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"Ptarmigan" trip to Wallowa Lake

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  • Andy Stepniewski
    Sorry this is late news but space limitations made it impossible to put in the Audubon Crier. Here it is, by popular demand! Andy WALLOWAS AND ZUMWALT PRAIRIE
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 27, 2009
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      Sorry this is late news but space limitations made it impossible to put in
      the Audubon Crier. Here it is, by popular demand!


      31 JULY-2 AUGUST, 2009

      Yakima Valley Audubon Society went to northeast Oregon this year on our
      annual "Ptarmigan Search Expedition." Those attending included Jane and Don
      Gargas from Toppenish, Ellen and Andy Stepniewski from Wapato, Josie and Ike
      Eisenhart from Seattle, Vicki and Jim King from Seattle, and John Pitcher
      from Invermere, British Columbia.

      We camped at a group site in bustling (229 sites, all full!) Wallowa Lake
      State Park, enjoying a big, open spot alongside the West Fork of the Wallowa
      River. It was pleasant, though a hot spell had enveloped the Pacific
      Northwest, because of the tall trees (Black Cottonwood, with a few Douglas
      Maple, Mountain Alder, scattered Engelmann Spruce, Douglas-fir, Grand Fir,
      Ponderosa Pine, and Western Larch). In the campground we noted Red-naped
      Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee,
      Warbling Vireo, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Steller's Jay, Cedar Waxwing,
      Yellow Warbler, Song Sparrow, Dark-Eyed Junco, and Pine Siskin. Overhead, at
      dusk, Vaux's Swifts twittered, suggesting these birds were nesting in the
      tall cottonwoods by the river.

      On Friday afternoon, Josie, Ike, Ellen and I took a walk down to Wallowa
      Lake and found two juvenile Bald Eagles. We could see their nest high in a
      cottonwood just back from the edge of the lake. The very dark, juvenile
      eagles screamed from time to time, quite different from the stuttering calls
      made by adults. In the shallows we noted four or so Common Mergansers,
      perhaps a brood. A juvenile American Dipper perched atop a rock in the
      river, fluttering its wings, begging for food. We noted only a few other
      birds along the lakeshore: Osprey, a couple of adult California Gulls,
      Steller's Jays, and Black-billed Magpies lurking in the hawthorns.

      At the lakes shore, Ike intently searched for attractive rocks: volcanic
      greenstones, basalts, and granites among others. Indeed, this part of
      northeast Oregon " is probably the best all-around region in the Pacific
      Northwest for ease of viewing a great variety of geologic structures and
      rock types. and is a paradise for rockhounds and the regions popularity with
      the rock clubs will probably go on and on (McKee, B. 1974. Cascadia.

      John and I both greatly underestimated the time to drive from Invermere to
      Wallowa Lake (11 hours!), through vast stretches of curvy roads, including
      the very slow Grand Ronde country south of Clarkston. As dinner-time
      approached, John still had not arrived; the noodles required for dinner were
      missing and we became worried. Just in time the Noodle Express arrived and
      we could all relax and enjoy the evening. Chicken Stroganoff was our main
      course at supper, followed by delicious cherry pie. Tasty green beans by
      Jane were deservedly popular, too. At all meals, in fact, at any time, we
      could look up and around and spot a Mule Deer. There were at least five in
      the area right around our campsite. I wonder how many were in the entire
      campground? These very tame animals were obviously used to handouts, as they
      often sauntered right up to the table. We were continually shooing these
      brazen beasts away from the table!

      Saturday, 1 August, to beat the heat, we departed very early and drove
      around to the east side of the Wallowa Mountains to do a day hike. Birder's
      Guide to Oregon (Evanich) writes a very nice site guide to Bonny Lakes,
      stating this is a great area for Pine Grosbeak and mentions a nice selection
      of other boreal or alpine birds (Spruce Grouse and rosy finches, among
      others). A widespread fire, perhaps soon after publication of that guide,
      changed the landscape. Much of the approach to the trailhead is now densely
      mantled in a young Lodgepole Pine forest. Dwarf shrubs (especially
      Grouseberry-Vaccinium scoparium) have grown back, starting to make it again
      suitable for Spruce Grouse.

      The approach to Bonny Lakes is first along a dry, south-facing side hill, in
      places burned, grown to Big Sagebrush and wildflowers, alternating with dry
      forests of Lodgepole Pine, Douglas-fir, and Subalpine Fir with burnt snags.
      Beautiful wildflowers dotted the slopes everywhere: paintbrushes,
      penstemons, lupines, cream and yellow buckwheats and an exquisite type of
      mariposa lily. Interesting birds in this habitat included Red-tailed Hawk,
      Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Dusky Flycatcher, Townsend's
      Solitaire (juveniles), and Yellow-rumped Warbler. Where Lodgepole Pines
      formed a denser cover, I heard "peek" calls from a Hammond's Flycatcher.

      We called in this bird to confirm my ears were not tricking me. In subalpine
      forest we encountered a group of juvenile Western Tanagers clambering about
      the tight fir boughs at ground level, an odd place for tanagers. It appeared
      to me their nest tree had been felled (sawn and still green) in the course
      of trail maintenance and the birds had survived the fall. Golden-crowned and
      Ruby-crowned Kinglets, were in this forest, too.

      On the forest duff Don, a mushroom enthusiast, spied some nice looking
      Boletus. He ignored the big ones and sought a few mid-sized specimens.

      In the shrubby willow thickets and sedge flats surrounding Bonny Lakes, we
      noted Song, Lincoln's, and White-crowned Sparrows while yet another sparrow,
      Chipping, was in the open forest on higher ground. A Rufous Hummingbird
      perched atop one of these willows, but not in the bazillion, colorful
      wildflower meadows. In the subalpine forest of Engelmann Spruce, Whitebark
      Pine, and Subalpine Fir, we found Hairy Woodpecker, Clark's Nutcracker,
      Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Hermit Thrush,
      Yellow-rumped- and Wilson's Warblers, Western Tanager, and Pine Siskin.
      Overhead, two juvenile (by their "ring-tails and underwing patterning)
      Golden Eagles drifted by. Spotted Sandpipers called from the shallow lake

      The view of the peaks around Bonny Lakes was very impressive, though not
      overly alpine in character Colorful volcanics seemed to dominate. Evidently
      we were some distance from older rocks (granites, metamorphics that occur
      through much of the Wallowas.

      We were all quite tired arriving back to camp Saturday night. Don and Jane
      surprised us with tasty Boletus cooked in butter, a splendid hors'deurve.
      The main course, plenty of Tortellinis by Ike and Josie, followed by a
      sumptuous blueberry dessert, capped off a fine day.

      Sunday morning at 4 am I awoke with the bright idea of cajoling Ike out for
      some owling. He, with Josie's clearance, leapt at the opportunity and we
      were soon on our way, after Ike mistakenly hit the alarm button on his
      vehicle key. While we hope we didn't awaken all campers in all 229 campsites
      in the park, we certainly got our group roused, at least for a few minutes.
      Soon, Ike and I were off, seeing our first of five Great Horned Owls
      alongside the lake en route to Joseph. Others followed on power poles along
      OR-3 north of Enterprise. Our last Great Horned Owl, number six, was a still
      warm dead bird on OR-82 west of Enterprise. It was a lovely morning, indeed,
      noting many Mule Deer and savoring views of the open country north and west
      of Enterprise along with the grand vistas south to the high Wallowas.

      Later Sunday morning we headed out to the Zumwalt Prairie. Though the
      grasslands were becoming dry and the wildflower show was over, we were
      treated to a fine show of raptors. En route to the forest edge northeast of
      Zumwalt, we noted six Northern Harriers, four Swainson's and 12 Red-tailed
      Hawks, one Golden Eagle, three American Kestrels, and two Prairie Falcons.
      I kept an eye out for Ferruginous Hawk but saw none. Passerines included
      lots of Horned Larks, Vesper and Savannah Sparrows with many juveniles of
      both. One juvenile Grasshopper Sparrow on a fence wire was a plumage and age
      class seldom seen. Red-winged and Brewer's Blackbirds, and Western
      Meadowlarks swarmed about the open prairie, especially near stock ponds.

      We kept on north to Buckhorn Lookout. This promontory offers a memorable
      view of the Hells Canyon area. Lewis's Woodpeckers were feeding their
      chattering young in a burnt snag several hundred feet below and north of the
      lookout. The adults were very efficiently fly catching in the heat,
      returning to their nest every minute or so to their squeaking youngsters.

      The view was muted due to smoke from a fire (140-acre) in a nearby canyon.
      We were surprised to see the very sizeable fire fighting base camp that was
      established here, with perhaps 100+ US Forest Service vehicles. When I asked
      what such a tremendous force had assembled here, one fire employee said
      "truth be known, things are pretty quiet." Observing this I pondered the
      statistic that 40 % of the US Forest Service budget is devoted to fighting

      From here, Jane, Vicki, and Jim headed back to Wallowa Lake while John,
      Ellen and I pressed northwards along the edge of Hells Canyon. This detour
      worth it with more views of the Hells Canyon.

      We thought of taking a road depicted as primitive to Asotin but a short
      distance along this very rocky tread convinced us miles and miles of this
      would be no fun so we headed west to OR-3 along Chesminous Creek, flanked by
      alders in some stretches and pleasing dry forest on the hillsides in other
      spots, and even quite imposing mixed-conifer forest on a few north aspects.
      We added Chukar, Cassin's Vireo, Black-capped Chickadee, Lazuli Bunting, and
      Red Crossbill on this jaunt.

      Bird species list:

      Mallard - 5

      Common Merganser - 4

      Chukar - 5, hen and brood
      Osprey - 1

      Bald Eagle - 3

      Northern Harrier - 18

      Swainson's Hawk - 5

      Red-tailed Hawk - 20

      Golden Eagle - 1

      American Kestrel - 5

      Prairie Falcon - 2

      American Coot - 3

      Killdeer - 3

      Spotted Sandpiper - 6

      California Gull - 3

      Mourning Dove - 5

      Eurasian Collared-Dove - 2

      Vaux's Swift - 5

      Rufous Hummingbird - 1

      Lewis's Woodpecker - 3 +

      Red-naped Sapsucker - 1

      Downy Woodpecker - 1

      Hairy Woodpecker - 8

      Northern Flicker - 5
      Olive-sided Flycatcher - 10

      Western Wood-Pewee - 10 +
      Hammond's Flycatcher - 1

      Dusky Flycatcher - 1

      Eastern Kingbird - 5

      Cassin's Vireo - 1

      Warbling Vireo - 3
      Steller's Jay - 3
      Clark's Nutcracker - 5

      Common Raven - 15

      Cliff Swallow - 5

      Barn Swallow - 3

      Black-capped Chickadee - 7
      Mountain Chickadee - 5
      Chestnut-backed Chickadee - 5
      Red-breasted Nuthatch - 2
      Brown Creeper - 1
      American Dipper - 4
      Golden-crowned Kinglet - 10
      Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 3

      Mountain Bluebird - 1
      Townsend's Solitaire - 2
      Hermit Thrush - 2
      American Robin - 10

      European Starling - 100, Enterprise fields

      Cedar Waxwing - 20
      Yellow Warbler -10

      Yellow-rumped Warbler - 10

      Wilson's Warbler - 1
      Western Tanager - 6

      Chipping Sparrow - 5
      Vesper Sparrow - 35

      Savannah Sparrow - 3

      Lincoln's Sparrow - 5
      White-crowned Sparrow -10
      Dark-eyed Junco - 15

      Lazuli Bunting - 1
      Red-winged Blackbird - 20

      Western Meadowlark - 15

      Brewer's Blackbird - 150

      Cassin's Finch -10

      Red Crossbill - 3

      Pine Siskin-20

      Andy and Ellen Stepniewski

      Wapato WA

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