[Tweeters] Black-backed Woodpecker Bonanza in Ferry County - Redux

Gina Sheridan gsherida8502 at yahoo.com
Thu May 28 19:20:34 PDT 2009

After conversing with Mark Houston, I decided to follow up on a couple of his recent finds in Ferry County. One was in a burned area of Ponderosa Pine forest along the Kettle River that contained Black-backed Woodpeckers, and the other was an aspen grove immediately west of Curlew that held a Least Flycatcher.

On a gorgeous Wednesday (5/27/09), Kim Thorburn and I began birding the Kettle River corridor between Barstow and West Kettle Falls. At the junction of HWY 395 and Roosevelt Road, we pulled off and parked at the foot of a small burn. Before we had time to shut the doors on the rig, we noted a woodpecker on a sawed off, charred log. Fortunately for us, it was our Ferry County lifer BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER!

The male BBWO was vigorously working the log and allowed our close approach. In the full sun, the BBWO showed a metallic blue sheen around the head and mantle, and we watched it for several minutes as it tilted it's head in various angles to flake off chips of tree bark.

The main burn through Ponderosa Pines extends a couple of miles south of Barstow, and the most productive area is on the downslope (riverside) of the road. Logging is occurring upslope, but there is still plenty of timber intact.

Typical BBWO scaling is evident, but many of the smaller trees appeared stripped of most of the bark. Apparently, the scaling action of the BBWO can sometimes cause the brittle burnt bark, to completely fall away and expose the cambium of the tree.

Our next couple of stops quickly produced more BBWOs (at least five more), and one nest hole was observed north of the junction of HWY 395 and Doyle Creek Road. In the burn, we observed WESTERN BLUEBIRD, and one DOWNY WOODPECKER. It seemed rather strange that we didn't other woodpeckers, but BBWOs. However, we weren't complaining.

In the community of Barstow (Ferry County), we stopped by some hummingbird feeders, and saw mostly female RUFOUS, CALLIOPE, AND BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRDs.

Crossing the river into Stevens County, we worked the ABA book suggested route, from McNitt to Beardsley to Hill Loop Road. While our main target was Clay-colored Sparrow, we logged in YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, YELLOW WARBLER, LAZULI BUNTING, SPOTTED TOWHEE, DUSKY FLYCATCHER, WESTERN WOOD PEWEE, CHIPPING SPARROW, VESPER SPARROW, CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD, GRAY CATBIRD, BULLOCK'S ORIOLE, and BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK. Finally, on the upper slopes of Hill Loop Meadows (roughly .3 mile east of the junction of Beardsley and Hill Loop Road, we called in a pair of highly territorial CLAY-COLORED SPARROWs. We had absolutely stunning prolonged views of this nifty sparrow.

Continuing northward on Pierre Lake Road, we stopped to look over some heavily scaled snags on a logged out bench below the road. Soon enough, we heard the unmistakable calls and drumming of another BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER (in Stevens County). As a bonus, a lovely LARK SPARROW popped up in view too.

On Little Pierre Lake, we were pleased to find six BARROW'S GOLDENEYE that included one nice drake. Nearby, we heard a SORA. On Taylor Lake, we saw RING-NECKED DUCK, PIED-BILLED GREBE, REDHEAD, RUDDY DUCK, and heard SORA and HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER. These birds were all in Stevens County.

Crossing back over into Ferry County, we drove up Deer Creek/Boulder Creek Road. Birding Deer Creek Pass was both pleasant (sunny with temps in the 60's), and productive. RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETs, PINE SISKIN, and TOWNSEND'S WARBLERs seemed to be everywhere. A pair of AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKERs were active in the larches along the track to Sentinel Butte.

Proceeding westward down the Deer Creek Grade, we stopped at an open brushland (MP6). We were attracted to this site, because the patchy snowberry habitat looked similar to Clay-colored Sparrow site on Hill Loop Meadows. Within a couple of minutes, we IPOd'ed up a Ferry County CLAY-COLORED SPARROW! In addition, there were MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRDs, WESTERN KINGBIRD, and a MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER popped up as well.

On this occasion, there seemed to be only one individual Clay-colored Sparrow, and it was not acting as territorial as the Stevens County birds. It was seen along the brushy fencerow below the road. This is possibly the first county record of Clay-colored Sparrow for Ferry County.

Driving into the town of Curlew, we saw a LEWIS'S WOODPECKER flycatching from a snag. About 3/4 mile west of Hwy 21 on North Kettle River Road, we parked on a dirt turnout that is adjacent to a large aspen grove. This is the site where Mark Houston had seen a Least Flycatcher.

After trying for about ten minutes to find the flycatcher, we finally heard the dry "chee-bek" call of our quarry. Thinking that our vantage point would be better from the higher roadside, we braved the heavy traffic of logging trucks, and continued to work the bird. Our persistence was indeed finally rewarded with excellent views of the LEAST FLYCATCHER.

Meanwhile, we were hearing a persistent NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH singing from along the Kettle River a couple of hundred meters to the north of us. However, we never had visuals on this bird.

Retracing our route back over Deer Creek/Boulder Creek Road, we made an effort to find Spruce Grouse on Deer Creek Pass. My Pygmy Owl imitation elicited plenty of responses from HERMIT THRUSH, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, MT. CHICKADEE, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, GRAY JAY, DARK-EYED JUNCO, and a distant real NO. PYGMY OWL, but we did not see any chickens that day. However, I am about 90% sure that we did hear a Boreal Chickadee, and I would like to try for that again.

On the Ferry County side of the river, north of the West Kettle Falls Bridge, there were six GREATER SCAUP, BANK SWALLOW, and CALIFORNIA GULLs.

As an addendum, I just wanted to add a few misc. sightings from the last couple of days:

On Memorial Day (5/25/09) in Spring Creek Canyon - Lincoln County, we had several VEERYs, MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER, and LEWIS'S WOODPECKER (unusual location).

On Tuesday (5/26/09), my friend Angie Merchant, her daughter London, and I spent a speedy hour on Sprague Lake. The highlights from the Adams County boat launch side of the lake included RED-NECKED GREBE, WESTERN GREBE, HORNED GREBE, EARED GREBE, AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN, DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT, AMERICAN COOT, WESTERN KINGBIRD, and BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK.
In particular, the Red-necked Grebe (found by Tim O'Brien) is a very tough bird to find Adams County, and it was a county lifer for me.

In the late afternoon sun, there was not a bird to be seen on the Ibis pond. The STP had some the usual birds such as BANK SWALLOW, REDHEAD, RING-NECKED DUCK, CINNAMON TEAL, GADWALL, LESSER SCAUP, and RUDDY DUCK.

Gina Sheridan
Spokane, WA

More information about the Tweeters mailing list