Migrating April & May Birds
Lewis and Clark identified about 50 species of birds during their journey of discovery across the country 200 years ago. Many of these birds were new to science, including the California Condor, which they first spotted in the Columbia River Gorge. With the exception of that large member of the vulture family, all of the birds they encountered in this area can still be seen here, although in reduced numbers.
In the Captain William Clark Park column, Roger Daniels states that the Corps of Discovery spent the six days from March 31 to April 6, gathering food while camped near present day Cottonwood Beach in Washougal. They had gotten reports on the scarcity of fish and game east of the mountains from families of Indians they had met coming down the river from the Cascade region. These Indians' winter supply of dried salmon had been consumed and the spring fish runs had not yet begun, so they were searching for food on the warmer end of the Columbia Gorge. This would have been a difficult time of the year to secure a supply of food, as the wintering waterfowl would have already migrated, and deer and elk would still be regaining the weight they had lost during the rutting season and winter.
April and May are months of change when the majority of birds that have migrated to the tropics return to the Washougal area. During migration a small number of individual birds will go astray and wind up in areas where they are not normally found. These unexpected birds are one of the things that offer identification challenges as well as a sense of discovery to birders. During April, I had the privilege to experience two of these birds. The first was when a homeowner in Vancouver alerted me that a Costa's Hummingbird was coming to their feeder. This is a hummingbird normally found in Southern California and the Desert Southwest and was the first record for Clark County, and about the fourth ever seen in Washington State.
The second species was a Burrowing Owl that I found on the Steigerwald Lake Refuge while I was conducting the monthly bird census there as a volunteer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Burrowing Owls live in ground squirrel or prairie dog holes and have only been seen once before in the Clark County during the last fifty years. Prior to that there was a small colony near Hazel Dell that occupied the open prairies that are now covered with homes and businesses. This small owl was most likely a bird in migration that was blown down the Gorge by strong east winds and eventually will make its way back to eastern Washington where they still breed in isolated colonies.
A homeowner on the east side of Washougal notified me that both Calliope Hummingbirds and Black-chinned Hummingbirds had visited their feeders during the last month.
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Jim Clapp, Refuge Manager