[Tweeters] Northeast WA Birding (long)

Paul Webster paul.webster at comcast.net
Fri Aug 26 08:58:17 PDT 2005

Hi Tweets,

Barbara and I birded in Lincoln, Stevens, Pend Oreille, and Spokane Counties, this week, getting our first look at extreme northeast Washington, and liking what we saw. We were late in the season, and migration was underway, so our species count was less than we might have expected a month earlier. But we had interesting birding and ended up with 118 species. We also got acquainted with some of the fine birding sites we've read about from Tweets who live in the eastern part of our state. After a very hot Sunday we had three pleasant days with scattered clouds and temps in the 70s.

Sunday, August 21: We left Seattle early, intending to drive straight to Stevens County to get in a half day of birding there on Sunday. But a half-hour at Vantage gave us a demonstration that migration was underway: 11+ Sage Thrashers in the sage near the Gingko SP Visitor Center, with 3 Yellow Warblers and 5 American Robins briefly sharing a single tree nearby.

We turned off I-90 onto SR 21, driving through a dreary hot landscape dominated by wheat stubble from the horizon right up to the highway edge, where agrigreed had left no space for birds. As we turned onto Schuster Rd north of Odessa the shadows of the power poles for half a mile offered the only shade for scores of Horned Larks. The car thermometer read 99º as we crested a rise at the edge of scabland where a pair of American Kestrels, dived like miniature Prairie Falcons repeatedly into a tree, finally forcing a Great Horned Owl out into the sun where it sought the shade of a low rock shelf. But the kestrels would have none of it, and continued their strafing runs so that the exasperated predator flew out into the drylands, just in time for a passing pair of Red-tailed Hawks make a half-hearted dive at the owl, who ducked down under some bushes. The arch-predator had briefly found itself in the role of the pursued. A half mile further, an adult Ferruginous Hawk perched atop a power pole, holding its folded wings out from its body to cool it, and as it turned its head we could see the yellow-edged gape that extended back under the eye.

Swanson Lakes were dry, but a few ponds in the area still hosted eclipse mallards, shovelers, pintails, and coots. On US 2 we stopped west of Davenport at Hawk Creek pond, where we saw Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, coots, Pied-billed Grebe, a lone Bonaparte's Gull, and a surprising male Ring-necked Pheasant standing on the shore. A Northern Harrier cruised over the pond, scaring up a half-dozen Killdeer and an American Avocet that had been concealedfrom us by the tall cattails. At Reardan Pond we added Black-necked Stilts, a handful of Western, Least, and Baird's Sandpipers, 2 Wilson's and 10 Red-necked Phalaropes, with a supporting cast of a Great Blue Heron, a single Double-crested Cormorant, one young Yellow-headed Blackbird, a lone Brown-headed Cowbird and a noisy chorus of Killdeer.

We continued north into Stevens County; it was 5 pm and still in the 90s. We arrived at the Little Pend Oreille NWR after 6 pm, and drove to Cottonwood Camp, where we had intended to stay, but the area was seriously overgrown, there were no tables, and worst of all, no birds. So we drove to Starvation Lake Campground nearby. Underway we stopped as a flock of 15 Wild Turkeys crossed the road before us. Starvation Lake was pleasant, open, and birdy. Red-breasted Nuthatches were still beeping, a Western Wood-Pewee was calling, and a Common Nighthawk flew about as we ate dinner in the deepening twilight. That night I heard an owl calling; I thought it was a Western Screech Owl, but Barbara said I must be dreaming. Total species for today: 56.

Monday, August 22: We spent the day up to 2 p.m. birding Starvation Lake and Little Pend Oreille. The area has varied habitats and we'll look forward to returning when vireos, wrens, warblers, and other migrant passerines will make birding interesting. Today the best birding was around Starvation Lake. The lake had Mallards, Common Goldeneyes, Pied-billed Grebes, Cliff and Violet-green Swallows, a Belted Kingfisher, and Red-winged Blackbirds. The campground had Red-naped Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker, pewee, Hammond's Flycatcher, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, Spotted Towhee, and Song Sparrow. We left the campground and found Great Blue Heron, Northern Flickers, Black-billed Magpie, Chipping, White-crowned, and House Sparrows. Back at Cottonwood Camp someone was wielding a motorized brush-cutter, but we persevered and found a Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwings, and Black-capped Chickadees before leaving. On the Loop Drive through the refuge we added Olive-sided and Hammond's Flycatchers, Mountain Chickadee, Ruffed Grouse, 2 more Red-naped Sapsuckers, and Dark-eyed Junco. At Potter's Pond there were 2 Ring-necked Ducks and a Hooded Merganser.

Our next destination was Sullivan Lake in Pend Oreille County. While investigating the three campgrounds there we found a Nashville Warbler at West Sullivan Lake CG, but settled down in user-friendly Noisy Creek CG at the south end of the lake. A single Red-necked Grebe seemed drarfed by the huge lake, but soon we added Harlequin Duck and American Dipper, and found Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Western Tanager at the Mill Pond. Just before sunset we stopped briefly to watch a swarm of scores of Violet-green and some Cliff Swallows low over the lake. After dark we tried to call in Great Horned Owls, but if present they ignored us. Total species for today: 50; total for trip: 82.

Tuesday, August 23: Today we drove to Salmo Pass, and for the first time this trip we found excellent birding and large numbers of birds below the pass, and north of it: Northern Flicker, Steller's Jay, Black-capped, Mountain, and Boreal Chickadees, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Winter Wren, American Robin, Orange-crowned, Nashville, Yellow-rumped, Townsend's, and Wilson's Warblers, Fox and White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, 30+ Red Crossbills at the Shedroof Mountain trailhead, and Pine Siskin. Driving up to the summit of Salmo Mountain we stopped to watch a Northern Goshawk pass, and almost at the summit an American Kestrel perched in a snag. Above the mountain a flock of 20 gulls flew from east to west, and looking down from the summit we found and almost immediately lost sight of an accipiter in the trees below. On the way down we heard tooting that surely was a Northern Pygmy Owl, but with all the unfamiliar and vocal small mammals around, we wanted to actually see the bird, if bird it was. But the tooting stopped as we took a closer look, and we never found it.

Well satisfied with 3½ hours near the pass we drove back through Metaline Falls and found the city park/marsh in neighboring Metaline full of Cedar Waxwings and Red-winged Blackbirds; there were also 2 Wood Ducks and a Pied-billed Grebe. An Osprey perched on a branch behind the marsh.

The description of Dry Canyon in Andy Stepniewski's chapter on the northeast made us take this way south toward Usk. It is an enchanting area. At a smallish pond near the head of the canyon, we found Willow Flycatcher, Black-capped Chickadee, a kingfisher, a skulking Northern Waterthrush in the water under some brambles, and a Common Yellowthroat, making this a seven-warbler day. Shortly afterward, a Northern Saw-whet Owl flew across the road in front of the car and disappeared into dense trees. Further down the road we found a family of four Ruffed Grouse that stood their ground and watched as we inched by them, and a Turkey Vulture soared above. We had hoped to stop at the Wild Goose Ranch managed by the Kalispel people, but we failed to find the sign. So we continued on to Spokane for showers, a good dinner, and a soft bed. Species seen today: 44; total for trip: 100.

Wednesday, August 24: We started at the Little Spokane River Natural Area, surprised at all the birdsong, and found again in this late season lots of birds and lots of different species. In 2½ hours we identified 32 species: Great Blue Heron, Mallard, Common Merganser, Osprey, California Quail, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing, Canyon Wren, Bewick's Wren, House Wren, Gray Catbird, Townsend's Solitaire, American Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Mountain Chickadee, three nuthatches, Western Tanager, Spotted Towhee, Chipping, Song, and Lincoln's, and House Sparrow. This is an area we'd visit frequently if we lived here.

At Riverside State Park we found a family of four Gray Flycatchers, plus a Western Bluebird and Lark Sparrows. We finished our birding at Turnbull NWR about 30 minutes from Spokane. This isn't the best time for Turnbull, but we added a few shorebirds and got oriented for a return visit: both Yellowlegs, a charmingly busy but still young and not too competent Red-naped Sapsucker, and a lone American Goldfinch. We arrived back home about 8 pm Wednesday, having covered 950 miles. Species seen today: 57; trip total: 118.

Finally, a note of thanks to guide-book authors Hal Opperman and Andy Stepniewski, and Rob and Natalie McNair-Huff; both guides' directions to birding in Northeast Washington proved accurate and literate, and helped us keep wasted time to a minimum as we covered unfamiliar ground.

Paul Webster



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