Lake.  This is a point where hundreds of raptors pass during migration.  This day would have been a nice day to try to catch the tail end of this, but the time wasn't there, so I looked longingly up the road, then continued back towards Douglas County.

Near Manson - Chelan County

Douglas County

Golden Eagle - McNeil Canyon Road
Back up the same hill a short time later - I wanted to make it to Jameson Lake, and then make my way back to Waterville where I was staying in the evening.  As I started on the road to Mansfield, I tried to get a picture of another large raptor flying in the distance, and I think it was a Golden Eagle!  This is something I saw for the first time only two months ago, and at quite a distance, but I think the white patches on the wings of this dark raptor mean Golden Eagle.

I continued to Mansfield, then turned south towards Jameson Lake.  I had always wondered... if there is a road to the lake from the north... and a road to the lake from the south... but then a sign answered my question.
Ah!  I had always wondered...

Through the Moses Coulee towards Jameson Lake
So it would be doubling back... one of my least favorite driving activities, but I'd have to suffer through it!  My first stop was at Grimes Lake.  This lake actually turned out to be a very good stop, giving me Hooded Mergasners and Green-winged Teals, which I hadn't found elsewhere.  The scenery was no longer just a lake on a plateau.  I was heading into a canyon, here in the middle of nowhere, towards a lake accessible only by two dead end roads.

Jameson Lake
At the end of the road, I found not just the lake, but Jameson Lake Resort.  I hadn't run into this piece of information!  Boat rentals, camping and fishing... and a cafe that I wish I had stopped at for pie (it was reviewed pretty well by the owner of the Waterville Hotel where I stayed that night).  The lake was absolutely hopping with fish.  I tried to take 10-15 pictures of fish jumping out of the water, but ultimately gave up on it - this is as good as it got!

A man and his son got out of the lake where they'd been fishing from a boat they rented.  Oh Lord, I need to get back here with Declan.  I've tried to go fishing with him, but (brace yourself everyone), I didn't catch a single fish in the first 30 or so years of my life.  The fishing that I haven't done has left me ridiculously incapable... I never know what goes where on the line (which I find every year in the same condition - line tangled impossibly), and once things get tangled... it's all over.

Fish here?  I may have to!
I know it's an easy thing - I've seen people fishing... but I make it about 100 times harder than it needs to be.  If I came here with Declan, though, then I could just wait for one to jump in the boat.  It's a long way to go just to be a good father, but I think it will be worth the drive.  Hopefully the pie will still be good, and hopefully the sign will still be up telling me to "FISH HERE", in the middle of nowhere.
Fixer-upper - Douglas County

Gray Partridge - South of Mansfield
A few Western Grebes on the Lake, and other distant ducks, but it was time to go.  The drive back was mostly birdless again once I left the canyon and started back towards Mansfield.  Then I saw some birds on the side of the road.  Gray Partridges!  These birds are pretty secretive, but sat in plain view for me for a few minutes.  They must have been planning their foray out into the road where they would collect gravel and sand - deposited in their gizzard to help grind up their food.

Getting late!  Check out the rainbow fragment in the cloud
on the left!

This has happened exactly five times this year
On the way to Waterville, I nearly plowed through another dozen partridges on the road.  I turned down a road that was supposed to lead to a good spot for Long-eared Owls.  It was, of course, closed.  I've had this a lot this year - roads that I'm excited to visit... but then they're closed.  I'm not counting how many times it's been, but it's been a lot.

I found into a copse of trees about ten miles from Waterville, and thought it would be worth trying for owls.  I pulled over, got out and shut the door, which has developed a bit of a groan as it closes.  From the trees, I thought I heard it - did an owl call?  I tried a quick hoot, trying to replicate what I had just heard (I wasn't sure what a Long-eared Owl sounded like, but I could at least imitate what I heard).  Again!  Shortly after I hooted, the owl hooted back at me!  I tried another time - dead on!

I couldn't believe that I was able to nail this call so quickly, but I suppose I do have a pretty good ear for these things.  I waited... nothing.  Then I pulled out my phone to dial up a Long-eared Owl call, just to see what they sound like. Hmmm... that sounded different.  I looked off into the silent copse of trees and tried the call I'd heard from the recording on my phone.  The owl quickly obliged and imitated me perfectly... Then it sunk in.

"Echo!", I yelled into the evening silence, and the owl quickly responded in kind: "Echo!".  I slapped my forehead, and was greeted by the sound of that slap echoed back from the hills around me not more than a second later.  It was time to go to bed.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tim,
    My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about Lake Chelan to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!