Date: 3/19/17 11:27 pm From: Eric Heisey <magicman32...> Subject: [Tweeters] Yakima County Big Day (March 19)
Today, I met up with Andy and Ellen Stepniewski at 7:00am to do a not-so-serious Yakima county big day. We started out with 4 American White Pelicans below my house, then headed to Kerry's Pond. At Kerry's Pond there were 6 Redheads, 3 Dunlin, 1 Least Sandpiper, and 2 Black-necked Stilts. We thought this was a pretty good start to the day, and decided to start heading towards Priest Rapids in hopes of some good waterbirds to pad our list.
Along the way, we stopped at Van Belle reservoir, Lewandowski Rd, and along hwy 241. Van Belle reservoir had nothing too exciting, the best bird being a male Lesser Scaup. Lewandowski was better, giving us Long-billed Curlews, 4 Say's Phoebes, and a mixed flock of 1000+ Blackbirds and Starlings with 25 Brown-headed Cowbirds in it. We missed Ferruginous Hawk, but oh well. Along hwy 241 we decided to stop to try for some shrub steppe birds, and were not disappointed! We were treated to nice views of two warbling Sage Thrashers and a Loggerhead Shrike. It was 9:00am by the time we were leaving, time to move on the Priest Rapids!
Priest Rapids was calm, allowing us to easily scope across from Grant county and see some birds on the Yakima county side. There were impressive numbers of waterfowl, the best being 8 Red-breasted Mergansers and several Barrow's Goldeneyes, mixed in with the usual suspects. We also compiled an impressive list of Gulls, with Ring-billed, California, Herring, and Glaucous-winged. Andy called out a Golden Eagle, evidently migrating north above the ridge. Below the dam at Jackson Fish Camp, we watched a Prairie Falcon eat a meal near its nest and listened to calling Chukars across the river. Now off to Toppenish!
On the way over hwy 241, we decided to stop and look over the fields north of Lewandowski Rd again. Just as we had hoped, we were able to spot a Ferruginous Hawk sitting on the ground! We headed off towards Toppenish, taking a detour by Mabton.
Mabton is really a great place for birds, undercovered in my opinion. Stopping at Morgan Lake we added many dabbling ducks to our list, as well as Pied-billed Grebe and our first Tree Swallow of the day. The boat launch proved too flooded for many birds, but did have a flock of 10 Cliff Swallows circling overhead. Along hwy 22, a huge flock of 2500 geese continued, with a Snow Goose still present.
Our next stop was the Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge. Scoping from the hwy 97 ponds, Andy again spotted a Golden Eagle, this one a beautiful immature soaring with a raven. Carrying on down Pumphouse Rd, we ran into John Hebert. We teamed up to locate two singing Sagebrush Sparrows (one giving us nice looks), a Prairie Falcon, and a Northern Shrike. Along Lateral C there was a Snow Goose with a few Canada Geese. Lateral C is impassable in the center, and John tipped us off to a Eurasian Wigeon he had found on the south side. This meant a detour around, but it payed off. We found John's Eurasian Wigeon, along with 7 Greater Yellowlegs and 21 Dunlin. We headed east down Marion Drain where we were able to relocate a roosting Barn Owl in a bank. Andy and Ellen had seen two Osprey's along I82 early in the morning, but I still hadn't, so we headed back to I82 in hopes of seeing these birds again. There was one sitting on a platform near Buena!
We had originally planned to go to Popoff trail to clean up some of our misses (Bewick's Wren, Great Blue Heron, California Quail), but we decided instead to go look for some more interesting birds in the mountains. At first we thought this might have been a mistake, but it turned out to be great! Stopping at the Y intersection of hwy 12 and hwy 410, we turned up several new birds, including a Virginia Rail and Lewis's Woodpecker. Feeling better about our decision, we headed up to the Oak Creek Elk feeding station, where we immediatly noticed a Prairie Falcon. As we got out and started looking around, we found many more good birds. Highlights here we're a Bushtit and White-throated Swifts. Andy added that this is the earliest he has seen White-throated Swifts in Yakima county. A little further up the road, we found a Canyon Wren, more Swifts, and my personal highlight of the day, another Golden Eagle! This individual gave us wonderful looks as it landed on a bare snag across the canyon above where it has nested for the past few years. A spectacular sight!
It was getting late, but we decided to head up to the Tieton Airport Marsh in hopes of some more mountain birds. We didn't do as well here, managing only Mountain Chickadee and a few Red-breasted Nuthatches, but these were still nice. As it was getting late, we had to think about heading back towards home (and towards food!). Driving down hwy 12 south of Naches, I spotted a Peregrine Falcon in the top of a cottonwood, our last new bird of the day!
We ended the day with 95 species! Our most significant misses were Bewick's Wren, Great Blue Heron, and Belted Kingfisher, but with all the cool stuff we saw we can hardly complain. All in all a great day of birding with some great people.