Monday, March 21, 2011

A Bit of Ineffective Chasing: Snohomish County 3/20

Yesterday was the first track meet of the year - and a lovely day at the track.  I got home and found on Tweeters (a birding listserv, from back before there was twittering...) that there was a Red-faced Cormorant in Clallam County, and a Little Gull at Edmonds in Snohomish County, along with a Glaucous Gull.  The cormorant is only the second state record for that species, the Little Gull is fairly unusual, and would also be a life bird for me, and the Glaucous Gull.... well they're around plenty, but I've been missing them all winter, including one or two that were right here in Renton!

Bre's had the kids on her own this track season, so I was freeing her up from them on Sunday - but how far to drag the two of them....?  I fired up Google Maps to find out just how far away Joyce, WA out in Clallam County (on the Olympic Peninsula) was from Renton.  2 hours 45 minutes... yikes!  But the suggested route was going to take me to Edmonds to catch a ferry... hmmmm... :)  Although I considered it, I gave the cormorant a pass (it was not seen Sunday, despite several people out looking), and packed us up for Snohomish County. 

This was the county next door, so I hadn't really planned trips to Snohomish, planning to wait until something unusual popped up like this so I could chase it.  So the year list for the county was at 15.  The life list for the county, however, was at 81.  I was kind of curious about how close to 100 I could push it!  Edmonds has a couple of good spots in a small area - lots of beach access, and a little marsh close to the ferry terminal that holds freshwater ducks and songbirds.

A level 4 Eastern Kingbird that Declan and I saw in the summer.  Special move: Flycatch!
We headed up I5 armed with the yummy little Starbucks donuts, ten tulips, some crayons and coloring books for Maura, and Declan's Nintendo DS.  The DS has become our standard agreement for Declan coming along to look for birds.  He's happy enough to enjoy the out-of-doors when we get where we're going, but it makes a long car ride shorter for him.  He's playing Pokemon games on there right now - you run around and try to catch wild Pokemon, some more rare than others, and there's certain places where you have to go to find certain Pokemon, and different types with different abilities.... I've told him it sounds frighteningly like birding sometimes!  We even started concocting a similar game with birds - see a bird, get a card.  Rare bird? Higher level.  See it again?  It levels up.  Osprey's special move? Plunge Dive.  Brown Creeper's special move? Camoflague.  Haven't gotten around to printing those cards yet, although I may be too late if this post is read by an enterprising individual.

First stop, Holyrood Cemetary, right on the King/Snohomish line on the highway out to the Edmonds Ferry.  I've been here a lot, and there are no unusual birds flying through, normally, but it's got a lot of nice trees, including a willow that I'm quite fond of, so you get a lot of the usual birds.  Today - crows, starlings, Pine Siskins, chickadees, Red-Breasted Nuthatch, a woodpecker which stayed hidden, and some Golden-crowned Kinglets, which I think I have decided are the birds that remind me of Kieran most.  Very cute, very delicate birds that are always singing. 

I have a colleague that paints dead birds, and I once came across a Golden-crowned Kinglet, lying at the foot of a tree on the path up Echo Mountain not too far from home.  So strange - I've seen dead birds, but usually it's been the work of a cat, or hawk, and there's not much left to speak of.  This one was in good shape - a beautiful bird - but it was so strange to see it silent and still.  I packed it into a fruit snack wrapper which Declan had cleared out for me, delicately pocketed the bird and continued to race him up the hill - years ago now.

This is King - over there is Snohomish
 We left five tulips with Kieran, and I cleaned up his stone while Declan and Maura played on "The Montana Rock", a giant rock directly behind him.  Maura was able to climb it for the first time today.  From the top she asked if this was seven.  "Seven?"  "No, Dad.  Is.. this.. heaven?"   Ah - because this is where Kieran is... Declan took that question for me, and I just kept cleaning and let them discuss theology, and the doctrine of the resurrection of the body.  Declan probably did it better than me.  We took another moment, and got back into the car with our five tulips, ready to drive on the Snohomish side of the road all the way up to Edmonds.

Edmonds Marsh
 Chasing birds:  running off to see a rare bird that may not be around for long.  I've done a bit more of it in the last year or two, although I think that even this one is the farthest away I've gone strictly for that purpose.  There are people that will cross the country, if there's a good chance of seeing something new.  I'm glad there are still a lot of things I haven't seen!  Just across the county line is fine with me for travel.  I actually pulled us over at the Edmonds Marsh first.  A Bald Eagle flew overhead, and two Anna's Hummingbirds zipped around the brush on the side of the boardwalk.  It was, however, a little cold, so this was not a terribly long stop!

Puget Sound, Mount Baker, and the little spit that I couldn't quite get to..
Next, I passed the ferry terminal and started to look for the places described in posts.  I should have printed it out!  To be fair, I correctly guessed which sandy spit held the Bonaparte Gull flock that the Little Gull was hanging out with, but I was convinced that there was a way to  get closer to it than I was.  There is, as it turns out, a significant bit of Edmonds shoreline which cannot be accessed by car, including this little spit.  I drove the side streets a bit to discover this information independently. 

Red-breasted Merganser
 I kind of expected there might be someone visible somewhere with a pair of binoculars hanging from their neck to point me in the right direction, but it was not to be.  No Little Gull today, and not as many birds for me as I'd hoped.  I'm sure out there, more were out there but the cold drove me back to the car after a few short scans of the water.  Still, I was able to find dozens and dozens of Brant, Surf and Black Scoters, Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes, and Red-Breasted Mergansers, among others.  I moved Snohomish up to 35 for the year, and up to 85 for my life list in the county.  It was a good day despite the failed chase!

Brant on Edmonds waterfront

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