Washington State Trip Report – April 2008

13th – 27th April 2008 – Washington state trip report, USA by H.Cook.  This trip came about because I was doing a weeks university work in the state of Washington, USA so I tagged a week on beforehand to get some birding in on what was for me, a new continent and country. I was limited by the fact I can’t drive so arranged to meet up with a local birder for a few of the days who I got in contact with through the birdingpal.org website. Luckily she could drive and I couldn’t wait for the trip to begin.


Mount St Helens (somewhere in the gloom!)

13th April – On flying to Seattle I had to transfer at Chicago and had my first lifer of the trip, an American Robin. I was really pleased to see this bird, only to find out later that it was one of the most common in America! No hitches with luggage at Seattle and headed into Seattle for the night. On the bus I picked up some fairly common birds but all lifers. Band-tailed Pigeon was unexpected so early in the trip and the peeps sat behind me most have been wondering what I was doing, my head moving all the time as I followed birds from the bus.


American Robin

14th April – 6am and I had met up with Rachel, the birdingpal, for a day driving north from the city, through the Skagit area, then down through Whidbey Island and back to the city again. We met up with a couple of her birding friends from around Seattle. Immediately it was good to have the local experience along as we headed north with a stop at a known Great Horned Owls nest. 3 huge Chicks sat on the nest and minutes later an adult bird called and flew in with a squirrel. They were very impressive birds but we soon moved on to the Skagit Wildlife Area (http://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/r4skagit.htm) where we would see a wide variety of species.
A road-side stop nearby at flat agricultural fields produced bundles of stuff. Hudsonian Whimbrel, Wilson’s Snipe, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow and my first ever Bald Eagle. What a beast. The colossal bill and size made them instantly obvious out on this side of the cascade mountain range. At the refuge a walk in riparian woodland adjacent to marsh and mudflat produced Bewick’s Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Savannah and Golden-crowned Sparrow, Rufous Hummer, Red-tailed Hawk and a very early Swainson’s Thrush. Even though the time of year was a little early for peak migration, the numbers of some species were huge. Both forms of Yellow-rumped Warbler dominated with birds everywhere, in every patch of woodland.


Yellow-rumped Warbler, Bewick’s Wren and Bald Eagles

We stopped many times along the quiet roads once off the freeway to check out feeders in gardens and some more marshes and added Killdeer, Bufflehead, House Finch, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, American Wigeon, Greater Yellowlegs, and Great Blue Heron to our rapidly growing day list. The Killdeer was heard before seen as it screamed its own name out. We found it attempting to nest in an active lumber yard with lorries rumbling by all the time. Apparently they are famously known in the states for nesting in silly areas but good on em if they survive!
We crossed deception pass and were on Whidbey Island, the longest island in the USA. Steep cliffs descending into the blue-green sea-water held stunning Harlequin Ducks, Double-crested Cormorants, Pelagic Cormorant, Rhino Auklet, Pigeon Guillemot, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Spotted Towhee and Dark-eyed Junco. The Harlequins were always distant but one of the highlights of the whole trip.
With the warm and sunny day progressing quickly we powered on south passing areas of lush second-growth conifers with many small glacial depressions filled with water and also birds. Mourning Dove, California Quail, American Kestrel, Marsh Wren, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, and Wood Duck were seen for the first time in these areas. There had been so many colourful birds in scenic settings. I’d had a brilliant day. At the ferry terminal where we crossed back over to the mainland, we found a large group of Barrow’s Goldeneye, all sleeping but exquisite, a top end to the day.


Barrow’s Goldeneye, Rhino Auklet and Killdeer

15th April – After yesterday’s completely crazy non-stop birding day I was up at 5am and hopped on the bus for a relaxing saunter around the 530acre Discovery Park to the north of the city. It was an opportunity to be more deferential to the birds and spend a little time getting to know the sights and sounds of the more common species. First up in the mixed forest was an awesome bird, prehistoric even! A huge Pileated Woodpecker flew past calling and my heart nearly stopped when it landed on a tree close-by. What a woodpecker! I had only just stepped into the park but I watched this bird demolish an old snag for over half an hour and it was captivating. Onwards I trod full of expectation. A female Varied Thrush caught my eye sat low down in a red cedar tree, too low light for a photo but even the female was a colourful thrush and one I’d really hoped to see on this trip. Circular path through the wild feeling park take you through mature forest, meadows, cliffs, sand and rocky beach and coastal areas. Such a mix produced many species but new ones for the trip included Belted Kingfisher, Golden-crowned Kinglet (rather like a cross between a goldcrest and a firecrest) and Brandt’s Cormorant offshore. Leaving in the afternoon allowed for a chance to take in some of the city, lots of birds in the tree-lined streets of the city but none new for the list plus my mind had switched to more cultural activities (only briefly!). An early night was in order before meeting up early again with Rachel for 2 days heading out east.


Pileated Woodpecker, Spotted Towhee and Golden-crowned Sparrow

16th April – First stop of the day after driving well out of Seattle and into the cascade mountain range was at the Stampede Pass. American Dipper was found quickly on the river here and put on a great show, feeding just as our dipper does. Fantastically coloured Varied Thrushes were present here in large numbers with some showing very well and allowing photos. The winter’s snow was still present and limited routes up into the hills. We decided not to spend too much time here sadly resulting in missing several high altitude species but allowed us to press on to find others. Further along the Interstate we called in at Cle Elum where Turkey Vulture, Stellar’s Jay and eventually Evening Grosbeak were all seen and all great to see.


Varied thrush and Turkey Vulture

Carrying on east the landscape changed to rolling hills and the vegetation switched to dry sage bushes. We birded an area from Ellensburg to Umptanum falls and Wenas creek. In the desert like landscape we saw loads of Mountain + Western Bluebird, Western Meadowlark, Brewers + Vesper Sparrow, Mountain Chickadee, Cassin’s Finch and Townsend’s Solitaire. High quality stop or what. The bluebirds were doing well thanks to hundreds of boxes along what should be renamed bluebird boulevard. The day finished with more fine sun and quite a lot of heat but still the birds kept coming. 4 American White Pelicans cruised along a river canyon and a few minutes later a Canyon Wren sang it’s lyrical descending song but remained unseen as the sun set. An road-side motel provided the best accommodation of the trip so far and had us well placed to head out further east the following day.

17th April – Driving along the old Vantage Highway towards, erm, Vantage, we stopped at some well known spots for some sage species not yet seen on the trip. We quickly saw the two species which define this habitat; Sage Thrasher and Sage Sparrow. The thrasher wasn’t a typical thrasher, looking more like a thrush but perfectly coloured to blend in with the landscape, the best way of finding it to listen to its lovely varied song. Even out here, hundreds of Yellow-rumped Warblers were clinging to the wind-blown shrubs before moving on north, this was really strange seeing them so far out of their natural habitat. At vantage the sun was heating the air up quickly and we birded frantically before the quiet mid-day lull. The canyon here leading down to the Columbia River held Rock Wren, Say’s Phoebe, Nashville Warbler and  Red-naped Sapsucker.
Any area of wetland in this arid area was great for birds and new birds kept being seen. The beautiful canyon of Frenchman’s Coulee held Cliff Swallow, White-throated Swift and loads of tropical looking Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Another roadside stop after I shouted out the name of a rare bird in Washington and we were watching a lone Long-billed Curlew. Somehow the bill is even longer than on our Eurasion relative. A little further along the road and another hop out of the car provided interest and adrenaline of another kind when a shaking noise filled the air. I had been clambering over rocks in the mid-day sun but immediately I knew what was making the noise; Rattlesnake, and it’s just a foot in front of me. It must have been irritated because it didn’t stop making its chilling noise for ages. Rachel found this extremely funny for some reason even though I’d nearly just died!


Say’s Phoebe, Yellow-headed Blackbird and as close as I dared get to a Rattlesnake!

Close-by we had a special spot with the latest gen for Burrowing Owl. At the edge of the road we quickly picked up one and then a second bird which appeared from under a concrete drainage culvert where they were nesting. This species is increasingly rare in Washington and I was so pleased to see this bird in the mid-day sun and so close-by.
Onwards though, and likely looking wetlands near Othello and the Potholes wildlife area towards the end of the day produced Redhead, Canvasback, Cinnamon Teal, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Great Egret, Caspian Tern and a late Tundra Swan. 10Sandhill Cranes were first heard cronking then appeared as they flew over the road, late migrants but such elegant birds.


Burrowing Owls, Sandhill Crane and Cinnamon Teal

19th April – A day off yesterday to recover and check some more city spots out. I headed out early on my last day to Discovery Park before joining up with uni mates. Many similar species were seen again but still great fun to take my time and id them alone as a challenge. New birds included Bonaparte’s Gull, Townsend’s Warbler and Western Sandpiper. All here with the passage of time and increasing migration in the area.
From now my chances of seeing new birds was limited but I carried the bins and became something of a ‘David Attenborough’ for my uni mates as the uni fieldtrip began.


Bufflehead, Western Grebe and Glaucous-winged Gull.

20th – 26th April – Just a two new birds seen which were Black Oystercatcher on a rocky shoreline and Western Gullnear the mouth of the Columbia River at the Oregon border. All the while birds such as Caspian Tern were seen well, fishing the numerous marshes and coastal wetlands. Bald Eagles were seen daily along with plenty of hummers; thrilling, charismatic birds to get non-birders interested.

I left Washington with 152 species on the trip list and 110 of which I’d never seen before. With much of these seen in a short time period there were obviously a few species which I didn’t see and other which hadn’t quite arrived so far north yet. The trip was a couple of weeks early for prime migration with the most species present but this didn’t stop there being a great mix of some early summer birds and some late winter birds present plus all the resident species. As a result I didn’t see any Vireos or Flycatchers but quite glad as these would seem to be a bit of a nightmare to id!
The scenery throughout the trip was far beyond what I’d imagined in size and extremes. Just 3 hours driving from Seattle eastwards presented chances to bird in deciduous and coniferous forests, along snow lined mountain streams and in the semi-arid areas of sage brush and ponderosa pine country, providing a large range of species in a fairly small area. The city of Seattle was great for a base and a really pleasant city all-round.
I highly recommend the birding pal website (http://www.birdingpal.org) for meeting birders local to the area you are travelling. It is taking a hefty risk but it payed off big-style for me. The Sibley field-guide was light-weight and easy to use so I’d recommend it for a trip to the area.


…………… and another Burrowing Owl

Trip List –
1) Starling
2) American Robin
3) American Crow
4) Band-tailed Pigeon
5) Glaucous-winged Gull
6) House Sparrow
7) Feral Pigeon
8) Song Sparrow
9) Red-winged Blackbird
10) Wilson’s Snipe
11) Dunlin
12) Grey Plover
13) Hudsonian Whimbrel
14) Tree Swallow
15) Violet-green
16) Bald Eagle
17) Yellow-rumped Warbler
  a. Audubon’s
  b. Myrtle
18) Barn Swallow
19) Bewick’s Wren
20) Ruby-crowned Kinglet
21) Savannah Sparrow
22) Purple Finch
23) Mew Gull
24) Ring-billed Gull
25) Downy Woodpecker
26) Black-capped Chickadee
27) Golden-crowned Sparrow
28) Brewers Blackbird
29) Rufous Hummingbird
30) Swainson’s Thrush
31) Mallard
32) Gadwall
33) House Finch
34) Canada Goose
35) Great Horned Owl
36) White-crowned Sparrow
37) American Wigeon
38) Greater Yellowlegs
39) Great Blue Heron
40) Green-winged Teal
41) Common Loon
42) Northern Pintail
43) Greater Scaup
44) Common Goldeneye
45) Bufflehead
46) Northern Rough-winged Swallow
47) Double-crested Cormorant
48) Pelagic Cormorant
49) American Goldfinch
50) Raven
51) Harlequin Duck
52) Pigeon Guillemot
53) Northern Flicker
54) Surf Scoter
55) Spotted Towhee
56) Dark-eyed Junco
57) Red-breasted Merganser
58) Rhinoceros Auklet
59) American Coot
60) Horned Grebe
61) Northern Harrier
62) Orange-crowned Warbler
63) Hooded Merganser
64) Chestnut-backed Chickadee
65) White-winged Scoter
66) Western Grebe
67) Black Turnstone
68) Surfbird Whidbey
69) Red-throated Loon
70) Red-necked Grebe
71) Lesser Scaup
72) Least Sandpiper
73) Short-billed Dowitcher
74) Pine Siskin
75) Mourning Dove
76) American Kestrel
77) California Quail
78) Marsh Wren
79) Shoveler
80) Lincoln’s Sparrow
81) Common Yellowthroat
82) Wood Duck
83) Brown Creeper
84) Anna’s Hummingbird
85) Barrow’s Goldeneye
86) Black Brant
87) Golden-crowned Kinglet
88) Varied Thrush
89) Winter Wren
90) Belted Kingfisher
91) Pileated Woodpecker
92) Brandt’s Cormorant
93) Killdeer
94) Bushtit
95) Sanderling
96) Brown-headed Cowbird
97) American Pipit
98) Hairy Woodpecker
99) American Dipper
100) Common Crossbill
101) Osprey
102) Turkey Vulture
103) Stellar’s Jay
104) Evening Grosbeak
105) Ring-necked Duck
106) Black-billed Magpie
107) Cooper’s Hawk
108) Sharp-shinned Hawk
109) Mountain Bluebird
110) Western Bluebird
111) Western Meadowlark
112) Brewers Sparrow
113) Vesper Sparrow
114) Mountain Chickadee
115) Cassin’s Finch
116) Hermit Thrush
117) Townsend’s Solitaire
118) Goosander
119) American White Pelican
120) Canyon Wren
121) Sage Thrasher
122) Sage Sparrow
123) Rock Wren
124) Say’s Pheobe
125) Red-naped Sapsucker
126) Nashville Warbler
127) Calliope Hummingbird
128) Redhead
129) White-throated Swift
130) Yellow-headed Blackbird
131) Long-billed Curlew
132) Horned Lark
133) Cackling Goose
134) American Avocet
135) Black-necked Stilt
136) Cinnamon Teal
137) Burrowing Owl
138) Caspian Tern
139) American Great Egret
140) Greater White-fronted Goose
141) Ruddy Duck
142) California Gull
143) Sandhill Crane
144) Tundra Swan
145) Canvasback
146) Ring-necked Pheasant
147) Red-breasted Nuthatch
148) Townsend’s Warbler
149) Bonaparte’s Gull
150) Western Sandpiper
151) Black Oystercatcher
152) Western Gull

Report and photos by Henry Cook.

4 thoughts on “Washington State Trip Report – April 2008

  1. jon mitchell

    enjoyed reading youre report,have done some birding there myself whilst on a family holiday.did not see as many species as you , but like you took some pictures.,also i met up with a local birder for an afternoon.we had 8 species of woodpecker
    in a few hours.he has a web site if you are interested
    http://granstrand.net/gallery/ also wos.org is the site for the washington ornithilogical society

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