Owls, owls, owls, owls, owls.

The Snowy Owl I’d missed a few weeks prior was still being sighted out in eastern Washington. I felt inspired to try again. Luckily, so did Jen, Jacob, and the rest of their pack.

We left our respective homes at 3am to meet in Kennewick by 8am. By that time I was buzzing from lack of sleep, too much caffeine, and the anticipation of what we might find. Or not find.

I was not alone in dipping on this owl, Jacob had also spent time scanning rural horizons for a snowy with no luck. There’s no telling sometimes how the day will go.

This day started nicely with Barn Owls, more than I’d seen last time, and this time one even dove out of the cave and flew beautifully over the grasses by the road.

We could have stayed all day, but luckily Jen reminded us there was another owl to be found. We’d seen photos of the Snowy Owl perched on a red post.

Not an owl

We scanned and looked and eventually, we turned on an unmarked dirt road, one that was previously blocked by a creepy semi during my first trip.

This time though, the path was clear and it was along this road, we found the owl.

It was incredible. I didn’t realize how big Snowy Owls are; they’re larger than a Great Horned Owl, and smaller in length than a Great Gray Owl but with the same wingspan and a 25.6oz heavier weight. Making them the largest owl in North America by weight. Bulky as a barrel but she wears it well.

After admiring from a distance and not flushing the owl, I was relieved we’d found it and proud we’d adhered to good birding ethics. It is tempting to hug owls sometimes, but we resisted.

But we couldn’t resist looking for more. We left and went to stare at a row of willows that I’ve stared at once before.

But this time was way better because I found my first perched Long-eared Owl!

So obvious

They’re mostly invisible. And smaller and larger than I thought they’d be. Mythical I’d say. Just when you think you see one it disappears. And then you see one and three more and then none. We found four before they melted back into the branches.

It was such a great success, three species of owls and it was only mid-day! Plenty of time left to look for more, so we headed to a park along the Snake River.

Along the way, Jacob pointed out his two reliable Great Horned Owls, right where they’re supposed to be tangled in the thicket.

Finally we arrived at the park where two years ago I saw my first Northern Saw-whet Owl with Tomas. It was amazing then and still amazing now.

I’d forgotten how small they are! Only about 8″, it would take three saw-whets to reach the height of a Snowy Owl. We found two.

The second one was holding a rodent.

Mine.

Below on the ground we found more evidence of their kills.

It makes me wonder. According to BirdWeb saw-whets are sit-and-wait predators that hunt almost exclusively at night, so when/how are they attacking yellow-rumps? My guess is YRWAs get too close and bam. Just a guess though.

We continued through the park, enjoying the now sunny weather, as we bumped into more owls including these Great-horned Owls

Not just one owl

This park is wild and lovely.

I’m still reeling from the number of owls three people and three dogs (a six-pack!) can find in a day. We’d found 16 individuals and 5 species. Surreal!

In the evening we toasted over beers, nachos, and burgers to the best day of owls and to the possibilities of what we might find next.

Owls, owls, and owls,

Audrey

Whitaker Ponds Nature Park

One of my favorite parks is Whitaker Ponds Nature Park. Ever since my first time there I knew it was a special place. It’s a small (but productive) park at 24 acres with a 1/2-mile flat loop trail. Completely surrounded by urban land, it is a mini-oasis for birds.

And for myself. Here I saw my first Common Merganser, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Great Egret, and Anna’s Hummingbird. And later in the summer my first Western Tanager and Warbling Vireo. And I’ve once seen a family of river otters in the pond.

Needless to say, I’m sentimental about the place.

In the past year, it’s gone through some changes. Where there once was a gorgeous willow tree and field now is a parking lot. I’m kicking myself for not taking more “before” photos, but I hadn’t known about the project until after it was gone. Danger Garden took one of the best photos of that willow tree I could find on the internet. Here’s a couple I took of the progress.

Of course there’s pros and cons, there’s better parking, which will make people feel more comfortable visiting, and hopefully then more people will care about the park. There’s still a problem of transients living and littering in certain forested areas, but in general it’s getting better.

Better?

I’ve recently started following the Columbia Slough Watershed Council on Instagram, they’ve organized and implemented a ton of restoration work on the park. They also provide updates on water levels and beaver activities. (thanks for keeping the beavers, birds, and me happy!)

I’ve seen 87 species at Whitaker Ponds (it even gave me 40 species in my 5-mile radius). Most recent additions were a Hermit Thrush that surprised me before bulleting away as quick as it could.

A Glaucous-winged Gull flyover (no photos), and a female Barrow’s Goldeneye (more yellow on that bill).

Compared to the female Common Goldeneye below (more black bill with yellow tip) and male (right), also hanging in the slough.

While observing the goldeneyes I heard an enticing “zu-wee, zu-wee, zu-wee” and I turned around to the best looks ever of a Hutton’s Vireo.

Thicker bill than Ruby-crowned Kinglet and gray feet (vs. yellow on RCKI).

There were two singing back and forth. Along with endless Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Townsend’s Warblers.

Also on this trip I saw the reliable Black Phoebe.

And I got a quick glimpse of a Spotted Sandpiper.

Just before I spooked a Cooper’s Hawk.

This park is full of surprises. Even sneaky Great Horned Owls.

I wish I could visit every day. It’s less than a 10-minute drive from my house and now that the construction’s completed really I have no excuse. I’ll make a point to visit more often and make it a goal to find more species. I was going to say 100 (since I’m at 87), but that might be a stretch since the top eBirder at the park (Nick Mrvelj) has 97. But we’ll see!

Cheers to local patches!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Florida: Boyd Hill Nature Preserve and Lake Seminole Park

Last Florida post! In the final days of my trip, my dad and I visited a couple of local city parks, one in St. Petersburg called Boyd Hill Nature Preserve. This park reminded me of Texas parks; there’s an admission fee, set hours (nature is closed on Mondays), a gift shop, and even an optional tram service. Aside from all that there’s marsh, swamp, oaks, and scrubland goodness that winds 6 miles through trails and boardwalks.

There’s also an aviary with rehabbed birds where I saw my only Eastern Screech Owl of the trip. Nice squinty face.

My dad and I walked the trails dodging troops of singing children and searched for what birds we could find. There’d be long stretches of quiet, and then a bustle of birds would turn up.

The biggest showing was on one single bush. I would love to know what kind of plant this is (Sideroxylon salicifolium, willow-bustic, white bully?). It hosted Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Followed by:

Palm Warbler

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Antcatcher)

Pine Warbler and Downy Woodpecker (trust me).

Also a Northern Cardinal and Carolina Wren, followed by my only Carolina Chickadee of the trip.

And here I had my first sighting of a Tufted Titmouse.

10 species in one bush all at once! It was incredible.

Tufted Titmice show up, and all of a sudden they multiply and many more call a scratchy “tsee-tsee-tsee,” as they gather together in the treetops then all disappear again.

I think around this point I mentioned I hadn’t seen a Black-and-white Warbler yet on the trip, and voilà, one showed up!

If only it always worked like that.

We had a good Pileated-Red-bellied Woodpecker combo.

And the end of a boardwalk that led us to this perfect Anhinga statue.

I’m so happy this exists. Good job Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.

Moving on to my dad’s local patch in Seminole, FL, Lake Seminole Park, where first thing in the morning I had a blurry lifer Monk Parakeet flyover.

Still counts

We then found a great pair of Purple Gallinule. A young brown one.

And a purple adult.

By then it was time to say goodbye to some of Florida’s best birds.

Northern Cardinal

Little Blue Heron

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Osprey

Noisy nutty Blue Jay

We had another warbler flurry that included Yellow-throated Warbler.

Prairie Warbler.

And Pine Warbler.

In the shrubs we coaxed out a Brown Thrasher.

And passed a “soon to be flying squirrel.” Good one, dad.

Mushrooms were clearly in bloom.

I noted a White Peacock butterfly.

And drug my feet leaving the park. We finally called it a day when we found a Wood Stork that hadn’t been there moments before.

Hanging with his friend, Great Egret. It was one of those classic Florida birding moments that I’ve grown to love (and miss!). Until next time, Florida!

See you later alligator.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey