[Tweeters] Little Pend Oreille NWR and Walpaloosie Mountain-22-23 October

Andy Stepniewski steppie at nwinfo.net
Tue Oct 25 21:25:31 PDT 2011


22-23 OCTOBER 2011

It's a long ways from Yakima for a weekend trip but the rewards, including
birds in beautiful settings, made this a memorable trip. Fall colors were at
their peak with bright golden cottonwoods, aspens, Douglas maple, and
western larch enlivening the landscape at every turn.

22 October. We began before dawn along Olsen Creek Road along the eastern
boundary of Little Pend Oreille NWR. This is an area of wet forests with
towering Engelmann Spruce with Western redcedar and Western Hemlocks,
definite sign we were in the "Interior Wet Forest" zone. We saw and heard
several groups of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, a species of local occurrence
east of the Cascade Mountains in Washington. Our outstanding observation was
of a SPRUCE GROUSE on the roadside, which lingered for Ellen to snap a bunch
of photos. We also noted three Ruffed Grouse and a Wild Turkey (clearcut).

In late morning we headed towards refuge headquarters and hiked the Mill
Butte Trail. It began to rain lightly but we carried on, thoroughly enjoying
this loop through wonderful Ponderosa Pine forest. We listened and watched
for White-headed Woodpecker but did not spot one. All three nuthatches,
Mountain Chickadees, Brown Creeper, and Red Crossbill were typical pine
forest birds we encountered. We heard Clark's Nutcrackers, too, possibly
indicating an abundance of pine seeds. We were surprised to flush three
Mourning Doves from the forest floor, seemingly late.

Later in the afternoon we hit Potter's Pond and Bayley Lake noting a variety
of waterfowl including Wood Duck and both goldeneyes.

Nearby McDowell Lake was also sprinkled with waterfowl, with Ring-necked
Duck, again both goldeneyes, Hooded Merganser, and Ruddy Duck. A Western
Grebe was here, too.

On the 23rd we walked up a forest track from the Moran Creek Road entrance
on the refuge's west side. Fall colors here were a real treat, including
these of western larch and Douglas maple. We suspect the seeds of the maples
were attracting the Evening Grosbeaks here. The main attraction here were
woodpeckers, likely attracted to the prescribed burn a short way up the
road. We observed both BLACK-BACKED and WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKERS, plus Hairy
Woodpecker and Northern Flicker. We saw sign of Pileated Woodpecker. I was
surprised to see the black-back here as the forest was only very lightly
burned. There were very few really dead trees but some of these were
thoroughly debarked indicating favored feeding trees.

The Colville Sewage Treatment Plant added some species to our trip list
including Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Wilson's Snipe, Ring-billed Gull,
and two species of sparrows: Song and junco.

Finally, we hit Albian Hill Road on the west side of Sherman Pass and hiked
to the top of Wapaloosie Mountain, a very fine trek, indeed. Listed in "Best
Wildflower Hikes in Washington (Kruckeburg et al. Mountaineers), we knew
from the outset this was going to be a winner. The trail starts off in
Lodgepole Pine forest with a sparse, but developing growth of Subalpine Fir
and Engelmann Spruce and climbs smartly up towards the Kettle Crest nearly
2000 feet above in elevation. It then skirts a blowdown with alder thickets,
lending habitat diversity. In the forests, we met Mountain Chickadee,
Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Varied Thrush,
and Red Crossbill.

At about 6000 feet elevation, we met the first open "bald," steep slopes
mantled in fescue grasslands and dried wildflowers, a beautiful habitat.

>From there to the summit, these openings dominate the landscape. We had

hoped to blunder into a Dusky Grouse as one hunter we met had, relating "the
grouse exploded into flight from near my feet scaring the bazhessses out of
me." We did not have his luck, however.

Birdwise, both ascending and descending, we heard a few PINE GROSBEAKS
calling from western larches near balds. I suspect the finches were feeding
on the abundant larch seeds. Along the Kettle Crest we observed a few
raptors (Rough-legged Hawk, Golden Eagle, and Merlin), making their way
south. As winds were from the west and the trail ascends the east slopes, we
no doubt missed most of the migration as it was out of view.

Clark's Nutcrackers and Common Ravens (15 at one time) were also up high on
the mountain, but not another bird. Winter is near at hand. The views all
around were, simply put, spectacular. To the east were slopes splotched with
golden hues of Western Larch, to the north, jagged snowy peaks in British
Columbia, shining pink with alpenglow in the late afternoon sun. Finally, on
the western horizon, we could make out Cascade summits, also snowy. A peak
experience, indeed!

Andy and Ellen Stepniewski

Wapato WA

steppie at nwinfo.net

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