February birds…

If January could be summed up by snow, February can be summed up by RAIN. All caps because it’s ridiculous. We can’t seem to catch a break. Luckily, birds still have stuff to do regardless of the weather. They’re out there and occasionally I joined them. Yesterday, Tomas and I went to Ridgefield NWR for some comfy drive-thru birding.

Would you like fries with that?

Swans have returned to the refuge, both Trumpeter and Tundra though the Tundra Swans stood out more to me with their yellow lores.

This one flew in for a nice photo-op.

Red-winged Blackbirds were singing in the rain.

And this American Coot couldn’t give a coot.

There were Bald Eagles, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, and of course Red-tailed Hawks along the route.

But we got the biggest surprise when approaching the park exit.

Not one, but two Rough-legged Hawks! I’ve seen this type of hawk a couple of times, but only as a passenger in a vehicle flying along the highway with no time to enjoy. This time we could observe from the heated car as long as we pleased.

They have a small bill, light head and dark belly. One had a paler eyes, a juvenile bird, while the other had dark eyes, an adult bird. Both appear to have the light morph color pattern.

And of course they have feathered tarsi, or those “rough legs.”

They perched for a long time, sometimes fanning their wings out to dry. Until finally one flew from the tree and this was when we learned how they hunt. They face into the wind and hover! Similar to American Kestrels. The hover and scan the ground looking for small mammals. I made an animated gif to show the hovering in action:

Pretty sweet. Glad we made it out in the rain!

Much more to come. February isn’t over yet.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Eastward to Walla Walla, part II

Day 2 in Walla Walla I arrived at Bennignton Lake early enough to see the sky full of stars and to hear a Great Horned Owl pair hooting, “Who’s awake? Me toooo.

Bennington Lake

The trail system is fantastic. 20 miles wind through 600 acres of woodlands and meadows surrounding the lake. The lake was set up by the US Army Corps of Engineers for flood control in the 1940s.

One section of trail is referred to as “owl alley” by local Audubon members because of the frequent owl sightings. I was hoping to find one or two. Upon researching, I learned long-eared owls nest in the park and there were recent ebird sightings, “one did not flush and sat nicely for great views!” I could only imagine.

I saw Killdeer on the lake shore, and mergansers and geese on the lake. In the hardwood forests Downy Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers were busy collecting insects. Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned Sparrow, and Bewick’s Wrens were singing their hearts out. Does this mean it’s spring already?

Dark-eyed Junco

White-crowned Sparrow

Bewick's Wren

I saw the Mountain Chickadee sporting the white eye-stripe!

Mountain Chickadee

And the Northern Harrier hunting, as per usual.

Northern Harrier

I found a row of pines that looked pretty owly. Sure enough, pellets, bones, and whitewash littered the ground.

Pellets

Pellets

But, alas, no owls were home. Or if they were, they were invisible. That’s probably more like it. Still, it felt good to practice tracking skills.

Upon leaving the park, I saw a Townsend’s Solitaire absorbing BTUs from a solar panel.

Townsend's Solitaire

Then I heard a soft, faint hooting. I was all over it and scoured the trees until I found them.

Great Horned Owl

Yeah! Two Great Horned Owls! (One in the lower left). These must be the two I heard earlier near the parking lot when I arrived. Good times at the lake.

Great Horned Owl

On the drive home I got some good looks of my other bird love (and last year’s obsession), the Western Meadowlark.

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark

And just because, I made a quick stop at Balch Lake, past Lyle, Washington. The lake provides habitat for the protected pond turtle, and is also home to dozens of Lewis’s Woodpeckers!

Lewis's Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker

These fellas are highly entertaining and I’d recommend checking out this site for some great looks. I’ve heard there is also an Acorn Woodpecker granary nearby, but I’ve yet to find it. Yet.

Can’t get enough!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Eastward to Walla Walla

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?

SeeAllTheBirds!

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.

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).

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

And (less obvious) Cooper’s Hawk below. I think.

Cooper's Hawk

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.

Northern Flicker

An American Kestrel with a snack.

American Kestrel

And Black-billed Magpie, both living and loud and tattered in pieces.

Black-billed Magpie

Wonder who the culprit was? At one point along the trail, I practically tripped over piles of pellets.

Pellets

Pellet

Yum

And whitewash? There was a little.

Whitewash

Then I looked up. Great Horned Owl!

Great Horned Owl

Hello handsome.

Great Horned Owl

I slunk away quietly to disturb as little as possible.

Continuing on I found a Northern Shrike!

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.

Northern Mockingbird Northern Mockingbird

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.

Willow thicket

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.

Long-eared Owl Long-eared Owl

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!!

Sleepwalk with me

Living the birder rock-n-roll lifestyle.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey