Eastern WA 3/22-23
Netta Smith/Dennis Paulson
nettasmith at attbi.com
Sat Mar 23 19:47:38 PST 2002
Netta and I did an unexpectedly long swing through eastern Washington
looking for redpolls Fri-Sat. To make a long story short, we found none. I
suppose if we had driven into every little town and checked out all the side
streets for feeders, we might have found the little buggers, but we didn't,
and we didn't. We did check feeders in a few towns and found only
goldfinches, siskins, Evening Grosbeaks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Dark-eyed
Juncos, House Sparrows, and House Finches.
We were going to spend the weekend in Okanogan County, but birds were so
sparse there (starting with the Sinlahekin WRA) that we kept heading east,
through Tonasket over to Curlew, then down to Republic Friday night.
Saturday we went from Republic down the San Poil River valley to Keller
Ferry, then Wilbur, over to Dry Falls, down to Moses Lake and Othello, down
Lower Crab Creek to Beverly and back to Seattle. The snowy forested areas
seemed devoid of life, at least from a moving car. When we stopped in such
areas we could find Black-capped and Mountain chickadees and Red-breasted
Nuthatches, occasionally another species or two. But the Sitka-alder-laden
river bottoms had very few birds but juncos and red-wings. I wonder if the
alder seeds have already been shed by now, so redpolls aren't attracted to
Here's what we saw that I considered of interest.
Horned Grebe - surprisingly common on the big reservoirs, Roosevelt Lake and
Tundra Swan - 50 on the Okanogan River at Monse (3/22), a few at St.
Andrews, a few on Lower Crab Creek near the big crane aggregation
Waterfowl were obviously on the move, with large numbers of Mallards,
Northern Pintails (large numbers in shallow ponds), all 5 pochards (very
large flock at Pateros), Common Goldeneyes (lots on lakes in the
Sinlahekin), and Common Mergansers (dozens of this species on several lakes)
in places where I don't think they spent the winter
Bald Eagle - surprisingly common along all the small to large rivers north
of the Columbia Basin - the Okanogan, San Poil, and Kettle, for example. I
wonder what they find to eat through the winter. Three of them were on the
ground with a calf placenta just off hwy 97 on the road to Fish Lake. A few
miles down the road we saw a Golden Eagle heading for the same area, and I
imagined it coming in and scattering the Baldies (but imagination
notwithstanding, I have read that neither is dominant).
Red-tailed Hawk - amazing numbers in the Kittitas Valley east of
Ellensburg. From the freeway we could see them dotted all over the open
fields, and I could only wonder what they find to eat there. I assume
they're eating voles, but the fields are very open. Perhaps when the hay is
cut the voles remain in the stubble and become very easy prey. There are
always Great Blue Herons hunting them there, too. On the other hand, I think
we saw only two or three red-tails through the forested regions (there are
many wide-open spaces suitable for red-tails).
American Kestrel - I'll use this as an example of a species that was common
in the open parts of the Columbia Basin yet essentially absent from the
forested regions to the north, even though there are large open areas in
that zone where I know kestrels breed. I think they probably move into
those regions to breed but completely withdraw in winter. There can't be
much to eat, as raptors in general were very scarce there (as were ravens,
perhaps for the same reason). What interests me is that birds migrate when
stimulated by increasing day length, yet a species with a broad elevation
range poses a puzzle. Those that breed in the lowlands would find their
territories habitable as much as weeks before those that breed in the
highlands. Yet both are at the same latitude. What programming tells the
highland individuals to come back two weeks or more later than the lowland
Sandhill Crane - I counted 710 at the only place we saw them, spread all
along Crab Creek and in plowed fields on either side of it just east of E Rd
on Lower Crab Creek Rd (3/23). This is a minimal count because I could see
that many birds were hidden down in the creek bed when occasionally one
would jump up and show itself. I was surprised to see only one other birder
there on this, the middle day of the Crane Festival. Perhaps there were
much larger concentrations somewhere else.
American Crow - several pairs in Moses Lake (3/23), including one bird
carrying nesting material, are the first I've seen there. Although they've
been established in Othello for some years, they were completely absent from
the Columbia Basin when I came here 3 decades ago. The crows over in Ferry
Co. sound much more like eastern crows than do ours around Puget Sound.
Townsend's Solitaire - 5 seen just from moving car along road east of Fish
Lake (3/22), where we found them common in January. There must be many more
of them along there. Also one in Riverside. The road to Fish Lake seems to
have an unusually high concentration of this species, and I wonder why. The
bird in Riverside flew into a hawthorn tree that had fruits.
American Robin - very large aggregation on Lower Crab Creek E of Beverly in
Russian olive groves. Hundreds of birds were probably present, many of them
singing. Staging area? I don't know if there are fruits on the Russian
olives for them to eat now.
Bohemian Waxwing - only saw a couple, on Kettle River Rd west of Curlew
Cedar Waxwing - one flock of 20 on Lower Crab Creek Rd at Smyrna
Northern Shrike - one south of Republic, one near Wilbur
Loggerhead Shrike - two along Lower Crab Creek Road (where they winter)
Spotted Towhee - 2 at Blue Lake, Okanogan Co. (3/22), 2 on the roadside N of
Keller, Ferry Co. (3/23). One of these birds made a long flight along the
row of roadside shrubs. My suspicion is that these are incoming migrants,
as I don't imagine they winter in those areas.
Song Sparrow - singing everywhere
Western Meadowlark - many in Columbia Basin in song, presumably migrants
that have arrived (they seem very scarce in winter). One at north end of
Blue Lake in the shrubbery was surely a migrant, as this isn't breeding
blackbirds - huge blackbird flocks at a few places along Lower Crab Creek
Road with hundreds of red-wings and Brewer's, fewer yellow-heads (50) and
cowbirds (30). Males much more common than females.
Red-winged Blackbird - many males on territory at little marshes in the
forested parts of Okanogan and Ferry counties. They really arrive early.
Lots of Yellow-bellied Marmots; I don't know whether they saw their shadows
or not, but they seemed content to bask on the rocks in the filtered
Maybe some day someone will let me know how they find rare birds. I looked
my eyeballs out for unusual species in huge blackbird flocks and for Tufted
Ducks in big pochard flocks. Everyone else seems to find them....and we
couldn't even find a redpoll, the reason for the trip.
Netta Smith and Dennis Paulson
1724 NE 98 St.
Seattle, WA 98115
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