[Tweeters] Road Trip! Day three: Birding the heck out of Douglas County 4/18

Tim Brennan tsbrennan at hotmail.com
Fri Apr 20 13:55:39 PDT 2012

Hey Tweets,

So Wednesday was the final day of birding in Eastern Washington before heading home. I knew I was going to try to find some Sage-Grouse, but beyond that wasn’t sure if I was going to continue birding in Douglas or Grant County. I left the hotel for good, with the Say’s Phoebe calling again from near the parking lot, and made good time to get to Leahy Junction by 6:15. Now… Randy Bjorklund had gone through here during the last weekend, and I mention this for two reasons.

1) I was originally going to do the weekend trip with Randy, and my question had been where we might go for sage-steppe birds after trying for the grouse… the *sage*grouse… it actually had not sunk in that this might be good sage-steppe habitat, and maybe few people mention it in trip reports regarding the sage-grouse. At any rate, it was one of the better places I’ve been, and there were scads of Brewer’s and Vesper Sparrows singing, as well as Sage Thrashers, in addition to the ever present Western Meadowlarks and White-crowned Sparrows.

2) I had my eBird needs alert for Douglas loaded up on my phone (anticipating loss of reception), and Randy had included a picture of the Sage-Grouse in his report. After 15 minutes of vaguely scanning around the sage, I looked at the picture and thought it would be good to find the rock in the picture! I crested over a hill, and looked down and saw the rock, and a large open field in front of it. With my binoculars, and then my scope, I found 30 or so of the Sage-Grouse on the lek below. Everyone describes the scene quite well – a bunch of males puffed up going crazy while indifferent females walk between them. I had described this to my kids, and shown them pictures before the trip. They had a good laugh about it, but it was nothing compared to actually watching the comedy live.

So it was 7 in the morning, I needed coffee and a plan, and I had added a new life bird, and several county birds from the sage. I stopped in Bridgeport to get coffee, picking up Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbird on the way, then Cedar Waxwing in town. It dawned on me that I was close to 90 birds in the county… why not make it a nice round 100? Bridgeport Bar seemed like a good place to stop, with good habitat for passerines as well as some lakes and open water. There I walked for a while and picked up Osprey, Turkey Vultures, Wood Duck, Common Goldeneye and Black-capped Chickadee, and a trip list that went just over 40, including a pair of Say’s Phoebes and a Killdeer making a nest on the side of the road.

I ran around Bridgeport trying to find a Savannah Sparrow or a Spotted Towhee – no luck! I was a little over 90, and it seemed like it might be a challenge still, but I decided to stay in Douglas. Heading down Highway 17, I stopped at one of the lakes on the side of the highway, and found another American Avocet – right up close again – my second great look at one of those lovely birds in as many days. I walked off the road onto a hill and scanned the plateau for water (no map, no reception), and ended up going down road 6NE. On the way, I heard strange sounds overhead – Sandhill Cranes! During the rest of the morning, I almost always had 50-200 of them overhead calling in large flocks. I turned towards the water I had seen, but had to stop at a gate. Adding Ring-necked Pheasant at that stop.

I made my way all the way to Highway 2 again, finding a Swainson’s Hawk circling a barn, and decided that Jameson Lake would be able to give me enough swallows at least to get me there, in addition to a few canyon birds, perhaps. This was a very good stop! On my very first stop, I scanned overhead to look for swifts, and finally found a single White-throated Swift circling overhead. I stayed on it, and it joined a dozen others. Rock Wrens called from the cliffs, as well as a Canyon Wren (one of my favorite songs to listen to), all of them new county birds for me during my first (albeit early) breeding season visit to Douglas.

Approaching Jameson Lake, I was watching the cliffs and stopped to look at a large bird – it turned out to be a Raven, but while watching, I saw a Prairie Falcon fly by and head to a nest in the cliffs. At Jameson Lake itself, I was greeted by a horde of swallows, including Cliff, Tree, Violet-Green and a single Barn. A gorgeous Common Loon was on the lake, and a Double-crested Cormorant, as well as some Barrow’s Goldeneyes, which were new for me as well. 106! With a stop at the Waterville STP on the way back, I added one more with a Greater Yellowlegs.

So all in all, it was a three lifer trip, and a 67 bird day in Douglas County, including a mess of first-of-year birds, and several life looks at birds as well. Great Great Great time to be birding out there!

-Tim Brennan
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