[Tweeters] Sharp-tailed Grouse near Conconully and more(long)

Ruth and/or Patrick Sullivan godwit513 at msn.com
Sun Jan 21 21:35:50 PST 2007

Hello Birders,

We just arrived home from a fantastic 3 day trip to Okanogan Co. in search of Sharp-tailed Grouse near Conconully. We had initially been given basic directions by Michael Schroeder aka "The Grouse Man" to a reliable location for this species along Scotch Creek at the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area. This is a species we had also searched for during our most recent WOS field trip without any success so we felt compelled to check the Scotch Creek location out for ourselves. We arrived at a large pull-off along Conconully Rd. just northwest of Happy Hill Rd. on the 19th of January at 11:30am under cloudy skies. We waited no longer than 5 minutes in our vehicle when 17 SHARP-TAILED GROUSE flew in overhead in the direction of Happy Hill Rd. The birds all landed in stands of alder and birch tress along Scotch Creek approximately 1/4 mile viewing range from the pull-off along Conconully Rd. We stood and watched the flock of Sharp-tailed Grouse,as they settled in the trees and soon became energetic by feeding on buds,as they tried to balance themselves on the limp branches. We continued watching the 16 birds for an hour,as 14 more birds flew in also from the direction of Happy Hill Rd. to bring our total tally to 30 birds! The latter flock foraged in lower alder trees along Scotch Creek further east of where we stood,but overall this location was the best vantage point for viewing possibilities! After 1.5 hours the birds flew off in the direction they came in two separate flocks and we never relocated the birds even after driving a good portion of Happy Hill Rd. We figured the bird all settled at a secret roosting spot that would or could not be visible from the road.

It was truly a sight we had been anticipating for many days now after running in Michael Schroeder during our WOS field trip and a great deal of gratitude we owe to him for letting us know about this reliable location! It was very generous of Michael to give us and other birders on our field trip these genera directions,as we highly appreciated that along with all his great knowledge about the Sharp-tailed Grouse. This area is well controlled by Fish and Wildlife personnel and viewing is best with spotting scopes,but less than favorable for decent photos. We can only hope this location won't be abused by birders and that they will respect the limits of viewing. We also spoke with a Fish and Wildlife worker that works from the office along Scotch Creek,who indicated to us that this location has been productive for the past 4-5 years so that was great news to hear about. We approached the Sharp-tailed location along Scotch Creek from Hwy.97 on Riverside Cut-Off Rd.,which runs into Conconully Rd. after approximately 5 miles and you can also access Conconully Rd. from Omak.

While in the immediate area we also had the opportunity to visit the small town of Conconully a few miles west of Scotch Creek. Although Conconully Lake was completely covered in snow and frozen we enjoyed driving the side streets within this quiet town,as most residence had their wood stoves going since it was quite cold. Our only highlight in the town of Conconully were 2 Townsend's Solitaires that foraged from a few apples trees with an additional bird noted further east along Conconully Rd. Additionally, just before arriving to Scotch Creek we were treated with our first weekend flock of COMMON REDPOLLS that contained 30 birds that were observed along Johnson Creek 1 mile west of Hwy.97. On our way back from viewing the Sharp-tailed Grouse we located a flock of 40 Common Redpolls along the gravelly,downhill descent of Conconully Rd. near Hess Lake Rd. These birds offered great,close views and photos as they flitted and jumped around on the road even as vehicles went by as we hoped that none of the birds would be hit. We also located a very large,but roaming flock of 350+ GRAY-CROWNED ROSY FINCHES that were observed foraging on a snowy hillside along the north side of Conconully Rd. just east of Happy Hill Rd. The birds eventually gathered tightly and flew south over the road to unknown locations across the snowy landscape. It was quite a sight to see and one we enjoyed since it was a species we had hoped to see!

After enjoying a nice visit to Scotch Creek and the Conconully area we settled in for the night with nice accommodations at Motel Nicholas in Omak. It was a nice motel with nothing too fancy and conveniently located near Hwy.97. After a nice night we awoke the following morning(January 20th)under clear skies and 15 degree temperatures. We decided to spend the day along Cameron Lake Rd.,where we drove the entire outer loop of this generally nice birding area. We had never birded this location during the winter so we expected nothing too unusual,except for a few possible winter specialties. We began along the north access just south of the town of Okanogan along Hwy.97. We slowly continued southward as road conditions remained good with just plowed compact snow and as we gained elevation we encountered a very snowy landscape especially between snow-covered Little Goose Lake to Duley Lake. These areas were more in the open after driving through stands of Ponderosa Pine near Cameron and Cook Lakes. We located most bird productivity within the stretch of Ponderosa Pine tree,but as we drove into more open areas conditions turned almost dead. As we continued south skies remained clear and sunny until we reached the cut-off road to Timentwa Rd. Here,we encountered extreme dense fog all the way to just south of Duley Lake and was something we didn't expect.
As we continued along he downhill descent of Cameron Lake Rd. back to Hwy.97 we located an adult intermediate morph GYRFALCON at 2pm perched atop one of a series of high utility towers in a low valley a few miles east of Hwy.97. The bird remained perched at a fair distance atop the tall utility tower near a large cattle farm,but we were able to get very good scope views of he bird as well as some very distant photos of this new Okanogan Co. bird for us!

When we arrived back onto Hwy.97 we decided to spent the remainder of the glorious afternoon at Washburn Island along the Columbia River. We walked the snowy causeway across an oxbow,where we located a large flock of White-crowned Sparrows attracted to a feeding station in the extreme northwest corner of the island. It is here a single immature HARRIS'S SPARROW was easily detected. As the sparrow activity continued a flock of 15 Common Redpolls flew in and foraged in the alder tress above that line a marshy area. The best bird of note at this location however was a singing BEWICK'S WREN that eventually showed itself after a few minutes of "pishing",which represented a very nice Okanogan Co. bird,especially given the time of year and seemed to be proof of northern range expansion! A generous scoping of the Columbia River produced a good assortment of waterfowl and several waterbird species including a female RED-BREASTED MERGANSER! As we left the location a large adult female Cooper's Hawk flew uphill towards the Fort Okanogan Interpretive Center. In orchards just north of the intersection of Hwy.97 and Hwy.17 a flock of waxwings was detected in flight that soon settled in a group of tall poplar trees. This flock contained 125+ BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS and 25 Cedar Waxwings along with several Starlings and House Finches. The flocks were soon disturbed by an adult "Black"Merlin that soon took over it's perch on one of the poplar trees,as we continued northward back to Omak.

Today(January 21st)we more or less birded our way home from the Bridgeport area,where we began at Bridgeport State Park. Here,were unable to locate any owls unlike during our WOS field trip and overall the park was quite slow. Highlights however consisted of a flock of 150+ Bohemian Waxwings observed just as we were going to leave the park fling loudly overhead and continuing over Rufus Woods Lake into Douglas Co. A single Common Redpoll and a Varied Thrush were our only highlights within a walk of the main park grounds. After birding Bridgeport S.P. we continued onto Bridgeport Bar,then checking pull-off along S.R.173 overlooking the Columbia River near Brewster. It is here we located an adult THAYER'S GULL that we observed on both Douglas and Okanogan Cos. along with large numbers of Am.Coots, Redheads,Ruddy Ducks and various waterbird species.

We soon crossed the Columbia River into Okanogan Co. then briefly checked the Brewster Marina,then an isolated cove along the Columbia River that hosted good numbers of waterfowl,etc accessed just west of the Brewster High School. We then drove to Pateros and checked every available area that offered ample viewing of the Columbia River. Good numbers of waterfowl gathered at the mouth of the frozen Methow River and continued in good amounts all the way south along the Columbia River to Starr Rd. Our only highlights from Starr Rd. in itself were 13 Western Grebes,(which was a noteworthy count for this location for the time of year)and 2 RED-NECKED GREBES. The Western Grebes remained tightly gathered on the Douglas Co. side of the Columbia River with god numbers of Am.Coots and various waterfowl while the Red-necked Grebes swan out in the middle of a narrow portion of the river. We thoroughly scoped all available vantage points along Starr Rd. for all loons,where searches continued back onto Hwy.97/2 to Orondo.

Other highlights of our 3 day trip include the following:

Northern Harrier
1 bird along Hwy.97 at Omak

1 immature bird perched atop a snag on a hillside along Happy Hill Rd. near Conconully Rd. on the 19th
1 bird flying over Hwy.2 west of Cashmere in Chelan Co. on the 21st

Rough-legged Hawk
3 birds along Conconully Rd.(east of Conconully)on the 19th

Golden Eagle
1 bird along Riverside Ct-off Rd. on the 19th

1 bird with prey atop a telephone pole along Hwy.97/2 south of Orondo on the 19th
1 bird at Omak on the 20th
1 bird at the Hwy.97/17 intersection on the 20th
1 bird at Okanogan on the 20th
1 bird a Pateros on the 21st
1 bird along Hwy.2 at Cashmere

Prairie Falcon
1 bird atop an abandoned barn above a snowy hillside along Conconully Rd. on the 19th(observed at he Sharp-tailed Grouse location along Scotch Creek)

Gray Partridge
5 birds along Riverside Cut-off Rd. on the 19th
5 birds along Hwy.97(just north of Omak)on the 19th
2 birds at Pateros on the 21st

30 birds along Riverside Cut-off Rd.(immediately south of Conconully Rd.)on the 19th

White-breasted Nuthatch
5+ birds along the northern portion of Cameron Lake Rd.on the 20th

Pygmy Nuthatch
35+ birds along the northern portion of Cameron Lake Rd. on the 20th

Bohemian Waxwing
125+ birds at the Hwy.97/17 intersection on the 20th
150+ bird over Bridgeport S.P. on the 21st
100+ bird along Grange Rd. at Bridgeport Bar on the 21st
125+ bird at Brewster on the 21st
90 birds in trees at the Pateros Bakery in Pateros on the 21st
50 birds along Starr Rd.(south of Pateros)on the 21st
60+ birds observed flying along Hwy.97/2 north of Lincoln Rock State Park on the 21st
50+ birds observed flying along Hwy.2 west of Wenatchee on the 21st

Northern Shrike
12 birds during the 3 day period noted from various locations

Western Meadowlark
3 birds at Bridgeport Bar on the 21st

Red Crossbill
6 birds along the northern portion of Cameron Lake Rd. on the 20th

Good winter birding,

Ruth and Patrick Sullivan
godwit513 at msn.com

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