Sam Walker and I did the Wallowas this last weekend. We were at McCully Ck SE of Joseph from 11am-1:30pm Saturday and immediately had a SPRUCE GROUSE in a short tree. A few minutes later 4 more were in a bare spot in the sun under a broad conifer. 2 of them were taking dust baths. At times, you couldn’t tell where the head was, it was just one moving ball of feathers. These birds were about 1/3mi up the 2-track from the gate short of the near 180 degree switchback, so not up the mail hiking trail straight south into Eagle Cap Wilderness. There was a large flock of migrants with many Yellow-rumped and 2 Townsend’s Warblers and lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets. A PINE GROSBEAK was calling near where the grouse were and a Ruffed Grouse was flushed near the 180 degree switchback.
En route to Hat Point, we had 2 magnificent Golden Eagles soaring right above us and a Prairie Falcon, with an immature calling non-stop. A Northern Shrike was near the Joseph cemetery. We had no Rough-legged Hawks all weekend.
Wallowa Lake SP was crowded with people, so no Pygmy-Owls. A late YELLOW WARBLER, a treeload full of Ruby-crowned Kinglets and 2 American Dippers were at the creek crossing at the south end of the lake. 2 Eared Grebes were on the lake, otherwise it was quiet. And cold.
It was 52F in Imnaha (el 1800) and the warmth was soothing, but the mercury quickly dropped to below freezing as we ascended towards Hat Point. The views from Hat Point Rd were incredible, as usual. Even if there are no birds at all, this drive is absolutely worth it. We had 2 Ruffed Grouse at MP 8.5 and a THREE-TOED WOODPECKER near MP 12.5 at an opening with a dead tree right next to the road. From the tower at the point proper, we watched 2 smallish gallinacious birds low in flight, dropping down just below the cliffs to the north. This could only have been MOUNTAIN QUAIL. Has anybody seen them up there?
On Sunday morning we drove through Golf Course Rd and got stunning views of the peaks to the south, yet all we saw were American Pipits, Horned Larks, Western Bluebirds and a perched up Great Horned Owl. Another Ruffed Grouse was only 1/3mi into trail #1824 at the Hurricane Creek trailhead and 2 Townsend’s Solitaire were near the parking lot. The cone crop around Enterprise again looks great, so watch out for those crossbills this winter.
We ended the day at Spring Creek where the temperature plummeted quickly into the 20s after the sun went down. While we didn’t find any Great Gray Owls, we had all 3 nuthatches, White-headed and Pileated Woodpecker, several Western Bluebirds, heard a Northern Sawwhet-Owl just after sunset and had a great time.
On the conditions: It was unusually cold. When we left the Hurricane Creek trailhead at 1:30pm on Sunday, it was still below freezing. Snow levels were just below 5000ft. While the access roads were generally snow free, I would recommend snow shoes for all trails. Hat Point never made it above freezing on Saturday afternoon. There were pretty much no fall colors yet and it was weird to see fully green trees and shrubs in the snow with the freezing temperatures.