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Tag Archives: birding

On the weekend of June 1, I visited my friend Betty for a long weekend of birding. North Central Washington Audubon Society hosted a big day on June 1, in hopes of counting all or many of the birds in our four-county (Chelan, Douglas, Ferry and Okanogan) area. It’s a HUGE geographic area. And much of it is remote and lightly populated with people.

Betty lives in Ferry County, the area with the fewest people and lots of really nice bird habitats. I birded my way over there on Thursday; Friday we scouted our area and visited a friend in the next area; Saturday we marathon birded from early in the morning til well into the evening and Sunday I worked my way home slowly til it got too hot to be any fun. We had some rain and once it came down in such a downpour we were concerned for our safety and decided to make a hasty departure. There was hail and lots of sunshine too. Somehow I managed to only photograph birds and not Betty or the dogs or the horses or chickens. Looking forward to next time!

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.

 

Birding always brings something interesting. Sometimes when we go with expectations of seeing something in particular, our hopes are dashed when we miss it. But the search is always fun. Yesterday we went down to the Columbia River where it was warm and spring-like. Despite the warm temperature we did not see any swallows or bluebirds which have already made an appearance at my house. The water was calm and glassy giving us a beautiful background for the numerous waterfowl we observed. They are all in their spring plumage and the colors are brilliant in the strong sunshine – mallards, goldeneyes, canvasbacks and many more species were seen. We saw nests of Common Ravens and also Great-horned Owls. Bald Eagles, Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks were paired up and some were cavorting in flight! We heard the songs of a Bewick’s Wren and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Western Meadowlarks sang in several locations.

We did have a target bird yesterday – Northern Saw-whet Owls. People have observed as many as five of them in the state park and we even knew which campsites to search for them. Unfortunately the state park staff was engaged in clean up with noisy machines – leaf blowers and leaf vacuums. We picked the group site to begin our search, as far from the machines as we could get. Two big evergreens seemed like likely candidates to shelter these tiny owls. We found the white wash we were looking for and even found pellets but could not spot a small owl. We began to take apart the pellets (a pellet is the part of the meal that is undigestable and is regurgitated onto the ground, usually composed of bones and fur) to entertain ourselves, making a tidy display of teeny little bones on a board.

Having had enough of fur and bones, we moved on to the rest of the campground despite the machinery. After a while I tired of that but Juliet kept looking while I went to the riverbank to see what I could see. I caught up with her at the last area, nearest where we had left the car as she was searching intently high in a dense tree with her binoculars. She said, it has to be here; look at this big white wash! I stood there and looked straght up into the tree and what did I see? A bird butt! I moved around and sure enough, there it was, a tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl looking down at me.

 

Small mammal bones

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These bones are tiny. The jaw bone on the left is maybe half an inch long.

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Small but ferocious

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The owl was more interested in people farther away than us immediately under it.

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It wanted us to leave so it could go back to sleep.

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This is a Double-crested Cormorant skull, one of two that we saw on the riverbank.

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Jenny and I went in search of wintering birds in eastern Okanogan County yesterday. It was a long day of driving over bumpy, sometimes muddy and puddle-filled roads, avoiding cows – lots of cows – and enjoying long vistas. The weather was very non-typical of early December. Normally we’d be battling cold winds, crusty snow on the ground, fog, rain or snow falling. Or maybe, all of the above. Instead, we had mostly blue skies, bare ground, and green fields of verdant winter wheat dotted with glacial erratics from the last ice age. In other words, it was a great day to see birds! The birds did not get the memo. They were few and far between and while we saw interesting species like Snow Buntings and Common Redpolls, Northern Shrikes and Rough-legged Hawks, we missed out on the iconic Snowy Owls and Gyrfalcons. Still, it was a good day with good company to explore a fascinating landscape.

 

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A glacial erratic splitting in two

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We walked all around this stand of aspens and found one Great-horned Owl and some chickadees

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An interesting mark left by someone before us

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Old scratches in aspen bark

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A bird’s nest at eye level

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Jenny found this. She identified it as a praying mantis egg case. Pretty cool!

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Lots of cows means lots of cow pies to avoid. Some had mushrooms growing out of them.

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A suvey marker.

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A sharp curve in the road

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Moses Mountain in the distance. A special place on the Colville Reservation

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art?

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history.

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This year there has been a major irruption of Snowy Owls throughout the NW and other parts of the country. These bright white owls nest up in the far north and most years a few of them show up in Washington in the winter and occasionally lots of them migrate south. There are different theories as to why some years so many stray so far from their traditional wintering grounds – lack of food, overly bad weather, a succesful breeding season producing too many owls for the available food and so on and so forth. Whatever the reason, it is always a treat to get out in the field and see them.

Four of us drove more than 100 miles through Okanogan and Douglas Counties searching for them and we were fortunate to find two just before the cloud cover lowered nearly to the ground. This was the closer one and really, it wasn’t very close for my meager camera equipment. There are lots more Snowy Owl images out there of far better quality than mine. For me, it’s more about seeing the bird and being graced by its presence.

In addition to two Snowy Owls, we also saw a large flock of Snow Buntings, a Gyrfalcon, sevearl flocks of Horned Larks, numerous Rough-legged Hawks, a Merlin, quite a few American Kestrels and lots of waterfowl on the Columbia, Methow and Okanogan Rivers, including Trumpeter Swans and a pair of Eurasian Wigeons. It was a good day of birding.

 

 

As we watched, this bird spent much of the time preening

 

I like this image because it shows the big feather-covered foot

 

 

If you are interested in searching for Snowy Owls, here is a map showing reported sightings around the country.

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