This Tri-City woman made an unusual find at Hood Park

An Eurasian wigeon, a rare winter visitor to the U.S., was spotted Jan. 4 in Columbia Park.
An Eurasian wigeon, a rare winter visitor to the U.S., was spotted Jan. 4 in Columbia Park.

Elke Davis may be relatively new to bird watching, but she earned another set of wings this month.

She went bird watching at Hood Park on Jan. 4 and made quite the find for a birder.

She saw a Eurasian wigeon — a red-headed duck that breeds in the northernmost parts of Europe and Asia. It migrates to southern Asia and Africa and is a rare winter visitor to the United States on the mid-Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

“It was about noon on a gray cloudy day,” she said. “I scanned the water with my binoculars and there he was.”

Imagine that. A red-headed duck from Russia surrounded by a bunch of American wigeons in Kennewick.

It was not Davis’ first time spotting an unusual bird.

A Eurasian wigeon at Columbia Park in March 2018. Elke Davis

Her eagle eyes helped her find another one along the Columbia River right in Kennewick’s Columbia Park last March, in bright blue sunshine.

Davis is someone who discovered birding late in life. She joined the local Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society three years ago to make her life easier when it came to identifying birds.

The local chapter’s Christmas bird count identified 94 species.

“It’s a great group of people,” Davis said. “I love trying to find unusual birds, which makes it so much more exciting.”

This time of year, she often totes a heavy pack filled with gear, clothes, food and supplies, so she’s adequately equipped while hanging out in cold wet places.

“My motto is, ‘there is no bad weather, only bad clothing,’” Davis said.

Part of that pack includes camera equipment, as Davis — an longtime photographer — takes photos of the birds and flocks she sees.

This Pacific loon with a fish in its mouth was photographed in November near Bateman Island. Ivar Husa

“I’ve become an aficionado,” Davis said. “I learned from Paul Bannick, a noted Pacific Northwest birder, to get up early and be in position and ready two hours before sunrise in order to get great shots.”

Ivar Husa, another birder and society member, braved freezing temperatures one late November morning on Bateman Island when he saw a Pacific loon swimming in the water off shore.

“Loons are big,” Husa said. “They aren’t ducks. By weight, the Pacific Loon is close to 10 times the weight of a mallard duck.”

As he watched with his camera carefully balanced on a tripod from a flat old concrete surface, he got a few nice shots from 100 yards. Then the loon dove and stayed down a long time.

Unbelievably, it surfaced in front of him, maybe 50 feet out, and he caught some amazing closeups.

He went back four days later with no expectations. Surprise: the loon was still in the area.

“I took the same position and waited, hoping it would come closer,” Husa said.

It did — again, just 50 feet from him.

A glutton for punishment, Husa ventured out once more three days after that.

“This time he dove and surfaced three times,” Husa said. “And as he came up the third time, I literally gasped and snapped the photo of him showing off his success. He had a fish in its mouth.”

“This picture is a treasure of mine. Loons are one of the rarer birds to be found here, and I had a special adventure,” Husa said.

A common goldeneye makes a landing. Ivar Husa

The Tri-Cities is one of those places with lots of chances to see birds and other wildlife. There are small ponds that attract waterfowl. There are plenty of flat trails, many with wheelchair-accessible entries, that get you to the water with birds nearby in astounding numbers.

Dress for the weather, bring binoculars, a camera or your smartphone that attaches to a tripod, and a bird identification book or app. If you are going out or a few hours or for the day, bring a day pack with food, water and extra clothes.

The Audubon Society meets monthly and offers free morning bird walks on Bateman Island to observe the surrounding Yakima Delta and Columbia River environs.

They meet 8 a.m. on the first Saturday of the month from now through June at the Wye Park on Columbia Park Trail.

Tens of thousands of snow geese can be seen from the bird blind in Burbank at the McNary National Wildlife Refuge. Elke Davis

The club welcomes anyone who is interested in expanding their birding knowledge by accompanying experienced birders. Average sightings for these walks are 45 to 50 species.

They are also conducting a nature walk 9 a.m., Jan. 19, of the Amon Natural Preserve with Tapteal Greenway.

Flock here to see birds

Hood Park – Take I-84 east of Pasco over the Snake River. Take first exit head north. 2339 Ice Harbor Road, Burbank.

Columbia Park – from the cable bridge between Pasco and Kennewick all the way to North Richland.

W.E. Johnson Park – Hall Road off Van Giesen in Richland.

Bateman Island – Wye Park on Columbia Park Trail in Kennewick.

McNary National Wildlife Refuge – just up the road from Hood Park, the bird blind is located behind the Park Headquarters at 64 Maple St., Burbank.

Two Rivers County Park – the south side of the Columbia River just southeast of downtown Kennewick.

Sacajawea Park – east of Pasco at the mouth of the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Madame Dorian Memorial Park – 14 miles southeast of Pasco on Highway 12 near Wallula, where the Walla Walla River enters the Columbia River.

McNary Dam Nature Trails — off Highway 730 in Hermiston, on the south shore of Lake Wallula behind McNary Dam on the Columbia River.

For more information, visit https://www.lowercolumbiabasinaudubon.org/.

Sandhill Crane Festival

Spring is coming and the sandhill cranes are coming. For more information visit the Othello Sandhill Crane Festival at https://www.othellosandhillcranefestival.org/.

Paul Krupin is an avid local outdoor enthusiast and a member of the Intermountain Alpine Club (IMAC). He can be reached at pjkrupin@gmail.com.