2022-04-21 Thursday In East Washington

Cliff Swallow - Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
I had some fun with shadow-puppets. Cliff Swallows were already well on their way to building their colonies of mud-nests under the bridge crossing the Snake River Mouth in Burbank Washington.
Osprey - Pandion haliaetus
When this Osprey sailed over the Hood Park Boat Launch, it added a little spice to the time I spent with swallows and waterfowl.

With my route planned through eastern Washington to Oregon, I hit the road about mid-morning on Wednesday. The weather was cool, but not frozen, and the passes were open with no chains required. I stopped several times to combat road-weary eyes and stretch my legs. After 188 miles, I found a rest area and stopped for the night. While camped, I plotted a route for Thursday that included breakfast, groceries, and a half-dozen birding stops. I hoped to end up at Wallowa Lake State Park in Joseph, Oregon at the end of the run.

I woke up Thursday morning after listening to a trucker’s idling engine all night at the roadside rest area near the Vernita Bridge over the Columbia River in eastern Washington. When I took down the RV’s window insulating panels, I was happy to see sunny skies. There were scattered clouds, and having rained through much of the night, the grounds were washed clean. It was a welcome change from the gloomy skies of the past few days.

After a half-hour’s drive, I worked my way south to West Richland, where I found breakfast in one of those down-to-earth mom-and-pop cafes I usually enjoy, called Henry’s Restaurant and Catering. After chow, it looked like it was going to be a good day looking for birds as I drove down the river valley. I knew I might not find much, as it was still too early for many of the summer visitors, who were surely somewhere to the south and moving this way. I planned to enjoy the hunt, anyway.

My first stop of the day was at the Chamna Natural Preserve in Richland Washington on the Yakima River. There wasn’t a lot of activity in the reserve, though I saw White-Crown Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Downy Woodpeckers, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, high-flying swallows, and a soaring Red-Tailed Hawk on my walk on the trails there. I opted to leave the camera in the RV.

My second stop at the Hood Park Boat Launch near the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers turned out to provide the best birding of the trip through eastern Washington. Greater Scaup, Bufflehead, and Common Goldeneye foraged on the water by the launch-site, but I had the most fun with the Cliff Swallows zipping over the water, and high into structures under the Snake River Bridge. While capturing the nest-building of the swallows, I could see the bird’s shadows cast on the concrete pillars, and I couldn’t help myself from trying to capture the shadow-play. Because of the angle of the sun, the shadows were three times the size of the birds. That made the distance to my subject less of a problem, than if the birds alone were my subjects.

My time with the swallows and the scaup was spiced up a bit when an Osprey sailed over with its eyes focused on the water below. The bird dropped its talons at one point, and I hoped it might drop down on a fish. Alas, it was not to be, but still it was a nice addition to the morning’s birds.

As I was driving away from Hood Park, I scouted the nearby McNary National Wildlife Refuge. I saw a single Black-Necked Stilt and a dozen or so Caspian Terns. When I reached the Wallula region, the waterfowl seemed to get more diverse. I started seeing some shovelers, scaup, and more Bufflehead. Later, I passed a pond that must have had four or five hundred Snow Geese.

After I made several stops to look for birds on my trip from the Tri-Cities area, I found a route that carried me over Tollgate Pass and the Blue Mountains. I’d planned several birding stops on the way, but I couldn’t access any of the locations because several feet of snow was piled high on both sides of the road. Had I realized the pass exceeded 5,000 ft in elevation, the snow-pack would have been no surprise.

I came off the mountain into a town called Elgin Oregon, and on leaving Elgin and headed towards Enterprise, I saw quite a few American Kestrels, and a Bald Eagle. When I reached the town of Joseph, I felt it was a bit late to settle in at the state park campgrounds I was headed for. I found a quiet parking spot across the street from the City Library and hunkered down for the night.

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