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Tag Archives: Okanogan Highlands

We spent last week at Lost Lake in the Okanogan Highlands in eastern Okanogan County. If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know we go there just about every year. What is it about this place that we find so inviting? Let’s see: old growth western larch forest, Common Loons, wildflowers, historic CCC structures, peace and quiet, wildflowers, perfect small lake for paddling and relaxing, brook trout in that lake, good birding and much, much more.

Weather was kind of chilly and we enjoyed our campfires each night. Fishing was off from other years but Ken was able to bring in enough for two meals. A friend joined us for a couple of days. We did some serious birding and she got to paddle Ken’s fishing kayak. The dogs were happy and busy and they slept like rocks each night. I think we all slept well with the frogs in the background. We woke to singing Swainson’s Thrushes and Ruby-crowned Kinglets each morning.

We got away with our camper for a week or so at the end of May. Last summer there was no time for camping between work and wildfires so we just decided to block out some time early and do it. With a little luck, maybe we can go again later in the summer.

The Lost Lake Campground was created by the CCC. Signs indicated the work was done in 1940 and ’41. There is a cabin and shops and also some buildings at the adjacent Kiwanis camp all built by the CCC workers. The cabin is badly in need of repair. I do hope the US Forest Service can find the resources to preserve this historic building.

Western larch is the predominant tree around the campground. These are tall stately conifers with needles that turn golden yellow in the fall before dropping. In the spring they grow vibrant green foliage. Apparently the area was logged in 1963, taking many of the big old trees. There are at least two remaining and a nature walk will guide you to them. The area was thinned/logged again around fifteen years ago, I think. This thinning has produced a healthy and attractive stand that is also more fire resistant than it was prior to that.

We were joined by Ken’s brother and the two of them enjoyed fishing for brook trout from the short kayaks. We had two good meals of fresh fish cooked over the fire. I enjoyed birding from my kayak. Ken and Carl saw a moose swim across the lake while they were fishing. Of course, I missed it! We all enjoyed listening to the loons calling to each other.

It was nice to get away from home and the ever-present electronic world.

Here is our bird list from Lost Lake.

Canada Goose

Wood Duck

Mallard

Green-winged Teal

Ring-necked Duck

Common Loon

Turkey Vulture

Bald Eagle

Red-tailed Hawk

Virginia Rail

Sora

American Coot

Spotted Sandpiper

Great Horned Owl

Barred Owl

Common Poorwill

hummingbird sp.

Williamson’s Sapsucker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Pileated Woodpecker

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Hammond’s Flycatcher

Empidonax sp.

Gray Jay

Steller’s Jay

Common Raven

Tree Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

Black-capped Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Marsh Wren

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Western Bluebird

Townsend’s Solitaire

Swainson’s Thrush

American Robin

Orange-crowned Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Chipping Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Song Sparrow

Red-winged Blackbird

Red Crossbill

Pine Siskin

Evening Grosbeak

 

Yesterday Juliet and I went birding in the Conconully and Okanogan Highlands regions of our county. Birding was slow with not a lot of active birds around but the light on the snow-covered hills was enough to make us stop repeatedly and comment about the beauty that lay before us.

We were surprised to find a Yellow-rumped Warbler along the Okanogan river and closed out our birding day watching a Short-eared Owl hunting at dusk.

Common Loons are not so common in Washington, especially nesting Common Loons. Apparently they used to be common all over the west but not so much anymore. Threats to loons include loss of habitat, predators and discarded fishing tackle. Fishing line, hooks and lead weights are all potentially damaging or fatal to loons and other water birds such as Trumpeter Swans.

At Lost Lake, there is a pair of Common Loons that have nested in the same place for many years. They arrive in the spring from their wintering grounds and take up residence. Thirty days later, the eggs – there may be one or two – hatch and the tiny balls of black fluff are immediately paddling around the lake with their parents. They may also ride on the backs of the parent birds. Both parents care for the birds – feeding and protecting them from predators and gradually teaching them to forage for fish on their own. It takes much of the summer for the birds to fledge and be ready to migrate.

Due to shortage of good nesting areas, pairs in Washington are helped with the supplementation of extra four-inch fish added to nesting lakes by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Also, sticks are placed around and leaning over the nest to protect it from avian predators such as Bald Eagles. Most loons are banded for further study. When the young are nearly grown, researchers will attempt to net them so they may also be banded. The male of this pair has always eluded capture and consequently has never been banded.

This male arrived at Lost Lake this spring with fishing line hanging out of his mouth. It is presumed that there is a hook embedded in his tongue or cheek – probably acquired when the bird ate a fish that had escaped an angler with the tackle in its mouth. You can clearly see the fishing line in the images I made on Wednesday with a loop of it hanging out one side of his mouth. On Friday, it appeared that he had both ends of the line in his mouth and it’s less easy to observe.

Wednesday I inadvertently, paddled right up to the nest. I did not know it was at the edge of the reeds. I was able to see the two dark eggs and quickly moved away in hopes of lessening any disturbance to the birds. Later in the day, we walked on the road on the east side of the lake where we had a clear view of the female on the nest. Friday when I was out on my boat I saw that the eggs had hatched and the two loonlings were out and about with their mother! It was very exciting for me.

All of these images were made with a 600 mm equivalent lens and I did my best to minimize disturbance to the loons.

Lost Lake is in the Okanogan Highlands, northeast of Tonasket and north of Bonaparte Lake. It is in the forest at nearly 4000′ elevation; a little colder than Chopaka Lake. There is a lovely wetland, home to many birds, on the south end. On the north end, there is a Forest Service campground, first established by the CCC in the 1940’s. It still has an old fashioned feeling about it that I like. There are also a few cabins around the lake and two private camps. The Okanogan Highlands Alliance bought much of the marsh and some of the uplands on the south side to protect these important habitats.

I have been visiting this place for at least fifteen years and I never tire of it. It’s hard to put my finger on one thing and say ‘this is why I like it’. Maybe it’s the historic nature of the place, the slower pace, the lack of development. Or maybe it’s the loons. Common Loons nest on Lost Lake and few other lakes in Washington – mostly in Ferry County to the east. I will have another post just about the loons at Lost Lake.

Ken caught lots of brook trout while we were there and we did not go hungry. We even had fish to share with others and we had one dinner party at our campsite and another with our neighbors! I enjoyed early morning paddles on the lake watching the loons and other birds and frogs and turtles too.

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