My trip to The Blue Mountains of Washington

I've always wanted to see some Green-tailed Towhees in the Blue Mountains, which is an area of WA I've never been to before. I'm sure glad I went as it was beautiful!!!

So since I'm driving so far might as well stop at a few places before hitting your main goal right? Well I went to a special spot between Ellensburg and Selah for White-headed woodpeckers and got a lovely male!!  Also at this spot I found a Gray flycatcher and two Roosevelt Elk staring at me. In the night, 10pm, I had 3 common poorwill on a dirt road called Oak Creek nearby in Naches as well! In the daytime it was loaded with 6 Lewis' Woodpeckers by the way :).

Getting back to the Blue Mountains....  Some of the roads are pretty terrible to find the towhees but the views are stunning and the fields of garbanzo bean crops colours are beautiful. The area is full of wild turkeys, catbirds, CORDILLERAN flycatchers (only place to get them in WA just like the Green-tailed Towhees), yellow-breasted chat, Vaux and black swift, veery, flickers, GGOW, great horned owl, ruffed grouse, black-chinned and calliope hummers and more!

So upon entering the road I had a great horned owl fly overhead, I figured this was a good omen!! It was 6 am and up on the ridge it was already 93F which is well over 30C. This is 6 am!

So anyways it's not easy to find GTTO on this hillside and that's putting it mildly.  So let me explain the towhees are in Oregon and further south like Arizona where they do not act skittish like they do here.  In WA this area Coppei Creek is in the blue mountains which is past Walla Walla and past the tiny quaint town of Dixie which is just on the border of Oregon. So this is the farthest north these little guys come up. They stay in the high mountains and like to be down slope on inaccessible ridges full of rose thorns and dangerous steep sides. So what happens, I fall into roses and rocks and get a huge bruise and gash on my knee ... but unrelenting I keep going. It's now 8 am. I got my first towhee after two hours of hiking around in the heat and I got a five second flash of the green tail. For all I know it's a headless towhee :lol:.

I'm unsatisfied so I continued and I hiked in there up and down until 3pm and ended up with 6 GTTO's and two pictures and none are great but they have their face in the photo :wink: . Probably the hardest I have worked for a bird in a long time, it felt good.

Next I drove down to Moses Lake because I needed to swim I was so hot and so dusty from the gravel roads.
By the way I never heard or saw a CORDILLERAN flycatcher up there only pacific-slope, willow and dusky and almost every other bird you can imagine chippers, yellow warblers, spotted towhee, lazuli etc.

My car accumulated about 50 pounds of dust and almost got stuck on a road Biscuit Ridge that really should be 4wd only with deep ruts and which was extremely high centered. Speaking of that... I ran into a nice older gentleman who wore a cowboy hat, who told me he has lived here since 1960 and that I "really shouldn't be driving that little car up them there roads because it could end up in the crick!" He was too cute and too right! They tell you to listen to your elders for a reason!!

I stopped at Rooks Park in Walla Walla on the way down as I heard it was good for LESSER goldfinch well it was GOOD! Had four in about four seconds fly over my head and found a western wood-pewee nest there too with young! These goldfinches are becoming less and less rare in WA now as they are moving further north.

So on my way to Moses lake I decided to stop at McCain ponds since I dipped on Tricoloured blackbirds at Dodd /Tyson ponds. However it was not a total loss since they had thirty seven Wilson's phalaropes and I saw where a barn owl colony is nesting in a natural rock cavity site. Wouldn't it be amazing if we had that sort of natural nesting site for this species in BC! Anyways an osprey is nesting with the barn owls which I found highly interesting and unusual.

Tons of black-necked stilts, EAKI's and WEKI's and Magpies everywhere many I lost count and so many beautiful American White Pelicans one of my favourite birds. Lots of Lark Sparrows on Dodd road and meadowlarks too.

Dipped on Franklin's gull but saw plenty of caspian terns, Great Egrets, and short billed dowitchers on the river delta and semipalmated sandpiper.

So back to where I was on the way to Moses lake ... Stopped off at McCain ponds and guess what had ten Tri-coloured blackbirds! Ten! Last month in the same spot I had to fight to find three with a scope! Well this time the darn birds were visible before I pulled up to park at the side of the road! I even got photos this time plus a sora and many more stilts and forster's tern here to boot and yellow-headed blackbirds. I have never seen so many Tricoloured together in WA! Plus so easy to identity with bins only.

So with a happy heart I drove to look at the bank swallow and rough-winged colony that I visited on my last trip in Othello last month past the terrible smelling McCain plant and got to see Burrowing owls but now with owlets!! They were too adorable for words.

So I took another back road short cut on a dirt road via Lind Coulee and so glad I did because when I got there to my delight there was four Clark's Grebe  near to shore  including a mom with babies on her back!!

So only a few more Kms or should I say miles (as I was told by one person already when giving directions  "miss this is America we use miles here not kilometers" and I was in the water at Moses lake. It was refreshing, after such a hot and arduous but satisfying day!!

After swimming for an hour and it being 730pm I decided to drive on to Yakima because I wanted the Ash-throated Flycatchers in Naches and the Black-backed woodpeckers in Bethel Ridge in the morning.

At the Ash-throated Flycatcher spot in bear canyon I had a common nighthawk fly over in the daylight and found a golden eagle nest across the canyon plus many white-breasted nuthatches and a Rock Wren. The Ash-throated flycatcher adults (I saw two) were very chatty and truly striking birds.

At Bethel ridge at the angel lake burn area there were 3 black-backed woodpeckers and many Calliope hummers constantly whizzing by my head which was pretty cool.

The Black-backed Woodpeckers took over two hours to find which is typical of woodpecker locating and it was hot but at least not as hot as the blue mountains because of the shade and trees. My photo of this species is also typical of my three-toed variety which I seem to have great difficulty.

Driving back down from the angel lake burn area, I heard woodpeckers calling and they sounded really panicked, so I stuck my head out the car window and couldn't see anything. So I got out and what did I see, a fledgling White-headed Woodpecker to my delight! Upon closer inspection three fledglings and two adults were uncovered in a tree so I saw a family of five White-headed Woodpeckers, making 6 in total over the weekend. This is my personal record for the most I've seen at any one time in my life! A great way to end the day and trip for me!

After this headed home to Vancouver.

It was really a wonderful trip! Here are a few of my photos:

Lesser Goldfinch in Walla Walla - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Black-backed Woodpecker at Bethel Ridge - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Green-tailed Towhee near Dixie, WA - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Tricolored Blackbird in Othello - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Male White-headed Woodpecker near Ellensburg - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Ash-throated Flycatcher in Naches - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Clark's Grebe at Lind Coulee - Photo: Melissa Hafting


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