Date: 12/31/17 6:25 pm
From: B B <birder4184...>
Subject: [Tweeters] Closing the Year in the Okanogan
I had not visited the Okanogan this year and although I think February is better, I thought I would end the year there and maybe start the year there as well.  Absence of birds (with some exceptions) and VERY COLD temperatures and snowy roads made the decision to return today instead of waiting another day easy.  I followed some of Jon Houghton's path with mixed and differing results.  On the way up I did find a few Pine Grosbeak near where Jon had them on Badge Mountain - but unlike his cooperative photo friendly ones, mine were first heard and then seen flying into distant pines,  That was yesterday late morning.  The rest of the day was pretty much a bust.  Almost no birds in the Highlands and definitely no Great Gray at Havillah.  I was there late afternoon and temperatures made it into the single digits.  Earlier I had looked for Sharp Tailed Grouse both at Bridgeport Hill and at Scotch Creek - nada - maybe because of the hunters there.  Per Jon there were lots of raptors around mostly Rough Legged Hawks.  I also checked the cow pasture with feeding stations on Conconully Road hoping for Gray Partridge - none - lots of Quail and some Ringed Necked Pheasants plus Magpies (lots of those in the area),  I had maybe 200 Horned Larks in the Waterville Plateau - far fewer than other visits - and again no Partridge and no Snow Buntings.
The Highlands were almost totally devoid of birds - a few raptors, 1 Mountain Chickadee and zero finches or owls.  Not a great day.
Last night was very cold - my water bottle was frozen as was wiper fluid when I started the car around 7:10.  It was between 12 and 15 as I revisited Conconully Road and Scotch Creek this morning.  I stopped first at the pasture - no birds at all.  At the Scotch Creek Wildlife area between Happy Hill and Salmon Creek Roads I found 7 Sharp Tailed Grouse in trees along the creek.  Not great light so I drove into Conconully (finding nothing) and returned hoping for some distant photos - no longer in the tree when I returned.  (It had warmed to 16 degrees!!)  I drove about 1.5 miles or so up Happy Hill Road and flushed two more grouse.  Snow turned me back.
I returned to the cow pasture field and found 4 Ring Necked Pheasants (which Ebird said had not been reported in the area???) and maybe 50 quail bit no partridge.  Kestrels, Rough Legs, a Harrier and many Magpies and Rock Pigeon plus a flock of Starlings.
On Riverside Cutoff Road I found a Golden Eagle perched on a rock and got nice photos with white wing and rump patches in flight.
I considered going to Molson area where Jon had found a flock of Gray Crowned Rosy Finches but given the temperature and experience of the previous day I decided to try Cameron Lake Road looking for American Tree Sparrows and then head home.
Just as I was heading on the northern most part of Cameron Lake Road I flushed a flock of Common Redpolls - the only ones I saw on the trip.  Maybe as many as 50.  They went from road to fence wire to field and I got some photos.  Cameron Lake Road became quite snowy after a couple of miles.  The Tree Sparrow spot is closer to the south end so I back tracked and then hit the southern end and gave that a try.  About 3 miles in I came onto a flock of birds on the road.  At first it looked like mostly Horned Larks but there were clearly some Sow Buntings - then a large flock of all Snow Buntings joined them.  There were at least 50 and maybe 75.  I continued up the road for another mile or two.  As I debated whether to carry on, I flushed a small flock of birds from next to the road.  At first I thought they were more Larks, but I got good looks at gray crowns and rosy chests and rumps.  Perhaps 12-18 Gray Crowned Rosy Finches - made their soft calls as they flew off.  I decided this was a sign to turn back (the deeper untracked snow was actually more persuasive).  Also had more Magpies, Kestrels, quail,  and Rough legs.  So it turned into a successful trip even if until Cameron Lake Road, numbers were very low.
The Okanogan is gorgeous at all times and the serenity under a blanket of snow is very appealing.  BUT it is very remote and there were miles and miles where i was the only car.  I had survival gear with me - just in case, but those single digit temperatures were scary.   As reported by Jon and Bill the feeders at Nealey Road are inactive - a great loss.  Jon speculates that they may have sustained a lot of birds in the area.  Don't know about that but there were no birds seen anywhere in the area.
Happy New Year to all...concerned it may be a pretty poor one for Hawks - er Seahawks :-(
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