Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pacific Northwest Day 2 - Idaho And Blackbirds

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Once again relying on local help, dawn find me driving back roads outside of Genesee, Idaho.  Charles Swift, formerly of Ann Arbor but now an Idaho resident, suggested one road in particular. - Rosenau Road.

Normally one does not just cruise agricultural roads at dawn on vacation.  I had to be up to something, right?  Well the Barn Owl on the little barn thingy in the middle of the field was certainly a nice start to the day!  A singing Common Yellowthroat in a ditch shattered the silence, but that was not why I was there.... 

Rounding a bend on Rosenau Road, two rocks on the side of the road got my attention real quick. When chicken-sized rocks start running, you had better stop and check 'em out. Sure enough, Gray Patridge.  (There were no photo ops. Very jittery.  )

I had basically been told to forget about this bird.  I was told where to find them (in both Idaho and Washington) but birders were basically saying I should feel pretty damned lucky if I get 'em.  “They're easier in winter...” people were telling me. Easy or not, who cares now!  Two GRAY PARTRIDGE in August?  Major score.  LIFE BIRD #644. Thank you, Charles!

So what does one do after scoring a major trip bird?  You get a celebratory beer! No you don’t.  It 5:46 in the morning!  Too early even for a breakfast stout!  On to Lewiston!

The view from the bluff overlooking Lewiston, Idaho was simply incredible.  The highest bluffs near my home would be a highway overpass.  This place mad me feel like I was one million feet above sea level. For some reason (I still can't explain it), the whole town, as viewed from the bluff, smelled like pizza sauce.  I guess that is a lot better than Dodge City, Kansas.  That place smelled like crap.

Spying a town, that smelled like pizza, didn't help me to hold off the hunger anymore, so I went into town for a nice breakfast.  I was not up for the Iron Maiden omelet (really, that is what it was called, but it had nothing to do with band) at Waffles N More, but eggs and hash browns certainly sounded good! Tea, by the way. No coffee. 

Charles had also suggested Mann Lake for Gray Partridge.  On the drive in (Powers Road), as sure as I am that Lewiston, Idaho smelled like sauce, a mom Partridge, and her chick, scooted across the road.  Unbelievable.  Sure, the look was fleeting, but they were there.  Four partridge in less than 90 minutes?  I backed up but they disappeared.  Poof.

Mann Lake turned out to be pretty nice. After asking permission from the California Quail (perched on a bulldozer surveying his domain like a King on a throne), I birded the property for a short while. Say's Phoebe and Western Kingbird really helped to set the tone of the day - “I am indeed in the West!”  Eurasian Collared- Dove? Well, not so cool. Those damn things......

As some of you know, I would like to visit many of the National Park sites throughout the US.  No, I will never get to all of them, but who cares, right?  What does Idaho have to offer?  How about the Nez Perce National Historical Park.

With over 30 units scattered all over the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, it was a great place to knock off a few hours.  They were instrumental in helping Lewis and Clark on their westward journey.  In fact, I ate lunch at the very spot the Nez Perce (which means “pierced nose” in French, by the way) helped them burn out a series of canoes. (Large trees were laid in place so the interior of the canoe could be burned and removed.)  Nothing more than a picnic area to most people, this site was a key stop on the journey of the Corps of Discovery.  Without the help from the Nez Perce (and other Native American groups along the way), there is no telling how the journey would have ended.

Actually, we know how it would have ended. The Corp of Discovery would have become the Corpses of Discovery. At one point, starvation was looming and the Nez Perce bailed them out.  This is NOT to take away from their efforts and accomplishments.  Lewis, Clark, and the others were simply bad-asses.   I just don’t think most people will be able to wrap their heads around all that they accomplished and how they accomplished it.   The fact that they needed help is secondary. They were an incredible bunch of a guys…and a woman….and a baby…..and a dog

So, I had never been to Idaho, right?  But there was also another reason for me to visit Idaho. Beer. Yes, folks, beer. As sad as it sounds, I have never had a beer from Idaho.  They don't seem to do much exporting to the Midwest so far as I can tell.  So, crossing the border, visiting the National Park, and having a beer gave me a life-time trifecta. Why not do it all on the same day?

MJ Barleyhoppers in Lewiston was eviscerated on a beer website.  The review was so bad, I was not sure I wanted to go there so I went in with low expectations.  I can now say with certainty that the fellow who did the review was stone drunk and angry before he walked in the door.  While I did not eat there (he did), the atmosphere seemed pretty cool. Live bands?  15 beers?  What can you not like?  The Hells Canyon Apricot Ale (#1,036) was really quite good. Sure, the finish was a bit to be desired but it was pretty well done for the most part.  I did not like the main entrance to the place (you walk right past the garbage compound as the brewery is attached to a conference center) but that is a logistics issue, not a beer issue. If I get back to Lewiston, I’m in for more beer. 

With a successful morning behind me, I set a course back to Washington.  Wheat wheat wheat wheat wheat. For miles and miles and miles and miles.  I had no idea they did so much growing there.  And knowing so much of it can end up in a beer just put a smile on my face as I moved along to Wilson Creek.  (Look past the brown in the photo below.  That green swath is very marshy and home of the Blackbird.)

Scanning the water's edge turned out to be VERY productive. White Pelicans are always cool.   Black-necked Stilts and Yellow-headed Blackbirds were putting on show, too. It would have been easier to see them if the Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle and Northern Harrier would have left them alone.  California Quail think they are royalty in Washington, too, as did the Loggerhead Shrike.  All cool, but they were not why I was there.

Tri-colored Blackbirds are a getting more scarce.  Some world organizations have them on their Watch List. While most people think “California” when they think of Tri-colored Blackbirds, a colony was discovered in Wilson Creek in 1998.  I had to get 'em.

Starting on the south side of the Creek, I had nothing.  Eventually, I drove around to the north side. After driving down this ridiculous two-track, I noticed a flock a blackbirds.....on the opposite of the creek.....right where I had been. So I drove back (again) to the south side and looked for blackbirds (again).  It was not too long before I noticed the flock was coming up close to the road. They may have been coming up to eat grasshoppers (I saw a mom Red-winged Blackbird feeding her kids).

One bird just seemed to want attention.  I spied him with my scope from maybe 75yards.  Blackbird.  Check.  Red epaulettes, Check.  WHITE coverts. Not yellow.  Not faded yellow.  No hint of colors of any kinds. White like a bedsheet. White like a piece of paper.  White like one would expect on Tri-colored Blackbirds! Huge score!  LIFE BIRD #645. So, with close to 90 minutes spent there, it was certainly time to move along....

By late dinnertime, I was in Ellensburg.  Using the Find Craft Beer application on my iPhone, I found beet at the Palace Café.  Not bad! Sure, they had bottled, mass-produced junk, but having local beers on tap gets a thumbs-up from me.  The Roslyn Brookside (#1,037) from the Roslyn Brewing Company in, yes, Roslyn Washington, was very well done.  A pale, hoppy lager, it went well with my chicken fettuccine. 

As the sun set, I found myself hustling up US-97 and eventually up to Blewett Pass (~4,000 feet above sea level).  A Washington birder suggested I try it for Flammulated Owl.  Originally, I was not going to give a go, but I decided to at the last minute (dinner time).  Yes, August sucks for owls, but it was worth a try. What else would I be doing? Sleeping?   I’ll sleep when I’m dead. This is vacation. Go go go go go…

Basically, every half mile or so up the Pass, I would play a call and wait.  Without a response I would move along.  Near the top, a distant, er, whatever, was heard.  I could not even venture a species, but I suspected a distant owl.  At the top, immediately after a call was played, a single muffled hoot was heard not far off the road.  I waited a few minutes and played it one more time.  Nothing.

After taking a few minutes to totally soak in the Milky Way Galaxy and find satellites zipping past, I realized I was practically the walking dead.  Driving 30 minutes back to Ellensburg for 3 hours of hotel sleep (at $80.00) was just stupid.  I wanted to be in the pass at sunrise so I opted to just sleep in the car.  This marks a historic moment for me. It was only the second time, on a vacation, that I have ever slept in a car. (The first time was in 2004 when I fled the Hotel Trash in Paxton, Alaska. Buy me a beer and I will tell you that story!)

Pulling my jacket over me (I was too tired to haul my sleeping bag out of the trunk), I was asleep in 0.0987345 seconds. Really.

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