This last weekend’s WOS trip to Okanogan and Douglas counties from Feb 6-8 found 83 species with a few nuggets mixed in. The warm weather made travelling easy except for a few miles along Division and Dyer Hill Rd, yet harder to find snow-dependent species. There were no sizable flocks of Horned Larks to be scrutinized for longspurs and we struck out three times on Sharp-tailed Grouse, which was easy the last 2 years. We had neither crossbill nor siskin during our 3 days. We also noted a general lack of small mountain birds. My pymy-owl toots were mostly met with silence.
02/06: Okanogan Highlands
Our first day was spent in the Okanogan Highlands. Coming out of Tonasket, we immediately had Eurasian Collared-Doves. A little ways further uphill, we were surprised by an unusually large flock of House Finches of maybe around 400 hundred birds strong.
Otherwise, we essentially made a bee-line for the Hungry Hollow Rd feeders where we had good numbers GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCHES of both Hepburn and interior races. This feeder is about 0.5mi north of the Grange turnoff.
It was very quiet for a few long hours until we managed to get on a flock of about 12 PINE GROSBEAK along Mary Ann Ck Rd about 0.3mi east of the east end of Poland China Rd. A tantalizing small flock of carduelis finches remained un’ided here as well; they were likely Common Redpoll. Just as we were turning back onto Chesaw Rd, we were pleased to see a Golden Eagle fly by.
Bolster Rd north of Chesaw was dead, but the Chesaw Belted Kingfisher made an appearance for us. This hardy bird is always a special treat.
The only Townsend’s Solitaire of the trip was eventually seen by everybody along Nealy Rd just before we got to the feeders.
The Nealy Rd feeders proper had a single GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH, yet a perched-up adult NORTHERN GOSHAWK stole the show here. Everybody had walk-away looks of this bird. While admiring the back of the Goshawk, another small flock of un’ided finches flew over. We found another GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH at the roost site another 0.6mi further east. It was just after 3:30pm and this bird was just about to get tucked in.
Just beyond that (i.e. yet further east) was a large flock of just over 200 SNOW BUNTINGS. These birds were perched on the wires for a few minutes, but we did see them swirl around a couple of times.
A perched-up Northern Pygmy-Owl in the riparian area just south of Havillah brought smiles to everybody in the group.
Our final stop was the Highlands Sno-Park. Despite a well-executed strategy we did not see a Great Gray Owl.
02/07: Waterville Plateau and around Bridgeport
We started the day early at Bridgeport Hill Rd, but failed to find any Sharp-tailed Grouse.
After that, we unsucessfully cruised some of the roads of the northern Waterville Plateau in search of Snowy Owl, but did manage to find a large flock of mostly SNOW BUNTINGS west of Rd C between Rd 15 and Rd 16. A GYRFALCON delighted the group just south of 172 & Heritage Rd (which is L St). The wooded lot about 1mi south of the same intersection along Heritage had the continuing AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS. We saw 3 this time.
The Northern Saw-whet Owl at Bridgeport State Park was at its usual spot.
We admired our first Merlin of the trip along 173 near the Bridgeport Bar through the scope.
The pullouts just east of MP10 of 173 across the bridge from Brewster were productive for waterfowl. We eventually refound the LONG-TAILED DUCK near a large raft of coots that also contained at least 1 pair of Barrow’s Goldeneye. Many scaup, Common Goldeneye and Ruddy Ducks were easy to see from here. The second pullout east of MP10 had an actively calling WINTER WREN below us and a Golden-crowned Kinglet uphill.
It was afternoon now and we wanted to try again for Sharp-tailed Grouse. To increase our odds for other targets en route, we decided to drive up Central Ferry Canyon Rd. While we found a good number of Pygmy Nuthatches with a couple perched up high for 2-3 minutes, Red Crossbill (and any other birds for that matter) were a no show. Once reaching the top, we continued all the way through to Bridgeport Hill Rd, but this road can not be recommended right now as it is very soft and one could easily get stuck in the mud. Especially the last 0.3mi before Division turns paved were dicey. It also was very slow up there.
A second check for Sharp-tailed Grouse at around sunset also failed, yet a Ring-necked Pheasant was flushed and turned into a mini consolation price for a few.
02/08: Waterville Plateau and around Bridgeport
A brief stop at Scotch Creek Wildlife Area early did not produce any Sharp-tailed Grouse, but we ran into Jim Olson who is the manager for Scotch Creek. He gave us a great status update of the grouse projects in the area.
For the next few hours, Bohemian Waxwing was our main target, On the way south from the Omak area we cruised through Malott, but we only saw Eurasian Collared Doves and a Steller’s Jay.
We drove 0.3mi up the south end of Cameron Lake to gain some elevation and then scoped the Okanogan river. This spot turned into a county lister’s heaven! We had 17 Trumpeter Swans and a Eurasian Wigeon from there which were new for Okanogan Co for pretty much everybody. Also interesting were a small flock of parvipes Canada Geese in with moffittis and several other species of waterfowl.
At the weigh station at the intersection of 17 & 97, a Merlin flushed a flock of waxwings from the tall poplars that we didn’t really have enough time to id. Some of those birds for sure were Cedars. A large Canvasback raft was on the river behind us.
Next stop was the Bridgeport Bar on the Douglas Co side. When we we pulled into the parking area at Grange & Moe, a Prairie Falcon gave up good looks. An accipiter and a Northern Shrike were also working the area. Scoping the river, we found an Eared Grebe, a single Canvasback and good numbers of Redhead. Another flock of waxwings teased us briefly with a fly-by. We then worked a few more orchards near the Bridgeport Bar and eventually we had a good size almost pure flock of BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS. Only 0.5mi further downriver, we had found another frustrating pure flock of Cedar Waxwings a few minutes prior to that.
Encouraged by the Bohemians, we then pushed on to the Waterville Plateau where we had 2 SNOWY OWLS south of the intersection of Division and 172 west of Mansfield. A scope was required to see these birds.
Several folks peeled off at this point so we were down to 7 folks. A sage thicket at the Withrow grain elevators held 4 GRAY PARTRIDGE. We got fairly good looks as the birds flushed and managed to re-flush them a few minutes later.
It was a great trip considering the warm weather. Thanks to all the participants for their passion, stamina and FANTASTIC spotting skills. You know who you are! Even more thanks to Meredith Spencer and Mike Marsh for their invaluable tips. Hopefully, this writeup will also be helpful for next weekend’s WOS trip with Ruth and Tim.
Stefan Schlick, Hillsboro, OR
Michael Fleming, Ballard, WA