Notes on the title before proceeding:
1. "Nowhere" is a heavy, heavy compliment on a good place. Read on for the explanation.
2. "The Middle" of that nowhere is a place that I am aching to go back to.
Okay, I feel like I can go on now. Friday morning came, and I had to make my way from Renton to Redmond by 8:00 for a teacher's conference. Had a lovely and inspiring time, and was happy when the final keynote speaker wrapped up about 15 minutes early, letting me get a start on one of my last trips!
|Fall foliage on Highway 2|
From Redmond, I made my way up to Highway 2. As I neared Stevens Pass, I had to stop at Skykomish. Last year, in getting ready for my year around the state, I had really focused on King County. The original plan had been to see 150 species for the year in the county, but one thing led to another... and I finished the year at 202! This corner of the county was one of the few places I hadn't been to.
This is about as long as one can drive to "get to" King County - winding up through Snohomish County and back south into King before hitting Stevens Pass. I was fascinated looking around Skykomish - totally disconnected from the rest of the county, unless you wanted to hike to it through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (which I may have to do sometime...). It made me think of Point Roberts - the part of Washington that you can only get to via Canada - up and around through a little bit of British Columbia - like a little separate colony of the Motherland.
I struck out on the owls I was looking for - I've still only seen them, but haven't heard the calls, which is unusual for me with owls - when I started to get a different owl call. Three hoots... unevenly spaced... then a big pause. I pulled up the app on my phone and listened to what I thought it might be. Spotted Owl! I quickly shut it off and listened. More calling! Spotted Owls will actually eat Northern Pygmy-owls if they get a chance, so that must be what called this one in. I called once or twice back, just to be friendly, then listened for five minutes more before the voice in the distant trees finally stopped.
|Octoberfest at Gustavs, Leavenworth|
Making my way down the east side of Stevens, it continued to get cloudy and darker, so I stopped for dinner in Leavenworth... on October 14th. Now, it was not my intention to make it over specifically for Octoberfest in Leavenworth, but it still seemed like a beer and a brat were in order for dinner, so that's what I ordered at Gustav's. My wife texted me to have fun, but not too much fun - "No liederhosen!" I think were her exact words.
A couple from Lake Tapps sat next to me, and we chatted for a couple of hours about baseball, small towns, private schooling, Puerto Rico, parenting and soccer. We did talk about the birds, and the wife actually understood the idea of the 'sense of place' that I got from watching and listening to the birds in different places. For her it was more about the geology and the trees, but it's still the same kind of feeling. You know you're somewhere different - sometimes if you look around and listen, you can put your finger on it.
I finished my evening with the 40 minute drive down the hill to my hotel in East Wenatchee. On the way, I thumbed through radio stations and stumbled on the Friday night matchup between the Cashmere and Chelan High Schools. It was an awesome finish, and Chelan alllmost upset the highly ranked Bulldogs, but they went for the touchdown instead of kicking the game winning field goal from inside the ten yard line. I know... I don't understand either. So nice just to get to listen to some high school football, anyway!
Head hit the bed, and I was out.
I got up too early. Sunrise isn't until 7:30 now! That hadn't sunk in, so I was toying with the idea of going owling... then I looked at the places I wanted to go, and... in the end, I went back to bed, kind of, and got back up for breakfast in the hotel at 6:00. Typical continental fare, and I was surprised to see quite a few people also up at 6:00 on Saturday. Ahhh! Octoberfest and opening day of hunting season!
|Bridge over Lake Pateros - Okanogan to Douglas Counties|
|A very small fraction of the ducks I saw|
|Redheads, American Coots and Ruddy Ducks|
|Eurasian Collared-Dove - Bridgeport Bar|
Farther up the road, I stopped at Wells National Wildlife Refuge, and also walked some of the neighborhoods in the area. I thought at the time that I was in Bridgeport, but realize now that Bridgeport was a little farther down the river. I found some sparrows and doves and even a Brown-headed Cowbird in these neighborhoods before heading up to the Bridgeport Bar area of the refuge.
|Bridgeport Bar sparrow and warbler patch|
|Lincoln's Sparrow - Bridgeport Bar|
The highlight of this time was getting to see this falcon fly in with a bird in-talon, and proceed to pluck it! I watched for a bit, but didn't want to be a nuisance. I moved on and looked for any other interesting sparrows, but all I found were White-crowned Sparrows - all of them east-siders, based on the songs, which are a little different than the ones sung here at home.
|Onto the Waterville Plateau - Douglas County|
|Insert Snowy Owl here|
|Juvenile Northern Shrike|
|I thought I knew where I was at this point...|
I did not.
For anyone making their way up here, it's worth noting that the road names might be different from what you'll find on your maps. After almost an hour of guessing what direction I was going (thankfully there were clear skies, and I know a little astronomy...), and choosing this dirt road, and that gravel road, and this pavement... I finally thought I knew where I was. Then I wasn't sure...
At one point, I thought I saw a major road ahead, and also some birds on a wire. I knew I was heading south, because it was just about local noon (probably 12:55 or so here), and these birds were completely backlit. I rolled up to pass them, and they would fly up ahead of me - about a dozen of them. We repeated this several times, and when I finally gave in and sped past them, they flew off into the distance. I got one backlit bird pictured here - There's a lot of buffy color on the breast, so... Western Bluebird?
I needed to get to Lake Chelan to pick up wine we had ordered, so when I finally got to the major road (McNeil Canyon Road) and wound my way down to the Columbia. This road is steepish in parts, and I have actually been dumb enough to try to drive up it with a fresh blanket of unplowed snow a few years back. This was a bit less frightening!
|Western Grebes - Lake Chelan|
|Orchard near Manson - Chelan County|
|From Antillon Lake - towards mountains|
|Near Manson - Chelan County|
|Golden Eagle - McNeil Canyon Road|
|Ah! I had always wondered...|
|Through the Moses Coulee towards Jameson Lake|
A man and his son got out of the lake where they'd been fishing from a boat they rented. Oh Lord, I need to get back here with Declan. I've tried to go fishing with him, but (brace yourself everyone), I didn't catch a single fish in the first 30 or so years of my life. The fishing that I haven't done has left me ridiculously incapable... I never know what goes where on the line (which I find every year in the same condition - line tangled impossibly), and once things get tangled... it's all over.
|Fish here? I may have to!|
|Fixer-upper - Douglas County|
|Gray Partridge - South of Mansfield|
|Getting late! Check out the rainbow fragment in the cloud |
on the left!
|This has happened exactly five times this year|
I found into a copse of trees about ten miles from Waterville, and thought it would be worth trying for owls. I pulled over, got out and shut the door, which has developed a bit of a groan as it closes. From the trees, I thought I heard it - did an owl call? I tried a quick hoot, trying to replicate what I had just heard (I wasn't sure what a Long-eared Owl sounded like, but I could at least imitate what I heard). Again! Shortly after I hooted, the owl hooted back at me! I tried another time - dead on!
I couldn't believe that I was able to nail this call so quickly, but I suppose I do have a pretty good ear for these things. I waited... nothing. Then I pulled out my phone to dial up a Long-eared Owl call, just to see what they sound like. Hmmm... that sounded different. I looked off into the silent copse of trees and tried the call I'd heard from the recording on my phone. The owl quickly obliged and imitated me perfectly... Then it sunk in.
"Echo!", I yelled into the evening silence, and the owl quickly responded in kind: "Echo!". I slapped my forehead, and was greeted by the sound of that slap echoed back from the hills around me not more than a second later. It was time to go to bed.