Moving to the east side of Washington means that we get to see many different species of birds that didn’t show up on the west side of Cascades where we lived for a long time. When I roamed around the west side of Oregon I’d occasionally run into a bird that seemed out of range. One notable encounter was a female Vermillion Flycatcher that had gotten well north of its normal range. Yellow-breasted Chat do make an appearance on the west side of the Cascades but sightings are not all that common and usually result in a rare bird alert or at least a bit of clamor on the bird sighting networks.
I heard about a Chat at Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge a few years ago and went to see if I could locate the bird. When I didn’t spot it I asked my friend Gerry Ellis for some ideas on how to better my chances. He advised that they typically hide in dense shrubs and to listen for their song/call (always good advice). Well, that didn’t result in a sighting for me so I kept the bird on my list of “birds to see and photograph”.
Gerry and Jenn were pushing for a long list of birds in 2015… kind of their own Big Year. One of the birds that was becoming a nemesis was the Yellow-breasted Chat. It’s pretty easy to torment them with info about a species that they figure they should be able to spot easily but which proves to be evasive. Having moved to Wenatchee I was exploring above our house last May and heard a Chat calling. This bird has a wide variety of calls/songs but all are distinctive. I pulled over and began the wait. After awhile I saw the bird in the distance. As Gerry said, the bird was about mid-level in a shrub and not clearly visible. I did manage to get one or two reasonable photos to validate that I’d seen the bird. I scurried home to let Gerry know that I’d found Chat in the canyon above our house… about a mile away. You can imagine his angst.
Shortly after that my friend Steve came to town for a visit and to see some birds. We went up-canyon and found the Chat again. I got a couple more mediocre photos but was encouraged that bird was actually mostly in the open and easily seen. Backlight spoiled my photos that day.
A few days ago I went back up the canyon to see if I could find the Yellow-breasted Chat that I had heard a few days prior. I pulled off on one of the few safe turnouts and grabbed the camera and binocs and stood patiently as I listened to at least 2 Chat calling. After about 30 minutes a Chat flew into the top of nearby tree and posed as it called. Backlight was again a problem for photographs but that didn’t stop me from firing off a couple of dozen frames. Then the bird relocated and turned into the light. I took photos until my arms began to cramp. The Chat just seemed to be working poses for my benefit. I was not able to adjust my position too much but did what I could to find a clean background. I was thrilled to have a long period with this bird when the light was good and I had no reason to rush away. This was a reward for all the times that I’ve been skunked or failed with the camera.
Yes, I sent a copy of the photo to Gerry and Jenn. Gerry is working hard on his premiere episode of Apes Like Us on YouTube and is tied to his office much more than he likes. Again, a photo of the Chat gave him a bit of a mental break even if it did frustrate him a bit. The nemesis bird continues for him. Me, I’m a happy photographer.