4/01/2015   Chasing birds  
Black-throated Blue Warbler in Bothell
Glaucous Gull in Monroe
Brambling in Issaquah
Ambivalent as usual about chasing rare birds, I haven't bothered to go out and see the Brambling which has spent the winter in Issaquah, but a Black-throated Blue Warbler was just reported in Bothell (it has apparently been there since December) and Blair found a Glaucous Gull in Monroe when he went looking for (and unlike me, found) the Franklin's Gull a few days ago. With three new year birds arranged in a convenient loop around the east side, I decided the risk of getting skunked was acceptably low so I went looking for them.
The Black-throated Blue has been visiting the feeder in a wooded residential neighborhood. I found the address with a bit of difficulty but there was no question about the location; a sign with an arrow pointed to a well-worn trail across the lawn and around the back of the house where birders were packed together waiting for the bird. Doug Schurman was there but I didn't recognize anybody else. The bird had last been seen about a half hour earlier. I was the first to spot it again, foraging in a flowering cherry in the neighboring yard. As advertised, it was a bright adult male and it looked quite out of place. When the warbler flew into the suet feeder, the crowd of birders responded with a shower of shutter clicks, mine among them. I would've preferred a shot among the cherry blossoms or on a cedar branch, but this is the best I could do.
A half-hour later in Monroe I was driving the familiar farm roads south of town near Lake Crescent when I spotted a flock of gulls in the air. I had reason to hope; a couple of birders in a Prius had passed me as they were leaving and they'd seen the Glaucous Gull with other gulls in a nearby field. I stopped in a hurry to check out the wheeling flock and before I could manage to hoist my binoculars I spotted one creamy white gull among the darker Glaucous-wings. I dragged the camera off the back seat and braced my elbows on the hood of the car to prop up the lens. My photos were sufficient to reveal the dark tip on the pink bill, confirming the identification.
Two out of three already. Even without the Brambling, the day is a success. I figure the Brambling is a bit of a long shot anyhow. Most everyone who wants to see it has already seen it and the bird may well have already departed for Siberia. But I will feel a little sting of failure if I don't at least try for it so I tell my phone to navigate to the address, or rather to the neighborhood. When I get there, a steep forested community on the side of Squak mountain overlooking Issaquah, the houses around me don't fit the description I'd seen. Ed saw it a week ago so I give him a call and find out that I'm on the wrong side of the loop. At the right house, the owner comes out to greet me. He's a man about my age, works at home he says, is happy to hang out and talk about birds and beer. While were talking, the Brambling flies in and lands in a cedar tree. A young couple drives up and we point out the bird them. They're delighted. They're new to birding and have never seen a Brambling before. I'd left my camera in the car so I walk back and get it hoping the bird will stick around. It did.
Together the three sightings upped my Washington year list to 170, a good start given that I missed the eastern Washington winter birds. I was pleased to be able to get photos of all three too given the condition of my arms and hands. Until last weekend I didn't even think I could still handle the camera.

A perplexing dream last night:
A young man came to the door of my house and I let him in. He was of slight build, about my height, with a rather long brown hair; in fact he reminded me a lot of a fellow student who wanted to be my friend when I was at Exeter, and tried to get me to play bass in his rock band. He wanted to be cool but wasn't.
This young man had a gun. He told me he was a terrorist but he didn't seem to know what to do. Suddenly, as if remembering what he came for, he said he wanted cash. My mother had some cash with her checkbook in a desk upstairs so I directed him to that. I also had several hundred dollars stashed away but I didn't want him to take my money and I hoped he wouldn't find it. The young man looked through Mom's checkbook but I don't know if he took anything. He seemed tentative and unsure of himself so I invited him to come downstairs. I thought that might distract him from looking for my money.
There were people downstairs, but I don't recall knowing who they were; some were old, about my age, and others were young - high school or college age. Daniel was there too. He urged me to call 911 and get a SWAT team to come arrest the young man, so I did. I was glad that Daniel knew what to do. The older people in the room also helped me, talking with the young man to distract him. Pleased by their attention, he sat crosslegged in front of them with his back to the front door.
Through the window by the door, I saw the SWAT team arrive. One of them, a stout man with red hair, peered in the door and I nodded to him to indicate that the young man was the one they should arrest. He closed the door then two other stout SWAT team men burst in. Each grabbed one of the young man's shoulders and together they lifted him up and carried them out the door. He didn't resist, but remained immobile in his crosslegged position, as if he were a statue.
In the dream the young man carried a gun and was clearly threatening, but at the same time seemed unsure of himself and uncertain as to what to do. I wasn't particularly scared but I also didn't want to offend or anger him, and I didn't know how to get him to leave. In effect he paralyzed me so I couldn't take action on my own behalf. He reminds me of myself both during high school and again after college, both in his appearance and in that he was unsure of himself. I used to sit cross-legged like that when I was in high school, but sitting cross-legged also reminds me of Zen meditation, or a Christian prayer meeting. Although I did not recognize it at the time, after college I found my paralyzing uncertainty about what to do next to be very threatening, so much so that I determined to return to Christianity, a belief system which had already failed me during college.
In the dream it took Daniel's suggestion that I call the police to empower me to action and I was grateful to him for that. That fits with the religion theme too - Daniel has in the past few years led the way in my coming out of my conservative Christian belief when I was afraid to do so. But Daniel in the dream also represents my own agency in choosing that belief in the first place. The stout man with red hair reminds me of Dan Collins, a conservative Adventist evangelist with whom Susan and I stayed during the first week of our honeymoon. In the dream he and the SWAT team symbolize the conservative Adventist worldview and lifestyle which I voluntarily adopted (Daniel suggesting I call the SWAT team) but which demanded that I forsake my own understanding of what I believed and desired (the SWAT team carrying the young man away).
4/04/2015   Stuff  
Going by my former home in Auburn yesterday to pick up my stuff was a painful reminder of how much I have given up, and how diminished my life is now compared to what I had before. The place was beautiful, aglow with the soft greens of spring, maple buds opening, frogs chorusing. The garden, no less verdant than the rest of the field, remains an unkempt legacy of our dispute over the fence enclosing it. In the workshop my rock cutting and polishing equipment gathers dust; the petrified wood bookends doomed to remain in various stages of incompletion. I felt sad for how much I have lost due to ALS, sad for the home that used to be mine, sad for the sour ending of our marriage and for the pain that I left behind for Susan and the boys.
David help me carry the boxes out of the workshop and pack them in the car. I picked up the elk skin too. The car began to reek of its musty scent soured by 20 years of storage. When packing was done I invited David to hike up Mount Pete with me and he agreed. We had a pleasant walk up and down and stopped at Jackson's in Enumclaw for supper. We talked about his hands and whether or not his hand problems are the reason he is stuck. We made plans to schedule another round of doctor visits and maybe therapy too. I told him how I got stuck after college, unable to grow up. I probably gave him too much advice, but at least it felt like we were talking about things that matter.
I'd planned to paint today but couldn't muster the courage to start so decided to unpack a couple boxes instead. Susan packed most of the stuff from the office and around my desk into moving boxes. Most of it falls into the classification of "odds and ends", mugs stuffed with pencils and pens, plastic trays full of spare change, safety pins, samples of floss from the dentist, old business cards, a few small shells and rocks, a spare medal from the Tunnel Marathon, a half-used shampoo sample from the Harvard Club, bottles of unused glucosamine tablets, handwritten notes about enhancements to my now obsolete bird sighting software application and other detritus from my former life. It feels like it's my responsibility to first organize and then dispose of this stuff before I die. This stuff, and the books, and the rocks, and the clothing, the shell collection, the odds and ends of camping and cycling and swimming and fishing gear, all the flotsam and jetsam bobbing in the wake of my accumulative life. So I sorted through four boxes and consolidated them into two, which is still two too many. Later I'll have to finish the task, but not too much later because it's got to be done before my arms and hands die entirely and they were in bad shape today already. I'm ticking off the prerequisites for my death. I have to stick around until I dispose of my stuff, and complete the Peregrine falcon painting, and update my will, and perhaps say goodbye to friends and family too.
The rocks were the hardest. Why did I take them in the first place? When I took them out of their context they lost their meaning. Their beauty was bound up in their original settings; out of place they are just rocks. I never even displayed them; they've been in boxes since the day I picked them up. A futile passion, my collecting. The rocks are already dead; the rest of my collections will die too, along with my arms and legs and the rest of me. Seems somehow to encapsulate the futility of all this life, relationships and things and knowledge and passions - all will be lost.
That calls to mind a dream I had a few days ago about rocks becoming worthless, and death.
The boys and I had backpacked into the mountains and found a camping area by a lake or stream. David was playing the stream making channels and I was concerned that the stream would flood our campsite on the beach. The tent site was already not very good; it was a square pit dug into the sand about a foot deep and floored with rough Cedar roots.
In a small pile of rocks on the opposite side of a plunge pool below a waterfall in the stream by our camp, I found an agate. Then David and I noticed other agates and David found a big one consisting of agatized clam or oyster shells cemented together. Then I found one a foot across in the form of a turtle but when I looked at it more closely I realized it was a cheap ceramic turtle made in China. I wondered if David's agate was also counterfeit.
Some tourists had driven up so I showed them an unusual rock I had found. It had two small quartz crystals on it, one red and one green. As I was explaining to the tourists how rare red and green quartz crystals were, they broke off and crumbled in my fingers.
Returning to the tent site, I found that the pit had completely filled with water as I had feared it would. David said that's okay because there are two daybeds over there and two more in that building. I looked where he was pointing and on a low bluff over the water I saw two brown leather chaise-lounges. The building was L-shaped, old and weathered, of board and batten construction perhaps. A ramp led up the inside of the stem of the "L" to where the additional chaise-lounges were stored. As I walked up the ramp I looked in the windows on my right and saw a rock party in progress. Guys were sitting around listening to rock music. They were oblivious to me and I couldn't hear the music at all.
I looked into the room where the chaise-lounges were supposed to be. It was old and dusty, filled with cobwebs. Spiderlike creatures were sprawled flat on the floor. They had very thin legs with a hooked talon at the end of each one. They looked dangerous and I was a little afraid but then I realized that they had no muscles so they could not move.
The room containing spiders instead of chaise-lounges is a place of death. The spiders were alive but had no muscles, a reference to ALS. I think the "rock" party is a pun, but may represent my past; it is inaccessible to me now, and the young men then could not see into the future, my present, either. The extra chaise-lounges were to be for me and someone else, probably Darchelle but that wasn't clear. The flawed tentsite while camping with the boys, the big agate which turned out to be a cheap ceramic trinket, the rare red and green (Christmas?) quartz crystals which crumbled in my fingers, all symbolize a home life which was not as good as it appeared, and which is now not even viable (the flooded tentsite). The past was imperfect; the future looks more comfortable (the daybeds) but ends in disability and death, a somewhat frightening prospect.
4/26/2015   Dreams about making it through  
A dream last night:
Darchelle and I are driving on a country road. We pass under tall trees (like the cottonwoods David and I saw at Wenas Creek) and we look up at the colorful fall foliage, crimson and bright yellow, but as we do so I think "I'd better keep my eyes on the road in case it turns". Sure enough, it does, in fact it ends and a smaller, rough single-lane but paved track with rocks and potholes turns off at a right angle and climbs a steep hill. I am worried that the road won't go through but up at the top of the hill, where the road turns left and levels out (like the Wilson road hill in Jacksonl) I se a semi truck headed our way. That reassures me that the road does go through but we get off to the right side of the hill, behind a small shed, to let the truck pass. Another one is behind it, and a third truck is coming up from below. On the other side of the road from us, a man is postholing up the hill, his feet sinking into the pavement as if in snow.
We are now above the hill (as if past Overlook towards where Sandy used to live ) and on the shoulder of the road I see a bird that is unusually tame. After pointing it out to Darchelle I try to pet it and am able to touch its back. It is brown and rather tall, perhaps like a rail though I call it a Killdeer in the dream. Darchelle then picks up the bird and cups it in her palm. A car pulls up and I explain to the driver and passengers something about the birds, but I forget what.
The steep hill represents getting ALS. The tame birds remind me of my first Sabbath out on the prairie near Billings, and together with the road going through, may represent heaven, or life after death, or maybe just some kind of resolution of my experience with God. Darchelle and I go through together.
Another dream last night, also about getting through:
David and I are driving to Enumclaw on a snowy road through open country. As we reach a shallow valley perhaps a quarter mile across, we see that our route is completely blocked by a fresh mudflow, brown mud with boulders and big chunks of ice that had come from the hills on our left, filled the valley and continued down to the river on our right. From the river I heard shouts and saw brightly colored kayakers playing by an eddy below the mudflow.
David is driving and I am in the passenger seat. As he backs the car up to turn around, he is also reaching down to his feet, perhaps to put on boots, and as a result backs up too far so one wheel goes off the road. I am afraid that the car will roll down the snowy embankment and we'll never get back on the road, but instead of getting irritated with David and telling him to let me take over driving, I offer to get out and push. That works and we get safely back on the road again. As I get back into the car I realize that the mudflow has almost completely disappeared and that car tracks run across the narrow patch of hardened mud that remains in the road. We will be able to get through after all.
5/28-30/2015   Morel Hunting  
David and Daniel at Thunder Bay overlook
Daniel and David had never been over the North Cascades highway and they both like mushroom hunting and there are lots of morels right now in the burns around Winthrop so it was not difficult to persuade them to join me on a trip to hunt morels in the Methow Valley, a decision made even easier by their being unemployed and by my offering to pay all expenses. For my part, I would get to enjoy their company and their assistance from time to time with such things as applying bug dope (my hands and arms being too weak to use the spray bottle effectively.
Our first stop was Wiley Slough near Conway where the previously reported Least Flycatcher was singing vigorously. I only caught a glimpse of it but hearing it was sufficient to count it as year bird number 282. Our second stop was the scenic overlook above Thunder Bay. The boys were impressed.
Morel hunting spot
Patchy burn - good for morels
Hot burn - not as good for morels
After a stop in Washington pass to photograph the snow slides coming off Liberty Bell, we turned left in Winthrop and drove up the Chewuch River valley to the Falls Creek road, one of the burned areas set aside by the forest service for personal mushroom picking only. Rumor has it that commercial pickers get up to $25/pound for the mushrooms and things get a little crazy with that kind of money sitting around in the woods. We were pleased to see a forest service truck coming down the road; apparently they do patrol the personal picking areas. We continued almost the end of the road, parking by an unburned area because I figured fewer people would've hunted there. Morels fruit most vigorously in patchy burned areas the first spring following the fire.
We started picking around seven and figured we had about an hour and half before he had had back into town in order to get to the Old Schoolhouse Brewery before it stopped serving food. We did pretty well; I filled one and a half large-size lunch bags, probably 3 pounds. We knew we were cutting it close when we all get back in the car so Daniel drove the Falls Creek Road as if he were piloting a luge in the Olympics. We ordered dinner with three minutes to spare. Delicious burger and nice flight of beers. I would definitely go back, and so we did the next night.
Wondering what morels look like? Here are a few pictures.
We checked into the Winthrop Inn around 10 PM just as the front desk attendant was pulling out. He parked his truck again and checked us in. He was pleased to hear that we were Morel hunting and seemed even more pleased when he realized we knew what we were doing. It was he who told us about guys with guns defending their commercial picking places.
In the morning I went for a bird run up towards Patterson Lake while the boys slept in. It was hot. I soaked my head in a sprinkler on the way up and took a dip in the lake. I hid behind some bushes to put my clothes on and thought I might have to ask one of the boys to help me pull up my underwear but I managed. All they had to do was snap my pants.
Waiting out a rain shower
A local
Did someone say lunch?
We picked for four hours in the afternoon, mostly around and beyond the end of Falls Creek Road. The fire was really hot in much of that area, burning everything on both sides of the stream, but I found a shallow gully on the far side of the stream with lots of mushrooms. I picked my way up to a ledgy ridge then ran out of time. I counted 72 more morels in the quarter mile back to the car but only picked a couple of the biggest ones.
Open ponderosa pine woods
Catclaw Mariposa
Red-naped Sapsucker at the ranch
We stayed at a cabin at the Chewack River Ranch, comfortable and quiet except for the stream rushing by outside. With about 14 large lunch bags full of morels between us, we decided we didn't need to do anymore picking in the morning. While the boys slept in I went for a run up Boulder Creek Rd, which turns out to be the road to Freezeout Pass and Tiffany Mountain where Susan and I went to find the Northern Hawk Owl two years ago. Once again I thought it might find a White-breasted Nuthatch in the pines but did not.
At Washington pass on the way home, we parked at the entrance to the scenic overlook road (not yet open for the summer) and hiked up to the high point on the ridge north of the highway, across from Liberty Bell. Great views. We came across a few patches of snow higher up but nothing we couldn't handl in running shoes. As we approached the summit we met a party of six climbers descending. They had packs and helmets and ropes and ice axes. Perhaps it was my imagination but I thought they looked at the three of us a little skeptically, particularly when Daniel asked them where the trail down was. They didn't catch his humor. They had scrambled up to the real summit and had used their ropes to rappel back down the top 40 feet.
We settled for the almost summit - same great views, no ropes required. It actually was a tougher hike than I anticipated - quite steep with a lot of loose rock. On the way down I took a chance on finding a route through the ledges above the scenic overlook and it saved us fifteen minutes of bushwhacking at the end.
6/02/2015     
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
Yellow-headed Blackbird
David and I camped about half way up the Bethel Ridge Road after owling. No Spotted Owls this year. I awoke at dawn after a short night and birded around camp until David got up, which was not long after I did. We spent the day driving across the state with stops in Vantage to look for a Black-throated Sparrow (nope), Lind Coulee to photograph Grebes, Sprague WTP for Wilson's Phalarope (yup) aand half a dozen other spots.
6/03/2015   Birding Pend Oreille County  
Hafer road White-tailed Deer
Lazuli Bunting
Clay-colored Sparrow
Actually we started in Stevens County, on Hafer road in Chewelah shortly after six in the morning and finished at the Sherman Pass campground at dusk, but in between we spent the morning along the Westside Calispell Road and the afternoon around Bunchgrass Meadows.
David and Blair in Bobolink habitat
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
We ran into Blair at the Aspen Grove and chased Bobolinks with him after finding the usual suspects at the bridge. With his characteristic efficiency Blair passed up Bunchgrass Meadows, where we devoted most of five hours to locating a single Boreal Chickadee, in order to discover a Broad-winged Hawk at Lake Wenatchee. That would've been a state bird for me.
6/04/2015   Bonaparte Mountain  
Barrow's Goldeneye with ducklings
David on the trail
Me on Bonaparte Mountain
David and I spent the night in Republic then drove up to Bonaparte Lake in the morning. I wanted to hike up Bonaparte Mountain, in part because it is such a prominent feature of the Okanogan Highands and partly because I thought we might find Spruce Grouse in the higher elevation forest. We found a trail that ascends the mountain from the campground at the lake But we before we started up we birded the campground area.
Motor homes and ORVs notwithstanding, it is a wild place. Loons were yodeling and wailing out on the lake and a mother Barrow's Goldeneye was shepherding her chicks on a pond in the campground while a Northern Waterthrush sang in the top of a nearby fir. A Sora called from a grassy marsh at the outlet of the lake so David and I parked ourselves in the woods at the edge of the marsh and played a recording of the call, hoping that one of the birds might show itself for a photo. While I studied the marsh in front of me a Sora emerged behind a bush on my left and marched in a semicircle through the woods no more than 10 feet behind me. I had great views but was too surprised to get a photo. As far as I can recall it is the first Sora I have actually seen in more than 30 years.
The trail meandered from the south side of the mountain over to the north side and back again without ever getting to the top so we finally gave up on it and tried bushwhacking directly to the summit but were turned back in the last quarter mile or so by a tangle of wind-thrown lodgepole pine. We did not see any Spruce Grouse either, nor any Spruce for that matter. Though quite high, the mountain sits in the rain shadow of the North Cascades and appears to get burned regularly so the dominant tree on the higher slopes is the pine rather than the spruce and fir favored (I think) by the grouse. From the ledges where we ate lunch we scanned the slopes below us for goshawks but spotted only a redtail. Here's a link to our checklist.
6/05/2015   A Dream and a Dickcissel  
Hardy Canyon
Dickcissel
A Dickcissel was reported at Hardy Canyon along the Wenas road so David and I stopped by there on the way home and were able to find it thanks to some helpful birders who told us which was the correct access point. It was singing so not hard to find once we got in the right place. The last time I saw one was in North Dakota in 1983.
Washington state life bird #368 and year bird #296.
Here's a link to the checklist.
A dream last night:
I am swimming in a shallow pool with water that is white like milk. A man, one of two in the pool with me, is sitting cross-legged in the water and I playfully swim underwater around him.
Then I am in a house of several sparsely furnished rooms with a group of people, mostly women I think. I realize that if I imagine I am still in the pool, I can swim through the air, so I start flying around the room, sometimes with the breast stroke and sometimes just stretched out like superman.
Ali is there and I sit down to talk with her briefly. I am surprised by her strong body odor. Donna is there too and suddenly she is in my arms as if I am carrying her across a threshold into another room. She is aggressively kissing me on the lips. I want her to stop and I want to put her down because Darchelle is upstairs. If she come down and sees Donna with me she will think I love her and get jealous.
She does come down. She is short, with long frizzy blond hair tied behind her head. She doesn't speak to me but seems irritated and bustles around preparing for Sabbath even though no one else is interested in that.
I am flying again, around a chandelier in the room. I am mostly just enjoying the sensation of flying (it feels very real) but some of the women in the room are noticing me and I am pleased by their attention. One of them challenges me to fly up the stairs and I think I can but my alarm goes off and ends the dream.
Boy, what to make of this one?
In the initial scene milk, the wading pool, swimming playfully - all suggest to me a time of youth and innocence. The man is perhaps older; I am comfortable enough with him and with myself to play without feeling shame. Then I am flying. I haven't done that in years in a dream and I feel something akin to joy when I consider that I can fly again. I flew in my dreams in college but after that I became heavier and heavier until I could no longer get off the ground.
Ali was my first girlfriend and I idealized her. Those high school relationships in which I idealized the girl did not work out very well. Carrying Donna across the threshold is a clear reference to my wedding day. Susan wanted me to do that so I did. Donna's kissing me also feels like a reference to Susan. But then so does Darchelle in the dream, with her irritation that as she prepares for Sabbath I am not helping her. There is a sense of obligation with both Donna and Darchelle in the dream but I decline to be obligated to them and resumed flying instead. In the past few years I have likewise ended my obligation to Susan and returned somehow to myself, though I can't really describe what that means. Upstairs is where God dwells in my dream. My experience with God has been that I can be with him only by being someone other than who I am but in this dream there is hope that perhaps I can find him even while being myself.
6/07-12/2015   Prairie Birding Festival  
Golden-winged Warbler, Tamarac NWR, MN
Chestnut-collared Longspur, Kidder County, ND
Ed and I flew to Fargo North Dakota for a week of birding from western Minnesota west to central North Dakota culminating in the Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival in Carrington. Together we explored the western edge of the eastern hardwood forest and the eastern edge of the prairie at the peak of bird and flower season. I took about 800 photos, some of them quite good, but it was a busy summer and I never got around to posting any journal entries about our trip. Writing this now, six years later, about all I have to work with is those photos and our eBird checklists but I will try to dredge up a few memories to include as well. Meanwhile, the statistics: 51 checklists and 156 species in six days including two life birds, of which one, a White-rumped Sandpiper, was number 600. Here is the bird list from our trip.
6/08/2015   Felton Prairie to Detroit Lakes  
Marbled Godwit territory
Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit
Ed on the prairie
Pair of Black Terns
Black Tern
We spent much of the day working our way north through the Felton Prairie natural areas about 10 miles east and northeast of Fargo. We found the open prairie exhilarating and if there were mosquitoes, I don't remember them. I do remember encountering the Marbled Godwit on its breeding territory early in the morning; until then I had not realized that they nest in grasslands. An hour or two later we spent a fair amount of time photographing a pair of Black Terns at a small pond. In the middle photo above the tern in flight is offering a small fish to its mate perched on a rock.
Marshy grassland, Felton State WMA
Felton Creek at 200th St N
Tallgrass prairie along Felton Creek
Clay-colored Sparrow, Felton Prairie
Least Flycatcher, Felton State WMA
Trumpeter Swans, Hamden Slough NWR
A couple miles north of there we waded out into an area of marshy grassland where we found Alder Flycatchers, although I think the bird in the center photo above is actually a Least Flycatcher based on its short primary projection and pronounced eyering. Clay-colored Sparrows were common but because they are rare in Washington, were overrepresented in my photos.
I'm pretty sure we were using eBird reports to target specific species when we stopped at 200th St N at Felton Creek but I don't remember what we were looking for or whether we found it. The attraction was probably eastern woodland species in the groves of trees along the road there.
Tamarac NWR
Painted Turtle
Painted Turtle underside
Later in the afternoon a particular eastern woodland species drew us over to Tamarac NWR where a lobe of forest extends west into prairie country. Tamarac is a mix of lakes and ponds, marshy meadows and hardwood forest a few miles northeast of Detroit Lakes. It was the closest spot to Fargo at which Golden-winged Warblers had been reported on eBird. I saw my first one last year during our Midwest Warbler Safari but failed to get a good photo. At Tamarac I didn't do much better. Listening for their distinctive buzzy song, I found a couple almost immediately at our first stop but did not get a satisfactory photo. We did find a colorful Painted Turtle in the middle of the road which withdrew into its shell as soon as we tried to herd it off the pavement. We rescued it anyway then drove down to Detroit Lakes for the night.
6/09/2015   Detroit Lakes to Pankratz Memorial Prairie  
Common Loon family, Little Floyd Lake
Marsh along Blackbird Wildlife Drive, Tamarac NWR
Ed on a trail, Tamarac NWR
Motivated by the quest for a Golden-winged Warbler photo, we returned to Tamarac and birded around the visitors center then in a couple of locations along the Blackbird Wildlife Drive. This photo of a Golden-winged Warbler was the best I could do.
Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Indigo Bunting
Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis)
American Redstart
Broad-winged Hawk
Chestnut-sided Warbler
We took a few other photos but really didn't do justice to the place. The young male Indigo Bunting had quite a bit of white on the belly indicating that it was a hybrid with a Lazuli. The Redstart and Chestnut-sided Warblers were among the five warbler species which we saw only at Tamarac. Ditto for the Broad-winged Hawk, another woodland species.
I identified the flowers using a very helpful website named Minnesota Wildflowers which features lots of photos and a simplified key and aspires to include every plant that grows wild in the state.
American White Pelicans, Garden Township, MN
Pankratz Memorial Prairie
Prairie sunset near Crookston, MN
Heading northwest from Tamarac we stopped at a vacant lot in Mahnomen and picked up our only Lark Sparrow of the trip. The pelicans were a half hour farther northwest; I noted at the time that the temperature was 85F with a 30mph breeze. We reached Pankratz Memorial Prairie an hour before sunset but did not find the LeConte's Sparrow we were looking for so we spent the night in nearby Crookston and returned in the morning. Ed was delighted to see nighthawks overhead in town.
6/10/2015   Pankratz Memorial Prairie to Carrington  
LeConte's Sparrow
Upland Sandpiper
Bobolink
The LeConte's Sparrow was singing in a shrubby Aspen thicket but remained half-hidden in the leaves. It appears that the Prairie is burned periodically to maintain the grassland habitat and control the growth of the woody species like the Aspen. We only saw the one LeConte's but counted eight Bobolinks on our one hour checklist. The Upland Sandpiper was bathing in a ditch when we drove by and disturbed it.
Blue-winged Teal, Fisher's Landing Rest Stop
Slough, Fisher's Landing Rest Stop
Indigo Bunting, Grand Forks Greenway
On our way into Grand Forks we stopped along Hwy 2 at Fisher's Landing Rest Stop, situated in a strip of riparian woodland along the meandering Grand Marais Creek. The pair of Blue-winged Teal offered our only good photo op for that species, the most common duck on our trip other than Mallard. Although we recorded 25 species in a half hour there, I remember being somewhat disappointed that we did not find more. It looked like such great habitat.
Before leaving Minnesota we made one last stop, at the greenbelt along the east bank of the Red River in East Grand Forks. Highlights of that stop included a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers which we recorded on both sides of the river, hence in two states, and a gorgeous male Indigo Bunting. I think we also met a couple of Cooper's Hawk researchers who suggested some birding spots nearby in North Dakota for us to check out that afternoon.
Sedge Wren
Common Yellowthroat
We did checklists at several spots just west of Grand Forks but apparently did not do one at the place where I photographed the Sedge Wren and Yellowthroat. I remember that stop but have no idea where it was. I thought I remembered taking the photos at this location but the timestamps indicate they were taken three hours later. On a side note, Common Yellowthroats really were common; of the 156 species we encountered on our trip, only Red-winged Blackbird showed up on more of our checklists.
Wayne called unexpectedly while we were birding around Grand Forks. He had just flown into Fargo to attend the birding festival but was stranded at the airport because when he went to pick up his rental car, they noticed his driver's license was expired and would not let him take the car. We drove back down to Fargo to rescue him, a quicker trip in reality than in my memory because within an hour we had started another checklist west of Grand Forks.
6/11/2015   Carrington - Birding Festival Day 1  
Wayne with field trip, Kunkel School Section
Baird's Sparrow
Ferruginous Hawk
We started early on our first field trip with the birding festival. By 6:30AM we were walking out on the prairie about 30 miles southwest of Carrington with Sprague's Pipits displaying overhead, Chestnut-collared Longspurs chasing each other over the grass and Savannah, Grasshopper and Baird's Sparrows singing around us. The property we were on was a school section, state land held in trust for the support of public schools and maintained as a native prairie by limited grazing of livestock. At the time the field trip leader requested that we make our checklists private in eBird, perhaps to protect the nesting Baird's Sparrows, but recent checklists are public so now mine is too.
Prairie marsh, Robinson
Nelson's Sparrow
Swainson's Hawk and Eastern Kingbirds
Our target at our next stop, a roadside marsh about a mile west of Robinson, was Nelson's Sparrow. We found them and I managed to get a distant photo. As I recall, it was somewhat difficult to distinguish their songs within the chorus of singing blackbirds, sparrows and wrens in the marsh.
Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)
Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata)
White Penstemon (Penstemon albidus)
At the Tuttle School Section prairie about 40 miles west-southwest of Carrington we found lots of longspurs and lots of flowers, identified here with the help of Minnesota Wildflowers, again.
A pothole lake near North Barnes Lake
Chestnut-collared Longspur, Tuttle School Section
White-rumped Sandpipers
With several more stops we worked our way back towards Carrington. One of the stops was a pond bordered by mudflats about 4 miles south of town which hosted a few late-migrating shorebirds including my life White-rumped Sandpiper. When the field trip wrapped up around 4:30PM our leader suggested we might want to check out Arrowwood NWR for some woodland birds but we returned instead to the shorebird pond where I succeeded in getting a photo of the sandpipers.
6/12/2015   Carrington - Birding Festival Day 2  
Birding group, 6:30AM on the Kunkel School Section
Chestnut-collared Longspur
Chestnut-collared Longspurs
Clay-colored Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Baird's Sparrow
On our second day of the festival we returned to the Kunkel School Section prairie for our first stop. Similar species list, somewhat better sparrow photo ops. I think we probably had other field trip options for day two but chose to go back to the Kunkel prairie anyhow.
Downy Painted-cup (Castilleja sessiliflora) and Locoweed
Lake Williams School Section
Scarlet Globe-mallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea)
Our next stop was a school section of flower-rich prairie two miles south of the unincorporated community of Lake Williams, about 25 miles southwest of Carrington. We did not do a full checklist there but took lots of photos of longspurs and flowers. The image of a Chestnut-collared Longspur with a backdrop of prairie grasses and magenta flowers (Locoweed I think) captured for me the essence of North Dakota birding.
White-tailed Deer, Kunkel School Section
Chestnut-collared Longspur, Lake Williams School Section
Cattle and Cattle Egrets, Chicago Lake
We wrapped up our morning of birding with a couple of stops at Chase Lake NWR and nearby Chicago Lake, picking up enough new species to put our North Dakota total just over 100. We returned to Carrington and concluded the birding festival after a picnic lunch at Chicago Lake. Wayne had an early flight out of Fargo so caught a ride to the airport with another festival participant while Ed and I made one last birding stop (which I have completely forgotten) which added five more species to our final North Dakota list.
6/16/2015   Crested Caracara and Mount McCausland  
Crested Caracara
A Crested Caracara recently showed up in Skykomish, an old logging town along US Hwy 2 in the foothills of the Cascades. It seems an unlikely hangout for a bird that I last saw in the oak savannas of west-central Texas feeding on a deer carcass with a flock of Black Vultures, but the consensus of the birding experts seems to be that it probably is indeed a wild bird. I'd been planning a hike down by Mount Rainier, but having not seen a Crested Caracara in the state of Washington I decided to hike up at Stevens Pass instead and try for the bird on the way.
A couple of bird photographers with very large lenses pointed the bird out to me when I arrived. It was resting in a large maple tree, or maybe a cottonwood. Other birders showed me the mowed trail behind the local homeowners yard from which I could get a clear view of the bird. When the bird flew, riding the wind on long floppy wings with big white primary patches, there was no doubt that this was not one of the local raptor species. It sailed off towards town so followed in the car, parking in the shade of the big Douglas fir as the bird flew over town, circled a couple of times then sailed over and landed right overhead. It would've been a good shot had I been able to get the camera in position quickly enough, but at this point only the most patient of birds earn the right to be my photographic subjects.
I'd heard of Lake Walhalla, about 6 miles north of Stevens Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail, but I'd never been there. Decades ago I'd hiked up the ridge on the north side of the pass looking for huckleberries, hadn't found any and had never been back. The hike was nicer than I expected. The trail gets into old-growth Hemlock and Silver Fir after mile or so with occasional talus slopes and meadows. It doesn't gain much elevation and would've been easy running but mostly walked.
Lake Valhalla from Mt McCausland
Penstemon on Mt McCausland
The trail home
When the lake came into view a gentle open summit (Mount McCausland) just beyond it beckoned so I continued until I found a way trail up the hill. On top I found nice views to the south over the lake and beyond Stevens Pass to Hinman and Daniel but I wanted a view to the north to see if I could pick out Meander Meadows and Clark Mountain. The track continued along the ridge to a ledge, and less obviously across a dip to a north-facing crag. While I stood on top composing shots of distant peaks, I heard a sudden whoosh as a Black Swift sliced past me and arced around to the west, visible for less than a second. That doesn't happen very often!
6/18/2015   Mountain Quail  
Capitol Forest
Hermit Warbler
Mountain quail weren't the original objective today. Hermit warblers were. Mountain quail haven't even been reported in eBird for the past month whereas Hermit warblers are reported daily but will be much harder to see once they stop singing in a couple of weeks. I planned to leave early, search for Hermit warblers up on top of Capitol Peak down by Olympia then drive 2 1/2 hours over to Paradise to look for Ptarmigan and Rosy Finches. The problem is, my plans to leave early are rarely realized. Even finding the Hermit warblers just a half-mile up the Capitol Peak Road instead of 12 miles up on the top of the mountain didn't make up for my late start.
I stopped in three places along the Capitol Peak and Capitol Forest roads and found a Hermit warbler at each stop. The warblers seem to like mature second growth Douglas fir forest but I think they range up into Silver Fir as well. At my third stop the bird came out of young second growth bordering a clearcut but I think it may have come from older forest a quarter mile away. Each bird had a unique song but all three came readily to a recording of a Hermit warbler from California. I find the variation in Hermit songs interesting given that the songs of the closely related Townsend's warbler seem to be pretty uniform. I tried for photos at all three stops but tricky light and clumsy hands let me be successful only on my first try.
Mountain Quail habitat
Mountain Quail
Turkey Vulture
It would've been almost sunset by the time I reached Paradise so I decided to try for Mountain Quail at the Port Orchard airport instead, just 51 minutes away according to my phone. I think I recall seeing one report of them from there this spring. That's also the only place I know to look for them; it's where David and Ed and I found them two years ago.
The path into the clear-cut and the clear-cut itself have grown up considerably in two years. The chest-high Scotch Broom bordering the quarry is now 8 feet tall, a miniature forest with half-inch trunks 18 inches apart bristling with dry twigs and alive with little spiders. Certainly the local sparrows do not lack for protein. As I threaded my way through the Scotch Broom I flushed robins and Mourning Doves and caught a quick glimpse of a bird I could reasonably estimate to be quail-sized as it scurried off. Over the next two hours I accumulated a pretty good list as I strolled along the gravel rampart of the quarry playing quail calls, but I found no evidence of Mountain Quail.
At the last spot I planned to check, the place where Ed and I first heard the Quail two years ago, I suddenly flushed one as I walked down the track. It flew across in front of me into dense Scotch Broom but remained quite close to the edge making worried scolding calls. I got the camera into position on the monopod and stayed put until suddenly after five minutes or so the quail darted out into the open, spotted me and ran away. I got a shot just before it took off. Hearing more of the odd scolding calls from the other side of the track, towards the quarry, I waited for another 10 minutes or so then realized that there were probably baby birds very close to me, so I walked back up the track and waited about 100 feet away. While I watched, an adult female emerged from the bushes and ran across the road and resumed the scolding calls. I kept waiting. Unfortunately I didn't set up the camera this time so when the quail emerged onto the track again and stood looking around I wasn't able to get the camera up without scaring her away.
I can't complain though. Just to see the quail was an unexpected treat, and to get a photo as well really made the trip.