Yakima Sage Grouse Lek trip

B&P Bell bellasoc at isomedia.com
Tue Mar 26 11:07:52 PST 2002

Good Morning Tweets -

A late report on a trip by Seattle Audubon to the Yakima Training Center
this last Saturday to see Sage Grouse.

I left on Friday (those 0430 meeting times are brutal). On the way I
stopped in Cle Elum and S Cle Elum with mixed results. Nothing but HOUSE
FINCHES in S Cle Elum, but in Cle Elum I found a flock of about 30
COMMON REDPOLLS along 3rd at about Peoh. They were feeding in several
trees around the intersection including a juniper. They were a little
flighty, moving around the immediate vicinity. Anyone stopping for them
should explore the general neighborhood.

I stopped in Ellensburg and ran into Scott Downs and other birders
searching thru the COMMON REDPOLL flocks for the HOARY. No luck, but as
Scott mentioned the other day the flocks are breaking up and were
scattered around the general area and showing a tendency to move around.

Down in Yakima I went by the COMMON GRACKLE location on Friday, but only
had about 10 EUROPEAN
STARLINGS. Lots of RED-TAILED HAWKS along SR 24 in the Moxee area, and a
very nice look at a hunting male NORTHERN HARRIER in the field between
SR24 and Desmarais Rd and east of Desmarais Cutoff Rd.

Saturday dawned early and dark with general overcast, but relatively
mild temperatures and no wind. The
group met at the Training Center, carpooled and traveled out to the
Knuckles lek arriving just as it was
beginning to show lighter sky. We kicked up numerous HORNED LARKS as we
traveled the dirt road to the
lek. We were on a small knob about a 1/4 mile south of the lek area and
we could see some small whitish
objects on the ridge - thru scopes they were SAGE GROUSE males. We had a
count of at least 10 males,
many displaying. The whole group at one point took off and flew partly
down slope. Over the next 30
minutes they worked their way back up the ridge. We had brief looks at
one female. While we were straining
to see these birds, one member of the group looked behind us and found
some male SAGE GROUSE on a
small ridge to the south of us, and much closer - probably 100 yards
away. Their initially were two males
displaying in the area, and then two more males popped up slightly
closer. All of these birds moved around
in a small area and displayed, much of the time in full view. As it got
lighter we were able to see the details
of the ruff, the color on the air sacs, the color on the eye ridges and
the filoplumes on the head. Great
experience. Just as we were getting ready to leave, a female appeared,
wandered around thru the sage and then hopped up on a rock near one of
the males. She stayed there for at least 5 minutes giving everyone a
nice look. Needless to say, all felt that the day had been successful
and it was just beginning.

All the while we were observing the grouse we had WESTERN MEADOWLARKS
singing around us, had a couple of robins fly over and two COMMON RAVENS
pass thru the area. On the way back to the check-in point we passed a
COOPER'S HAWK in some trees by a pond. At the parking lot we could hear
a CALIFORNIA QUAIL nearby. On the way out and onto I-82 we could see
that most, if not all, of the nests in the GREAT BLUE Heron colony were

Many thanks to Margaret Pounds and Colin Leingang at the Yakima Training
Center for arranging for us to
have access to see the grouse.

Following the grouse part of the trip, some of the group left to go home
while the rest went to a
well-deserved breakfast. After eating we headed out for some birding in
the general Yakima area. We went
out SR24 toward Moxee, turning up Faucher Road to Konnowoc Pass. Along
the way we had RED-TAILED
HAWKS. Turning west at the pass we went partway up the dirt road along
the spine of the Rattlesnake Hills.
We got nice looks at singing HORNED LARKS. On the way down from the
ridge we stopped to scope a large nest in a big old Cottonwood tree -
nice looks at a RED-TAILED HAWK on the nest. As we made our way back
down to SR24 we saw at least 4 other Red-tails on nests, looks like
breeding season is in full swing. As we went back into Yakima to pick up
cars we saw a BELTED KINGFISHER along the Yakima River.

The group then started home by way of the Yakima Canyon. Just as we got
to the southern entrance to the
canyon we had a great view of an OSPREY coming down the river, circling
and dropping into the river. We
stopped to scan the cliffs for possible eagles with no luck, but did
have ROCK DOVES and swallows up high. We had a perched RED-TAILED HAWK
on the canyon rim which was being dive-bombed by a bird. Closer
examination revealed a MERLIN, which continued the harassment until the
hawk took off and then persued if for a considerable way before finally
leaving. We had a couple of COMMON GOLDENEYE fly by, and further up the
canyon we had a good size flock of swallows. They all turned out to be

At the mouth of Umtamum Creek we stopped, walked across the bridge and
up the canyon. We had a nice,
crisp SPOTTED TOWHEE at one point, and a wren. A little further up the
creek we scanned the cliffs and picked up a large PRAIRIE FALCON
(probably female) in a cavity with an old nest. We watched it for a
while, and a smaller Prairie (the male) came in and made a prey
delivery. She hopped over took the prey and flew out of the cavity and
down to some rocks below. The male then left shortly after, winging it
away toward the
Yakima River. We were able to watch the female on the rocks, and behind
some rocks apparently eating.
When we left she was still on the rocks. On the way down to the Yakima
At the river we saw a female BELTED KINGFISHER.

We continued on into Ellensburg and turned into the Christianson(?)
refuge pond just north of I-90. Lots of
SCAUP, AMERICAN COOTS, and had about a dozen COMMON MERGANSERS drop in.
As we scanned all these birds we also saw a nice male HOODED MERGANSER
and a small grebe. Looking at the grebe it turned out to be an EARED
GREBE - asymmetric head, dark coming down on the head/cheek, very messy
head/neck and riding extremely high in the water. Just as we were
leaving we saw a Say’s Phoebe on a post near the south end of the pond.
We went on into Ellensburg looking for the redpolls, but they were all
elsewhere - none at the location they had been frequenting.

All in all a most enjoyable trip.

Brian H. Bell
Woodinville WA
bellasoc at isomedia.com

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