Saturday, February 26, 2011

2/25 Peninsular Birding: Kitsap and Jefferson Counties

From the Theler Wetlands in Mason County, I made my way off to two spots in Kitsap County - the waterfront at Gorst was my first stop - no pictures, but I was able to pick up a few ducks and sparrows at from the parking lot looking in to Sinclair Inlet.  From there, I made my way to Point no Point.  This was a stop for Bre and I on our very first road trip.  She liked lighthouses, I liked maps, and we decided to see seven of them in a day (Mukilteo, Bush Point, Admiralty Head, Point Wilson, Skunk Bay, Point no Point and Marrowstone Island).  It was a great little route that took us up to Whidbey Island, down through Port Townsend, and finished in this little corner of the Kitsap Peninsula.  These were the first lines I penned into my Washington map, so it's always a treat to go back to those spots that we'd hit together that lovely day so long ago.

Puget Sound from Point no Point - the map says that's Whidbey over there.
Point no Point Lighthouse
Point no Point is a great place for birds, but I'll be honest - I was a bad birder today.  The wind was making it sooooo cold!  I explored a little bit on the beach, but in the end, I decided to stay on the safe side of the lighthouse where there wasn't any wind to speak of.  Ahhhhh....  The gulls were the highlight here - not that I picked out all that many different kinds, but the little gulls - Bonaparte's and Mew - were out in such big numbers, and were diving all over the water.  Three species of cormorant (Brandt's, Pelagic and Double-crested) were out and about, as well as Brant, Rhinoceros Auklets and the first Sanderlings I'd seen this year.  On the way out, I chatted with one of the Parks employees, and talked about the Killdeer in particular (one of which was walking around on the grass by the lighthouse) with their broken wing display (which is what got me into this whole birding thing in the first place!).  I finished by driving up Twin Spits Road a bit, where I found more Varied Thrushes, sparrows, and deer!

Gulls at Point no Point

Bonaparte's Gull

Varied Thrush
Departing from here, I made my way to Fort Flagler in Jefferson County.  I was unable to get a good picture of Port Gamble on the way out - drat!  It's a very cute town, and we've stopped there on the way to the Olympic Peninsula on more than one occasion!  The day was getting a little late, and I had to get back for date night, so there weren't other stops along the way unless they were right on the road.  I hoped to make it up to Fort Flagler to see another 'lifer' - this one a little more expected: Black-bellied Plover.  I'd just never made it out to the places you'd expect to find them during the seasons when you'd expect to find them.

Oak Bay - driving from Indian Island to Marrowstone Island...
which are connected to each other by a tiny strip of land.
 So off I went over the Hood Canal and into Jefferson County.  Fort Flagler is on Marrowstone Island just west of the Quimper Peninsula (where you find Port Townsend).  There were a few pullouts along the way where I had to stop for pictures or to scan the water for birds.  New birds for the year along the way included Hermit Thrush and Greater Yellowlegs.  (New Birds for the Year will become a bigger deal, especially as fall comes!  138 species is the current count.)

"What is Nordland?"                                    "Correct!"
"I'll take small towns in Washington for 1000, Alex."

 Here's the little guy I was hoping to find at Fort Flagler!  Black-bellied Plover... (I know, right now it's a boring-bellied plover).  About as plain as they come - that's why it's still alive, probably.  Also a lot of Sanderlings scooting around the water's edge, and Brant close to shore. The beach was beautiful, and I was able to get a nice picture of Mt. Baker, which I discovered later had a bird flying across it.  The other pictures below are just there to remind me that it was a very, very cold day.  Track's starting next week.  Hopefully things warm up!  That will also slow down my running around the state for a little bit, but hopefully I'll get at least one March post up!

Bird and Baker


vvvvery cold!

2/25 Peninsular Birding - First stop: Mason County

Tacoma Narrows Bridge
The Olympics!  Body of water and associated landforms
completely unknown to me....
I'm getting better with it, but the Kitsap Peninsula (and all of the little points, peninsulas, inlets, coves, passages, spits, bays, harbors and islands associated with it) is still a bit of a maze to me.  To be fair, not all of this day was actually spent on the Kitsap Peninsula, as I finished the day on Marrowstone Island (which is across Kilisut Harbor from Indian Island...although the two "islands" are actually connected to each other - all of this right off of the Olympic Peninsula, well actually the Quimper Peninsula, which is separated from the Olympic Peninsula by Discovery Bay... I'll stop there.)  In the end, I got to some lovely places, and enjoyed looking around at all the evidence of glacial antics.

First Stop: Mason County - Mary Theler Wetlands

Varied Thrush
This was a very cold stop.  The temperature dipped into the teens the night before, so I was very bundled for this walk.  Each time I had to take off the gloves for the binoculars, scope or camera, it was a big decision!  The Mary Theler Wetlands is 135 acres of trails, swamps, forest and water near Belfair, Washington - right at the end (beginning?) of Hood Canal.  The trails are all pretty bite-sized, so I had been here w/ the family before.  It starts off in mixed woods from the visitor center, and I was happy to find a handful of my favorite birds there - Varied Thrushes!  Cold weather seems to bring them out, and I actually ended up seeing them in all three counties today.

From here, I took the short South Tidal Marsh Trail, which led to this lovely view.

Northern Pintails and American Wigeons were huddled together in the little sloughs, and the scope didn't show me much more. 
Heading back to the Union River Estuary Trail, I found my first "lifer" of the year, a Sora!  I had been looking pretty hard for these little guys last year, although I had probably waited a bit too long, as most of them are hard to find when they are nesting, then head out to warmer places in the summer.  I was not looking for one today - it's still winter, Mason County is not an easy place to find them, and I didn't have an IPod to pull them out.  
Sora - my first 'lifer' bird of the year

I need to explain that, probably - some birds that are otherwise hard to see will respond vocally and/or come in closer if they hear their own call.  A fairly common birding 'tool' now is the IPod (or similar portable thingy with 'apps') loaded up with bird calls for just this purpose.  Amazing way to see birds that would otherwise remain invisible and quiet most of the time.  It can be used improperly, and one of the big arguments amongst birders on the Tweeters listserv recently was about the proper/improper use of these calls, which in the wrong circumstances can stress out birds that really don't need the stress. 


Okay, enough parantheticals!  Anyway, this was a bird I'd never seen before, in a place I wasn't expecting to see it, sitting out uncharacteristically in plain view!  So I watched it for a bit, shot some pictures, watched it some more, and it finally trotted off into the reeds.  It was interesting reporting it at the visitor center.  I told the women working there that I'd seen a Sora.  One asked what a Sora was... there's a stumper!  Um... it's kind of like a Virginia Rail.  What's a Rail?... Um.... I don't know that I cleared it up well while I was there, and I don't know if it would help if I said here that rails and soras are related to coots (which I'm sorry to say aren't ducks), and cranes.  I still haven't wrapped my brain around how a big old Sandhill Crane, an American Coot, and a Sora can be 'family', but they really are different from other birds:  Ducks are ducks, not geese.  Swallows are swallows, not hawks.  And rails are rails! 

I continued on along the river trail, and found a lot of different species along the way, including a lot of sparrows and ducks, and a Turkey Vulture!  38 species in the county, almost all from this one walk.  I do want to make it back to Mason when it's just a little warmer - there's a place around here that is one of the few good places to find Mountain Quail in the state - another one I've never seen.

Red-winged Blackbird

Turkey Vulture

Thursday, February 24, 2011

2/22 Pierce County

Wapato Lake Park - Pierce County
American Wigeons and Ruddy Ducks
Zipped out Thursday morning with Declan to a few spots in Pierce County.  I haven't been to a lot of lakes in the county, so I thought I'd take a look at Wapato Lake, and Fort Steilacoom Park.  It's winter still, so there were ducks, but it's winter still, so it was really really cold!  Good play equipment at Wapato Lake, and Declan got on the monkey bars... froze his hands off... and was ready to go!  Before we packed up, I was able to find some good dabbling ducks, a Cooper's Hawk, lots of gulls (mostly Ring-billed and Glaucous-winged) and a couple of Pied-billed Grebes.

Fort Steilacoom was a place I hadn't visited, and I'm sure I'll want to hit it again with both of the kids in warmer weather.  Interpretive trails, lots of open fields and places to play.  Interesting to read up on it

Funny that the pass they used back then was Naches Pass!  I visited the pass on a Washington Ornithological Society field trip last summer, and it's no I-90!  I guess if you're not doing 60, it'd be safe enough.

I swear the windows were already broken!
Waughop Lake (thank goodness I only have to type that name) at the park had 3 billion Northern Shoverlers, and some Ring-necked Ducks as well - species 39 and 40 for the year.  Could have looked for more, but... did I mention it was cold?  Declan and I found a good field for throwing a boomerang.  We got a little better with it, and left before taking out any windows on the historic buildings around us.

8 counties down!  Whatcom, San Juan, King, Thurston, Wahkiakum, Chelan, Skagit and Pierce.  I'm looking outside right now at 3" of snow on the ground... maybe today is a bad day for driving, eh?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Yay! Field Trip!

Mt Baker from Skagit County - finally a sunny day of birding this year!
My wife's work connected me to an opportunity to help on a field trip today up to Skagit County with Cornish College of the Arts.  Course title: Birds in the Field and the Imagination.  One course objective:  "A deeper understanding of birds as carriers of meaning for humans and as symbols in the visual and performing arts and in literature."  Insert "the night sky" for "birds", (and fix the grammatical problems that would create) and I like that as a goal for my ninth graders studying astronomy.
It was so awesome to be birding with relative beginners.  They've been brushing up in class, but there are still so many birds around them that they are really seeing and hearing for the first time.  I can remember nearly all of the moments when I got my 'lifers' (okay, maybe not the first crow...), and it was a treat to get to be there for so many of those moments.
Trumpeter Swans at the Conway exit off of I5

They'd been looking over swans pretty carefully before arriving, so they pretty quickly nailed the swans we saw off of the Conway exit as Trumpeter Swans.  They let me know about the characteristics of size, bill shape and color that got them there, and were just dead on.  We had about 30 of them there, and were also treated to views of an American Kestrel, and a few Red-tailed Hawks.  As we quickly hit the bathrooms at the gas station across the street, we had a falcon of some sort (we gueeeesssed Peregrine, but really weren't sure) fly over our vans. 

On to Wylie Slough, in hopes for a Black Phoebe, or at the very least, some good songbirds.  One outta two ain't bad!  Apparently, we missed the show that the Black Phoebe had put on earlier in the day, and it had decided to take a little nap - ah well (I have said ah well too many times in my posts.... Is it almost March, and I've added no new birds to my life list, or to my state list? hmmmm....) 

We did get over 20 species here, though.  I don't usually list them out, but we had fun putting together the list in the van as we went, so: Black-capped Chickadee, Bewick's Wren, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Spotted Towhee, Dark-eyed Junco, Song Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Mew Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Double-crested Cormorant, Pine Siskin, Tree Swallow, Bald Eagle, Mallard, Great Blue Heron, American Robin and Red-tailed Hawk.

There may be more pictures coming... my camera died when we got to Wylie Slough!  Some students were shooting though, and I may add.  Here are the others I took that day, though:

Great Blue Heron in flight here.  This one is special for me from the trip, because they were the stars of the show for the students.  They are pretty common birds - the only one that I've seen in every county I've visited this year (to be fair, it is the only bird I saw in Kittitas as it got dark - not really fair!).  But the exchange of the day went like this: "Great Blue Heron..... Great Blue Heron!... Hello?!... Why is this van still moving??"  From a student with a camera ready to go.  I wasn't driving, so I just smiled quietly, knowing that there would be more herons coming.  We did get one at Hayton Preserve that everyone took a good look at in the scope, as well as a Norhtern Harrier sitting on the ground.

Count the eagles!  I know this gets even more crazy during the Skagit Eagle Festival in January - on the river, I've heard there are just hundreds of them hanging in the trees - so like this times 50 or so!  No Golden Eagles on this trip - another lifer that I'm hoping to find eventually this year! 

We finished with Snow Geese.  Got directions to where someone saw them, then we watched as a cloud of geese in the distance rose up... moved a mile south... and landed.  Easy at that point to figure out which way to go!  So nice to see them again, and closer than my previous visit with them back in January.

We finished the trip with a quick rundown of the list, and with licorice ice cream at the Conway Market.  My favorite flavor of ice cream.  Hands down.  Available only in the middle of beautiful places, from my experience, and this continued that trend.  I thought I had left the county short of 39 species, but checked the list over again when I got home... 39 for the year!  Bird number 39?  Once again - a coot!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chelan and Douglas counties: Post #2

Beebe Bridge back over the Columbia to Chelan
Two pretty happy people
Finished up with Douglas County, (for now...) and we made our way down to Chelan to enjoy Wine and Chocolate weekend.  We came across the Columbia after dropping down on McNeil Canyon Road - thanking God that it wasn't icy!  Chelan was beautiful, the wineries had great wine, great chocolate, and also all seemed to have something for the kiddos.  I was amazed at how many times there happened to be a playset outside the winery, or a dog wanting someone to play fetch.  It made for a very tolerable day visiting wineries with kids!

Vineyard - Chelan County
 Lake Chelan just recently earned AVA status as a distinct wine region, with 20+ wineries around the south end of the lake.  We've got a few that have become favorites - Karma Vineyards, Wapato Point Cellars and Tildio Winery, among others.  Many of them are closed during the winter, but open for Wine and Chocolate weekend.  As with other trips I've made this year, I was amazed at the small world we're living in - ran into people that lived a mile from us in Renton, and two others that were track coaches for a team my school competes against.  Also found a fair number of people working at the wineries who had grown up in Chelan, moved away and returned.  Nice to spend a good part of the day chatting with people while enjoying some good wine!

Merlin at Tildio Winery
Wasn't really birding in the afternoon, but... it's hard not to notice some things.  For example, when I was going to the car at Tildio Winery, I heard a Great Horned Owl calling in the middle of the day from a  copse of trees!  As I watched, I suddenly saw a Red-Tailed Hawk circle by the trees.  Looking up on a telephone pole in the parking lot, I saw a Merlin watching this with me, and as I started to get the picture, an American Kestrel flew by!  By the time I got the picture, I had another raptor fly by - a Cooper's Hawk!  Four raptors and an owl packed into one spot!

I think Declan missed the split here.
Followed this up with a little time for the kids.  Went to Chelan Lanes for a couple of games of bowling.  This and the Cider Works have been part of the visit every time we come out.  One of the first places I ever saw the programmable bumpers that go up and down as bowlers change.  I will brag and say I bowled a 162 for the first game.  I will brag for my son and say that he beat me in the second game.  First time he's done it that I can remember... time to take the bumpers down? :)  Finished the day with pizza from Local Myth.

White-crowned Sparrow
Sunday morning, the kids were up, and I felt like giving Bre a little sleep.  I asked the kids if they wanted to hear the owl I'd heard the other morning at Lake Chelan State Park, and they were game.  We got dressed (swimsuits underneath so we'd be ready for the pool once we got back and were done with breakfast), and drove up.  No luck with the owl, but there was a playset that the kids couldn't be pulled away from, so I listened as the birds woke up - Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pacific Wren, Hairy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker.  Also some Douglas Squirrels that had me thinking they were birds for a bit.  Seems like I spent a looooot of time following squirrel sounds when I first started birding... guess I'm not done with that yet!  On the drive back, I added a White-crowned Sparrow, and my first California Quail of the year.

After getting back to the hotel, having breakfast, and hitting the swimming pool, we hit the back of the Best Western.  More slides and swings, and best of all, rocks!  Spent some time tossing them into the water, skipping them (excellent skipping rocks here).  While we enjoyed the shore, I watched the birds flying and swimming by and found Ring-necked Ducks, American Goldfinch and a Tundra Swan!  At this point, I was adding things up in my head.  35 birds? hmmm... might be able to get 39 in one of the counties with my family along!

Columbia from Rio Vista Winery
Bre and I had 3 wineries that we had wanted to visit before heading out of town, so we made our way down to the Columbia for lunch at Chelan FallsState Park on the way to Rio Vista Winery.  No sign of any falls - hmmm... but the river was lovely.  Full of Scaup, Goldeneye, and Bufflehead.  The brush in the park gave me another new bird - Dark-eyed Junco, and I was at 38 for the year in Chelan.  At this point Bre and the kids were looking too.  A few of the birds I still needed were ones they would recognize, like Great Blue Heron, so they kept their eyes open!  Rio Vista was on the Columbia, and had a beautiful view of the river, as well as a shuffleboard table!  It also has a dock, so people with boats have the option of pulling up to the winery via the river.

On the run through Manson on the way out of town, I did end up finding bird number 39 - American Coots!  Not too fancy, but glad to have noticed them out on the water. Actually found two more (Common Merganser, and the aforementioned Great Blue Heron) on the way out of town.  As we wound our way along the Columbia down 97, the sun began to set, but we made it over Blewett Pass with enough light for me to catch one more GBH - this one in Kittitas County.  Just one bird, but another county that I've got a start on!

Saying goodbye to Chelan - the Columbia River

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chelan and Douglas Counties - Post #1

We come here every year.  Don't know exactly how it started, but nearly every year before track season starts, we make our annual off-season pilgrimage to Lake Chelan.  Not a great time of year for frolicking in the lake, but it's beautiful, and we have some regular stops that have made for some nice traditions over the years.  We actually timed it to hit the wine and chocolate weekend that wineries in the area put together.

Blew out of town directly from work (well, kind of directly... fixed some tires first and got the corresponding free beef).  Fairly uneventful drive over in the dark, praying that we'd get through the cell phone dead zone of Blewett Pass in the dark.  I got up early to poke around for owls.  The only Spotted Owl I've heard in my life was in this area.  None of those this morning, but at Lake Chelan State Park, my Northern Saw-whet whistling brought in a Great Horned Owl (not the last of the day! )  Had the picture at left when I got back for breakfast with the family at the hotel.                                                  

The Orondo Cider Works
We then made our way across the Columbia River into Douglas County for what has become an annual pilgramage to the Orondo Cider Works  The cider is great, and we really love the apple cider donuts.  Almost always pick up a lot of apples for the road while we're there too.  The apple smell just about knocked me over this time.  Having worked in apple warehouses in Yakima for more than one summer, I love any time when the smell of apples is that strong.  From there, we made our way along the Columbia down to Highway two, and then up, up, up to the Waterville Plateau.  It's really got some elevation!  It's over 4000 feet, and it's amazing looking back at the mountains behind Chelan from that perspective.  Here's a few pics:
To the top of the Waterville Plateau - looking back down Highway 2

Highway 2 - looking west across the Waterville Plateau with the tops of
hills showing from the far side of the Columbia
When Bre and I got to the Farmer Community hall on Hwy 2, we were familiar with the building.  We've actually been there once or twice before.  This time though, instead of continuing on to Grand Coulee Dam, we turned north towards Mansfield.  This constituted a 'new line' on our map, which is a pretty big deal these days.  I've got the Washington Gazetteer totally crisscrossed with the lines showing where Bre and I have gone together, and it's a bit rare that we actually get to add to it - having hit a good bit of the state together.  The purpose of this little run was to look for a Snowy Owl.  Now, I need to explain - there are 2-3 Snowy Owls that have been seen around Mansfield in the last month or so.  They're so pretty, and my daughter has actually drawn them at school after seeing pictures of them. I was sure that, of the birds out there, that this would be one that the whole family would enjoy. 

Rough-legged Hawk
Didn't factor in that we might not see it!  The highlight of the trip bird-wise ended up being a beautiful Rough-legged Hawk.  Bre got the pictures of it, and they came out great.  Very Cookies-and-cream Ice Cream Bird.  The plateau was covered with Horned Larks.  Their tinkling song is not something that I get to hear often at all - very sweet.   Might have been some Snow Buntings mixed in too, but it's so hard to find a place to pull over and to actually not scare the flocks away.  Will be looking for those on a future trip!   The views were awesome throughout the day.  Bad weather that we were supposed to see simply didn't materialize, and we had huge views all morning. 

Roughie in flight
 Below are some of the pictoral highlights from the trip before we gave up on the owl, which Bre did with great reluctance.  "We've driven here!...I'm not liking this owl..."  Would have been very nice to see it - maybe another time!  Will pick up in the next post with the rest of the Chelan trip, but finished the morning with 28 species in Douglas - a good start, and it should be easy to finish up on a swing through in late spring.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sunday 2/6: Wahkiakum County

Woke up to a Great Horned Owl Sunday morning - perched on the roof of my friend's house near Hockinson, Clark County.  I wanted to get to Wahkiakum County kind of early, because I wanted to get home - it'd been a long weekend!  So I packed it up and made my way towards I5.  Sean was kind enough to pass along a Garmin GPS gadget that he hadn't been using, and this proved to be very comforting, as I made my way back towards the big road.  I'd been using a simple hiking GPS the previous night... um... it did a nice job of telling me where I was, but not where to go.  Had an interesting pair of events Saturday night where I successfully figured out exactly where I was on the map, then went the wrong way. 


The locals discuss the possibility that the lights up in
the hills were UFO's - not making this up! :)

Stopped in the Riverview Restaurant and Lounge in Cathlamet for coffee before tackling the day.  Decided my first stop would be West Valley Road, west of Skamakowa.  As with owls, game birds can be hard to find without a little planning.  Heading along this back road, I thought for a moment that I had some grouse, but they turned out to be Wild Turkeys on a lawn set back a ways from the road.  They disappeared into the brush fairly quickly.  As the light grew, I got pictures of the trees at left.  Did not realize at the time that nearly every tree I would see that day had a least a little bit of lichen on it!  Continued up the road until it turned to gravel and beyond.  Eventually I stopped at a clear cut - stopped the car, got out and listened.  Hardly a bird to be heard, except the occasional Song Sparrow.  Fog rolled over the hills, and I could have been just about anywhere at that moment.  Enjoyed this for a good few minutes before deciding to head back down the hill.


Ravens have a private conversation - Skamakowa Vista Park

My next stop was Skamakowa Vista Park.  The vista was a little reduced by the fog!  Couldn't quite see across the Columbia.  In the water nearby were Surf Scoters, Greater Scaup and Lesser Scaup.  Not the last I would see of Scaup for the day - nearly every duck I saw seemed to be one kind of Scaup or the other!

Sharp-shinned Hawk - Julia Butler Hansen Refuge

The final big stop of the day was the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the White-Tailed Deer.  I actually saw some deer here, which I guess isn't always the case.  What I really had hoped for was a White-tailed Kite, but none was to be found on two runs through the refuge on Steambout Slough Road.  In addition to the deer, I also saw elk at one point.  Oh and some Greater Scaup and Lesser Scaup.  Oooh - and trees with lichen on them!  Final three stops - The Covered Bridge at Grays River, Central Valley Road looking for Kites - nope - and Cathlamet again, where a Western Scrub-Jay made 50 species for the day.  Then it was off for home.  Some of my other favorite pictures from the county are below.  Just a beautiful place!


Again - You've got to love small towns! :)

House and boat on the river

Covered Bridge

Church in Cathlamet