Spring Washington May 30—Jun 07, 2006

Posted by Bob Sundstrom


Bob Sundstrom

Bob Sundstrom has led VENT tours since 1989 to many destinations throughout North America, as well as Hawaii, Mexico, Belize, Trinidad & Tobago, Japan, Turkey, Iceland,...

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Our Spring Washington tour explores the scenic Pacific Northwest at the peak of the nesting season, when most bird species are in full song and in their finest breeding plumage. VENT's other Washington tours feature the western side of the state, but most of our spring tour takes place in the interior of the state?east of the Cascade Mountains?which has the greatest species diversity in the warmer months. The tour focuses on many northwestern and western U.S. specialty bird species.

Our 2006 tour began with a day in the Puget Sound lowlands, an hour south of Seattle. That morning a diminutive Northern Pygmy-Owl perched nicely atop a tree, calling, as we watched it for a long time in the spotting scope. The same area gave us good views of a Red-breasted Sapsucker, an exquisitely patterned Black-throated Gray Warbler, a singing Hutton's Vireo, and Willow and Pacific Slope flycatchers. At Bob's country home nearby, we watched a scintillating male Rufous Hummingbird perched at eye level, and a multicolored show on the seed feeders that included Purple Finches, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and American Goldfinches, as Steller's Jays and Western Scrub-Jays hopped nearby. The same afternoon we crossed the Cascade Mountains at Snoqualmie Pass, into the east side of the state.

The next morning began with a flush of blue: Lazuli Buntings, Mountain Bluebirds, and Western Bluebirds?each a different shade of azure. We watched the wonderful singers of the sagebrush in full song: Brewer's and Vesper sparrows, and Sage Thrasher. Further out the road that morning, as we passed into the pines, we found a much-anticipated White-headed Woodpecker, and then our first Lewis's Woodpeckers of the tour. Townsend's Solitaires flitted by the roadside, and an adult Great Horned Owl perched near a very large, but still half downy owlet. A male Calliope Hummingbird sat atop an elderberry bush, flashing the long, purple streamers of its gorget toward the scope.

A Canyon Wren and a Rock Wren sang in the open the following morning at the base of a rugged basalt face. Wilson's Snipe and Horned Larks sat atop fence posts at the roadside, and Long-billed Curlews foraged in a roadside pasture. As we stood near the sheer rock walls of Selah Canyon, White-throated Swifts careened by at eye level, and a Prairie Falcon sprinted out from the canyon.

The fourth morning of the tour found us working our way up a beautiful canyon in the Entiat Mountains, from its mouth at the Columbia River to its forested realms at over 3,000 feet. A Chukar warmed itself atop a rock pile in the morning sun, and Clark's Nutcrackers called gruffly and perched in the pines. The creek-side thickets rang with the songs of Yellow-breasted Chats and Bullock's Orioles, and we watched Cassin's Vireo and Townsend's Warbler sing from the conifers. That afternoon we continued north toward the Okanogan region in north-central Washington, stopping en route for our first look at a boldly patterned Williamson's Sapsucker.

With three nights in Omak, we would have two full days and another morning to explore the Okanogan region, one of the richest in overall bird diversity in the Northwest?and among the most scenically spectacular. Snow blocked the forest roads above 6,000 feet in the highlands, where we may have seen Spruce Grouse, but we still climbed high enough on the forest roads for excellent looks at American Three-toed Woodpecker and Boreal Chickadee (the last of four chickadee species for the tour). A male Blue Grouse displayed openly on the ground in an aspen grove, showing off its colorful neck markings as it strutted slowly forward. The lakes and ponds of the Okanogan were loaded with nesting species, such as dapper Black Terns, Wilson's Phalaropes, nest-building Red-necked Grebes, and showy Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Ducks included Barrow's Goldeneye; Hooded Merganser; Cinnamon, Blue-winged, and Green-winged teal; Redheads; Ring-necked and Wood ducks; Buffleheads; and both scaup species.

Our final day's drive took us across the North Cascades Highway through magnificent alpine scenery. Bird highlights included terrific views of a singing Varied Thrush and Winter Wren, a Red-naped Sapsucker at close range, "Slate-colored" Fox Sparrow, and the much hoped for and sometimes elusive Black Swift.

Some of the other birds seen on our tour were Golden Eagle; California Quail; Band-tailed Pigeon; Vaux's Swift; Hammond's and Dusky flycatchers; Gray Jay; Black-billed Magpie; Violet-green Swallow; Mountain Chickadee; Pygmy Nuthatch; American Dipper; Orange-crowned, MacGillivray's, Nashville, and Wilson's warblers; Northern Waterthrush; Spotted Towhee; Bobolink; Western Meadowlark; Cassin's Finch; Evening Grosbeak; and Red Crossbill.

Lots of great scenery, good food, comfortable lodging, and fine camaraderie helped make this an even more memorable tour.