Yakima County.

Recently Jacob and I planned a big day trip to Yakima County in central Washington to visit Toppenish NWR so Jacob could finally see some stilts and I could get some state birds.  It was great though the ridiculous number of ticks will be as memorable as the birds.

We brushed off dozens of these buggers in the field but continued to find them in our clothes, in my hair, and in the car for days afterward.  Thankfully Lyme disease is not a big concern out there, but still, ticks are gnarly.  

But there were birds!  We started off the day driving past the headquarters along Pumphouse Road to Old Goldendale Road and Lateral 'C' Road.  Jacob lifered on Black-necked Stilts just as he was supposed to last year at Summer Lake.

 Oh right, then some horses cruised through blocking the stilt view.  It's cool, we had better views later. 

Stilt with a view

 A male Northern Harrier was around the whole time we were there, briefly pausing on a fence post. 

Wilson's Snipes do not pause briefly on fence posts.  They pause for long whiles. 

We walked around this abandoned house and found some shot-up coyotes that had been weirdly posed together on the ground.  Ugh.

Pumpkin-carving inspiration
After exploring Old Goldendale and Lateral 'C' we headed back to the HQ area to walk the foot trail, which is where most of our ticks were acquired.   The trail itself was not too exciting but the area right around the HQ building was nice and even had a Great Horned Owl.

We had lunch in a shady area by some feeders before heading off the refuge for more birds.  Full checklist from Toppenish NWR here.

Next we drove east of the town of Toppenish on Yakima Valley Highway to an eBird hotspot called Kerry's Pond.  This was the only place nearby that avocets had been reliably reported this spring, and indeed we found two here. 

There were plenty more stilts here including one that appeared to be sitting on a nest.

With bonus Common Goldeneye

While standing there I heard something at my feet and saw a decent-sized green snake slither under a log.  Jacob tipped the log up so the snake stayed in the shade and didn't take off, giving us great looks.

I am pretty sure it's a western yellow-bellied racer. 

After the pond we headed south to a new area of sage, farmlands and dusty roads, where I hoped we could pick up all the sage birds.  Things were off to a good start with a Sage Thrasher on Mabton-Bickleton Road.

 We turned off on Ridge Road and followed it to Turpin Road and Donoho Road.  This area was fun.

 Dust devil

Swainson's Hawk

 We found a cemetery which is always a good thing when birding dusty back roads in the middle of nowhere.  Here we had another Sage Thrasher, a pair of Mountain Bluebirds, and an Anise swallowtail.

The sign was one of my favorite things about the cemetery.

Back on the road for a bit we noticed some old structures that had Say's Phoebes hanging out on top.  One in particular looked owly so we crept around to take a look.

Owly indeed.

We had Western Kingbirds, Horned Larks, American Pipits and a billion White-crowned Sparrows in these parts. 

Eventually we began to hear Brewer's and Vesper Sparrows singing, but never any Sagebrush Sparrows.

Warning:  Vesper Sparrow.

One last thing from our trip.  There were bluebird houses all around these back roads we explored, but this was the only one with a coot head on top:

 A Mountain Bluebird was perched close to the house making me think it's being used despite the head.  So weird.

All in all it was great day trip with lots of state birds!  Good times!!


  1. The west is weird! But cool! I LOVE that abandoned house. Can you tell me more specifically where it is? The history nerd in me wants to find out more about it. So much awesome craftsmanship out in the middle of nowhere. I always get curious about what once was.

    1. Ok, I found it on google maps for you: 46.313627, -120.380514

      Let me know if you find anything!

    2. I am kind of surprised how quickly things turned up. The house was likely the residence of the Wah-Pa-No-Yah family, a Yakima Indian family who owned the land. The land is not within the NWR and is part of the Yakima Reservation, so I can't look up real estate transactions through the county like normal to find out the most recent owners. The patriarch of the family was Wasacon (born 1865), his wife was Say-Ye-Pum (born 1868), and they had a daughter Eliza (1881), son Comshipie (1895), and daughters Annie (1903), Sallie (1907), Sa-Sah-Pum (1910), Lallia (1912), and Nancy (1913). I would guess there may have been other kids who died very young. The earliest aerial photo I could get was from 1956. But I would guess the house was built some time in the 1910s because of the architectural style, and that seems to square with when the Wa-Pa-No-Yahs started growing their family. Wasacon seems to have died some time prior to 1934, and I can find no records of any of the kids. Say-Ye-Pum died in 1957, but the land continued to be listed in her name until at least 1959. The other aerial photos starting in 1964 don't show any vehicles or other signs of habitation, so I would guess that house has been empty for 50 years or more. It's pretty incredible to see that it is still in as good a shape as it is since it's probably 100 years old if not older and has been vacant for half that time. Cool stuff... thank you!

    3. Wow! Thanks for sharing all that, very cool. From now on when I post abandoned houses I'll include the GPS coordinates for you!

  2. Some weird and wonderful stuff out there! Sounds like a great trip - except for the ticks. Ticks really freak me out.

  3. If only ticks weren’t potentially bearing devastating I’ll esses, then they’d just be like super flattering souvenirs bugs right??

    You Snipe hang on posts up there???
    That seems very reckless. Better to adopt the Bluebird strategy of leaving a Coot head as a ward and warning.

    Other than die there next to a hole, what does one have to do to secure some real estate in Glade Cemetery?

    1. Post snipes are extremely common in spring out here. Tree snipes and shrub snipes too. How awesome would it be if all birds reversed their norms for a season?

  4. I wonder if any of the Wa-Pa-No-Yahs are buried in the Glade Cemetery...
    Owls all over the place...jealous! Terrific Harrier shot!

  5. I birded Toppenish NWR one time when I lived in WA, and at the HQ, I walked into the brush to check out an Ash-throated Flycatcher. A few minutes later, as I was driving to my next stop, I felt a crawling sensation and realized I was covered in ticks. Ick! 6 years ago but very memorable!

    1. Yep, this will probably still be on my mind in 6 years!


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