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. 

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