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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Signs of Spring at Steigerwald NWR

Today there was a break in the rain we've been having and my family took advantage of the nicer weather to check out the newly opened trail at Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge about 10 miles east of Vancouver, Washington. There were little signs of spring everywhere, like these pussy willows:

There were some gloomy looking clouds, but also some sun breaks, which made for beautiful cloud patterns in the sky and reflecting in the water:

Also flying over the water was my first year bird of the day, a tree swallow (109)! Actually, while I was expecting to just see one or two, there were several dozen swallows about the refuge. We also spotted the single mute swan that has been hanging out at the refuge. I'm very tempted to count it on the year list, but since it is undoubtedly an escapee I've decided against it. Besides, I know Dave would give me too much flak!

I made up for it on the rest of the hike around the refuge by spotting a hairy woodpecker (110), and my dad also found a very well-camouflaged American bittern (111). We had heard it was in the area, but it still amazes me how much they can look like a clump of grass. All in all, we saw 28 species on the refuge, including a small flock of yellow-rumped warblers:

There were hundreds of canada and cackling geese around, but the other oddity was this single Canada goose perched more than fifty feet off the ground in this tree! It seemed to be eating buds off the limbs:

After hiking the refuge trail, we continued east about another 30 miles on highway 14 to Drano Lake on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. The goal was to locate the coveted tufted duck that has been reported there in the last week or two. Upon arriving at the boat ramp overlooking the lake we saw two common mergansers and....nothing else. We set up the scope and across the lake spotted two ring-necked ducks and a pair of horned grebes. Disappointing so far!

Next we took the access road that goes around part of the lake and found some more birds hanging out towards the back end of the lake: more mergansers as well as bufflehead, common goldeneyes, and best of all, a pair of barrow's goldeneyes (112). Still, the large flock of scaup where the tufted duck was likely hanging out was no where to be seen. So it was time to pull back on the highway to head up to Hood River to grab a late lunch....but wait! As we headed down the highway alongside the lake I spotted some ducks close to the shoreline that we couldn't make out from the boat ramp. We slowed down, and in the closest group of ducks, visible right under the guard rail, was a beautiful male tufted duck (113)! By the time we pulled over properly the ducks had moved away from the shore so no pictures were possible, but we got a longer look to confirm what is not only the fifth bird to add to the year list today, but also a life bird for me!


eileeninmd said...

Great outing, I've never seen a goose in a tree. Love the YRW, Bitterns seem to hide well in tall grasses. Your reflection shot is just beautiful.

Warren Baker said...

Your weather there mirrored ous today Monika.
Well done with the Tufty, they are common over here, but as rare for my patch as they are for you!