Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge Field Trip, February 2021

After a couple weeks of troublesome weather, February 27 was a magnificent day for our first YVAS field trip of the year! An enthusiastic group of YVAS members and family met at 8:00 AM in the Refuge Lookout parking lot where YVAS Board member and Refuge Volunteer, Kerry Turley, gave an orientation and birding tips about the refuge.

Our group was good-sized, so we split up with half birding along the trail to the Headquarters building while the others viewed from the Lookout. There were numerous Tundra Swans, Northern Pintail, American Coots, a pair of Wood Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, Gadwall, Canada Geese and Mallards on the Hwy 97 ponds. The white swans were spectacular in the bright morning sun! Along the walking trail we saw White-crowned Sparrows, a Bewick’s Wren, Black-billed Magpies, and an adult and juvenile Bald Eagle in the distant trees. For our convenience, Kerry opened the Refuge Headquarters, and we spent some time viewing ducks together on the nearby pond. At 9:30, we headed down Pumphouse Road making a couple of stops before Old Goldendale Road to view Toppenish Creek ponds with our spotting scopes and binoculars. Here there were really large numbers of Northern Pintail (>200), Green-winged Teal, Canada Geese, American Widgeons, and a single, Eurasian Widgeon-an uncommon sighting at the Refuge. Stopping at Old Goldendale we saw four Northern Shovelers just west of the road and looked for Sagebrush Sparrows, but without luck this time. Continuing along Pumphouse, we came to the tree on the north side where there has been a Great Horned Owl nest for the last few years. The nest is almost at eye level, located in a tree down the bank from the road. Last year the owls hatched two chicks in the nest, but at the moment, there are no chicks. We approached in groups of two vehicles and stopped only briefly to look and take pictures from inside the car so as not to stress her.

We turned off Pumphouse at Lateral C and stopped just north of the bridge. This is usually an excellent spot for ducks and swans in the field west of the road and we saw more Northern Pintail, Canada Geese and Tundra Swans in the tall grass at the far side of the field. There wasn’t much songbird activity in the Cottonwoods and Willow at the Creek, but this should be a good spot in March. We finished the trip at noon at Zimmerman Farms on Marion Drain where a Belted Kingfisher was working the canal.

Our next Toppenish Wildlife Refuge trip is March 27 and there is still space available. We will see different waterfowl and hopefully more perching birds!

-Sarah Shippen

Image - Photo by Rich Mathieu
Photo by Rich Mathieu