Northeast Washington Trip Report and a Request (VERY LONG)

Ted Kenefick tedk at
Mon Jul 2 23:58:36 PDT 2001

Hello Tweets,

I just returned late last night from a whirlwind trek out to to
northeastern Washington.

I started out Friday night, driving to Tonasket where I camped. The next
morning, I worked my way along Aeneas Valley Road east and south of
Tonasket. After checking various hayfields along the way down, I found
several male BOBOLINKS in a hayfield on the east side of the road 9.2 miles
south of Highway 20. WESTERN BLUEBIRDS were present in excellent
numbers as well.

Next I returned to Tonasket and headed out Tonasket/Havillah Road in search
of the Least Flycatcher reported by Patrick and Ruth Sullivan. No luck on
this bird but what a beautiful area with excellent birding! I had a
first-year juvenile SWAINSON'S HAWK between Havillah and Cheshaw that
totally threw me for a loop initially because I was quite unfamiliar with
this plumage. After consulting Clark & Wheeler's photographic guide to
North American Raptors, I worked out the ID. This is an excellent
book for those of us like me who find these guys tough. Swainson's is one
of my favorite birds of prey. Incidentally, Scott Weidensaul's chapter on
Swainson's Hawks in his book, "Living on the Wind" is a truly moving account
of the perils and triumphs of this magnificent bird. I would highly
recommend the book as a whole.

While exploring between Cheshaw back down to Highway 20, I came across a
lone BLACK TERN over Beth Lake as well as a SPOTTED SANDPIPER
a BARROW'S GOLDENEYE and RED-NECKED GREBE. I drove on to Colville
and then up to the South Fork Mill Creek Road to Hanson Springs to look for
Northern Waterthrush as reported recently by Marv Breece. In the first
quarter mile there was a nice riparian area where an extremely cooperative
RED-EYED VIREO popped into view, one of several encountered on the trip.
Despite the persistent gunfire present in the area, I did find a NORTHERN
WATERTHRUSH at this location along the main road just past the intersection
with the Hanson Springs Road. There was also a female AMERICAN REDSTART
here as well as numbers of CEDAR WAXWINGS and WILLOW FLYCATCHERS.
Both species seemed to be everywhere on this trip.

The next morning, along Highway 20 near Lake Gillette, I stopped at a boggy
area and found another waterthrush. In fact, because of the early morning
hour, this bird was quite easy to see as it popped up and sang away. I
moved along to the Sullivan Lake area and on to the turnoff with Salmo
Mountain Road. Just past this intersection was a male MACGILLIVRAY'S
WARBLER as a male CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD rested on an exposed willow
branch. I drove up Salmo Mountain Road (which is an excellent dirt road by
the way) to about a mile or so below Salmo Pass where I came across hordes,
literally swarms of PINE SISKINS; they seemed to be everywhere feeding
voraciously on the cones. Also, present in fewer numbers (but still
abundant) were RED CROSSBILLS. Each group was checked carefully for
White-wings but none were found. Unfortunately, my nemesis bird, the Pine
Grosbeak continued to elude me here. I'm hoping that the abundance of
siskins and crossbills is indicative of an invasion those highly
sought-after northern finches. At this spot also were singing FOX SPARROWS
of the schistacea subspecies. This beautiful, ringing song really had me
going for a bit as I hear them sing so rarely. Salmo Pass itself became
relatively quiet as the morning activity waned.

I worked my way back down to Sullivan Lake and on to Bunchgrass Meadows.
The route from Sullivan Lake Road to Bunchgrass Meadows was 13.2 miles long
along Forest Road 1935. While the dirt/gravel road was quite good for about
9 of these miles, it deteriorates fairly quickly for the next 4 miles. My
Subaru Outback which has relatively high clearance was able to
negotiate the areas with deep ruts and rocks fairly easily. My feeling is
that the road is probably passable for most passenger cars, however, be
warned that it is tricky going in some spots. Also, I was not 100% certain
when I had actually reached Bunchgrass Meadows as the only sign was an
obvious one which reads "Enjoy and Protect Your National Forest." There is
a little parking area on the right side of the road here. This is just
prior to where the road descends steeply and rather perilously down a ridge
on the other side. It was very quiet when I was there, however, it looks to
be an excellent birding spot. I turned around after some exploration of the
woods in the area. I began to work my way down when I came to an open wet
meadow on the right at mile marker 11. Bird activity was at a peak here
despite the fact that it was mid-afternoon. There were hordes of RED
CROSSBILLS jip, jipping away. As I walked the road swatting mosquitoes, a
large bird flushed up a short distance to an overhanging limb. I knew I had
a grouse but which one? I snuck around the turn and saw the barred pattern
on the belly and breast, a female SPRUCE GROUSE!! This about made my day as
I watched the bird only 20 feet away for several minutes. I left this bird
and headed back to my car to enjoy more crossbills, PYGMY NUTHATCHES and a
CASSIN'S VIREO singing in the pines. At this moment, I looked up and had
the most tantalizing birding experience of the trip. Just as I looked up,
a bird, slightly smaller than a robin, with not quite as chunky a shape and
a long tail flew by quickly. I believe I saw some red on the upperparts as
well. Aaaaargh!! I was 95% sure that I had just seen my jinx bird, the Pine
Grosbeak but could not be absolutely certain. I, of course searched for it
for some time to no avail.

This leads me to my request. If you have seen Pine Grosbeak in the state, I
would be so appreciative if you could pass along the circumstances of your
sightings, date and place, habitat, elevation and any other information you
would think would be helpful. If there are good specific areas to look, I
would really appreciate this as well. Perhaps, its just a matter of being
in the right place at the right time, but I figure if I arm myself with
information, I can increase my chances, right?! Thanks in advance for any
and all help. No tidbit of information is too small. It could be the key
that leads to a successful conclusion of this odyssey (although, of course,
the journey itself has been quite fun).

back to my story...........
A few minutes later after the fly-by, I was on the road heading for home.
The only stop I made was at Dodson-Frenchman Hills intersection of the
Quincy Wildlife Area near Moses Lake where I heard 2 SORAS, a VIRGINIA RAIL
and saw several BLUE-WINGED TEAL and what looked to be a recently fledged
EARED GREBE (kind of looked like a scraggly winter-plumage bird). There
were also several BLACK TERNS, a fly-over AMERICAN AVOCET and a pair
of EASTERN KINGBIRDS. North on Dodson Road, there was a BLACK-NECKED
STILT as well as a FORSTER'S TERN. The sun had slipped just below the
horizon as I began the push towards home.

All in all a very good trip with the Spruce Grouse and the Northern
Waterthrush being the highlights. If anyone would like further information
on the sites visited and the birds seen, please don't hesitate to email me.

Good Luck and Good Birding,
Ted Kenefick
Seattle, WA
tedk at

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