By Andy Stepniewski
One hundred fifteen WOS members participated in the Third Annual was Convention, held this past 21-23 June in Okanogan. The objective in visiting this part of Washington was to show the region’s remarkable diversity of breeding bird species, the Okanogan’s “star attraction,” as explained by keynote speaker Richard Cannings, one of the authors of Birds of the Okanagan Valley. Cannings chronicled a hypothetical Big Day in the varied habitats of the valley to make this point …
Other speakers included Gene Hunn, who discussed and presented Sonagram evidence for the species (or subspecies) limits of Western Flycatchers in the region as well as the alleged Alder Flycatcher found at Champneys Slough. Dennis Paulson also presented a slide talk on owls of Washington, a highlight being the intimate views of Snowy Owl breeding biology.
Of course, as usual the birds received the biggest part of the participants’ attention. A total of 186 species- an amazing number for the breeding season away from the coastwas tallied during the convention, from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. The size of the field trips was kept manageable by increasing the number of trips. As Keith Wiggers said, “the only problem was deciding which trip to go on.”
Some highlights of the trips, first those of the lower-elevation habitats: The CHAMPNEYS SLOUGH riparian area, including the backwaters of the Similkameen River, has the highest diversity (114 species) of any block thus far run for the Washington Breeding Bird Atlas. Birders here recorded Least Flycatcher (rare but annually found in the state), Red-eyed Vireo (surprisingly uncommon in Washington’s Okanogan) and Bobolinks (hay meadows near Palmer Lake).
Double-crested Cormorant, rare anywhere in the Okanogan, was also seen. The BEAVER VALLEY-CHESAW MUSKRAT LAKE group recorded Common Loons, a very local breeder in the state, with young on Lost Lake. Also found were 35 Eared Grebe nests on Muskrat Lake, as well as both Greater and Lesser yellowlegs. ‘Welcome to fall migration!” as Dennis Paulson said.
The AENEAS VALLEY, east of Tonasket, was a new area for most Washington birders. With its riparian groves and wooded swamps, it featured Northern Waterthrushes in impressive numbers and a few American Redstarts. A female redstart was found sitting tight on a nest in an alder.
A surprise for many at the convention was that Okanogan County has a SOAP LAKE. It proved to be a great place for birds, like the Grant County lake of the same name. American Wigeon were found in numbers, plus Hooded and Common mergansers and two Bonaparte’s Gulls. A late discovery on Sunday afternoon was a female Common Goldeneye, scarcely known as a breeder in the state, with seven young near a ponderosa pine snag, and a subadult Herring Gull. The extensive grasslands en route to the lake were full of Lark and Grasshopper sparrows.
The benchlands of the COLVILLE INDIAN RESERVAnON southeast of Okanogan provided another surprise. Gray Flycatchers were common, the only empidonax in these open ponderosa pine groves. Sage Thrashers were common, here near the north end of their range, and Black Terns beat into the breeze up and down the length of Big Goose Lake.
Trips to the more boreal habitats found many more birds:
LONG SWAMP showed off its Northern Pygmy-Ow Is on one trip and the singing Clay-colored Sparrow on both days. A surprising ground-nesting Boreal Chickadee was found here, perhaps only the second recorded nesting of the species in Washington. Pine Grosbeaks were noted here also. Courting and copulating pairs of Boreal Chickadees were seen at ROGER LAKE, where some lucky visitors also saw Spruce Grouse, Threetoed Woodpecker and Pine Grosbeak.
Both groups visiting FREEZEOUT RIDGE and TIFFANY MOUNTAIN saw Homed Larks and American Pipits on their alpine breeding grounds. Townsend’s Solitaires filled the sky gardens with their sweet flutings. Another ground-level Boreal Chickadee nest was discovered, this one in a sawed-off stump! Some biders were even treated to snow and white-out conditions.
The vast bum of 1988 near SHERMAN PASS continues to attract many woodpeckers. At least one Blackbacked Woodpecker nest was found, with adults feeding young, and one or more additional family groups were seen, with adults feeding recently fledged young. Three-toed Woodpeckers were also found.
As calling activity by most owls is minimal in June, success at owling was mixed and less productive than was anticipated by many. The 43 boxes set out for Boreal Owls in the higher altitudes were found to be empty or occupied by flying squirrels. Flammulated and Northern Saw-whet owls were heard, however, and adult and young Barred Owls at Loup Loup Campground provided the most intimate view for nocturnal WOS prowlers.
Advice for owling in this region: pick calm nights in March and April, and you won’t be disappointed!
Last but not least was the eleventh-hour news given to Phil Mattocks of an Eastern Phoebe that had been found near Okanogan. Phil found the few was members who hadn’t left the area and took them to see this second documented representative of its species from the state.
Besides the beautiful scenery, other noteworthy sightings included a good variety of mammals. Two parties saw single moose, and perhaps there is a small population of these animals in the Okanogan, as in the Salmo-Priest area of the northeast comer of the state. Appreciation is due to the following, who helped either in leading trips or attending to the organizational aspects of the convention: Fred Bird, Ken Brunner, Wilson Cady, Richard Cannings, Ron Friesz, Gene Hunn, Phil Mattocks, Dennis Paulson, Andy Stepniewski, Bill Tweit and Wayne Weber.