Date: 6/24/18 12:18 pm From: David Irons <llsdirons...> Subject: [obol] A nearby great place to go birding that won't help your Oregon list....(long)
It had been a few years since we had last gone exploring in Klickitat County, Washington, but we were reminded once again why this is one of our favorite places to bird in all of the Pacific Northwest. It starts out with constant scenic backdrop of Mt. Adams, which positively glows on a bright summer day. Then of course there are the huckleberry shakes and smoothies at the little cafe in the town of Trout Lake. Jim Danzenbaker, Shaween and I spent a glorious day poking around some of our favorite haunts to the south and east of Mt. Adams. Since we were driving our low-clearance Prius, we did not go up into the burn looking for woodpeckers, not that we had trouble finding them otherwise.
Our primary mission yesterday was to return to an area where we had found Fox Sparrows back in 2013. At the time, it was believed that Thick-billed Fox Sparrows didn't summer or breed as far north as Washington. Up to that point I had not paid enough attention to Thick-billed vs. Slate-colored Fox Sparrows to know how to tell them apart. Subsequent study gave me cause to revisit photos of a bird we found near Conboy NWR on 26 May 2013. It shows features consistent with Thick-billed Fox Sparrow. Other birders have since found and reported Thick-billed Fox Sparrows in Washington and the state's records committee has accepted them as such. Try as we might, we could never relocate the exact spot that we recollected from five years ago. It may be that it has become overgrown and thus not as open and brushy as it was then. We did stop and check a bunch of patches of manzanita that looked good for Fox Sparrow. Ultimately, we found none, which was the only downer on a day that produced nearly 90 species in the county. The only "water" birds we saw were Mallard and Great Blue Heron (not even a Killdeer).
Jim met us in east Vancouver at 5:00AM then we headed east up the Gorge on WA Hwy 14. Our first stop was Home Valley Park in eastern Skamania County. It is right on the Columbia River and has a dense riparian area and tall cottonwoods. During the early June Washington Ornithological Society (WOS) conference (based in Hood River) an American Redstart was found singing there. It was pretty windy yesterday making it hard to hear the high, thin song of a redstart. We failed to relocate the redstart, not that this necessarily means it is gone. Multiple MacGillivray's Warblers, Common Yellowthroats and Swainson's Thrushes among the 14 species we saw in the park.
Continuing east towards White Salmon, we turned north on WA Hwy Alt-141 and followed this road to the sprawling metropolis of BZ Corner, before turning east towards Conboy National Wildlife Refuge on the BZ-Glenwood Hwy. After going up over a ridge through forested habitats for several miles, the road drops into some open pasturelands with pine/fir margins. Stops along this road yielded mostly expected birds like Savannah Sparrows, American Goldfinches, Eurasian-Collared and Mourning Doves and a couple Western Kingbirds. A bit farther east we found a brushy slope that appeared to have Fox Sparrow potential (it didn't). Forest birds including our first of many Nashville Warblers were among the birds seen here.
We then turned north on Laurel Road, which passes through some nice mixed fir-pine forest with occasional openings and then drops into the Conboy Lake basin. The open grasslands along the northern section of Laurel Rd (north of Kreps Road) has nesting Eastern Kingbirds and we found an adult sitting next to a nest right along the road. We also found a singing Grasshopper Sparrow among the many Savannah Sparrows along this stretch. Western Meadowlarks are abundant as well and we saw a few pairs of Sandhill Cranes, which nest in this area.
Over the next couple hours our attentions were focused on trying to find Fox Sparrows. We checked several forest openings with dense clusters of waist-to-chest high manzanita in the general area around the intersection of Laurel, Kreps, and Trout Lake-Laurel Roads. Nashville Warblers, Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warblers, Purple Finches, Western Tanagers, Black-throated Gray Warblers, Cassin's Vireos, Western Wood-Pewees, Spotted Towhees, Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos were found virtually everywhere we stopped, but no Fox Sparrows. The Spotted Towhees (subspecies curtatus) in this area are far more spotted than those most of us see in western Oregon. We saw juveniles and adults feeding juveniles of several species, with young juncos and Purple Finches being particularly abundant. We heard Pileated Woodpeckers and Red-breasted Sapsuckers at multiple spots and saw lots of flickers.
Jim was intimately involved in the scouting and leading WOS field trips, so he knew of several places with interesting birds. He took us to a large cleared opening along the "primitive" section of Trout Lake-Laurel Road, which is easily passable for a normal car. There we had multiple Townsend's Solitaires, Western Bluebirds, Purple Finches and White-crowned Sparrows (pugetensis types). We also had Olive-sided Flycatcher here. From there we doubled back down to Laurel Road then took Kreps Road out through another grassland area, which yielded more Eastern Kingbirds and lots more meadowlarks.
Continuing east on Kreps we turned northeast on the BZ-Glenwood Hwy and then north on Lakeside Road looping around the east side of Conboy NWR and up towards Glenwood. We drove Troh Lane south and back to the west and onto Grubb Road along the north side of the refuge. This is mostly open pastureland with occasional patches of trees. Grubb Road intersects with Lake Road, which we took north to Cemetery Rd., turning west on Cemetery so that we could take a few minutes to bird around the Glenwood-Mt Adams cemetery SW of Glenwood. There is a nice stand of younger ponderosa pines along the east side of the cemetery and the sprinklers in the cemetery seem to be running all the time during the summer. It's almost always quite birdy here. We found Mountain Chickadees in the pines along with a nice mix of other species that included Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Purple Finches, and Western Tanagers. Jim heard a Lark Sparrow singing across the road. He and I heard it sing about 30 times but never saw it. Before moving on, we enjoyed yet another spectacular view of Mt. Adams.
During the WOS conference several good birds had been found along the road into the Conboy NWR refuge visitor's center (Wildlife Refuge Road) and right at the visitor's center. On the way in, I spotted a Gray Flycatcher off in the trees, so we got out to investigate further. While I was off taking photos of the flycatcher, which is a fairly common breeder in the dry semi-open pine forests of Klickitat, Jim and Shawneen found an active White-headed Woodpecker nest on the opposite side of the road. I joined them to watch as the adult came to feed the nestlings. After the adult flew off, one of the nestlings sat with its head sticking out of the nest hole for several minutes. Like the juveniles of other Picoides woodpeckers, young White-headeds have a red crown that is not retained into adulthood. Jim also knew about a Least Flycatcher that had been calling for several weeks in the aspens near the visitor's center. We weren't out of the car more than a couple minutes before we heard the flycatcher. Shawneen spotted a pair of Red-breasted Sapsuckers working on a small aspen. Shawneen got some nice audio recordings of its che-bek "song" of the Least, while Jim and I staked out the hummer feeders by the visitor's center. Two Calliopes and a Rufous came in while we watched and several Cassin's Finches, including one begging juvenile, were coming to the nearby seed feeders. The woman manning the visitor's center gave us intentionally vague directions to a Black-backed Woodpecker nest back out along the entrance road. We spent some time in the general area, but never saw or heard the Black-backeds.
By this point it was late afternoon and our energy was flagging, so we drove to Trout Lake to get some sugar and coffee. The little cafe at the three-way intersection of Hwy 141 and Mt. Adams Road offers a wonderful array of treats as well as burgers that were looking pretty tasty. Jim and Shawneen got Huckleberry Shakes. I got an espresso (I was driving) and a square of delicious huckleberry coffee cake. I traded some of my coffee cake with Shawneen for some of her shake. Re-energized and in my case re-caffeinated, we got back to birding. Right across the road from the cafe in Trout Lake we walked into the trees along the creek. Veeries, Gray Catbirds and Red-eyed Vireos all breed along Trout Lake Creek. Even though it was late afternoon we immediately heard a calling Veery and a singing Red-eyed Vireo and found what was likely a Nashville Warbler nest. The Veery came in briefly to pishing and we saw the Red-eyed across the creek. From there, we drove west on Hwy 141 to Trout Lake Creek Road. We went to a riparian site about a mile or so north along Trout Lake Creek Road (turn off to the right just after the little enclave of houses after you pass the resort). I don't know the name of this place, but Jim knew about it from the WOS meetings, when a territorial Black-chinned Hummer was found here. The male Black-chinned was still present, teeing up in some tall deadish snags down by the creek. A female Black-chinned eventually came in as well. We also pished up a Gray Catbird.
After that, we took another little side road off the west side of Trout Lake Creek Road, where we added Hermit Warbler to the day list. Our last local stop of the day was along Lake Road (just west of the Mt. Adams Ranger Station). This road dead ends at the edge of Trout Lake. The attached photo was taken from the little parking area at the end of the road. We saw hundreds of swallows, a few Vaux's Swifts and enjoyed yet another stunning view of Mt. Adams before starting on our way home.
One of these days I would like to spend a full week camping and birding up in this area. The burn area and forests around timberline on the southeast flank of Mt. Adams (near the trailhead for summit hikers) offer great birding and we didn't even make it there yesterday. The riparian corridors along Trout Lake Creek, which we barely explored, are full of birds. This is the closest place to Portland and the Willamette Valley where one can expect to see breeding Veeries and Gray Catbirds. I would bet that Least Flycatcher, American Redstart and perhaps Northern Waterthrush summer somewhat regularly along this stream and its boggy riparian margins and there is certainly the possibility of other vagrants over-summering. Every time I visit and bird in Klickitat County I finding myself wishing that it wasn't two hours away. It's a healthy, but very doable day trip that I can't recommend highly enough.