Last weekend a bunch of co-workers and their families headed over to Winthrop in north-central Washington, and I was excited to go as well and get the chance to explore a new part of the state. It was my first time taking Highway 20 east of I5 and through the North Cascades, and it was well worth it just for the drive alone. The stunning scenery reminded me at times of Alaska, especially at this overlook near Diablo Lake where you're looking down on the water but surrounded by towering mountains.
In a nearby rockslide I also saw several pica, the first time in quite a while I've seen this small mammal.
The next time I had to pull over to take in the landscapes and snap some photos was at Washington Pass, the 5000+ foot high point on this stretch of the highway. I was very impressed while talking to a young French-Canadian biker who had just climbed a 30 kilometer (18 mile) hill to reach the pass and had gone 90 kilometers (nearly 60 miles) on the day. He wanted his picture taken in front of the elevation sign and I was glad to oblige. Here's some of the craggy mountain peaks that were nearby, and though the road was dry there was still a couple feet of snow on the ground:
We camped at Pearrygin Lake State Park just a little bit north of Winthrop. While the campground was a little bigger and busier than I would have liked, the scenery here was absolutely beautiful as well. The lake was surrounded by rolling green hills that had an almost high-desert feel to them, and then the still snow-capped mountain peaks could be seen here and there in the distance.
A group of female mallards and their ducklings occasionally visited us at our campsite, showing little to no fear of all the people around:
Seeing a spotted sandpiper (198) at Jackson Beach on San Juan Island had me poised to break through 200 bird species on the year list during this trip, and it didn't take long on Saturday to start adding to the list. While walking around the campground in the morning I saw a pair of vesper sparrows (199). Then, while driving with a friend towards a trailhead for a hike, I spotted a pair of mountain bluebirds (200) as well as a couple of western bluebirds. What a nice species to be #200!
|Male mountain bluebird|
The hike I had scoped up was a bit more remote than I had anticipated, being several miles up bumpy, rocky roads with no signs, but we found it: Pipestone Canyon.
|Pipestone Canyon trailhead|
All I had time to do was step out of the car before the birding started in earnest. Right away I heard some sooty grouse (201) calling from up in the hills. A moment later, I heard my first canyon wren (202) of the day. Way up in the interesting rock formations above us was a (presumably) nesting colony of white-throated swifts.
A prairie falcon (203) flew by, causing quite a stir among the swifts. Later, at the end of the hike, I spoke to another birder who had located the prairie falcon aerie (nest) high up in the cliffs. I was able to spot it, too, by the white wash on the rocks below the little ledge, and sure enough the falcon was perched there, not far from the swift colony.
The Pipestone Canyon trail gently descended through a wooded forest habitat, where I heard a mountain chickadee (204). Eventually the landscape opened up into a meadow valley between the canyon walls.
Here, the calls of western meadowlarks echoed across the open space at amazing volumes. Black-billed magpies also chattered away in the trees at the edge of the meadow. Lazuli buntings could be heard here and there, too. Another highlight was seeing three golden eagles - two adults in one spot and an immature further down the canyon.
Slowly, the day started heating up, and the bird life quieted down. After having a snack we turned around and started heading back, and this part of the hike was dominated instead by butterfly sightings - we saw at least six different species. They seemed particularly interested in the dried horse droppings.
|Dotted blue (Euphilote enoptes)|
|Northern checkerspot (Chlosyne palla)|
|Lorquin's admiral (Limenitis lorquini)|
Once back in the woods, there was one more notable bird sighting: a red-naped sapsucker (year bird 205, NA life bird 348). I was pretty sure I had a glimpse of one on the drive in, but this time I got a good enough view to be sure. It's a very pretty bird, with especially striking facial markings.
The birding continued to be good on the drive back to the campground, including a western tanager and a western kingbird. The whole drive was just beautiful, too.
Saturday evening, while at the company picnic, a couple of common nighthawks (206) flew way overhead. With all my talk about birds, several people wanted to go on another bird walk the next morning, and it didn't take much convincing on my part! We went to the Beaver Pond trails near Sun Mountain, a place some birders I had talked to at Pipestone Canyon had recommended.
One of the first things I saw at Beaver Pond was an osprey nest:
We saw and heard lots of cool birds, including western wood-pewees, yellow warblers, house wrens, and a Bullock's oriole. I saw several more red-naped sapsuckers, and was especially thrilled to find one Williamson's sapsucker (207), another life bird (NA #349).
It was a bit of whirlwind weekend trip, and after this hike it was time to start heading back west to catch the ferry from Anacortes home. This post covered all the bird sightings, but there were also lots of amazing wildflowers to be seen...stay tuned for the next post!