Northwest beauty

Murray and I enjoyed our last American birding adventure together, at least for the summer, with a time-constrained visit to the Washington/Idaho border area for a chance at catching up with the waterfall-nesting Black Swifts of the northwest, hopefully arriving just ahead of fledging time, after which this species is very hard to find.

Even though I’d been successful three years earlier, almost to the day, we had a hell of a time finding the secret handshake location of the nesting swifts, wasting four hours on the Thursday afternoon, then investing another six hours of driving through the admittedly very beautiful logging roads of Coeur d’Alene National Forest in western Idaho. Eventually we discovered how dumb our error had been – I don’t want to recount it here, as it is ‘that’ dumb, and with only a few miles of unpaved roads, found the site.


Gorgeous rural settings on the road to the Coeur d’Alene National Forests of western Idaho.


We drove a total of nearly ten hours along the meandering logging trails of the National Forest in a standard rental, searching in vain for the site where Black Swifts nest behind small waterfalls, but were compensated by the beauty of the place.


Finally, we ended up on the right track – and familiar landmarks assured me we were indeed closing in on our destination.


The waterfall swifts are not only difficult for ground-based predators to access – they are just about impossible for avian predators to see. Although Murray and I were able to make out one nest, with attendant parent in residence, we (Murray) only found a second nest when later analysing our photographs.


Initially, the only birds we could see nesting behind the waterfall were American Dippers.



American Dipper. A great bird, but not so swift.



Thank gawd! We weren’t too late for nesting Black Swifts. Can you make out the two Black Swifts nests? Easier with this cropped image than with binocs, believe me.


Because Murray and I chewed up so much time in the Idaho mountains (and I’m not saying my navigator had anything to do with this… at least not publicly), our intended trip to southern Idaho for Cassia Crossbills fell to the wayside – I had to be in southern California for a pelagic trip on Sunday, and there just wasn’t enough time. So we raced westward past Spokane to a hotspot recommended by my good mate Michael Woodruff recommends for Sage Thrasher, and scored just prior to sunset.


Sage Thrasher – top dog hereabouts.


I’m not saying Murray and I would do such a thing, but if we were to look in this barn in the final minutes of the day for a shot at Barn Owl, we, hypothetically, would come up short, but might re-experience some of the risk-enhanced glee of our common pre-teen explorations – though thousands of miles apart.


When I called Michael for help finding the thrasher,  he offered to use a rare day off from his Medical Residency to help us find a Dusky Grouse in the Mt Spokane area on Saturday morning. Michael’s Mum-in-law, and avid birder Sandy agreed to come along too, and we had a fantastic time birding the beautiful ski areas of Mt Spokane.


The ski slopes of Mt Spokane are a whole ‘nuther thing in the summer, with great birding opportunities, including a shot at my emerging nemesis species – Dusky Grouse.


Birding hotshot and all ’round nice guy Michael Woodruff selfying Sandy, Murray and I with the Mt Spokane ski lifts in background.


False start! Sandy photographed a grouse rock – a perfectly shaped chunk of granite, right where a Dusky Grouse should have been. Sandy is a an extraordinary birder however, and soon found a real grouse, just as statuesque and still. Michael spent the next half hour trying to find me, and getting me down the mountain to where Sandy, and eventually Murray kept vigil.


Western Tanager


Aha! Dusky Grouse in freeze mode.




To wind up  our birding day prior to my flight to LAX, and Murray’s continuing adventures in Washington State, Sandy invited us to her place, near the Spokane Airport, for a look at another species I needed – Calliope Hummingbird, which is a regular visitor to her backyard feeders. She also surprised us with a bucketload of red raspberries from her back yard, and a fantastic late lunch. Michael’s wife Mindy – who is finalising her studies to become an Anaesthetist while breaking various regional long-distance running records, joined us for the get-together, along with his beautiful Mum Krista and brother Jonathon – whom I was glad to finally meet. Roger, also a doctor, and also one of the ‘California Four’ band of birders who are were helpful to me when I needed assistance in 2016, was responsibly at work down in Loma Linda, though I hope to catch up with him at some stage this year.


What a fabulous family – Jonathon, Krista, Sandy, Michael and Mindy made Murray and I feel super-special.


Calliope Hummer in Sandy’s back yard