Saturday, September 17, 2011

Class trip - Post #3: Jefferson County and home.

Point Wilson Light from the Keystone-Port Townsend Ferry
I had been through Jefferson County twice this year, but was still a little short of the 39 species of birds I was hoping to see.  I added this trip hoping that, being close to 39, I might be able to move it up to 50 species with a few good stops.  Even before I touched land, a Common Murre sliding by the side of the boat was a new one for the county, and I was off to a good start!  The boat docked at Port Townsend, and I was off to Fort Worden and the Point Wilson Light.

Point Wilson might be the most beautiful lighthouse in the sound - maybe the state.  I don't know what it is, and my opinion is skewed by a beautiful black and white picture that Bre took on our first trip there, but I love visiting.  Ignore the whitewash job the gulls did on the keeper's house here - it really is beautiful.

Heermann's Gulls - Point Wilson
Bird-wise, the walk around the lighthouse wasn't much.  It was getting close to 5, and the birds were getting quiet.  Savannah Sparrows were still lingering around here, though, and a nice sized flock of Heermann's Gulls were resting near the Marine Discovery Center.

Point Wilson Light from the Marine Discovery Center

From the light - pretty empty, but pretty
Stopping at a little lagoon in Port Townsend, I found a few dabbling ducks, and another sign of fall - a Golden-crowned Sparrow. 

California Gull - Oak Bay County Park
Jefferson County
 My last stop was at Oak Bay County Park - on the way to Fort Flagler, which I had visited early in the year.  I didn't have time for the trip all the way out to the fort this time, but wanted to check the water here.  It was just what I needed - I found California and Ring-billed Gulls, White-crowned Sparrows, Northern Pintails and an Osprey.   This put me to 51 species for the county, and it became 52 as I drove towards the Hood Canal Floating Bridge with Red-tailed Hawks posted up on telephone poles.

Getting late

Island County ClassTrip - Entry two: Whidbey Island 9/16

My crew was on breakfast early in the morning.  This isn't a food blog, but... bread pudding with whipped cream (orange infused whipped cream with chopped up swedish fish mixed in for the kitchen crew), bacon (thick cut for the kitchen crew), hash browns, and fresh fruit.  Pretty darn good stuff. :)  Most of my morning was spent scrubbing pans - folks... don't forget to grease your pans... it doesn't take that long, and it will save you so much time.  We cleaned up the whole place, packed up a truck, and as soon as the buses rolled in, I rolled out to start some serious birding.

Great Blue Heron - Penn Cove

Whidbey Naval Air Station provided some of the
background noise during these three days
My first stop was to Dugalla Bay just south of Deception Pass.  The birds that surprised me here were the ducks!  Fall is coming back, and it was nice to see some ducks I hadn't seen in a while - Northern Pintails, American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal - all in the little lake just in from the bay itself.  The tide was in, so there wasn't any mud to bring in shorebirds. 

Brewer's Blackbirds - Oak Harbor
From there it was south to Oak Harbor - I only made one stop at the waterfront, and it wasn't a water bird that I found there, but birds in their natural habitat: Brewer's Blackbirds at a baseball field.  I saw the field, and it just looked like the field down the street from my home where they hang out.  I suppose a Target parking lot would have worked too. 

From here I traveled from the east side of the island to the west - not a long trip on this skinny island!  On the way, I got this shot... great picture of some beautiful rose hips, but I was kind of trying to get the American Goldfinch which was chowing down on nature's thistle feeder - a thistle!  A whole flock of them was having a great time in this particular field.

West side beach - Whidbey Island
There were actually quite a few birds out on the west side of the island.  Bos Lake had a Marsh Wren, and other stops along West Beach Drive gave me Common Loons, Harlequin Ducks, Surf Scoters and Horned Grebes.  For the latter two, they were the first I had seen in many months. 

Surf Scoters and Horned Grebe - it's been a while!

I ate these
I hadn't really been through the back roads of Whidbey Island much.  I mean... there's not a lot of back roads to do, but they're there.  So from here, taking a drive down Zylstra Road was nice.  I made one stop with several nice surprises.  First of all, a flock of 40-50 Barn Swallows were still hanging around the island - all of them seemed to be here.  Secondly, blackberries - giant Himalaya blackberries.  Now, I know that you shouldn't really eat the ones by the road, pollution, blah blah blah... but after 5-10 minutes of walking past the perfect blackberries, I dug in.  Worth it.

I realized after driving another quarter mile that I was back on Highway 20 - the main drag that runs down the center of the island.  A quick left, and up the road to pull out and look for shorebirds at Grasser's Lagoon.  One!  A Lesser Yellowlegs.  I was hoping for some of the rock-loving shorebirds, though, so I turned back south along Penn Cove.

Okay, this is the last time I'll apologize for a picture
in this entry, I promise, but this was my first attempt
at digiscoping - putting my phone up to the spotting
scope and trying to line it up... I don't even know if
the kiiiind of lighter looking bird is the Ruddy Turnstone,
but thought I'd include my attempt for entertainment purposes.
I kept striking out as I made my way farther and farther along Penn Cove at what seemed like good stops with rocky shoreline.  Finally I heard the rattle of Black Turnstones on the mussel rafts (...or whatever ya call em) down below.  They were quite a way out, so I got my spotting scope on them.  Picking through them, I realized that one of the little shorebirds was lighter than the rest;  It had the same general size and shape, but was brown rather than black.  Ruddy Turnstone!  This was a lifer for me, although I'll want a closer view some time.

I ate this too.  Can't compare it to the blackberries from
earlier, but both experiences involved bliss.
I was jazzed now, and felt that laziness sneak up on me that always arrives after I've seen a new bird - I was content to celebrate in Coupeville with a pint of IPA and a bowl of mussels at Toby's.  It was 2:30, and I hadn't had lunch yet, so this sat pretty well with me.  These had to be the freshest mussels I'd ever had, and the folks at the bar were friendly - very good stop.

Leaving Island County - Keystone Ferry. 
Crockett Lake behind
My last stop in Island County - probably for the year - was at the Keystone Ferry terminal.  I didn't have the rubber boots to tromp out to the shores of Crockett Lake, but I didn't reallly have the time either.  A quick stop, and I got to see some Semipalmated Plovers fly in to the lake shore, and from the ferry, I saw Heermann's Gulls and a Pelagic Cormorant.

Leaving, I got one more shot of the lighthouse that Bre and I visited for the first time almost 20 years ago now, on our very first road trip when we were just newly dating.  Seven lighthouses in a day was the plan, and it took us on a nice tour around Puget Sound.  The lines I drew on my gazzetteer that day were the first - we've drawn a lot of lines since!  That gazzetteer is pretty ooooold now, but we've still got it - full of miles and miles of love drawn in ink.
Admiralty Head Lighthouse - Island County

Island County Class Trip: Entry one - 9/14 and 9/15

West Beach - Deception Pass State Park - Island County
Every fall, our ninth grade heads out for a class trip.  This has taken a lot of different forms (car camping, backpacking, cabins), but for several years now, we've been sticking with Deception Pass State Park, using the Cornet Bay Environmental Learning Center.  Some years I've driven the bus, some years I've ridden on the bus, but for the first time, I took my car along with a plan to head off at the end of the trip to bird Whidbey Island and take the ferry to Jefferson County. 

Throwing rocks - West
Beach, Deception Pass SP
Our drop off for the trip was at West Beach for lunch.  The rented buses dropped the group off, leaving us with our truck full of gear and a few faculty vehicles.  The best fun of this stop, and of nearly any trip to a rocky beach, was throwing rocks into the water.  Big ones to splash in the water, small ones to skip - I don't know why, but it seems like kids (and, I'll be honest, this includes me in this activity) love hucking rocks into water.  My arm actually still hurts a little from the skipping!

It wasn't terribly birdy - some Canada Geese and California Gulls - but we did have a Cooper's Hawk cruising along the forest edge at one point.  At the end of lunch, 100 9th graders left it cleaner than they found it, and started to hike along Cranberry Lake - crossing Highway 20, and down the road to Cornet Bay on the east end of the park.

Green Algae in Cranberry Lake - it didn't
smell as pretty as it looked...
It was interesting walking back along Cranberry Lake - there was algae in the lake, which was an interesting thing to explain to two of the boarding students from China - not a plant... not bacteria...  We made it over safely, at any rate, met with the ranger, and found cabins. 

Cornet Bay ELC
 The ELC at Cornet Bay has been a nice place to stay for the last few years.  There are a lot of different structured activities we've done with the kids through the years, but the down time has been nice as well - playing frisbee and football in the giant field, gazing out at the bay from the firepit, playing board games in the dining hall.  It's been a few years since it's been clear enough for stargazing during the fall trip, but it's certainly dark enough when it's clear!

Killdeer in Cornet Bay - the first shorebirds
I've seen there in three years.
In terms of wildlife, we've had a good mix of birds and other animals making their way through the campground, in and out of the bay, and in the surrounding woods.  The Great Blue Herons and Belted Kingfishers in the bay are among the louder more noticable residents, as well as the Barred Owls at night (which I've had all three years now - only on the first night this year).  Deer made their way through the campground as well, and dark brings out the bats and raccoons.

At the end of the evening, I made a few laps of the field to make sure cabins were settling down, then it was back to my own, where I was out almost as soon as the head hit the pillow - waking only once to listen to the owls outside.

Double-crested Cormorants dropping into Cornet Bay
Day Two!

Song Sparrows woke me up early, so I walked the big field before most kids were up.  I've been surprised this fall with American Robin numbers - it seems like there are times in the fall where there are overwhelming numbers of them around, but not lately... I guess that's the value in sending the observations I make in to eBird.  It's a big database that you can use to track your observations, but is also a nice tool for the citizen scientist to contribute, helping to build a better understanding of birds by tracking their numbers and how they move during the year.  No Varied Thrushes here this morning either - where's my favorite bird?

Deception Pass from the bridge

A not very good picture of salal berries
We had our breakfast, then made our way from the ELC along the perimeter trail, under the bridge at Deception Pass, and down to West Beach.  This was a nice walk - we missed a lot of elevation gain and loss by skipping the summit trail, although even that one is fairly gentle as summits go!  I ended up with a young man who also knew his plants, and we ate some salal on the walk.  This was my first time eating the little purple berries, and I was surprised I hadn't caught on to them before.  They were a little tart, a little sweet.  He had used them at a camp to make a pie before!

Pigeon Guillemot
It wasn't very birdy on the walk - although I did get a Pacific Wren calling from the woods at one point.  The beach itself was a little better, with some alcids moving through the channel between Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands, including a Marbled Murrelet which drifted across my estimation of the county line as I sat and ate my burger from the grill on the beach. 

The beach was full of people fishing today, which was the first time that had happened on the trip.  Kids fought the urge (almost successfully) to throw rocks in the water, and found other things to do...

Very cool... :)
We finished lunch, hiked it back, and (from all reports) had a nice mix of activities and free time until late in the evening.
Whirlpools below Deception Pass

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Little trips I might have left out...

Eight Spotted Skimmer - King County
(Dragonflies have been easier than birds lately...)
School has started back up again, and there are a few trips left for the year:
Island and Jefferson Counties at the end of the week coming up.  I've been to both, but haven't quite hit 39 species of birds in either.
Douglas and Chelan - Some time in October, especially to finish Douglas, but it would be great to find a ridge in Chelan with some raptors still migrating through.
Franklin County - in November.  This will be a bigger trip, because I kind of need to swing through Skamania on the way... and pop up to Adams... and get a couple more in Benton... That will be an interesting little swing, but it should be enough to wrap it up and get me to 39 species of birds in all 39 counties for the year.
December:  Is there just in case.

While gettin ready for school to start, and during the whole summer, there were some little forays into other counties that didn't quite make it into the blog: 

Another walk at the Theler Wetlands in Mason County with the kids in June (added some swallows);

A hike up Green Mountain in Kitsap County with my son and nephew in July (a few flycatchers still calling);

A visit to my brother in Snohomish County in July (Turkey Vultures!);

A faculty retreat in Kitsap County along Agate Passage (Common Loons, but no Greater Yellowlegs, which are almost always there during that time of the year);

A family hike at Deception Pass State Park (on the Skagit side - Black Oystercatcher was the highlight, and we did zip through Whidbey Island, so I touched the 39th county for the year... almost there!); 

There have been a lot of little trips to try to catch some life birds without working toooo hard (Sportco ponds in Fife, where I have missed Baird's and Semipalmated Sandpipers, and several spots along Puget Sound where I still can't seem to find any Common Terns).

Last night, I also got out to Thurston County, doing a little chasing, as someone had posted a report for a Ruff, a Whimbrel, and Baird's Sandpipers (any would have been life birds), and a Pectoral Sandpiper (would've been new for the year).  It was a beautiful evening, and I ran into several other birders out there, but the sunset arrived before the tide had receded enough.

Here's a smattering of pictures from some of those trips:

Vaccinum Parvifolium: Wild Red Huckleberries
The tastiest berry that the most people don't know about.  Or so I believe.
Green Mountain: Kitsap County

The view from Green Mountain - Kitsap County
We could see the Space Needle!

Dome shaped spider webs - Rosairo Beach - Skagit County

Black Oystercatcher - Rosario Beach, Skagit County
Enjoying the sculpture scavenger hunt
in Langley - Island County