[Tweeters] Winter Big Day in Spokane County

Gina Sheridan gsherida8502 at yahoo.com
Mon Feb 19 22:42:16 PST 2007


Ever since Michael Woodruff and Garrett MacDonald had
been cooking up a plan for big day in Spokane County
(in the middle of winter), I had felt somewhat
amibivalent and noncommittal. In contrast to winter
Big Days, springtime Big Days are enticing due to high
species totals, chances for good rarities, and
glorious weather. Springtime Big Days are easy to
become enthused over, but a winter Big Day?

Having just come in from a long day of birding on
Saturday evening, I looked at the rather gloomy
forecast for Sunday, and almost decided to decline.
After all, I was still recovering from a cold. What if
we were hampered by a cold rain and high winds?

On the other hand, I love birding with Michael and
Garrett (both individually and together). They are
dedicated, talented, top drawer birders. Okay, I left
an affirmative message with Michael, and set my alarm
for 2:40 AM on Sunday morning (2/18/07).

Although Roger Woodruff could only join the seemingly
insane "Big Day Trio" for the early owling portion of
the morning, he is always a welcome addition to any
birding trip. As the four of us drove through the
pre-dawn darkness, we flushed our first bird of the
day, a GREAT HORNED OWL off a fenceline on Madison
Road. 

At our first attempt to call in small owls, the
dreaded raindrops began to fall. The second spot
produced more rain and no owl responses. Since we were
convinced that there had to be owls at our first
selected spot, we returned there. This time, we called
in a NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL.  As we briefly caught the
saw-whet in the torchlight, we couldn't help but
cheer.

On nearby Holcomb Road, we had two responsive WESTERN
SCREECH OWLs. One of the birds was a nice looking
brown morp. Best of all, the rain had stopped.

Although we dipped on Barred and Pygmy Owls, the
Snowblaze Condos on Mt. Spokane were hopping with key
target birds. Surprisingly, CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEEs
seemed to be numerous. Other good birds included
COMMON REDPOLL - 5, STELLER'S JAY, VARIED THRUSH - 2,
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, and BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEEs. 

Peone Prairie held at least thirteen AMERICAN TREE
SPARROWs, NORTHERN PINTAIL, BALD EAGLE, NO. HARRIER,
RING-NECKED PHEASANT, and GREEN-WINGED TEAL.
Miraculously, the clouds had parted and brilliant
sunshine ruled the rest of the day.

In the Painted Rocks section of the Little Spokane
Natural Area, we had excellent birding. Especially
impressive, was the sight of some many different
species responding to a pygmy owl call. We beheld the
sight  three species of nuthatches (Red-breasted,
White-breasted, and Pygmy), three species of wrens
(Canyon, Bewick's, Winter), GC Kinglets, and Red
Crossbills scolding an imaginary foe. Other birds
along the trail included Brown Creeper and Great Blue
Heron.  

An really special treat for me was viewing a pair of
Canyon Wrens at very close range, in full sunlight, at
eye level, and entirely in the open for over five
minutes. I don't believe that I have ever had such an
sustained close encounter with this species.

While we had staked high hopes for many of our target
birds at the Confluence of the Little Spokane &
Spokane River, the absurdly low water level of this
normally productive section left us nonplussed and
nearly birdless. Our consolation here was an early
contingent of five VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWs. At least the
promise of spring won't be far behind.

As the afternoon waned, we picked up missing winter
residents one by one. There were BOHEMIAN WAXWINGs and
CALIFORNIA GULL in Medical Lake, PINE GROSBEAKs at the
confluence burn, ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK on the west plains,
 a pair of HERRING GULLs on Silver Lake, and Wild
Turkeys on Old Trails Road.

After sunset the wind had become brisk and biting.
When darkness fell, our hoped for Short-eared Owls on
Coulee Hite did not show. However, we ended the day
with a tally of 220 trip miles, 2 miles of walking,
and 71 total species of birds, three species of
mammals (i.e. Red Squirrel, Mule Deer, and Porcupine).
Considering the good company, the abundant sunshine,
the close encounter with the Canyon Wrens, and the
high winter species count I felt privileged to have
been a part of such a successful winter Big Day in
Spokane County.

Gina Sheridan
Spokane, WA


 
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