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Category Archives: birds

Yesterday a friend and I ventured out to the dryland wheat country south of here, across the Columbia and River and up on the plateau in search of Snowy Owls. It was a lovely sunny day. We saw quite a few interesting birds including numerous Rough-legged Hawks, a Prairie Falcon, Snow Buntings, American Kestrels and others. The landscape in that area is criss-crossed with a grid of roads every mile. The north/south roads have letter names – A, B, C, etc. And the east/west roads nave number names. That seems easy enough but often roads don’t go through or are not maintained so navigation can be a challenge. And don’t even think about using a phone app to navigate. No doubt, you will be sent down a road that has not been maintained in many years.

We were sticking to the rougher roads, thinking the owls would be off the beaten path but we were not finding them. We turned down a good paved county road and shortly my friend was slapping the door and saying STOP! There it was, maybe 20 meters off the road perched on the side of big rock outcropping. What a view! We were delighted. For my friend it was a lifer – the first time she had ever seen this species.

We watched it for a while and it seemed pretty unconcerned with our presence and when we left, it was still taking in the warm sun. Snowy Owls nest in the far north on the tundra. They eat lemmings and when there is a shortage of food they migrate farther south in the winter. This year there have been a few of them reported around Washington. It’s always such a treat to see these magnificent wild animals.

Following that we returned down to the big river and watched a variety of water birds and then we went to a park where she had seen  Northern Saw-whet Owls recently. We located the white wash on the ground and looking straight up we could see the tiny owl looking down at us.

It was a good day.

 

This is a male American Kestrel approaching a female on a delicate branch.

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Feeder Birds

American Kestrel gives me a look

 

Northern Pygmy-owl strikes terror in the hearts of the finches.

 

Common Redpoll. It is in the same family as American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins. This is an irruptive species, showing up in big flocks some winters and other years they stay farther north if the food is plentiful. This year I have been seeing a flock of 100 or more some mornings.

Despite the heat and the valley full of smoke, animals are abundant. There is a mule deer with twin fawns that we see around our hill pretty often. All the young birds have fledged and are learning to forage with help from their parents. Ken’s bees are still out collecting pollen and nectar from our garden flowers. I do wonder how the smoke affects these animals and if they have shortened life spans because of it.

I’ve been visiting Lost Lake for nearly twenty years now. From the first time, I remember the loons. It was news to me that there were Common Loons in Washington. And then I realized that they were nesting here too!

Lost Lake is a small lake so it only hosts one nesting pair. There are a few other lakes in eastern Okanogan County and also in Ferry County that support a small population of nesting loons. Loons face many obstacles to raising their babies. Both parents take turns on the nest so the eggs (often there are two) are never left exposed. Predators that could take them include Bald Eagles, Common Ravens and otters. After they hatch and the young birds are on the water, the parents are constantly wary of attacks from the air and the water. An eagle can easily take a young loon from the water’s surface.

Loons aren’t the only birds at Lost Lake but they might be the most charismatic. Lots of people fish there in non-motorized boats so the birds are accustomed to boats and will approach fairly close. They are especially interested in the anglers. I find that if I sit quietly in my kayak, the birds will come close and offer great looks. Not that close though. These photos were mostly made with a 600 mm lens. The forest bird photos were made with a much shorter lens.

Spotted Sandpipers are a real joy to watch. They trot along logs and sticks on the water, bobbing their tails up and down and issuing their calls when they fly to the next lot. There are lots of swallows around the lake, taking advantage of many of the cavities in the trees for nesting sites.

 

Common Redpolls are an uncommon species in our area. If they do arrive here, it’s in the coldest part of the winter and they are attracted to our feeders. Some years I don’t see them at all. Last year was one of those years. This winter there is quite a flock of them coming daily to munch on black oil sunflower seeds and niger seeds. I’ve also seen them eating privet berries. They now outnumber our more commonly observed American Goldfinches, House Finches and Pine Siskins. They seem like jaunty little birds with their red crowns and the males’ pink breast.

According to Bird Webthey are arctic and sub-arctic breeders and in the winter they inhabit various kinds of semi-open country, including woodland edges and brushy or weedy fields.” Also, “they have pouches in their throats that allow them to gather large amounts of food quickly, and then retreat to a safe place to process the food. In winter, they will drop from a tree into deep snow and make a tunnel about a foot long to a roosting chamber.” I would love to find their tunnels!

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