Last year, every bird was a life bird. By mid-February 2015 I had seen 77 new-to-me bird species. 77 lifers! I didn’t even know what a “lifer” was then. Over my first year birding, I saw 253 life birds. Not that I’m counting. But, yeah, I’m counting. So far this year I’ve seen 98 species (year birds), but only two lifers (more about one of those below). I now understand the significance. Perhaps I should have paced myself?
Nah. I’m okay with the bar set high. It’s made me a busy birder. In fact, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t chasing red dots on Birdseye like a cat chasing laser lights since the first of the year. Last weekend, I drove four hours to southeastern Washington to catch some red dots along the Snake River.
I caught a few at Hollebeke Habitat Management Unit. Like what I would call my first “obvious” Sharp-shinned Hawk (small head, skinny legs, square tail).
And (less obvious) Cooper’s Hawk below. I think.
Maybe that’s the same bird? There were at least a couple of each. I swear.
I also saw Dark-eyed Junco, Cedar Waxwing, Bald Eagles, American Coot, Northern Harrier, White-Crowned Sparrows, American Robin, Varied Thrush, and many Northern Flicker.
An American Kestrel with a snack.
And Black-billed Magpie, both living and loud and tattered in pieces.
Wonder who the culprit was? At one point along the trail, I practically tripped over piles of pellets.
And whitewash? There was a little.
Then I looked up. Great Horned Owl!
I slunk away quietly to disturb as little as possible.
Continuing on I found a Northern Shrike!
And I saw one notable bird I recognized from my Florida trip, a Northern Mockingbird!
Apparently, a pretty good sighting for this location. Birder score.
It was great birding all the birds on Hollebeke, but I still had found no life birds. I was kind of surprised. So, armed with knowledge from Scott Carpenter’s Nature Night series on owling, and hoping for new owls, I moved on to stare at willow thickets.
I drove back and forth super slowly about 8-10 times for over an hour. I saw nothing. Eventually, nature called, and there are no restrooms in the middle of nowhere. I got out, went behind the thickets, and spooked four owls. Dang it! While falling over, I tried to take pictures of the blurry owl rockets.
Judging by the barred tail in the first awful photo, these are indeed Long-eared Owls. Technically, a life bird! My first of 2016. But so bummed to spook them, I almost don’t want to count it. Almost. Hopefully I’ll get more opportunities to stare at willow thickets. Or next time I’ll wait until after sunset.
I wanted to check out Bennington Lake the next day, so I proceeded to nearby Walla Walla to stay for the night. If you have not heard comedian, Mike Birbiglia’s story of sleep walking while staying at La Quinta Inn (La Keen-TA Inn in Wahya Wahya Washginton), do yourself a favor and spend the next 7 minutes laughing at his story. I stayed in the room!!
Living the birder rock-n-roll lifestyle.
Tweets and chirps,