Thursday, January 2, 2014

January 1: Off to the Races!

Well, I could not have asked for a much better start to 2014. From long-staying rarities to some unexpected wintering species, the highlights were many. Here's the play-by-play on how the year list got to 60 on the first day of the year.

6:03 am: A cup of coffee in the belly and another in hand, we hit the road with a total of zero birds for the year.

7:02 am: We're out of Spokane and into Whitman county. It's still a while till the sun will rise, but there's enough light to see our first bird. On winter mornings, the first bird 95% of the time is Common Raven, which was on my mind as some winged thing caught our attention. But the large silhouette belonged to an owl, and not a great-horned. The slightly elongated wings, slower wing beat, and heart-shaped face meant that our first bird of 2014 was a Barn Owl! Little did we know it would be the first of four owl species on the day. Exciting start!

7:22 am: Our journey south has brought us to Steptoe Butte. As we climbed to the top (Washington has this stuff called elevation, Illinois should really look into it someday), we were greeted with a stunning sunrise and great views of the rolling hills of the Palouse. And not many birds. It was pretty chilly and there was just enough breeze to keep the little birds quiet. Our first of many kestrels and red-tails, and our only Rough-legged Hawk of the day were all present though.

9:21 am: We picked up some common stuff in a couple little towns as we continued south, then made our way across the border to Moscow, Idaho, where a Northern Hawk Owl has been hanging out for a month now. There's always a sense of nervousness when approaching a rare bird that's been around for a while. Will this be the day it takes off? Was this a wasted trip? About five seconds of searching gave us a visual confirmation that our trip had not been in vain. We found the owl in the midst of its mid-morning rodent breakfast, watched it perform some impressive aerial acrobatics, and enjoyed close range views of this beauty. It's an owl that's shaped like falcon and even flies like one, loaded with personality, and check out those huge feet! What a bird!









Northern Hawk Owl
Moscow, Latah Co, ID
January 1, 2014

10:33 am: We could have stayed with the hawk owl all day, but when you're listing, there eventually comes a point when you have to move on from even the most amazing birds. The last bird on the sunny plateau was a Merlin I somehow spotted atop a telephone pole while we were cruising along the highway. Falcon #2 for the day.

Merlin
Nez Perce Co, ID
January 1, 2014

11:08 am: We descended into the foggy Snake River valley and started to pick up our first waterfowl of the day, including both goldeneye, Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, Wood Duck, and Hooded Mergansers. We crossed the river back into Clarkston, Washington, where we added Horned Grebe, Common Loon, and my dad spotted a female Red-breasted Merganser, a great bird for the area. Quite a few Eurasian Collared-Doves were present throughout the day.

Red-breasted Merganser
Clarkston, Asotin Co, WA
January 1, 2014

Common Loon
Clarkston, Asotin Co, WA
January 1, 2014

Eurasian Collared-Dove
Clarkston, Asotin Co, WA
January 1, 2014

12:00 pm: The rest of the day was spent working the Snake River through Asotin and Whtiman counties. Some of the more interesting wintering birds we encountered along the way were Say's Phoebe, Townsend's Solitaire, Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, Bewick's Wren, Spotted Towhee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and a couple "Slate-colored" Dark-eyed Juncos in with all the "Oregons." Along the way we added Cooper's Hawk and Bald Eagle to our ever growing raptor list, and continued to rack up kestrel and red-tail numbers.

American Kestrel
Asotin Co, WA
January 1, 2014

1:07 pm: Swallows Park had a nice roost of gulls, dominated by Ring-bills, Californias, and Herrings. The highlight here came when I picked out a second winter Mew Gull amidst the Ring-bills! Four gulls in one spot is not bad in eastern Washington.

Mew Gull
Swallows Park, Asotin Co, WA
January 1, 2014

Mew and Ring-billed Gull
Swallows Park, Asotin Co, WA
January 1, 2014

California, Herring, and Ring-billed Gull
Swallows Park, Asotin Co, WA
January 1, 2014

California and Ring-billed Gull
Swallows Park, Asotin Co, WA
January 1, 2014

1:49 pm: Asotin has a location with a couple owl boxes. I had never seen anything in them before, so my hopes were not high. But, as I was checking out one, my dad directed my attention to the second box across the pond, and there was a Western Screech-Owl head popping out!

Western Screech-Owl
Asotin County, WA
January 1, 2014

3:40 pm: We were hoping to pick up Lesser Goldfinch and Chukar along the river, but it wasn't meant to be today. As we followed the Snake, my eyes were glued to the ridges in hopes of finding an interesting raptor. After going a while without seeing much, finally, an eagle flying along the ridge! With a hunch as to what it was, we stopped the car, got out quickly, and looked up to see an empty sky. Bummer. Was it going to reappear? Oh well, maybe we'll see another. Wait, what's that lump on the ground way up there? Yes! The Golden Eagle had lit!

Golden Eagle
Asotin County, WA
January 1, 2014

I got back in the car and looked out the window only to see a light colored falcon speeding through the canyon. My dad and I both got on it in time to see the light brown coloration and black axillaries of a Prairie Falcon! Two great additions in a row! A half mile down the road, we had another Golden Eagle which we got to enjoy in flight for a while.

Golden Eagle
Asotin County, WA
January 1, 2014

4:43 pm: A Great-horned Owl on a telephone pole was our 13th raptor, and 60th bird on the day! While it was a fun day all around, the raptors definitely stole the show. Here's the final break down:

1 Northern Harrier
2 Cooper's Hawk
1 Rough-legged Hawk
35 Red-tailed Hawk
3 Bald Eagle
2 Golden Eagle
23 American Kestrel
1 Merlin
1 Prairie Falcon
1 Barn Owl
1 Northern Hawk Owl
1 Western Screech-Owl
1 Great-horned Owl

I saw a couple birds today that I may not see again for the rest of the year, which is just part of what made it an excellent beginning to 2014!