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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February 20 and 21: Birding Across Washington

After our two day guided trip in the Walla Walla and Pendleton area, we took our time getting home and, of course, did some more birding. Our first stop wasn't too far away at the Walla Walla River Delta where thousands of ducks and hundreds of gulls congregate in the winter.

Walla Walla River Delta
We added herring gull and California gull to the year list, but only got very distant pictures, so here's a slightly closer one of a ring-billed gull instead:

Near Pasco, Washington we stopped at a riverside park that had an incredible abundance of ducks - nearly all the common species and several uncommon ones all in one pond. Again I added a couple species (canvasback and ruddy duck) but didn't get great photos of them, though I finally got a decent shot of a gadwall for the year.

The rest of the day wasn't very birdy, so that night while staying in Ellensburg I did some research on what else had been seen recently between us and our ferry home. I was surprised to read that that very morning someone had seen a flock of 150+ Bohemian waxwings, a species we had been looking for all weekend, right there in Ellensburg! Thankfully she had posted great details about the location on eBird, so first thing the next morning, after another surprising dusting of snow, we headed over to check it out. Right in the very same berry-filled tree we got lucky - in with the house sparrows, robins, and starlings, was a Bohemian waxwing!

Bohemian waxwing - photo year bird #125
But where was the rest of the flock? We didn't have to wait too long before we saw them circling ahead. It was easily more like 200 or 250 birds, and they flew down in an amazing circling display, all briefly landing on the tree and grabbing a berry before taking flight again. We saw them do this two or three times before they flew off a couple block to regroup and, presumably, do the whole thing again.

At first you don't even see the birds in the tree, until you see the tree is just covered in Bohemian waxwings!
It's always amazing to me how incredible wildlife can be right in the middle of day to day life. This was in the parking lot of a feed store, and I think we got more than one strange look for being so excited and taking photos of the tree in the parking lot. It's both awesome that something so cool can happen right in the middle of an urban area and sad that so many people walk right by it without knowing the difference between the flock of waxwings and the flocks of starlings that frequent the area.

We went on to the airport area where gray partridges had been seen (another species we had been looking for all weekend), but didn't have any luck on this one, though I finally got a photo op of a mourning dove and also saw this cool sight of a black-billed magpie and bald eagle perched together:

Before leaving Ellensburg we made one more stop along the river, and lucked out by finding an American dipper, another hoped-for year bird. At this point in time the snow/rain really started coming down so we made a break to cross the pass and head back into the Seattle area. I never would have though I would get great gray owl, gray-crowned rosy-finch, and Bohemian waxwing on my photo year list before American crow, but that's just what happened! We have the very similar northwestern crows on San Juan Island, and other than voice location is really the only way to tell them apart. I had seen and heard several American crows so far this year but had yet to get a photo opportunity of one in a reliable location until this day. So there was the crow finally, an unlikely photo year bird #128! But that is why we go out there in bird, because you never know what you will see, or where, or when!

American crow, photo year bird #128

Near Marysville a couple of great egrets have been hanging out, well north of their typical range, so we stopped to see them:

Great egret - photo year bird # 129

Then one more stop before the ferry was back in our usual stomping grounds in the Skagit Flats. While we didn't turn up the gyrfalcon that's been seen there, we did see a trio of short-eared owls prowling the fields to make for an incredible 8 owl species trip. We also got great looks at several bald eagles in the late afternoon lighting.

With March right around the corner, the earliest of the spring migrants are starting to show up, so that will help keep the birding going in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, I got my first glimpse of J-Pod a little over a week ago, and us islanders are hoping for a good spring start to the whale season, as well! We got another three or so inches of show yesterday, though, so winter hasn't quite loosened its grip just yet!

1 comment:

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

I saw someone was asking on FB what type of tree the waxwings were in. On these larger pics it looks like a Rowan tree (aka Mountain Ash - not related to our Ash trees but similar leaves) Sorbus sp. They do have a propensity to attract waxwings particularly the ones with orangy/red berries