Monday, August 22, 2011

8/20 - WOS Conference, Day two - Hurricane Ridge and Ediz Hook

Mount Baker in the morning from Port Angeles

Guy's alarm was set for 5, but as always when I'm out on a birding trip, I was up before the alarm.  Shorts or jeans today...?  I went with shorts.  I got out the door before Guy, so that I could do my breakfast 'routine' - getting my water bottle filled with ice water, and getting hot water for coffee and oatmeal as I paid for gas.  I scarfed down the oatmeal, and got to the Red Lion to find dozens of people (nearly nobody in shorts) clumped around signs for the respective field trips. 

I found Wilson Cady, our leader for the day.  His first question was about how the counties were going. Wilson is one of the many people that have let me pick their brain as I've gone around the state.  He lives in Skamania County, which is kind of a tough one for birds, so a lot of people who keep lists for counties find Wilson eventually!  Even with two (albeit brief) trips to Skamania, I'm still short of 39 there, so it might not be the last time we cross paths!
Moon through the trees - Heart o' the Hills Campground

We jokingly made our list of demands to Wilson: Sooty Grouse, Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, and, for me, a Golden Eagle.  Northern Goshawks had also been seen the day before, so we were pretty excited for a good trip.  The previous day had been a bit foggy, but this morning was already clear when we piled into cars at 6:00 and made our way to Heart o' the Hills.

Heart o' the Hills Campground (and I'd make that 'of' if I could, but that is actually the name of the campground) is one that I had visited with 9th graders at our school for several class trips.  We had camped  here, and done hikes in the area, including a beautiful hike on Klahane Ridge.  In the campground, we found Varied and Swainson's Thrushes, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Band-tailed Pigeons, Flickers, Steller's Jays, American Robins, and Red Crossbills. 

Being in a group helped me to really understand my strenghts (my ears) and weaknesses (my eyes) as a birder.  The routine that we established early is that I would call out a bird that I had heard, the group would find it, and work extremely hard to get me to look at the right branch where the bird was sitting in plain view!  It was a very synergistic endeavor, and I wonder how many more birds I might have seen on my travels with some of these sets of eyes along!
Magenta Paintbrush - one of the many new
plants Wilson introduced me to

One of the cool things about being on a trip with Wilson is that he doesn't just know his birds - he's good for plants and mammals as well.  Down in the campground, when the birding was slow, he pulled leaves off of this plant and that plant to show that they were edible.  I was surprised to find the leaves on the common Oxeye Daisies were not only edible, but pretty tasty!  He nibbled on some hemlock during the trip as well, although I passed on that one.
The Olympics from Hurricane Ridge
Up the hill we went.  It's a winding road up to Hurricane Ridge, and I remember making the trip driving a school bus.  As if it wasn't enough that there was a steep drop off of the ungaurded side of the road around every single turn, I had also been distracted by Sooty Grouse skittering off to the side of the road all of the way up!  None made an appearance like that today, but it was a beautiful drive nonetheless. 
The whole gang at the Hurricane Ridge
Visitor Center
At the top, we got out and smiled - no touristas yet!  We were able to walk around the visitor center at the top and look for birds at our liesure.  The first few up here were Dark-eyed Juncos, and some American Pipits.  Pipits amaze me constantly, as they are found in such a wide range of habitiats - flooded fields, grassy fields, rivers, and at high elevation.  This was a fun place to find some.  Other members of the group picked up some warblers, including Orange-crowned, which I saw, and Wilson's, which I missed.

I would have missed this grouse...
As we started towards the hike to Hurricane Hill, one of our group members was standing still on the sidewalk smiling and pointing down.  "She's got a grouse!", somebody called.  I stared at the side of the road in front of her and couldn't see it, of course!  Getting closer very slowly, I eventually picked out the head of this 'fancy chicken' poking out of the grass.  To our surprise, instead of running away, it actually stepped out onto the sidewalk as we took pictures and enjoyed the view.  Certainly the best view I'd ever had of one of these birds!
A very fancy chicken - Sooty Grouse at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center
Continuing on to Hurricane Hill, we parked and walked a little, mostly enjoying the flowers as we went.  The odd weather this year compressed some of the bloom times, and we were up at a near perfect time.  Vetch, Lupine, Avalanche Lily, Glacier Lily, Tiger Lily, Windflower, Saxifrage, Indian Paintbrush, Magenta Paintbrush, Aster, Oxeye Daisies, Heather, and more were all in bloom for us.  We got distracted by some Norhern Flickers for a while, hiked around a little, and then made our way back to the cars.
flowers and flowers and flowers - Hurricane Hill trail
The road to Obstruction Point
Obstruction Point was our next destination.  The road there was very productive.  In addition to the flowers blooming all along the way, and the butterflies, there was a single stop where we had a mixed flock moving through: Hairy Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Evening Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, Dark-eyed Junco, American Golfinch, Pine Siskin, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, and a surprise - Mountain Chickadee!  I missed this one - hearing a call that was good, but its the season where juvenile chickadees of all types are out making wheezy noises, so I couldn't add this one personally.   They usually aren't found in the Olympic Range, but there had been several sightings recently in addition to this one.

Arriving at Obstruction Point, we looked around the parking area first.  Snow fields looked like they should have Gray-crowned Rosy Finches, and we did have some more Sooty Grouse quite close.  After a bit of waiting, I thought it would be worth a run up the trail to see what was farther up.  Some others joined in, and we started up the hill.  A small snow field crossed the trail at one point - not a big deal - and then it turned into a little plateau.  We looked around here for a bit, when another member of the group came over the hill to report that they had seen Horned Larks and more Sooty Grouse (a hen with three chicks) on the walk up.  I'd missed them of course!  I made my way back, wanting to see the Larks especially.
Nearly missed this one too -
Horned Lark

As I got to the bottom edge of the snow, I saw a bird that did not look like a lark... well, not to me.  I'm used to Larks having horns, and having some bright coloring.  These little dudes were totally blending in with the rocks and plants around them, and I almost stepped on one when it flushed.  "Lark!"  I called back.... but everyone else was back over the hill.  I snapped some pictures, then went back up.  The three or four folks who had made the hike had moved to an outcrop with a great view, so I joined them, and we watched ravens fly between the ridges.

The view from the trail - Obstruction Point
The Golden Eagle was between here and there.

"Raptor!" one of them called.  Then two pairs of binoculars were on some distant bird.  They didn't want to take the binoculars off it and risk losing it, so I asked for references, looked where they were looking, and eventually found it.  Too big to be a buteo (such as a Red-tailed Hawk), and holding its wings fairly flat.  It was an eagle!  The brownish bird made its way farther and farther away as I held it in view.  Eventually it did bank, giving us a view of an all-dark underside.  Golden Eagle!  I gave everyone a demonstration of the lifer dance.

American Pipit

Making our way back down to the group, we found that they had two flocks of Gray-crowned Rosy Finches fly by.  They didn't make a return appearance, but I was pretty happy with the morning!  Of course at this point, it wasn't morning anymore, but moving towards 2:00.  I had originally planned on a 3-4 hour trip, but it had turned into a seven hour plus trip!  A quick stop at the visitor center, an unsuccessful stop for goshawks, and we were back to the hotel.

Following this, I stopped at Dairy Queen for lunch.  Returning to the hotel, I ran into Andrew from our group, and we somehow pieced together that I had driven down the road to his house in Wahkiakum County back in February and had actually asked his wife, out for a jog, about White-tailed Kites!  It was fun to figure out what a small world it was! 
Andrew shooting flowers

I was tired, sleep-deprived, sunburnt, and my allergies were acting up a little at this point.  It was also getting later in the afternoon, with the social hour approaching, and I didn't have a campground nailed down.  As I asked around, it really sounded like the pickings were thin for this, and an attempt to find a hotel room at the Days Inn... well 130 seemed like a lot for a place to sleep.  The person at the desk saw that I was balking, and she went to 120.. then 110... then "Just for you" down to 100!  I politely declined, but was amazed - I'd never really bargained like that for a room before.  Apparently the trick is to really not need a room!
View from Ediz Hook

I squeezed a little birding in as I waited for Guy to back from his pelagic trip off of Cape Flattery.  He was hoping to get his 150th Clallam County bird on the trip, and I was hoping to ask about the floor of his hotel room again.  The trip was out late, though, so I went out to Ediz hook to look for shorebirds.  Again, I ran into people from the field trip group, and we worked together to pick out alcids out in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. 

Most of what we had were Rhinoceros Auklets - football shaped, low flying, and dark, with an orange bill.  We also found Common Murres - much bigger with striking white underneath - and finally a single Marbled Murrellet, absolutely tiny compared to the other alcids out there.
Heermann's Gull

At the end of the hook, I also found my first Heermann's Gulls of the year, and a little flock of Black Turnstones.  I was hoping for a Ruddy Turnstone in the mix, as one had been seen the previous day with this flock, and these birds, while common in Clallam, are ones I'd never seen.  The gentleman at the spotting scope was looking for a Surfbird, also seen here, but rare in Clallam County. 

As I walked up and scared away the turnstones (which, of course, I had not seen), I apologized.  "It's okay", he said, looking up.  He gave me a quick look for field marks (the red hair helps...) and ID'd me right away.  "Are you Tim Brennan?"  I laughed, and he introduced himself as Tom Mansfield.  Wow!  In this whole business of keeping lists of what you've seen in what county, it's pretty exciting to find 100 in every county.  Tom is one of a handful of people (going on two handfuls) who has seen 150 in every county!  We chatted a bit about the year I'd been working on, and about the field trips we'd hit, and both left unsuccessful with the birds we were looking for at the moment. 

I made it back to the hotel for the social hour, and found a few of the familiar faces from King County, while also meeting some new people.  It was fun in the course of conversations to find out what different goals different people had.  "I want to see 60 birds every month.  It's not huge, but it keeps me from just watching in my yard."  "I want to get better at gulls."  "I want to see 500 birds in the US without going to Texas."  We all swapped stories about our trips during the day, and I put a few more names and faces together.

Dinner approached, and I hadn't signed up for it, so I skedaddled over to an Indian Restaurant across the street, where five of us enjoyed the 'other' WOS dinner over naan, lamb, and Kingfisher beer.  Calling home before dinner, my wife filled me in on a family crisis.  I had a spot on Guy's floor again, and a free pass to stay the night to get more birding in the next day, but a chance to shower, sleep in my bed, and be there for family sounded pretty darn good. 

Port Angeles Estuary Park

I made my goodbyes, and made two quick stops on the way out of town for Oystercatchers (nope), and Nighthawks (yes! 12 over the north end of town), and then made my way home.  Clallam County was well covered now (67 species during the trip), and I added Canada Goose to Jefferson as it got dark, with a flock passing overhead at Discovery Bay. 

8/19 - Half of the fun: Getting to the WOS Conference, Clallam County

I packed up Friday morning, and left after lunch with the kiddos to drop them off with Bre and catch a ferry to Bainbridge Island.  I was headed off to my first conference with the Washington Ornithological Society.  I started a lot of this birding on my own, and only started getting connected with other birders in the last couple of years.  Even going into this trip, there were really too many people that I only knew by email contact, or less. 

A lot of my plans were kind of last-minute, but I was still excited to spend some time with some experienced birders, and explore some beautiful places in Clallam County.  The ferry ride was not all that birdy, but the weather was awesome, and I enjoyed hanging out on the front deck watching Bainbridge Island approach.  My plan today was to head directly up to Clallam County - one of only two counties I hadn't yet visited this year (Island is the other one). 
Near Diamond Point

My first stop was at Diamond Point.  This is on the western opening of Discovery Bay, which is split by Clallam and Jefferson Counties.  There had been a post from two days before of a Tufted Puffin fairly close to shore.  These are birds that are so much easier to see if you "just" drive the extra three hours to the far end of Clallam County to Cape Flattery and take a boat to some of the islands off-shore.  I was happy to hear that I might be able to get a lifer with a little less effort! 
First Clallam County bird for the year - Chestnut-backed Chickadee, calling from Douglas Firs along the road.  I picked up a few more before I got down to the point.  This area is full of private beaches, but there is one house that had this sign, welcoming bird watchers.  I walked up towards the beach and four birds flew off to the water.  Harlequin Ducks.  Dang!  Would've been nice to see them up closer.  Another step, and another bird flew.  Pigeon Guillemot!  I waited, and peeeeked around the corner and set up my scope.

Distant Pigeon Guillemot
Pigeon Guillemots ended up being the more interesting birds for me out there for a bit.  Some of them were still in breeding plumage - black with prominent white marks on the sides - while others had started to take on winter plumage - white mottled with black.  These, along with puffins, penguins, murres, murrelets, auklets, um... dovekies... maybe other things I've never seen... are all members of the alcid family.  I saw another alcid quite far out, this one was medium sized with a heavy yellow bill - Rhinoceros Auklet. 
Harlequin Ducks at Diamond Point

I got distracted for a little bit by two Common Loons a couple hundred feet out.  They were getting knocked around by some kind of porpoise-y thing (asking around later, I think I'm going with Harbor Porpoise) that kept surfacing beneath it.  After watching this bizarre punching match for a bit, I turned and saw a Tufted Puffin.

Now, of the birds out there, this is one that may be my wife's favorite.  She calls them "Rock-star birds", and they really are pretty stunning.  It sure wasn't a problem identifying this one!  But then I went for my camera and it dove.  Noooooo!  I waited, and it stayed down - seemingly longer than other alcids will do - before popping up 30-40 feet farther away.  I brought the binocs up for another look, then went for the camera, and down it went again, not to be seen by me again. 
Three Crabs Restaurant near Dungeness

I smiled, did the lifer dance, and packed up my scope.  Once in the car, I gave Guy McWethy a call.  Guy is also from Renton, and we had talked about trying to get a little birding in.  We agreed to meet out at a restaurant called "Three Crabs" in Sequim.  This restaurant actually is situated in excellent shorebird habitat, with mudflats on the water nearby, and flooded fields on the other side of the road.  Even the little stream that runs along the other side of the road had some shorebirds running around on its miniature sand bars.

Unfortunately, today, I wasn't able to see much beyond some Western and Least Sandpipers, and one Spotted.  Other birds were mostly blackbirds and some swallows, including Purple Martins (my first of the year).  The highlight of the stop?  Pan-fried oysters! 

Over our dinner, Guy and I talked about our trips and goals, and the birds we'd seen lately.  I treated, because, well... in the course of our birding at Three Crabs, I realized that I had forgotten something that would make it a bit challenging to camp... a sleeping bag!  Additionally, it seemed that every campground I had passed on the way in was full on this gorgeous weekend.  Guy offered a spot on his hotel room floor, which I was happy to have.

Gulls from the Oyster House - Dungeness
New Dungeness Light at the end of the 5 mile spit -
an awesome walk if you have the time!

We finished the evening with a not-that productive stop at the Oyster House nearby.  Similar to the last stop, the tide was just not great for the birds.  Because it was high, the mud wasn't exposed here, which meant that they... disappeared into thin air until the mud was better?  That's always been a puzzle for me.  "It's a bad time of day for shorebirds" means it's bad for shorebirds where you are, but they've got to be somewhere, yeah? 

After a stop at the hotel for registration materials, I made a run for a sleeping bag for the floor, and squeezed in a little search for owls.  Although I didn't hear or see a thing bird-wise, the sky that night was stunning.  I've spent so many nights stargazing, and this may have been one of the 4-5 darkest, clearest skies I'd been under.  Not a bad way to spend the time looking for owls. 

Getting there was, indeed, half of the fun.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Vashon Island - quick trip 8/11

Ferry with West Seattle in background
 I needed something to do with the kids, and I needed to know how the shorebirds were getting from points north to points south while avoiding King County, so I made a trip over to Vashon Island.  It had been a while since my last ferry trip (January??), and I knew that KVI beach on the south end of the island had some good shorebirds around this time of year in 2010. 

The ferry trip from the Fauntleroy terminal took about 20 minutes, and I was able to see some phalaropes... close enough to get the shape of the birds, but they were so backlit, that it was hard to ID them beyond that.  Red-necked are the most common in this part of the sound, and they'd been seen on Ferry runs from Vashon to Tacoma the previous day, so that's likely what they were. 

We zipped straight down the island, passing the farmers markets and quirky shops that inspire the bumper stickers "Keep Vashon Weird!"  KVI beach itself (which is named for the KVI radio towers planted on the beach) always puzzles me, as far as parking goes... but we found some and tromped out to the beach.  Interestingly, the path we took out to the beach required hopping over a  little stream, and it would have been knee deep wading on the way back out.  It was nice to show the kids the effect of the tide over the course of an hour. 

We took turns burying the kids in the sand before we went down the beach to the little tide pools that had the peeps.  The kids threw rocks into Puget Sound while I picked through them.  I'm stiiiill trying to find my first Semipalmated Sandpiper or Baird's Sandpiper, but none of the birds fit the bill, so to speak.  Most of them had the long droopy Western Sandpiper bills (some more than others), and any that had slightly shorter bills also had the markings and yellow legs of a Least Sandpiper. 

One unusual bird in the mix was a Semipalmated Plover.  There are easier places to find them than King County, and it actually let me get pretty close for pictures, so I was pretty happy with this one.  Getting much closer to the other peeps would have required a bit more tromping through mud and vegetation... so I snapped some distant pictures to look at when I got home.  Nothing stood out as a non-Least or non-Western, but anyone is free to let me know if I missed something! :)

We stopped for ice cream on the way out of Vashon, and had a lovely ferry ride back!

Western Sandpipers

Monday, August 8, 2011

August Birding in the Northwest Corner

August can be slow for birding, and it had been about a month since I'd been on a bona fide birding-only trip.  I needed out!  Most of the places I 'need' to go at this point are a bit of a haul, and I wanted company anyway, so I gave my friend Randy Bjorklund a call.  Where to go?  We were both intrigued by the idea of poking around looking for White-tailed Ptarmigan, but also wanted to visit some new places.  Added into the decision making was a Wood Sandpiper that had been visiting a flooded field in the Samish Flats in Skagit County.  We decided on a trip up to Whatcom County to take a look at the Mount Baker area, a few shorebird spots in Whatcom, and finally a search for the Wood Sandpiper.

Whatcom County - up Mount Baker
Randy and I left Federal Way around 7 AM, with a three hour drive ahead of us.  Heading up I5 was pretty uneventful, although it was odd when I got up around the Skagit/Whatcom county line here.  We had been talking for the last couple of hours, and I was suddenly worried that we had gone the wrong way!  "Are we on I-5?"  What caught me off guard is that I had skipped this stretch during my earlier trips to Whatcom County, taking Chuckanut drive instead.  This stretch of highway is interesting - it seems narrower, perhaps only because of Chuckanut Mountain pressing in on the west side of the road. 

Hmmm... anyway, we got off of I-5 eventually, having made it all the way up to Whatcom, and realized that we still had an hour left to drive!  It had not quite sunk in just how far it is to Mount Baker from there.  Driving through, we had discussed our Whatcom lists - he had seen 71 species in the county, and I had seen 70.  We both needed summer birds, and kind of hoped we could see enough to bring the lists to an even 100 by the end of the day. 

We made a few stops on our way up as we passed through the farmland on the north edge of the state.  I had no pigeons at all, so I was happy to see a flock of Rock Pigeons, and we both picked up Western Wood-Peewee and Red-eyed Vireo at another stop, feeling pretty fortunate to have birds singing so late in the season!

Randy shooting some tiger-lillies
We started to gain elevation, and started passing cyclists... lots and lots of cyclists!  Somehow I avoided killing myself and/or them on the way up Highway 542, and we found a good stop to pull over and really start the Mount Baker part of the trip.  At this pullout, we found tiger-lillies, and our first high-elevation bird of the day, a Clark's Nutcracker calling from down the hill.

Tarn near Heather Meadows - Mount Baker
 Farther up the hill, we stopped at Picture Lake for a bit, taking pictures, and listening.  It was exactly  what a person should expect from birding at higher elevations - not that many birds, but usually good ones.  We had Mountain Chickadees and Gray Jays at this stop, as well as a few Robins (our only thrushes of the day...), and Song Sparrows.  At one point, I thought I heard a Chipping Sparrow... but I let it go.  It was fairly distant, and it was just one bird after all!

ahh.... ski poles would have been nice
 We were kind of excited to get to the end of the road, and explore some trails, but disaster struck.  We found that not only were the trails covered with snow, but the road leading to the trailheads was not even snow free yet!  We hung out at the Heather Meadows Visitor Center for a while... hoping for a finch... any cool finch to fly by, but we soon realized that this was not going to be our day up on Baker!

Gray Jay coming in for a peanut
 We made a few stops on the way down, finding that we were able to poke around a little at slightly lower elevation.  We picked up a few Olive-sided Flycatchers on some of these little jaunts, as well as Dark-eyed Juncos, and another bird that got away...a little warbler that dashed across the road in front of us silently 2-3 times before disappearing down the hillside.  Before we left, we also ran into a flock of 10 or so Vaux's Swifts.

Views from Heather Meadows - Mount Baker
 Whatcom County - down to the water
Western Sandpipers - Blaine Marina

Checking with the GPS, it appeared that the Blaine waterfront (where I stopped on one of my very first trips of the year) was about an hour away.  We talked it over, and decided that heading straight there was a good idea - no need to stop for American Dipper at Whatcom Falls, or to follow up on a Bank Swallow report.  We were going straight for the shorebirds!

Bonaparte's Gull
Looking over recent reports, it looked like several species of shorebirds were possible here at the Blaine Marina.  We found about 30-40 peeps feeding in the mud.  Most were Western Sandpipers, but we were able to pick out a few Least Sandpipers as well.  Similarly there were quite a few Killdeer, with one Semipalmated Plover worked in. 

We looked in vain for the Black Oystercatchers that hang out here... will have to find out where they hang out before I make another trip up.  Oh well... just one bird!

Mount Baker from Lummi Flats
 From here, we made our way down to Lummi Flats.  In the winter, I had come through here to look for raptors and sparrows, but today, I was hoping we could get some shorebirds by driving in towards Lummi Bay.  We added quite a few species here: American Goldfinch, Barn, Cliff and Violet-green Swallows, Savannah Sparrows, Common Yellowthroat, Greater Yellowlegs, and Belted Kingfisher were among the ones that we saw during a fairly brief stay.  Trails along the water did not seem to be improving the view, so we took the road around to Sandy Point.

Sandy Point Marina - Whatcom County
Mount Baker in the distance
I will have to work harder to understand Sandy Point.  I see reports of birds from here, but as far as I can tell, the shoreline is almost completely inaccessible.  Randy and I drove around a bit looking for an opening to any public or semi-public waterfront, but found nothing.  A woman we asked as we drove suggested that it was "Really too windy here for birds."  We gathered that this would not be a fruitful stop today, and it was getting a little late (nearly 6), so we left the county to go look for a Wood Sandpiper.

On the way out, with the windows down, we were able to pick up a Brown-headed Cowbird before leaving Whatcom.  It was my 99th bird in the county, and probably the last for the year (we'll see...), and it may have been Randy's 99th? 100th? He was going to add them up later at home to find out.  A cold adult beverage is riding on the answer.

Skagit County - Samish Flats

Farmland - Skagit County

The hike to the Wood Sandpiper
 It turns out that some of the farmers in Skagit County have an agreement to take turns flooding their fields during shorebird migration, providing them with much needed habitat as they head thousands of miles south in the fall.  I don't know all of the ins and outs of it, but it appears to be working with some success already.

Randy on the hike

Flooded Field - Skagit County
A Wood Sandpiper was found late in the week in one of these fields.  It was supposed to be visible from the road, but much more easily from the other side of the field, which meant a bit of a hike - about 20 minutes each way.  Fortunately Randy had made the hike the previous day, (and had seen the bird!) so we didn't have to worry about getting lost!

Savannah Sparrow
Okay, so why the excitement?  This is a bird that has not officially been documented in the state.  There were a few claims of a sighting that didn't have enough detail to be confirmed.  With photograhs taken this time, and the skill of the observers finding it and seeing it subsequently, this one is prooooobbably going to be confirmed.  When we got to the pond, Randy and I set up scopes while Savannah Sparrows and Barn Swallows flew around us.

Red-necked Phalarope
 We were looking for a medium-sized shorebird, and pretty quickly found one.  While it wasn't the Wood Sandpiper, it was still an uncommon enough bird - a Red-necked Phalarope!  It was the first of the year for both Randy and myself, and it was fun to watch it.  Birds in this family have a strange habit of getting in shallow ponds and switching direction almost constantly, almost like a dog getting ready to lie down.

Getting a little late...
 We waited for 45 minutes, and the only other really interesting things bird-wise were a few Great Blue Herons flying in to inspect the water, and a growing number of small sandpipers that swirled around the pond without ever landing - eight at first, and as many as 50 total by the end of the evening.  Randy was willing to stick around a bit later, but I was driving back, and starting to feel a little sleepy as it passed 8 o'clock.  We packed it up, and made the hike back. 

The whole way back we were stopping constantly to take pictures.  The sun was doing amazing things on the cover crops in these fields.  I don't know how well the pictures here captured it, but this is one of the reasons I'm really enjoying birding so much, and enjoying the year.  Even when I'm missing birds that I'm trying to find, or if I end up with 99 birds here, or 100 birds there, the places that I 'have' to go are so beautiful!   It was nice to have this kind of unplanned trip (have I had any 'planned' trips to Skagit County?) to see a little bit more of this place.