Got Milk? Collared 200 Doves!
The story starts with the wrong way. Headed up to Hardy Canyon with high hopes of repairing/replacing a few bluebird boxes before the gate to the area gets locked until May 1 for the winter elk feeding program. Hmmm, my recollection of the closure was for a Dec 1 effective date. Oh, the gate wasn't locked, but it was signed as closed to unauthorized vehicles. I tilted my head to the left and then to the right but the sign always seemed to say, "This means you!"
Backing up a few miles, on the drive along Longmire Road, I had personal area firsts...a Belted Kingfisher and a Rough-legged Hawk. The hawk nailed a prey item in a field and, though it was an area first for me, I suspect that I just never get out that way in the winter season. As for the Kingfisher, he was near the southern branch of Wenas Creek. I didn't check the water level (if any) in that spot but strongly suspect that any dive into the creek at this time of year would be a real beak-bender.
Wenas Lake had a singe swan but backlighting and the lack of a scope killed any hope of identifying it or any of the twenty-odd ducks.
After being rejected at the Hardy gate, toyed with the idea of trying Sheep Company Road area for Snowy Owl. The mud our boots attracted walking the dirt road above Wenas Lake made such a venture less attractive.
Opted to try the Black Rock Valley east of Moxee instead. A few doves in the windbreak at the mega-dairy near milepost 15 enticed a stop. They flew before I was convinced of their identity but I then noticed that the westernmost two feeding stall roofs were literally coated in doves. The trees hampered clear viewing and the sun was behind the birds; nonetheless, the vast majority of over 250 doves exhibited a dark neck crescent. An employee driving inside the fence was curious why we were stopped. In our friendly chat, he volunteered that the "Eurasians" had grown from two pair just three years ago to the current population that he estimated to be between three to four hundred. He was aware that there were "smaller" doves (Mourning Doves) that flew with the flock but that the vast majority were Eurasians. The Rock Pigeons there, he noted, stay to themselves. The attraction is the corn silage that is fed to the cows.
I plunked two-hundred Eurasian Collared Doves on my eBird list but before submitting it, I wondered if it would be an eBird county high count. Turns out it is a Washington State eBird high count...the current high is 133. Anyone with a bit of patience could shatter that record with a visit to the dairy when the doves cooperate and bunch up for a family portrait.
The drive out to milepost 25 netted three Rough-legged Hawks including one dark morph that was a bit of a challenge while perched. The second best sighting of the day was a Merlin that made a pass at three House Finches on a power line. A very nifty aerial dogfight ensued with death defying acrobatics on display. The Finch found weedy cover along a fence line and the Merlin broke off pursuit and cruised away, dignity intact and secure in the knowledge that in a true sprint, the Finch would have been toast in twenty yards or less.
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