Vantage Field Trip -- Waterbirds and More!

On Sunday November 12th, four Yakima Audubon members joined me for a trip to Vantage to view the fall migrant waterfowl spectacle along the Columbia River. A quick stop at the Tjossem Pond in Ellensburg yielded two surprises; 2 female Red-breasted Merganers among the more expected Common Mergansers and two leucistic Canada Geese hanging out with a flock of Canada Geese. Along the old Vantage Highway en route to Vantage we had our first of the winter Northern Shrikes as well as one Roughlegged Hawk.

Image - Two Leucistic Canada Geese - Karen Zook
Two Leucistic Canada Geese - Karen Zook

Upon arriving in Vantage, waterbirds dominated the rest of the day. The first uncommon bird was an immature male White-winged Scoter noted just north of the I-90 Bridge. Abundant numbers of other ducks, grebes and especially American Coots were noted. A stop at Wanapum State Park south of I- 90 along Huntzinger Road notched a few notable nonwaterbird species; a Mountain Chickadee, an unusual migrant from more mountainous habitats was seen as was an immature Northern Goshawk (also from the mountains). In addition to these mountain birds, a flyby of five Common Redpolls, a northern finch that appears in some winters in central Washington, was observed. Based on early sightings this month of Common Redpolls throughout the state, this may be a notable winter for them. As this species targets the seed catkins of alder and birch trees, watch those trees for a possible rare delight.

South of Wanapum State Park, a few more unusual waterbirds were noted including two more White-winged Scoters, an adult male and an immature female. In the waters below Wanapum Dam a large grouping of Barrow’s Goldeneye were a treat and three more Red-breasted Mergansers were tallied. The weather was dry, calm and in the mid-40s, which for mid-November at Vantage is considered a nice day! For the day, the group tallied 68 species, a nice collage for late fall in the Columbia Basin.

-Scott Downes