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Birds on the Hook

January 16, 2017

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It is STILL snowing in the frozen Columbia River Gorge, a good month after it started.  As I post pictures that look black & white you can see snow falling in many of them.  I finally have a system to stay warm when I leave the house in 7º temperatures, without investing in ski-wear:  heavy leggings under my thick hiking pants with rain-pants over; 3 tops plus wool sweater and coat; wool socks over regular socks plus toe warmers slipped into fur-lined boots; a heavy scarf covering my head, neck and ears with 2 hats over that; and finally glove liners inside my gloves with hand warmers between and mittens over.

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Yesterday at ‘The Hook’ a group of friends met for coffee then a bit of bird-watching…or finding….or simply enjoying.

steider-studios-bird-walk-1-15-17-16It was frozen, quiet and snowing and most of the birds we saw looked like they were doing their best to stay warm.

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The first bird we saw after a couple of Bald Eagles was a Great Blue Heron.  Doesn’t he look cold?

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Shortly after seeing us he took off upriver to the next frozen rock outcrop.

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We saw Greater and Lesser Scaup resting offshore.

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A Bufflehead flew close to the river…

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…and unknown (to me) ducks flew high overhead.

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Lesser Scaup drake…

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…and another Lesser Scaup drake.

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Greater Scaup female.

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Snowfall diffused sound but we heard a train heading toward us.  Looking west between shoreline and Wells Island we used scopes to see waterfowl including Gadwall, Canvasback, Coot, Grebes, and Canada Goose.

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Mallards swam near the shoreline on the west side of The Hook.

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A Bald Eagle perched near the nest on the north side of Wells Island with a snowy Underwood Mountain in the background.

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A Common Merganser female appeared from around the corner…

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…and took off as soon as she realized I was there!

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Looking across to Wells Island we saw a swarm of blackbirds and robins foraging on the shoreline.

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This is the south side of Wells Island, looking west down the gorge.

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A Killdeer hopped along the shore as I stood looking at Wells Island.  Did I mention it was snowing?

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A Horned Grebe fished in the distance.  Notice the ice chunks?  By now it was about 14º.

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We headed back to our cars but watched the river as we walked and spotted a female Redhead!

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Thankfully my friends are expert birders and discussed details that identified her species for me.

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We continued watching ducks arrive as we slowly headed back to where we parked.

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Last shot of the day ….a female Greater Scaup taking off down the river.

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On Friday I took a little trip up to Trout Lake, at the base of Mt Adams to photograph a bird.

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A RARE bird in Washington State.  I’m told this is only the second documented sighting in my state. EVER!

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It’s a Gray-headed Junco hanging out at Jim & Kathy White’s feeders!  Kathy first noticed it on Jan 2 at their feeders with a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos.  It has come back each day, all week.

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You know I had to invite myself to go up and see it!  Even if it didn’t show up for me, I HAD to take the chance, drive our snowy roads and maintain hope that it would grace me with its presence.

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Local birding expert, Stuart Johnston went with me and to our delight the unusual bird showed up for us!!

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As I well knew, my first shot through the window was not crispy clear.  I was going to have to photograph it outside if I wanted a decent shot.  I quietly exited the back door and peered around the corner, waiting and hoping this special bird would allow me to photograph him.

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He did not disappoint.  Even with triple layers of clothing, double gloves, plus coat, hat, scarf, hand and toe warmers I could only stay outside for 10 to 15 minute intervals in the 10º temperature.

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Confirmed via email and photographic documentation ahead of my visit, from several top-level birding experts in Washington and Oregon the sighting still goes through a process within Washington Ornithological Society for it to be a valid sighting..

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Jim and Kathy have turned in a ‘Rare Bird Report’ to the Washington Ornithological Society and I’m proud to say they’re using my photos in addition to their own for documentation.

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This is a Dark-eyed ‘Oregon’ Junco, the typical Junco we have in our area.  You can see how different they are from the Gray-headed.

~My first sighting of a Catbird last summer, Bohemian Waxwings in December, and now my first sighting of the Gray-headed Junco, Trout Lake is turning into BIRD Central!!~

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I celebrated the last day of 2016 by participating in the Columbia Hills Christmas Bird Count.  There were four of us in Jane’s car, all focused on finding birds in and around Goldendale Washington on a brilliant-blue-sky but frigid day.

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After counting all the birds surrounding the wastewater treatment plant ~ thousands (!!!),

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…including a Northern Shrike who was very far away, we headed into residential Goldendale.

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We traversed block after city block with a stop at Ekone Park.  A pair of Red-tailed Hawks perched as sentries on tree tops at both sides of the entrance.

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We hiked along the stream from the parking lot to the bridge and although there wasn’t a lot of activity, we found a Ruby-crowned Kinglet!

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A Golden-crowned Sparrow was foraging on a lawn above the bridge.

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A Scrub Jay flew overhead, taking his treasure to possibly eat in a warmer spot.

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We found plenty of trees and shrubs full of the regular suspects, in this case House Sparrows with some finches tucked in between.

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We found a group of mixed Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings (yay!).

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Bohemians have a buffy body, white tips on their wing feathers and little or no white on their forehead.

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We met up with a second carload of counters who had finished  their section and wanted to see more Goldendale birds.

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We spotted a few Red-tailed Hawks as we continued our drive through town and along the outskirts.

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In one neighborhood we found three Wilson’s Snipes foraging in a tiny stream!  How do I know they were Wilson’s, not Common?  Because lucky me I had experts on my team!

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In this one tiny area we also saw a dozen Robins, and a couple of Scrub Jays, Chickadees, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned Sparrows…..

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……Spotted Towhees, House Finches and about a dozen Golden-crowned Sparrows.

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Over two dozen California Quail ran or flew to the other side of the street while we watched all the action in, over and surrounding the stream.

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Finished with our assigned section, we decided to head out Bickleton Hwy in search of anything interesting outside of town.  Yes!  A Rough-legged Hawk awaited us.

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Isn’t he beautiful?!  I believe this is my first sighting of a Rough-legged and I’ve fallen in love.

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We followed him in flight over barns and farmhouses as we continued our drive.

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Another raptor delighted us with his presence, a Northern Harrier.

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A big surprise was a group of seven Gray Partridges.  It’s uncommon to find them on agricultural land.

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Our last sighting for the day was a group of Bald Eagles circling overhead on our way back to town.

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I saw two adults and 2 or 3 juveniles (I knew I should have written this immediately as my recollection fades).

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One juvenile soared closer…

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…and landed in the top of a nearby Pine tree.

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He then took off as another eagle flew close to his landing spot.

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All in all a very good day spent with great company!

 

 

 

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