Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Saturday 2/5 Thurston County

Sunrise from Military Road - Thurston County
 Spent Friday evening with dear friends in.... well.. they're really not in anything.  Kind of Yelm, kind of southeast of Olympia.  Out there a litte, anyway in a house that they built themselves, on a large piece of land.  Great to spend an evening with them - really so close (an hour or two?) but everyday takes you away from people sometimes.  Nice visit.

Saturday AM was magnificent.  Let me explain a bit here.  There is a listserve out there called Tweeters.  It has nothing to do with Tweeting, and was around long before.  It's a place where people post interesting bird sightings, or have other related conversations (right now there's one percolating about what our state bird ought to be - there may be interest in changing it from the American Goldfinch to Great Blue Heron.  My vote is for Varied Thrush).  So they have a searchable archive, and I was interested in owls I might find in this area - through the search I found the name of a gentleman from Tenino.  I emailed him and waited a day, two.. three days... figured that I'd just have to poke around myself.  Then I got a four page email from him with information on this road where he goes owling (Vantine Road - coming up here), and information on 5-10 other places he goes walking around there and what birds he's found.  Made me think back to my first day of the year, and the joy that comes from knowing all of the little corners in your own place.  He was happy to do it, and called it 'vicarious birding'.

Not quite sunrise - Vantine Road

So - 6:30 AM, Vantine Road.  I drove a short ways up the road, got out of the car, and heard a Great Horned Owl hooting away.  Enjoyed this for a bit, and tried to converse with him to bring him in closer.  Eventually left, but it turns out that I heard a GHO at every stop I made along the 2 mile road that morning!  By far the best stop was about a mile and a half up the road.  I had three different kinds of birds making a racket of very different sorts:

Northern Saw-whet Owls were tooting away (think of the whistle of a saw blade being sharpened - the cadence being kind of like a garbage truck backing up) - three of them at a time, which was more than I'd ever heard at once.  Very very cool.

Virgina rails were also very loud down below.  How to describe their calls... imagine a pig trying to do an imitation of a mallard when they do that descending QUACK Quack Quack quack quack.  Who knows how many of them were doing that all at once.

Marsh wrens were adding to this.  Chattering and clicking madly with the other groups of birds doing their thing.  Wish I had audio for y'all.  It was something else.  Here's a picture of where I was - a bit dark down this little valley, but it was the backrop for all of this crazy noise.

Weir Prairie

Backtracked at this point along Military Road (sunrise picture above), and headed for the Weir Prairie.  A) I've never been to any of the prairies in the sound, and 2) although it's early, they miiigghhht have bluebirds.  No on bluebirds, but what a lovely place.  Mentioned in the last post how great it is that we can raise/grow so much food in our state.  One of the trade-offs is losing places like this.  A lot of the west side prairies were converted to farmland and pasture, but this place is still pretty intact.  Would love to come in the summer when the flowers are in bloom and some prairie birds like bluebirds and Vesper Sparrows have come back.

Made my way back to Tenino (tuh-NINE-oh...so bad when I've said a town in my head the wrong way more than I've heard it the right way...) and went up some back roads looking for Ruffed Grouse - nope.  Then visited a feeder that Paul had encouraged me to visit... strooongly encouraged me to visit!  Didn't actually visit the feeder - the owner wasn't at home - but from the road:  Song Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Mourning Dove, Steller's Jay, Western Scrub-Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, and the bird of the day - a Harris' Sparrow!

Harris' Sparrow - Tenino
 These guys are hard to come by.  They mostly hang out in the middle of the US, but some get a little lost.  The first one I ever saw was at my feeder a few years back, and it had me scrambling for my field guides - at first, I just figured there was something very wrong with the House Sparrow I was looking at, but eventually got it figured out.  When it was at my feeder, I posted on Tweeters offering directions if people asked.  Interesting balance there - wanting to share birds with people, but not necessarily wanting a lot of people in your backyard! 

Finished by visiting Paul's feeder where I got a good look at a Varied Thrush.  Did I mention that was my favorite bird?  Yes?  Okay, good.  Then made my way out of Thurston County, having seen 60 species between the two days.  So many places I hadn't been!  Mima Mounds (beautiful place, nicknamed "The Pimpled Prairie" because of the strange mounds; Olympia; Capitol Forest (where they've got interesting things like Hermit Warblers and Mountain Quail, and other muddy places where they'll have shorebirds later.  I'll have this longing to return with a lot of the counties I'm sure.

Next post will be Lewis/Cowlitz/Clark, and then Wahkiakum and I'm caught up!

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