2002 Okanogan

Conference Summary

By Michael Hobbs

The 2002 WOS Conference in Okanogan, June 14-16, was a big success no matter how you measure it. Over 120 members enjoyed a record 23 field trips over three days and two nights. The birds cooperated, with almost all of the target species being seen among the 187 total species, and some special surprises. The Okanogan truly is a great place to bird, and the field trip leaders did a wonderful job showing all of us the area, finding us life birds, and generally sharing their knowledge. Thanks go out to all of them.

The conference started Friday, with two daytime field trips, a very entertaining speaker, and a couple of owling trips that night. Rick Howie’s talk about owls in the Canadian Okanagan gave a good overview of the habitat choices for the dozen or more owl species of the area. He followed that up with a Hoot-Along, featuring the rest of us doing our best to imitate owl whistles and hoots. Besides being quite humorous, it proved to be a great learning experience whose value was proved to those of us who subsequently went on the owling trips.

Saturday featured nine day-trips, a decent banquet, another top-notch speaker, and a couple of owling trips, making for a very full day! Dr. Michael Schroeder’s talk, “The Grouse of Washington”, presented all of the Washington species, placing them in ecological and historical context, and even comparing them with other grouse worldwide. He proved to be both a knowledgeable and interesting speaker, and he had already proven himself a good field trip leader earlier in the day. Thanks, Michael.

Sunday morning arrived much too early for comfort for those who owled, but we were again off birding on eight more field trips starting at the usual 5:30 a.m. to end the conference.

The best moments of the conference were on the field trips. Highlights from Patrick and Ruth Sullivan’s Colville Plateau trip on Friday included a surf scoter well out of range along with a Franklin’s gull on Duley Lake, and a black-backed woodpecker along the northern section of Cameron Lake Road.

Kraig Kemper’s Soap Lake trip featured a pair of golden eagles, singing grasshopper, brewer’s, vespers, and lark sparrows around the lakes, and three least flycatchers near the mouth of the Okanogan River.

The Sullivans’ owling trip yielded a barred owl pair at the Loup Loup campground. Working north on FS 42 they called in a flammulated owl and heard long-eared owl and northern pygmy-owl. Saturday’s field trips included six to relatively low elevations and three to high elevation routes.

On Charlie Wright and Scott Downes’ Freezeout Ridge trip a pair of pine grosbeak were seen well along FS 3820. That road was a challenging drive! Nearer the trailhead on FS 37 was a female three-toed woodpecker, and on the ridge trail Scott almost stepped on a male spruce grouse with a female blue grouse. Everyone had fabulous looks.

Boreal chickadees were seen on all of the high-elevation trips. Clay-colored sparrow and gray partridge were seen on Ryan Shaw’s Havillah and Molson trip.

Scott and Charlie combined again Saturday night for a magical owling trip. Charlie Wright’s knowledge clearly shows that in his 13 years he has brought more dedication and intelligence to his birdwatching than most of the rest of us have managed in a much greater time. He has a real feel for the birds, developed during many days and nights in the field. At the Rock Creek campground, as dusk began to fall, he started imitating a northern pygmy-owl. Quickly getting a response, he was able to locate the bird on a snag, and all were able to get nice scope view in the dwindling light. After last light, he switched to flammulated owl hoots. Over the next fifteen minutes or so, he conversed with the bird using at least four different vocalizations, until he had finally coaxed it to land just a few feet away. For a few seconds we bathed it with flashlight beams and oohs and ahhs. As Charlie’s voice began to tire, Scott joined in as well, and soon there were two birders and four owls all calling together.

Later, at Loup Loup campground, Charlie began to call for barred owl. While we all sensed the presence of a bird, there was no answer and nothing to see until Charlie shifted to the call of a favorite prey item, the northern saw-whet. Instantly, a barred owl flew right over our heads, landing a short distance away. Under the glare of lights, we watched as one and then a second barred owl appeared. The two owls gave quite a show, with one mounting the other momentarily as if to tell Charlie that that girl was taken. It was a night for all to remember.

Sunday’s field trip highlights included nesting horned grebe on Spectacle Lake on Brian Bell’s Palmer Lake / Champneys Slough trip, prairie falcon, black-necked stilt, and loggerhead shrike on Marv Breece’s Colville Plateau trip, and a pair of white-winged crossbill on Marcus Roening’s Roger Lake trip, part way up the Freezeout Ridge trail.

The big surprise Sunday was an alder flycatcher reported on Patrick and Ruth Sullivan’s trip to Havillah and Molson. The bird, found on Kipling Road north of Muskrat Lake, was photographed. Sound recordings were also made, and on preliminary examinations, the sonograms appear to match published sonograms for alder.

It is likely that reports from 2002 will result in the first accepted records of this species in Washington State. As if an alder flycatcher wasn’t enough, the Sullivans also located a great gray owl and a barred owl at Highlands Snow Park. Least flycatcher were seen on a surprising number of field trips (8), and multiple leasts were seen or heard on several trips. This has certainly been a good year for least flycatcher reports. Northern waterthrush were reported on five field trips, while ten field trips reported bobolink.

With 187 species total, there were no stunning misses, though it was disappointing that neither gray-crowned rosy-finch nor white-tailed ptarmigan were seen on Freezeout Ridge. American redstart and northern goshawk were also missed.

The Cedars Inn worked well as a base of operations. I heard no complaints about the rooms or the food, and the bagged lunches were more than acceptable.

Breakfasts and lunches were ready on time, a real challenge for the staff, considering the early hour! Great credit and thanks should go to the organizing committee for this conference. Mary Klein (registration), Andy Stepniewski (field trips), Kraig Kemper (facilities), Tracee Geernaert, Brian Bell, Michael Donahue, and Rachel Lawson put together a great conference. Many others helped out here and there; many thanks to all!

I think everyone is looking forward to the 2003 conference which will be held somewhere in Western Washington. More information about the field trips and birds seen will be on the WOS website at www.wos.org