Lower Valley Shorebird Field Trip Finds 80 Species

On August 16th I was joined by Annika Willette for a day of shorebirding around the lower valley. We started at the Kerry’s Pond, which was relatively productive. As soon as we got out of the car to scope the pond most of the ducks flushed, but we were still able to pick out Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Cinnamon Teal, Mallard, and Redhead.

Image - Semipalmated Plover - Grandview Sewage Treatment Plant, August 16, 2017
Semipalmated Plover - Grandview Sewage Treatment Plant, August 16, 2017

There may have also been a few Blue-winged Teal with the large flock of teal that flushed. We were also able to pick out our first 7 shorebird species for the day here; Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Wilson’s Snipe, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, and the highlight of the stop, 5 Solitary Sandpipers! When we first got out we were only able to see one Solitary Sandpiper, but after a few minutes the birds flushed and we were able to count 5 of them flying off, calling. As their name suggests they are most often seen by themselves or in small groups of two or three birds, five was the most I think I’ve seen together before!

After the cow pond we headed to the Emerald Rd which overlooks the Yakima River below Cherry Hill. Along the way we stopped at my house to see Black-chinned, Rufous, and Anna’s Hummingbirds visiting my feeder. Also around my yard were three migrant Red-breasted Nuthatches and a Lazuli Bunting. Heading down to the west bend of the river now, we walked along the road and were able to scope more Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, and a Greater Yellowlegs along the cobble bars of the river. Also spotted here were the typical river summer residents like American White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, and Osprey. We headed east about a half mile and walked the orchards for migrants. Present were Wood Ducks, Warbling Vireo, Eastern and Western Kingbird, House Wren, Cedar Waxwings, Yellow Warbler, Gray Catbird, Yellow-breasted Chat, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Purple Finch. Along the river again I remarked, ‘I’m surprised we haven’t seen a Great Egret yet, this is their time of year here.’ Sure enough, a few minutes later at the east river bend overlook a Great Egret flew over our heads! Continuing out Emerald Rd we visited Morgan Lake briefly, which was very scummy and had no birds on it. Still, we were treated to nice looks of Swanson’s Hawks and American Kestrels which were hazing each other and heard a migrant Western Tanager calling from the large Elm trees lining the road.

We briefly stopped at the Mabton Boat Launch as well, almost certain that the pond west of the boat launch would have no water but still hopeful. Sure enough, the pond was dry, but another Great Egret and a migrant MacGillivray’s Warbler made it worthwhile. From here we went on to the place where we spent the most time, the Grandview Sewage Ponds. These ponds almost always contain a wide array of ducks and shorebirds, and we were not disappointed! We were able to add Blue-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Lesser Scaup, and Ruddy Duck to our duck list for the day. We also found 10 species of shorebirds here; Killdeer, Wilson’s Snipe, Least, Western, and Spotted Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Red-necked Phalarope, and the highlight of the entire trip, two Semipalmated Plovers! We had great looks at one of the plovers, while we only noticed the other when they flushed with a Killdeer. A good bird for the county! Other birds of note were Virginia Rail, Sora, and Marsh Wren.

We drove out to Prosser along Hwy 22 in hopes of finding some flooded fields along the way. We didn’t find any, but stopping at the Prosser bridge there was a flyover Red Crossbill, an uncommon/rare migrant in Benton county. We stopped at the Van Belle Reservoir and Kerry’s Pond again on the way back to Granger and were unable to pick out anything new. We had 80 species on the day, a pretty good total considering many of the mountain migrants hadn’t peaked yet! It was a good trip!

-Eric Heisey