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Washington Nesting Birds - Trip Report

June in Central Washington

Our Central Washington tour routes vary because there are so many delightful places to bird! The tour reported here is most similar to the one scheduled for 2005, although it began and ended in Portland, not Spokane.

On the tour described below we spent a little time in the Columbia River Gorge on our way to central Washington. However, most of the birding was done in the duck- and shorebird-rich areas of "potholes" and small lakes, Cascade Mountains, desert, and other places teeming with territory-defending and nest-building activity. The Central Washington tour from Spokane covers much of the same route and most of the bird species are the same, with enhanced opportunities for some.

Day 1 - from Portland International Airport we began the drive up the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington side. We made various stops along the short drive to White Salmon, recording species like our first Osprey, Vaux's Swift, Rufous Hummingbird, Lewis's Woodpecker, Western Scrub-Jay, Steller's Jay, Violet-green Swallow, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Spotted Towhee, Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco, and Purple Finch. Several of the group saw Band-tailed Pigeons flying through the trees to their roosts. Traditional Northwest cuisine was served for an early dinner at the beautiful Skamania Lodge where several singing Swainson's Thrushes welcomed us.

Day 2 - we followed a beautiful rushing creek up one of the canyons that opens onto prairie, finally descending into the Yakima Valley. Along the way we saw some of the Ash-throated Flycatchers near their northern limits, as well as our first of many Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, and Western Kingbirds. We found several California Quail on this trip at various locations, and this day we saw our first. Other firsts for the trip were Black-billed Magpie, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, Black-headed Grosbeak, the stunning Lazuli Bunting, Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Brewer's Blackbird, and Bullock's Oriole. We were also treated to the first of many vocal and visible Yellow-breasted Chats. Most entertaining was the Canyon Wren that had appropriated the roof and outside walls of an abandoned brick restroom facility as his personal "cliff side" home. Talk about close looks at this delightful songster!

Day 3 - over high cliffs a Golden Eagle soared where we could easily watch it. Then it deftly landed on its craggy nest, while our first White-throated Swifts cut through the sky above. In Mt. Rainier National Park's White River Campground we were robbed by camp robbers, a.k.a. Gray Jays and Clark's Nutcrackers, and Steller's Jays were uncommonly friendly. There too we heard the unmistakable song of the Hermit Warbler, as well as the wheezy song of the Townsend's. During the trip we were able to observe both singing on territories. Pine Siskins were numerous high in the mountains surrounding Mt. Rainier. A lovely highlight for at least one birder was a Golden-crowned Kinglet foraging at eye level, at too close a range for binoculars.

Day 4 - was a day for “ticking” off the flycatchers, especially the “Empids”. Hammond’s, Gray, Dusky, and Pacific-slopes — all in their appropriate habitats and in good voice. Western Wood-Pewees were everywhere on this trip, and on this day there were more of them, as well as Western and Eastern Kingbirds. During the hot afternoon, we sat by Wenas Creek and watched Black-chinned and Rufous Hummingbirds drink from the feeder we hung. We also made the short trek to see the Calliope Hummingbird that was regular there. Warblers that day included Nashville, Yellow, Yellow-rumped “Audubon’s”, and a pair of flitty MacGillivray’s that fortunately kept their antics directly roadside where we could watch! A pair of Red-naped Sapsuckers were active most of the day, flying about the pines near what was probably their nesting hole.

Day 5 - we did a little “harder” birding, visiting desert habitats where we found Sage Thrashers galore, ! We were also able to identify by sight and voice Brewer’s Sparrow. Our first Swainson’s Hawk made his appearance in the same area, as did a Say’s Phoebe who had found the perfect dream home in a large culvert beside the highway. During the day Western Grebes were quite plentiful, as were Pied-bills. In irrigation ponds we began adding more ducks to our list, the most prized being Cinnamon Teal, Canvasbacks, Redheads, and Ruddy Ducks, as well as more Blue-winged Teal. A pair of Black-necked Stilts gave us a beautiful display as they “floated” in the wind with their bright red legs extended behind them. Wilson’s Phalaropes were also prized sightings. Caspian and Forster’s Terns made their appearances during the day, as did dozens of White-throated Swifts as we ended the day near Yakima. Bank Swallows were numerous through the rest of the trip, although this was the first day we had seen them.

Day 6 - was declared “White-headed Woodpecker Day”! Everyone wanted to “go after” this bird, so we did with single-mindedness! Were we successful? You bet! And everyone got to see this unique northwestern bird. A pair of Williamson’s Sapsuckers was at the White Pass summit, and a Pileated Woodpecker made an appearance at Dog Lake nearby. In a lovely pond on a “back road” to White Pass, we observed the nesting Ring-necked Ducks, the male with a handsome chestnut “ring” around his neck. Nesting Mountain Chickadees in the hole of a small tree snag right at eye level allowed fun photo ops, and the surprise of that pond was a Virginia Rail pursuing a Sora right through some open water in front of us. More Ring-necked Ducks were at Dog Lake, but the main attraction there was the pair of Barrow’s Goldeneye. Why it took White Pass to make a Willow Flycatcher “fitz-bew” is anyone’s guess, but there it was, easily seen from the side of the road. Although not calling, several Olive-sided Flycatchers were seen on White Pass as well. A Townsend’s Warbler made a welcomed vivid and fairly lengthy appearance, and those acquainted with Black-throated Gray Warbler heard one nearby. A few Red Crossbills “jipped” their way across the skies at various times during the day.

At our lunch stop, we sat by the restaurant’s hummingbird feeders and watched the dazzling Rufous Hummingbird, as well as other birds that dropped into the trees to greet us. The Western Tanager and Evening Grosbeaks were the most spectacular passerines, I suppose.

Day 7 - gave us a Prairie Falcon, Lark Sparrow, and an incredibly cooperative Sage Sparrow that sang his heart out for several minutes from the top of a sage — of course. We got several great views of previously seen ducks as we had our longest day trip, through the Yakima Valley to the Tri-Cities area of Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco.

Day 8 - we birded in the rain. Luckily, McNary National Wildlife Refuge has a wonderful blind, from which we could watch birds like Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Marsh Wrens within just inches of us. The highlight of the day was, of course, the Greater White-fronted Goose, but there were also many, many ducks, including about 15 Wood Ducks roosting on a platform and others swimming around in the pond. Besides ducks we had already seen and now had some of our best views of, we added Northern Pintail, Lesser Scaup, and Bufflehead to the tally. Squadrons of American White Pelicans were frequent in the areas we visited, and we found Black-crowned Night-Heron and American Avocet as we made our way through the east end of the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington side. At one lovely drive-through area, we got great looks at 2 Gray Partridges and several Yellow-bellied Marmots who were most cooperative photo subjects. We crossed over to The Dalles for the night.

Day 9 - we drove up to the Mt. Adams area and birded in beautiful Elk Meadows. The Common Yellowthroats were active and vocal and allowed excellent and sparkling views. We heard at least 3 Hermit Warblers, and Hairy Woodpeckers were “all over the place”. Common Snipes winnowed over the meadow and one “sang” lustily in the top of a tall fir for many minutes, giving us a great view. As we returned to Portland several of us had super looks at Bald Eagles.

We had a wonderful trip and look forward to welcoming YOU on our similar 2005 tour!