Saturday, February 26, 2011

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

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