07/02/2021 Southbound Shorebirds
Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers
Killdeer with Least, Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers
Killdeer with Western and Semipalmated (#318) Sandpipers
Male Mallard in eclipse plumage
Killdeer with Least, Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers
Point Ruston Marina
In the Western Washington birding world, the southbound shorebird migration kicks off the second
half of the year and the first uncommon shorebird to show up is usually a Semipalmated Sandpiper.
Presumably named for the vestige of
webbing between its toes
the Semipalmated is a close cousin of our common Western Sandpiper from which it is distinguished
not by the webbing, which is
shared by the Western
but by its short, straight and relatively stout-tipped bill and in breeding plumage by the limited
streaking on the breast and the absence of orange on the cap and shoulders.
A few Semipalmated Sandpipers were spotted this spring on their way north but I failed to recognize
that we saw on the beach at Westport. The first southbound migrants showed up on 1 July in several
places in Western Washington including the Point Ruston Marina in Tacoma. Fortunately they stuck
around until we could get out there 36 hours later. I could not remember from our last visit
several years ago whether or not the site would be accessible by wheelchair. It was, though relying
on the eBird reports we at first went to the Dune Peninsula Park where the bird was not. Upon
Darchelle's insistence I called Wayne S who quickly got
us straightened out. From my wheelchair I was able to see the birds in flight but Darchelle got
some great photos of the shorebirds together. Both the Least and the Western Sandpipers are also
southbound migrants in breeding plumage; the Killdeer are local residents. One odd thing is how
large the Least Sandpipers look relative to the other two supposedly-larger peeps. Another odd
thing is how much eclipse-plumage Mallards resemble Black Ducks.
07/06/2021 Claire and the kids
Birthday Party on the deck
Group Photo at Northwest Trek
Claire had a seminar in Seattle on Wednesday so she rented an AirB&B and brought her nanny and the
kids so we could visit for a couple of days. Tuesday evening we had a combined birthday party for
Jake and Luke, and maybe Judah and Isaac as well, I can't remember. We sang Happy Birthday multiple
times and went around the circle for each person stating what it was about them that we were
Jacob and Judah
On Thursday we drove down to Northwest Trek and walked around the paved trail to see the animals.
Most of them were hiding but we did see the bears and a Lynx. We also did the auto tour, in two
cars because there were too many of us to fit in one car, and saw the Buffalo and a group of
Roosevelt Elk, or at least their antlers. I also spotted a Woodland Caribou above us on a wooded
hillside but I don't think anyone else got on it. Jake and Judah rode with us and had a bit of
meltdown during the drive but I don't think their screams disturbed the animals. Afterwards we hung
out near the play area and ate ice cream; the kids enjoyed climbing the logs and rope ladders.
All in all it was a good visit.
07/14/2021 Big Four
Big Four Mountain
Big Four boardwalk
We were supposed to do a boat trip out to Smith Island to see puffins today with Andy and Ellen and
Ed and Delia. The tour, operated by San Juan Cruises, was to have left La Conner at 10AM so we had
booked overnight accommodations in town and were having dinner together at a local Mexican
restaurant when we found out that the cruise was canceled due to mechanical problems. Darchelle
immediately tried to locate someone else who could take us out on short notice but the best she
could do was a trip on Friday afternoon for six people with Ken of
Spirit of Orca Whale-watching Tours
Maxine had used last year.
Meanwhile we had a day to kill so I suggested looking for Black Swifts up at Big Four Ice Caves.
The trail to the ice caves is closed due to a washed-out bridge but in the past I've seen Swifts
from the boardwalk, which I could negotiate in my wheelchair. Moreover an American Redstart was
reputed to be nesting behind the restroom. The weather was encouraging as well, a fairly low
overcast which tends to encourage the swifts to forage in the valleys rather than flying around the
Listening for the Redstart, looking for Swifts
Clear Creek SE of Darrington
By the time we reached the trailhead parking lot the sky had cleared, not so good for finding swifts,
so we strolled out onto the boardwalk and then on around the loop trail, keeping an eye skyward while
tallying the local birds
heard the Redstart but could not find the nest. No Black Swifts either, so we stood around the parking lot
for a while and as luck would have it, one briefly joined the small crowd of swallows
and Vaux's Swifts coursing over the treetops. As luck would have it, Andy and Ed were the only ones
who saw it. We lingered longer with Ed and Delia and were rewarded with good views of the Redstart
but the Black Swift did not reappear.
During the drive up the Mountain Loop Highway I was amazed to see the extent of the damage to conifers
both young and old caused by the heat wave last month. Much of the foliage on the south side of the trees
up to a thousand feet above the valley floor had turned orange. Closer inspection revealed that it was
the mature needles which had been killed; this year's growth was mostly unaffected. We did not see
that kind of damage in our neighborhood, where the temperature reached at least 105F, so temperatures
in the mountain valleys must have been in the neighborhood of 110F. I doubt that has ever happened
On the way home Darchelle and I continued around the Mountain Loop Highway to Darrington. A mile or so
southeast of town I recognized Clear Creek as a stream I had walked up some 40 years ago and had wanted
to revisit ever since. Somewhere along the stream bank I had found what I thought at the time was a vein
of Asbestos and I had always intended to return and check it out. Too late now.
07/15/2021 ALS clinic
At the ALS clinic today my breathing function as measured by FVC and MIP was actually slightly
better than it was three months ago. At 16% of normal though, it is barely adequate for everyday
use. About a month ago during our outing to the Blue Mountains, I managed for nine hours without
the ventilator but at this point two or three hours is more typical. The doctors did provide some
helpful advice regarding constipation, reassuring me that the problem, even if chronic, can be
solved. Afterwards we ate lunch at Plum
where the food was better than I remembered. Delicious, actually.
07/17/2021 Puffins at last
is a flattened and eroded mound of glacier-compacted gravel at the east end of the Strait of Juan de
Fuca about 5 miles off the northwest side of Whidbey Island, 6 miles south of the south end of
Lopez Island and not on the way to anywhere. Lots of Double-crested Cormorants, Glaucous-winged
Gulls and Rhinoceros Auklets nest there. A few Tufted Puffins nest there as well, and possibly even
Horned Puffins; not normally seen south of Alaska, one or two of the latter were reported on several
occasions last month. We hoped to see both and improbably, we did. Here is a
link to our checklist
Smith Island from the west
Standing by the Jolly Mon
All aboard and unreasonably optimistic
Aboard Chris Long's fishing boat the "Jolly Mon" we motored out of the Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes
shortly before 4PM on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It was our fourth attempt to charter a boat to go
look for puffins around Smith Island. Were it not for Darchelle's persistence we never would have
made it but we did and exactly an hour after leaving port we pulled up next to a Tufted Puffin on
the deep blue waters just north of the island.
The bird, splashing and stretching on the surface, seemed little concerned by our close approach
though getting sharp photos was still a challenge given that both the boat and the bird were constantly
shifting position on the waves. I had never been so close to one before and was delighted that Darchelle
was able to capture the memory. We saw several more during the course of our
circuit around the island
but none as close as that first one.
Pidgeon Guillemot with bird candy
The beds of Bull Kelp around Smith Island are the most extensive of any in the Sound. The birds
seemed to prefer the kelp over the surrounding open water. Gulls, both resident Glaucous-winged and
visiting Heerman's, were roosting on the floating stems and small groups of Rhinos along with
scattered individual puffins were foraging in the beds. Unlike the birds Chris, concerned about
entangling his prop, preferred to stay in the open water but ventured close to and even into the
kelp on occasion to give us better views of birds. We appreciated both his caution and his
320 Glaucous-winged and Heerman's Gulls
Glaucous-winged and Heerman's Gulls
Glaucous-winged, Heerman's and a juvenile California Gull
We estimated that the island hosted between one and two thousand gulls, mostly Glaucous-winged and Heerman's, but
we saw most of them only at a distance, wheeling above the beaches when flushed by one of the more
than a dozen Bald Eagles scattered along the shoreline. After rounding the kelp beds northwest on
the island, we were able to motor up to a flock of 50 or 100 gulls feeding in a tight scrum on
something just under the surface, perhaps Sand Lance, Chris speculated. We watched the gulls diving
repeatedly into the water but never saw them come up with anything.
Cormorant over Smith Island
South shore of Smith Island
Bald Eagle and Harbor Seals
Westerly swells sweeping down the Strait of Juan de Fuca have been chewing away at Smith Island
since the retreat of the continental glacier 10,000 years ago leaving a high bluff all along the
west shore. Even in historical times the island has lost a significant amount of real
estate; a lighthouse built 200 feet from the edge of the bluff back in 1858 finished collapsing into
the sea in 1989. Here is a link to a blog with photos
and a bit of the history of the island; here is
a link to a brief
of the lighthouse; here is a link to a more extensive article
about the lighthouse and its keepers and here
is a link to an
of life on the island in the late 40s. I don't know when the last human inhabitant left
but it was probably at least 40 years ago. Birds and pinnipeds have re-colonized the island in our
Breeding Double-crested Cormorants
Remains of the Minor Island Beacon Light
North shore of Smith Island
We motored around the long gravel spit of Minor Island with its basking seals, breeding cormorants
and battered navigational aids, including
a large block of concrete
sitting cockeyed on the beach. That was the
Minor Island Beacon Light
constructed by the U S Lighthouse Service in 1935, per
the article in
. The lighthouse keepers on Smith Island were responsible for keeping the
light in that lighthouse operating and at least one, Edwin Clements, lost his life in December 1939
attempting to do that.
As we were wrapping up our circuit of the island Andy spotted something white in the water off the
northeast shore. He thought it might be our Horned Puffin so Chris turned into the kelp to try to
get closer. Darchelle got on the bird and got
before it went down and we lost it. When it came up again we were too close to it and
we each had only a brief view before it flushed. I observed the white head and white breast of a
puffin-sized bird, then saw the dark upperparts as it flew off to the west. Only Darchelle got photos
and they were blurred but good enough to verify that we had indeed seen a
. For a little better view, here's
a photo taken by Maxine Reid of the same bird
in the same area 10 days later.
07/21/2021 Wheelchair Ramp
Back at the end of January we started looking into options for getting in and out of the house when
I could no longer walk up and down stairs even with assistance. After playing tag for a month and a
half with a local handyman we started looking further afield but not until I could no longer make it
up the front steps without both Darchelle and Monica helping me did we really get serious about it.
We asked Ed and Delia if they knew anyone and they asked their friend Betty who asked her friend
John Swann who is semi-retired but has been helping out Chris Stokely of
Sound Built Remodels
who was just
wrapping up a job and was willing to consider taking on something as small as a wheelchair ramp.
We knew what we wanted. I had spent a number of sleepless hours in bed back when we were still
upstairs figuring out whether or not we should do a wheelchair ramp, and if so where, and how long
and wide it would have to be, and how to build it, and how many 4x4 posts and 2x6 stringers and
sheets of plywood we would need. We wouldn't have room for an ADA-compliant slope on the ramp so I
verified with our wheelchair salesman that a 1.8 inch per foot rise would work instead of the
ADA-specified 1 inch per foot. He said no problem.
Had it been up to me to build it, and if I had been able to I would have, the structure I would have
come up with would be neither as strong nor as attractive as what Chris and John built for us but I
still think it would have worked, for a few years anyway. They built the ramp to my specifications
but of course with their professional knowledge and skills. Or rather, they are building it,
because while it is navigable, it is not finished but they promise we will have a ramp by the time
we get back from New Hampshire.
07/22/2021 First Wheelchair Flight
At the curb
At the gate, with David
It was with considerable apprehension that I anticipated our first flight post-wheelchair, and
incidentally, post-COVID, or more accurately, mid-COVID. Would we check the wheelchair at the
ticket counter or at the gate? Would it survive the baggage hold intact? Would we have to
disassemble it first? If so, we would be in trouble because disassembly requires two 5 mm hex
wrenches and we had only purchased one. Alaska made it easy. We had lots of help at every step and
no disassembly was required. Marco dropped us off at the curb; the friendly person at the
wheelchair counter lined up somebody to wheel me to the gate and two sturdy guys strapped me in a
skinny little chair and escorted me down the aisle of the plane to our seats.
The plane was nice and new but the flight uncomfortable nonetheless, in part because seats nowadays
do not recline enough for me to hold my head up. It was a long short night but Ali met us at
baggage claim and drove us to Jackson with a stop for lunch at Frontside Coffee Roasters
. It could not have been easier, other than the
07/23/2021 New Hampshire
The family home in Jackson
John, Mom and me
The view from the house
We spent two full weeks in New Hampshire. The place looked pretty much the same as I remembered
indoors and out but things were different. John was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer two months
ago after an earlier diagnosis of lymphoma which failed to respond to treatment with a month of
chemotherapy. The tumor has paralyzed the left side of his face and causes him considerable and
nearly continuous pain for which he is taking morphine. Although he tries to maintain his normal
schedule of activities - reading the newspapers, fixing breakfast or lunch, getting out for an
afternoon walk - age and illness make it difficult. The morphine affects his vision and balance so
he grabs onto furniture for support in the house and uses a cane outdoors. He doesn't talk much
anymore and dozes off in his chair while the rest of us talk around him. I found it disturbing to
see him in pain and so frail, but also recognized myself to some extent in his withdrawal and
isolation. We are both coping with difficult physical challenges and expecting to die soon,
but we didn't talk about it much.
Talking with Rick
Rick's backyard bear
At the end of the day
Because I can't get upstairs to our bedroom at the house, Eric's friend Rick graciously offered us
his home to use during his stay. He even had a wheelchair ramp built up to the front door for us.
He lives in the house that Eric owned and occupied (and arguably neglected) for 25 years, but he has
made considerable progress in fixing it up both inside and out. The new hardwood floors, as yet
unfinished, made wheeling around the house easy for me and his bed was very comfortable for us. The
bathtub worked for me as well though we didn't avail ourselves of it as often as we might have.
In the morning I would sit in front of the big picture window in his living room and watch the birds
visiting his feeders while Darchelle fixed coffee. We neither arose early nor moved quickly so we
often did not leave the house until late morning. Rick had mentioned that a little bear would drop
by the backyard from time to time and so it did, on two occasions that we know of. We thought it
Rick himself dropped by from time to time as well. On our first morning he came by to see how we
were doing and talk a bit about Mom and John. He checks in on them daily, delivering John's Boston
Globe and making sure that they are okay.
That first morning Rick came down with us to the house in his white pickup truck. We were going to
have him help Darchelle get me up the steps to the front porch but he pulled a lawnmower ramp and a
couple of pieces of plywood out of the back of his truck and assembled a makeshift ramp for us. It
wasn't elegant but it did the trick and Darchelle was able to wheel me in and out of the house
without assistance for the rest of our stay.
The PT room
David rescuing Mom from a rain shower
The weather was unseasonably cool for most of our visit, too cool to sit comfortably outside so I
spent much of the first week sitting in my wheelchair in the PT room while John read the paper or
snoozed and Mom either read or worked on one of her projects. I don't have a good way to read in my
wheelchair so I mostly looked out the window. By the 2nd week I was tired of that so I hung out
more on the porch where I could at least listen for birds.
Resting at Burgess's Pond
John and Mom on the porch at Overlook
Darchelle and Mom
It wasn't all sitting around. We got out for at least short walks on most days, sometimes just in
the immediate vicinity of the house and sometimes up on Moody Farm Road between Burgess's and Black
Mountain. That section is flat enough for Mom and John and for the wheelchair so we would drive up
to the top of the hill and walk from there in one direction or the other.
Joyce's garden path
Garden along Moody Farm Road
Flowers at The Local Grocer
The goal of our stroll was often a flower garden. Terry maintains Mom's gardens and helps Rick
check up on Mom and John as well. I could not tour Mom's gardens but Darchelle did. After a dry
spring the summer has been well-watered; the grass is green and the gardens are colorful. Although
in Jackson the woodlots are thriving, from Glen south to Ossipee the trees have almost all been
defoliated and are now just putting out new leaves. Spring in July.
Mom pushing her son
David pushing his dad
Standing to pee
We did have good conversations on several occasions, and John and I even mixed it up over politics
once. If we did not have as many significant conversations as we would have liked it is probably
because we had a hard time getting started, not being accustomed to talking about the feelings
engendered by the challenges we face. John and I talked about finances, and also about his options
as his health declines further, and with Mom I shared something about my experience of decline and
disability. I think she appreciated the confidence. We never talked about what it's like for her
to push her older son in a wheelchair, knowing that she may soon lose him just as she lost her
younger son a few years ago. Nor did David and I talked about what it's like for him to push his
dying father in a wheelchair.
We had barely just began our visit when we spotted our first bear, or maybe our first two. Our
first sighting was along the brook below the bridge; our second, 15 minutes later, was between the
cabin and Mom's vegetable garden. We would go on to see at least one bear on more than half of the
days we were there. The bear in the picture stopped by two days in a row to eat blueberries across
the street. David got some of them too.
Dinner the first night at home
Kirsten's Mole and corn at Sarah and Roger's
Roger inspecting his culinary creation
Lunch on the lawn
Dinner at the Eagle
Dinner at the Eagle
We ate well. Roger fixed two delicious meals, maybe three. His rice was particularly good.
Kirsten and Rowan drove up from New York City and a fixed a Mexican menu for us. Kirsten made a
perfectly seasoned Mole and Rowan made tortillas from scratch to go with it. We ate out once too,
our first time since the pandemic, on the porch at the Eagle Mountain House with friends from
Marblehead. Ali stayed an extra night and drove us back to the airport.
08/07/2021 Orcas Island
Due to our New Hampshire trip, we were only able to join Darchelle's family for the last weekend of
their stay on Orcas Island. As usual we all stayed at the Ruisma's lovely home in the woods. It
was not as easy as last year. The sloping stone path to their front door was scary steep though we
negotiated it without incident. The king bed in the master suite where we usually sleep was almost
too tall for me to get into. Covid was also a concern as neither Ben nor Sally have been vaccinated
but we decided the risk was relatively low because Ben apparently had it several months ago and the
kids all had it back in early July and Sally, who gets tested regularly for work, still hasn't
On Mount Constitution with Donna and Richard
Biscuits and gravy for breakfast
Measuring the kids
Lunch at the park
Darchelle and I joined everyone on several outings including a visit to the top of Mount
Constitution where Ben pushed me up the steep paved trail to the overlook and Darchelle and the kids
scoped for puffins out in the strait. No puffins, nor did any Black Swifts happen by. Darchelle
and Sally bought matching sweatshirts at the new gift shop. No one got ice cream; the food truck
which used to sell Lopez Island ice cream at the edge of the parking lot has apparently moved down
to Cascade Lake. We did not make it to Cascade Lake for supper this year but Ben and Sally and
the kids did get out to explore the tide pools around the little island just off the beach in
On Sunday afternoon we nabbed a table at Eastsound Village Green Park for a late lunch. As Darchelle
was wheeling me past one of the other tables, a little boy around 6 years old noticed us and shouted
out, "That guy's dead."
"Not quite yet he isn't!", I called back over my shoulder.
By the time we reached our table, the boy's parents were earnestly talking with him. Noticing their
concern, Sally settled the kids then went over to their table. I couldn't hear their conversation
but when she returned, Sally reported that the woman had protested, "I try so hard to teach them to
be courteous and civil". Sally responded that with five kids of her own she understood and that we
took no offense but when she explained that I had ALS, the woman began to cry. Her own mother had
died of ALS not long ago.
The kid's observation made sense given that he had recently watched his grandmother progress from
walking independently to leaning on a walker to sitting in a wheelchair to lying in a coffin.
After lunch Ben, who had flown his plane over from Walla Walla, offered to take Darchelle for a
ride and she was delighted to accept. About a half-hour later a plane waved its wings at us as it
climbed overhead from the nearby airport. They flew as far afield as Roche Harbor on San Juan
Island but Darchelle was so absorbed in the experience that she forgot to take any photos.
08/12/2021 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper with peeps and Cinnamon Teal
Lower Lind Coulee
Back on 31 July while we were in New Hampshire, Maxine Reid found a rare adult Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at Lind Coulee
south of Moses Lake.
Even though the bird had not been reported since the 9th, we decided to go chase it. The forecast
was not auspicious - haze, smoke and temperatures over 100F. We went anyway. The car thermometer
read 104F in Moses Lake but only 99F down at Lind Coulee when we arrived around 5PM. Not much smoke
either, visibility at least several miles.
We parked at the foot of the boat ramp and completely obstructed it but figured that wouldn't matter
because 50 yards of mud and weeds separated the boat ramp from the navigable waterway. Reports
indicated that the bird's location a couple of hundred yards west of the ramp could be reached
by a rough trail along the edge of the mud flats. Darchelle found the trail, but not the bird,
while I waited in the car, entertained from time to time by Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs foraging
in the mud in front of me.
Per Andy and Ellen's suggestion we tried another vantage point, the easternmost fishing access road
on the south side of the coulee west of Road M. From there we can see lots of little ducks and even
littler shorebirds out on the mud flats, but no Sharp tailed. Seeking a better view, Darchelle
carried the scope up the bluff 100 feet or so from the car and from there, spotted a promising bird
to the east, back towards the boat launch. It was clearly the right size and shape and seemed to be
more spotted or streaked underneath than the similar Pectoral Sandpipers so she took some very
distant photos When she brought the scope back to the car, I was not sufficiently convinced to
bother to try to look through it. Instead she stood me up by the door of the car and I looked out
over the mudflats where as she recalls, I was able to see little pale dots of distant shorebirds.
Presumably the Sharp-tailed was among them.
Red-necked and Wilson's Phalaropes
Seeking a closer view of our possible target, we returned to the boat launch where Darchelle
ventured out again. She took lots of photos in the fading light but did not relocate the suspected
Sharp-tailed. We left uncertain as to whether or not we had seen it so did not bother to do a
checklist but we did decide to try again in the morning. Passing up the more reputable chains near
the highway, we pulled into the Sage N Sand Motel where we spent a comfortable if not memorable
night. The big neon sign out front said "OTEL" but we knew what they meant and they had a room
which did not require a step up to get inside.
Black-necked Stilt family
Stilt Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs
The next day we recruited Andy and Ellen to help us (they offered) and although we were still unable
to locate the Sharp-tailed, they and Steve Giles did find us a Stilt Sandpiper over at Perch Point.
New for the year for us though not unexpected; Andy told us that they tend to show up around 10
August. On the way home, driving south on Road M past Lind Coulee again, we noticed a couple of
birders walking up the boat ramp. Had we stopped to inquire of them, we would have learned that
they had just seen the Sharp-tailed. They were the last people to see it. A couple of weeks later
we concluded that we were the second-to-last people to see it, having after some deliberation decided
to count it after all. The local Pectorals lacked the bright white eyebrow and showed a sharp demarcation
between the streaked breast and unstreaked belly. On
Darchelle noted both features through the scope and they are at least suggested in
The size and shape of the bird ruled out other species. Some might complain that I am lowering my
standards for what I count and don't count and I would have to concede that they have a point, but
most birders would also acknowledge, "It's your list."
08/15/2021 Chasing birds
Bar-tailed Godwit, winter plumage
Bar-tailed Godwit, center
Bar-tailed Godwit, summer plumage
Birdwatching at Bos Lake
Plovers and Peeps at Bos Lake
Distant Pacific Golden Plover
Yesterday our target was the Bar-tailed Godwit at the Westport Marina. Today we went for the Pacific
Golden Plover at Bos Lake on Whidbey Island. We were successful in both pursuits but I did not find
either one particularly satisfying. I had only the briefest of glimpses of the birds and we did not
succeed in getting any good photos. Ed and Delia joined us for both adventures; it was nice to visit
with them and helpful to have their eyes and opinions as we sought the birds.
In Westport we found two Bar-tailed Godwits roosting with the Marbled Godwits in their traditional
location at the south end of the marina. One was gray, probably an adult in winter plumage, and the
other still in faded summer plumage, rusty-brown below and brown above, not unlike the Marbled
Godwits except for its smaller size and bolder white stripe over the eye.
Fog drifted in over Bos Lake soon after we arrived and we had to wait for it clear before we could
definitively identify the Golden Plover. Eventually though it flushed and flew over us calling.
Sitting in the car, I heard it but not well enough to distinguish it from an American Golden Plover.
Steve Giles, birding next to us, identified the call and it was confirmed by photos from other
08/21/2021 Two Hours in Spokane
Watching and waiting
My view of Saltese Church Pond
The Hudsonian Godwit
A rare Hudsonian Godwit was discovered at a marsh east of Spokane a week ago so when it was reported
again this morning we decided to chase it. Darchelle was already eager to go; I had been reluctant
but changed my mind this morning for no particular reason. I verified that I had an audiobook to
listen to on my phone and Darchelle downloaded a series of lectures for a continuing education class
which she had not yet listened to and at 1:03PM we pulled out of the driveway. At 5:45PM we
arrived at our destination, the Saltese Church Pond, a decent-sized pond with a rocky mud spit
extending part way across it and lots of tall marsh grass around it. A gated gravel road led from a
parking area about 1/4 mile out to the pond so we rigged up my chair and wheeled on out there with
camera and scope and high hopes.
We found the bird but not without mishap. I had to pee so Darchelle stood me up in front of the chair
and pulled down my pants. I peed then lost my balance and fell forward onto my knees and then sat back
on my butt with my feet splayed out to either side. My shriveled muscles do not tolerate that kind of
flexion and I cried out in pain until Darchelle was able to grab me around the waist and lift me back
onto my knees and then up into the chair again. The pain in the back of my knees gradually subsided
over the next few minutes. When a couple of hours later I had to pee again, I had regained enough strength
to stand. But not to remain standing, and I fell forward again onto one knee but this time Darchelle
was able to grab me so that only my right knee buckled. Fuck, that hurt! It took about a week for my
right leg to recover.
Darchelle got the bird in the scope then held me up while I looked at it. Definitely a Hudsonian,
probing almost nonstop in the mud along with a Dowitcher buddy. She went off to try for pictures.
Generally it's a bad sign when she does not return fairly promptly, so when she did not get back
until just before sunset, I figured she had not had much success. Not that I cared at that point; I
was cold and had to pee and just wanted to go home. And then I fell the second time.
But we got the bird and had an uneventful trip home, arriving just shy of 12 hours after we'd left.
08/28/2021 American Golden Plover, #325
We visited Hayton Reserve on Fir Island in the Skagit River Delta four times (18th, 20th, 25th and
today) in the past two weeks and saw Golden Plovers three of those times but concluded on the first
two visits that the bird we saw was a Pacific, not an American. The third time we saw no Golden
Plovers at all. Finally today, after failing to find an American Golden Plover up in Blaine (which
was photographed yesterday and reported as a Pacific on eBird), we decided that the plover we saw
and heard this evening at Hayton was an American Golden Plover. No photos, and I never even laid
eyes on it except as it flew overhead, so not the most definitive of identifications, but if the
bird we saw and heard on our first visit was a Pacific, then this was probably an American. And
vice versa, so one way or another, I believe we have seen both species. And did I mention, it's my
Ironically I could've saved us a lot of trouble if I hadn't succeeded in convincing my fellow
birders on our first visit that the Golden Plover we saw and heard that day was not an American,
but a Pacific. The others were ready to call it an American. My views through the scope were
inconclusive; at one point I thought it had the long primary extension of an American, but then
another time it seemed to have the shorter primaries of a Pacific. It was the call, which I
transliterated as "chuweeet", which convinced me that it was a Pacific but after I went home and
listened to more calls on xeno-canto, I was less sure of myself. Other sightings within a day or
two were not helpful; both species were reported but most reports lacked convincing
Today Darchelle found one or two birds through the scope which she was certain were Golden Plovers
but they kept moving so I was never able to get a look at them. Twice though, plovers flew over
making "ko-leek" calls which seemed sharper and more rapid than the calls of the plover I called
a Pacific. But who knows? The authorities at eBird have not yet confirmed any of the Golden Plover
sightings from Hayton except Andy's American, despite his description being no more convincing than
some of the others.
Note: As of 7 September, our Pacific Golden Plover report from Hayden on the 20th was approved,
though not those from the 18th. That feels appropriate since I had a good look at the bird on the
20th and it clearly had long tertials relative to the primaries.
On the plus side, we finally got a Black Swift for Darchelle. One flew right over us while we were
standing on the dike at Hayton on the 20th looking for plovers. Perfect day for them, cloudy in the
mountains and overcast in the lowlands with the ceiling around 3000 feet, but given that even in the
best of conditions a few swifts are distributed over a large area of lowlands, I was not expecting
to see one. I am delighted that we did see one though since they are only around for another couple
of weeks and Darchelle really wanted to get it for the year.
09/02/2021 Grayland Beach
The pelagic trip is tomorrow. We need to get settled into our motel early enough to get a decent
night's sleep. I need to poop this morning because I won't be able to tomorrow. I need to stop
drinking fluids well before bedtime forgo coffee in the morning so as to avoid any chance of having
to pee during the 9 hours we'll be on board the boat. I don't know how we will get down the ramp to
the float because the tide will be low and the ramp steep. I don't know how I will get into the
boat either, or how we will stabilize the wheelchair. I found enough to worry about that I almost
didn't care whether or not the trip was canceled. It wasn't.
Raven stealing from Turkey Vulture
Raven backing off
Raven and Western Gull moving on
Driving the beach north and south from Grayland State Park provided a welcome distraction from my
concerns about the trip. We did not have much chance of finding a new bird for the year on the
beach. About the only possibility would have been a Buff-breasted Sandpiper but the time for them
to show up is mostly passed and none have been reported. Nonetheless you never know what you'll
find on the beach. Today we found a dancing Sanderling, a line of Caspian Terns and a handful of
the usually elusive Snowy Plovers. We also came across a mixed congregation of Ravens, Crows,
Turkey Vultures and Western Gulls attending several Albacore Tuna carcasses. The vultures got first
dibs; the ravens tried to steal a bite here and there without getting noticed while the gulls ate
leftovers and the crows stood around and watched.
Dinner the night before
We shared four rooms at the Pacific
Motel and RV Park
with Ed and Delia, Andy and Ellen and Mary for both the night before and the
night after the trip. Our room was comfortable and accessible; we would stay there again. Andy and
Ellen had the suite so that's where we all ate dinner together both nights - Ellen's pasta with
homemade pesto the first night and takeout from Bennett's Fish Shack
the second night. We shared breakfast together the morning
after the trip as well.
09/03/2021 Pelagic magic
Outbound at 6:30AM
Short-tailed (front) and Pink-footed Shearwaters
Sooty (L) and Short-tailed (R) Shearwaters
Short-tailed (L) and Flesh-footed (R) Shearwaters
The forecast the night before was auspicious - 1 foot swell, partly cloudy, light NW breeze. The
weather in the morning, not so much; fog limited the visibility to about 1/4 mile for the first half
of the trip and the swells were running about 4 feet. Activity was very slow except at a shrimp
boat where a large flock of shearwaters had gathered, including several rare Flesh-footed and
several hundred unusual Short-tailed among the thousands of Pink-footed. Otherwise we saw few
birds for the first 5 hours even when we found the Wyoming, a longliner out of Aberdeen about 30
miles offshore. Apparently seabirds rely on sight to locate fishing boats so in the fog, they can't
find them. At our chum stop over Grays Canyon about 35 miles out, we were unable to summon a single
bird other than a subadult Long-tailed Jaeger; not that I'm complaining - Long-tailed Jaeger was one
of the birds I was most hoping to see. Unfortunately I did not get on it until it was some distance
away and we did not get any photos.
The large number of Short-tailed Shearwaters offered a great opportunity to practice distinguishing
the species from the very similar Sooty Shearwater. I found that both in flight and on the water the
shorter and thinner bill of the Short-tailed was the most helpful field mark but even so, I could not
always tell them apart.
Northern Fulmars with Short-tailed Shearwater
South Polar Skua
When we turned around and started back to port Darchelle and I had ten new species for the year, the
number I had counted on, though I had hoped for as many as 15. That was starting to look like it
might be out of reach, then the fog cleared. We added two more in short order. Shep spotted a South
Polar Skua at the same time as I saw Parasitic Jaeger fly over the boat, though at the time the
jaeger appeared to me to be heavy in flight, like a Pomarine. Fortunately it showed up again a
minute later and other people confirmed the identification of our third jaeger for the day.
Soon afterwards we came across the shrimp trawler again, this time trailing an even larger flock of
birds than before, perhaps 4000 in total. As we trolled through the shearwater flock looking for a
Buller's, Bill Tweit spotted a Pomarine Jaeger coming up behind us. Darchelle pivoted me in my
chair and I saw my fourth jaeger of the day, giving me my first Skua slam since 2015. The Buller's
Shearwater which the spotters picked out of the flock a few minutes later was our last new year bird
of the day, number 339.
Inbound, with spotters
Ed labeled the day the Magic Pelagic but for me the trip was bittersweet. I loved being out on the
water again and I really enjoy the challenge of spotting and identifying seabirds. The people who
joined us were a friendly and experienced group, most of whom knew Chris and Phil and each other
from previous outings. They were also very supportive of me, taking turns literally supporting my
head for most of the trip as well as holding my wheelchair down when the water got rough. Knowing
that I was on the port side of the boat, Phil made sure to turn to starboard whenever we came across
a new bird so as to give me the maximum opportunity to see it. Bruce repeatedly checked in with me
to find out what I was looking for and to make sure I had seen all the species so far. At the same
time I was sad during and afterwards simply because I needed all that help, because I couldn't stand
up front the way I always used to, couldn't speak loud enough to call out birds as I saw them,
couldn't use optics, couldn't take photos. A Magic Pelagic it was but my experience was nonetheless
diminished by my limitations.
Due in part to the fog we saw fewer marine mammals than usual, though one highlight for me was a
Humpback Whale which breached about 2 miles away. I was sitting in my wheelchair at the back of the
cockpit, staring forward off the port bow and talking with Wayne Sladek when the huge animal reared
up perhaps 40 feet out of the water then crashed back down with an enormous splash. No one else
Bar-tailed Godwits with Marbled Godwits
Marbled Godwit (L) and Bar-tailed Godwit (R)
Willet with Marbled Godwits
Back at the float several of the men carried me off the boat and deposited me in my wheelchair then
Maxine's husband Mike pushed my chair up the ramp to the street. While the others returned to the
motel Darchelle and I drove around to the north end of the marina so she can walk out to the
fisherman's bridge overlooking the godwit flock. Normally the godwits roost on the floats at the
south end of the marina but the sea lions have recently displaced them so today they were all
hanging out on the beach by the fisherman's access. While I sat in the car Darchelle got photos of
the flock which included two rare Bar-tailed Godwits, a Willet and a Whimbrel along with
950 Marbled Godwits
On Saturday we continued around the peninsula in order to try for Spotted Owls on a couple of forest
roads south of Clallum Bay. Light rain developed as we drove north and by dusk the forest was dripping
though the rain had mostly stopped. The forest was predominantly 2nd growth, not ideal for the owls,
but we found a few areas with larger trees at which we played recordings. No owls responded. We spent
the night at an overpriced motel in Port Angeles and spent the next morning waiting for a Common Tern
to fly by Point No Point. It didn't, but ospreys fishing for salmon put on a good show.
09/10/2021 McNary NWR
Franklin's Gull, Tyson Blood Ponds
American White Pelicans, McNary Peninsula Unit
Common Tern #341, McNary Peninsula Unit
McNary HQ Pond
Bonaparte's Gulls, McNary HQ
Franklin's Gull with Ring-bills, McNary HQ
Darchelle caught up to me in the eBird standings for the year this morning when we heard an American
Pipit fly over the Tyson Blood Ponds. We also cleaned up our list a bit with a Franklin's Gull, a
bird we counted back in May despite a somewhat sketchy identification. This time the bird sat still
for a photo, then a couple hours later we found several more. They don't have black heads this time
We drove over the mountains yesterday afternoon and spent the night at Andy and Ellen's, then they
joined us birding in the Tri-Cities area. They were looking for a Franklin's Gull as well, and also
a Common Tern. We found a few of the terns but only with the assistance of Mike and Mary Lynn Denny
who identified a handful of them foraging far out over the Columbia River, studying them through
scopes and describing the location of each bird to me so that I could locate it with my opera
glasses. Certainly not the most satisfying of sightings, but Darchelle did get a photo. Other than
on a pelagic trip, the last time I saw one was 2015.
The Plum Upside-down Cake
Richard with birthday cake
Climbing the sycamore at Lions Park
Combining birding with family we spent the Sabbath in Walla Walla. Friday evening Darchelle made a
magnificent Plum Upside-down Cake for Richard's birthday, then we all met Sally and her family
at Lions Park for a picnic lunch.
American Kestrel, College Place
Cooper's Hawk, Dodd Road
Cooper's Hawk, Dodd Road
On the way home on Sunday we stopped by Dodd Road again but no new shorebirds had showed up at the
Blood Ponds. We were hoping for an early American Golden Plover, which Mike Denny had told us were
regular there in late September. That's another list-cleanup species, like the Franklin Gull.
We didn't go straight home but instead detoured to Sunrise at Mount Rainier National Park to try for
a Boreal Owl. We missed them there last year, and everywhere else we tried as well for that
matter, but one was reported up there a few days ago. Conditions appeared perfect - temperature in
the low 40s, partial stratocumulus cloud cover, slight breeze, few cars in the parking lot. I'm not
sure if playing recordings of the owl's calls in the park is legal so I did not want to have a lot
of people around to overhear us. We arrived around 7:45 PM, neither early enough to verify how well
the wheelchair would perform on the service road nor late enough to head out right away so we sat in
the car and ate a little something while we waited for darkness. Darchelle bundled me up in my down
coat and a blanket and we ventured forth while the silhouettes of the subalpine firs were still
visible against the sky but stars were also visible in the breaks between the clouds. Wheeling
down the service road not even a quarter of a mile (though it felt farther than that), we played owl
calls every couple hundred feet but got no response. A slender moon peered out between the clouds
now and then so perhaps it was not dark enough, or perhaps we simply turned around too soon. At any
rate I was well chilled by the time we returned to the car.
Darchelle was not done owling so after leaving the parking lot we stopped every quarter mile or so
and played some more, an effort which has not in the past yielded any results but this time, about
a mile down the road, we heard a small high-pitched "skiew" after playing our medly of hoots and
skiews. Almost in unison we announced "We got it!" and headed home.
09/13/2021 American Golden Plover redux
American Golden Plover, Discovery Park
American Golden Plover, Discovery Park
American Golden Plover, Discovery Park
No need for further trips to the Skagit or the Tyson Blood ponds. This morning we got good views
of the recently reported juvenile American Golden Plover on the South Beach at West Point. Darchelle
rolled me out to the path along the beach so I could see it with the naked eye while she took
pictures. Another photographer was already present so we knew right where to go. The bird appeared
injured. Its wingtips drooped almost to the ground and it refused to take flight even when beach
walkers passed right by it, although a report the following day described how it flew out far over
the Sound before returning to the beach so it was apparently capable of flight. The plumage
perfectly matched photos of juvenile American Golden Plovers, which was reassuring since we could
not assess the length of the tertials relative to the primaries, my usual technique for identifying
golden plovers. On this bird it was hard to tell even where the tertials were, let alone how long they
were. When we returned to the car I was relieved to see that it had not been towed or ticketed since we
had not bothered to stop at the visitor center to obtain the required permit. Darchelle does not worry
as much about things like that as I do.
09/16/2021 Lapland Longspur
Lapland Longspur #343
Least Sandpiper (adult)
The Lapland Longspur at Eide Road by Stanwood was our prize, year bird #343 (which as 7 cubed must
be a lucky number), but the Least Sandpipers were so cute that I had to give them equal billing in
this report. Maxine was the one who found the longspurs, yesterday I think, but we did not get
there until 24 hours later and when we at first did not find them after walking all the way out to
the end of the dike, Darchelle despaired that we had arrived too late. I reminded her that the show
wasn't over until the fat lady sang and on the way back, she did just that.
Brian watching for Lapland Longspurs
There were two of the longspurs and though they looked like sparrows they moved quite differently,
creeping along the ground instead of hopping like sparrows do. They were also quite tame so
Darchelle got good photos.
Least Sandpiper (juvenile)
Two or three Least Sandpipers pushed up against the dike by the incoming tide were also quite tame,
and also quite difficult to spot roosting on driftwood and debris above the waterline on the boulders
of the dike. Like many other sandpipers, the juveniles are more colorful than the southbound adults,
which have already molted into winter plumage.
Improved Eide Road parking area
Foliage near Stevens Pass
At the Apple Inn Motel in Chelan
With no other targets available in Western Washington, our decision as we returned to the car was
which grouse to chase east of the mountains. I was thinking that Spruce would be the easiest but
rain in the forecast for their high elevation forest habitats persuaded us to try for the
sagebrush species - Sharp-tailed and Sage - instead on the Waterville Plateau where sustained rainfall
would be less likely this early in the season. Our next decision was how to get there. Highway 20
would have been more scenic but Highway 2 over Stevens Pass was the quicker route to Chelan, where
we arrived after dark and found both a comfortable place to sleep in the Apple Inn Motel and decent
coffee in the morning at Lake Chelan Artisan Bakery.
09/17/2021 Greater Sage Grouse
Mourning Dove, Waterville Plateau
One of six Northern Harriers southwest of Mansfield
I did not expect the Greater Sage Grouse to be the easier of our sagebrush species to see and for
several hours my expectations were confirmed. For one thing, much of their habitat on the
Waterville Plateau burned in the Cold Springs Fire a year ago. Initially we explored
southwest of Mansfield
down as far as Road 9 where we found a fair amount of unburned sagebrush and wheat fields but no
grouse. We have seen them there in the past
so we drove roads which deteriorated into weeds as tall as our car and roads from which grouse had
been reported as recently as a month ago before giving up and heading back into Mansfield en route
to the area east of Jameson Lake where we have searched before but without success.
Greater Sage Grouse #344
Greater Sage Grouse through the scope
Greater Sage Grouse
At the Eight Bar B Motel in Wilbur
Heading east from Mansfield on Highway 172 I couldn't remember which gravel road to take south to
the grouse area. I thought maybe it was Road H but we missed that one so we turned south on Road J
instead. Later, studying the map, I determined that Road H was indeed the road I meant to take.
Just as well that we missed it because not even a mile south of the highway we flushed three Greater
Sage Grouse from the weedy edge of a wheat field along Road J. They flew a couple hundred yards but
we were able to view them through the scope and Darchelle got photos.
We did not fare as well with Sharp-tailed Grouse, for which we searched the Big Bend Wildlife Area
that evening as well as much of the
after a comfortable night at the Eight Bar B Motel in Wilbur, to which we were
directed by Joy at the Grand Coulee Center Lodge when she had no ground-floor room to offer us.
We kept forgetting that we had already called her so we probably talked with her three times but she
was gracious about it, and very helpful.
On the way home we stopped for coffee in Soap Lake at a bakery with a hippie vibe called the
Darchelle picked me up a sandwich which was really delicious; I think it was the one with Portobello
mushrooms. The coffee was excellent too.
09/23/2021 Views from Artist Point
We picked up Alicia and Daniel at the airport on Sunday evening and they returned the favor by
dropping us off at the airport Thursday evening for our flight to New Hampshire. Thursday morning
we took them up to Artist Point where they hiked up Table Mountain while we loitered around the
parking lot hoping to scope a ptarmigan on the slopes above us. It is probably impossible to view a
ptarmigan from a wheelchair in Washington State but it could theoretically be done at Artist Point
so we tried. And failed, but it was a beautiful day to be out and the mountains were glorious. Daniel
and Alicia enjoyed their hike but though they searched, they didn't see any ptarmigan either.
We stayed the night beforehand at the Blue T Lodge where they lost our reservation so gave us an
extra room in compensation. Daniel stayed in the room while Alicia joined us owling along the road
up towards the ski area where we played Spotted Owl calls but heard no response.
09/24/2021 New Hampshire
Walking the Tracy's driveway (photo by David Pendleton)
We hadn't wanted to wait too long before returning to New Hampshire given that our time with my
folks is limited at this point, both because of my condition and because of John's cancer.
Originally we were thinking the first week of October but Darchelle's dream class and Richard's
Portland Marathon constrained us to move the visit up a week. Having been there just two months ago
our expectations for this visit were modest. Back in July we had not seen them for a year and
a half so we felt we needed to have meaningful conversations about important things. This time we
were more content to just be together.
Like last time though, I found the visit emotionally difficult. I felt somewhat depressed, or maybe
just sad, more frequently than I would have liked. John seemed to be doing better this time though,
less troubled by pain, more engaged with the rest of us. He stuck with his routine, sleeping in
until 10 or 11 most days, reading the Boston Globe and the Wall Street Journal every day and marking
the front-page headline with a ballpoint pen to indicate that he was done with them, fixing a couple
of pancakes for breakfast and drinking a chocolate Boost for lunch, retiring to bed while the rest
of us lingered in the PT room for another hour together.
After a day or two we settled into a routine. We would get up around 9AM then sit in Rick's living
room for an hour or so drinking coffee, nibbling on the banana bread and smoked cheese which he left
for us and watching birds come and go from the feeders just outside his big picture window.
Sometimes I would manage to have a bowel movement. Between 11 and 12 we would pack ourselves into
the van, drive down the hill to the house and wheel in through the front door via the ramp that Rick
set up for us. Darchelle would park me in the PT room while she fixed a little breakfast or lunch,
depending on how you look at it. John would read the paper and Mom would come and go. At some
point in the afternoon we would devise dinner plans and maybe go out for a walk. Before dinner John
might fix some crackers with smoked salmon to go with my half a beer and his glass of wine. After
dinner around the table in the dining room we would retire to the PT room again where Mom would read
a book and John might doze off for a bit before heading up to bed. An hour or two later Darchelle
and I would gather our stuff and wheel back out the front door while Mom or David turned out the
lights behind us. Back up at Rick's, Darchelle would pull the van onto the front lawn, open the
front door to the house and turn on the lights then return to transfer me from the front seat into
the wheelchair and roll me up the ramp into the house. Before bed we would sit for a while in the
kitchen while I drank my chocolate Boost with Docusate and perhaps soak my feet in a dishpan of hot
water if they were too cold.
9/24 John and Carol at home
John and Carol picked us up at the airport at 6:30 Friday morning, a very generous gesture which also
afforded us a long-awaited opportunity to visit them at their home in Freeport. John and I were pretty
close friends in high school and we have been back in touch for probably a decade now but Darchelle and I
have never made it over to Freeport in that time. Their house, which dates back to perhaps the 1840s,
is a museum full of artifacts of their creative lives together. John has landscaped the yard with trees,
shrubs, a stream and a pond right outside their kitchen window. A hanging feeder attracted a constant
stream of birds while we ate lunch together - curried squash soup, salad and
delicious seedy crackers
We had planned to leave in time for them to return home by daylight after driving us over to Jackson
but after showing us their puppet studio John and Carol got involved in devising head supports for
me to use in the wheelchair and on the plane. Both subsequently proved quite helpful.
9/25 Peter Theriault for lunch
David napping on the front lawn
In order to attend a comedy show with Susan David had canceled his flight with us back to New
Hampshire and caught another a day later so we drove into North Conway around midday to pick him up
at the bus stop at the Eastern Slopes Inn. We also needed coffee so of course we stopped by
Frontside Grind for lunch. As I sat in my wheelchair at our outside table while Darchelle and David
went inside to order, Peter Theriault, sitting at the next table over, recognized me and came over
to say hi. Peter, long a fixture in the Valley as a ski instructor and cyclist, once had a sideline
as a contractor during which time he built the cozy addition to Mom and John's kitchen which we have
ever since called the PT room. We reminisced about people we knew in common and Peter shared his
perspectives on the economics of the Valley, in which places are having to close several days a week
because they cannot hire enough help.
9/26 Lazy Lobster for supper
Our days were differentiated by what we had for supper or what we did afterwards or perhaps some
outing we did during the afternoon. On our third day at my suggestion we ordered takeout for supper
from the Lobster Trap
in North Conway. I had been wanting to do that during our stay in July but it hadn't worked out.
John and Mom and I ordered the "Lazy Lobster", so-called because all of the (easily extracted) meat
had been removed from the shell for us. The restaurant got to keep the shells. The meat was fresh
and sweet but it still took me three days to eat it all.
9/27 Crossword Puzzles
On our fourth evening David picked up a New Yorker and begin working on the crossword puzzle.
Actually he might have started it the night before but none of us are crossword veterans so it took
all four of us - Mom, Darchelle, me and David - to solve even the slightly challenging puzzle. When
we graduated to the moderately challenging puzzle Mom looked at the answers in the previous issue
and gave us extra clues. We all enjoyed teasing out the logic behind the clues together.
9/28 Mount Washington
The big event on our fifth day was a trip up Washington, Darchelle's first time on the summit. The
mountain had been clear on Sunday but concerned about the crowds, we put off our outing until today
when unfortunately the summit was shrouded in clouds. I thought maybe it would clear by late
afternoon so we did not try to get an early start. When we reached the summit it appeared that I
was wrong; windblown fog limited visibility to about 100 feet. We drove all the way up and parked
in the handicapped area. David and I sat in the car while Darchelle took a selfie at the summit and
checked out the visitor's center. For about 30 seconds the fog cleared but then it closed in
On the way down the clouds were just clear of the patch of alpine tundra known as the Cow
Pasture so Darchelle and David stepped out to see if they could pick out Mom and John's house.
While we were perusing their photos the summit cleared so we drove back up to look around again.
The mountain is surprisingly steep and rough up close. Although free of snow in summer its severe
weather is clearly demonstrated by the gnarled and stunted trees which give way to rock and grass
above about 5000 feet. As we descended the trees grew taller and the composition of the forest
changed from balsam fir and birch to leafy hardwoods. We lingered so long on the descent that the
sweep car caught up to us and escorted us back down to the base station.
9/29 Rebecca at last
On our sixth day I took a break from leftover lobster because John grilled up some organic hamburger
and Darchelle and David prepared a fresh tomato basil sauce over pasta for supper. David also showed
himself to be a real American man by figuring out how to get the grill going. After dinner we watched
a movie together.
Mom and John do Netflix the old-fashioned way. The company mails them a DVD, they watch it then
mail it back and the company mails them another. Except they don't get around to watching it. They
had been holding onto Rebecca, the 1940 version with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, since
before Covid but tonight we finally watched it after David found the DVD on the floor behind the big
screen TV. It's a classic.
Rick D still raises pumpkins and gourds and sometimes
corn and potatoes in the lower field down by the river. He also raises a crop of weeds whose seeds
lure hundreds of sparrows to his pumpkin patch and adjacent woods every fall during migration. I
have enjoyed studying the sparrows over the past 10 years but a flood a few weeks ago washed out the
rough track between the north and middle fields. Being constrained to wheeled travel meant that
Darchelle and I were not able to drive up to the sparrow patch until today when Rick fixed the
washed-oifut crossing. Lack of time and relatively low light prevented us from identifying as many of
the sparrows as I would have liked but it still felt good to get out birding. After we returned to
the house Rick P walked up there and spotted the big
male bear which has been hanging out around the field for several weeks now. Rick has been staying
at Sarah's while we have been occupying his house and this was I think the second time he reported
the big bear down in the lower field. We did not see it; unlike last July, we did not see any bears
at all this trip.
10/03/2021 Portland Marathon
Alicia picked us up at the airport when we returned from New Hampshire. The next day we drove down
to Portland to cheer Richard on in his eighth running of the Portland Marathon. Darchelle had
reserved rooms for us all at the Motel 6 on SE Powell Blvd - bare-bones but seemed okay until we had
to leave a $50 cash deposit at the office for each room. It seemed even less okay when Richard got
bedbugs. Bug bites notwithstanding, he ran an excellent race. It was not his fastest (though he
beat his 6:28 time of two years ago by several minutes) but he ran even splits for the first time
and felt remarkably good afterwards. Darchelle
recorded his finish
.We celebrated together with Chinese takeout in our room, along with a
which Darchelle picked up for me at the brewpub next door.
We left the motel well before dawn on Monday morning to look for Spruce Grouse along Forest Road
1070 east of White Pass. People have been seeing and photographing them along the trail about two
miles beyond Conrad Meadows but we can't get there so Andy suggested we try Road 1070 instead. We
drove it for about 10 miles but it mostly skirts the spruce forest, staying out in the open terrain
of an old burn. At one point we came across a couple of deer hunters who said that in five days of
driving the roads and hiking the woods they'd shot one grouse and seen one other. Nice fall color
up in the high country but no grouse.
10/07/2021 Spruce Grouse and no Ptarmigan, but a Lynx!!!
Spruce forest along Albian Hill Road
Darchelle's Spruce Grouse #345
Concerned that snow would soon shut us out of the high elevation forests frequented by Sprucies,
we determined to dedicate our weekend to the search, setting out on the five hour trip to Republic
right after Darchelle's last appointment so we could check Albian Hill Road early the next morning
before continuing on to our real destination, Salmo Pass. We never got there. We drove the entire
12 mile length of Albian Hill Road starting at sunrise and scrutinizing the Lodgepole Pine and
Engelmann Spruce forest on both sides of the road for two solid hours. I had not realized that
Albian Hill Road offered so much suitable habitat, more than either Salmo Pass or Bunchgrass
Meadows, but we still did not find any grouse.
We were about 45 minutes into our somewhat more casual return trip across Albian Hill Road when
Darchelle quietly announced, "A grouse!"
"Seriously?", I asked, a bit skeptical.
"Yes" she insisted. "A Spruce Grouse!"
The bird was on her side of the road so after a bit of excitement she got the car turned around so I
could see it. I couldn't find it at first; it was just a dark lump on the ground at least 50 feet
back from the road, but once she got the car in just the right position I was able to pick it out
and she was right, it was a Spruce Grouse! She got a couple photos from inside the car to verify
the ID then while I kept an eye on the bird she got out to try for a better angle. Apparently the
Spruce Grouse in that area get some hunting pressure because the bird immediately went on alert and
as soon as it saw her standing by the car, it got up and walked hastily farther back into the woods
and out of sight.
View from Slate Peak
Our plans had been upended by the unexpected sighting but without cell signal we couldn't research our
alternatives so we continued east into Kettle Falls. When the Riverside Inn graciously allowed us to
cancel our reservation and the Mazama Ranch House had an accessible room available we knew what we
had to do. Get up to Slate Peak and look for a Ptarmigan.
At 7200', the parking lot below Slate Peak is the the highest point accessible by car in the state
and is the best, and perhaps the only, place in the state where it is possible to see a Ptarmigan
from the road. It is also a rough 21 miles from Mazama via the road to Harts Pass, which has a
short section so intimidating that Darchelle vowed after the only time she drove it that she would
never drive it again. Sometimes however, principles must yield to the prospect of Ptarmigan. Five
hours after leaving Kettle Falls we pulled into the parking lot at Slate Peak where the Forest
Service had thoughtfully erected guardrails since our last visit. Even though the rail on one side
had fallen off its posts I still found it reassuring.
We almost got a Ptarmigan too. How amazing that would have been, to get Spruce Grouse and Ptarmigan
in the same day! Alas it was not to be. We spent two hours up there. It was sunny but cold so I sat
in the car with the windows open peering over the guardrail at the rocky slopes below, looking for
anything moving while Darchelle walked the ridge in both directions playing a recording of Ptarmigan
calls and scanning the basin below us with the spotting scope.
We had the place mostly to ourselves; I think two or three other parties showed up including fellow
birder Peter Z, a gray-haired guy like me who arrived late
in the afternoon, also looking for Ptarmigan. He parked behind us so I did not notice him until I
heard a Ptarmigan call so faint that I thought I might have imagined it. Darchelle returned soon
afterwards to tell me it was not my imagination, it was Peter. Not too long after sunset we started
down the hill while Peter walked up the ridge to listen a bit. When we happened to meet Peter again
at the Buff-breasted Sandpiper in Enumclaw a week later, he told us that he had heard a Ptarmigan
call at dusk, five minutes after we had left.
Fall color below Harts Pass
Mountain Bluebird near Harts Pass
Lynx along Harts Pass Road
Lynx along Harts Pass Road
Lynx along Harts Pass Road
In partial compensation for missing the Ptarmigan, we had an even more unusual sighting on the way up
the Harts Pass Road - a Lynx. I thought it was a Bobcat when I first spotted it
walking up the road about three miles below Harts Pass, then I noticed the big feet, and the long
ear tufts, and the blue plastic ear tag - I don't think they bother to put ear tags on Bobcats.
Printed on the tag were the letters "TS". The animal was clearly not in good condition; it was
walking slowly and stiffly and paid very little attention to us. At one point it even laid down in
the ditch briefly before getting up and walking off the road into a meadow. Later we learned from
a Forest Service biologist that the blue ear tag indicates that the animal was very old, but that
its behavior did not necessarily indicate that it was unwell. They often have little fear of humans.
10/08/2021 Slate Peak and no Ptarmigan, again
Inside our room at Mazama Ranch House
Outside our room at Mazama Ranch House
Mazama Ranch House
The Mazama Ranch House was delightful; we would definitely stay there again (and did, exactly one
week later). After our long day yesterday we didn't rush out in the morning but instead enjoyed
some leftover coffee and a bit of breakfast while the morning sun streamed in through our window.
On the way down last night we stopped at Harts Pass and picked up a couple of Cascade Crest Trail
thru-hikers who had just finished their six-month epic/ordeal/adventure an hour earlier by hiking 30
miles back south from the Canadian border, where they were not allowed to cross. Having suffered
from a shortage of both calories and hot water they were looking forward to a shower and a big meal
though unfortunately neither would be forthcoming at the bunkhouse in Mazama to which we delivered
them. They were not looking forward to other aspects of reentry though, including adjusting to the
absence of the daily dose of endorphins generated by hiking 8 to 12 hours every day.
View up the road to Harts Pass
Slate Peak (parking area just L of center)
Watching for Ptarmigan from Slate Peak parking area
View down the road to Harts Pass
Harts Pass (middle distance just L of center)
The air being a little warmer this morning than yesterday evening, Darchelle bundled me up and I sat
outside in the wheelchair in the the Slate Peak parking lot while we resumed our Ptarmigan search.
We turned off the ventilator for a couple of hours so that I could listen for bird calls without the
constant sound of Darth Vader breathing in my ears. I heard
a variety of birds
but no Ptarmigan.
The views were amazing though.
10/10/2021 Hard birds
While we were chasing chickens east of the mountains two potential year birds showed up in Western
Washington - a Palm Warbler near downtown Seattle and an Orchard Oriole at the Hoquiam Sewage Ponds.
We recruited Ed and Delia to help us find them.
Ed and Delia's front yard
Looking for an Oriole at Hoquiam Sewage Ponds
Northern Harrier at Hoquiam Sewage Ponds
In retrospect we should not have wasted our morning on the warbler. I could have inferred from the
lack of sightings the previous day that it had moved on, but of course if I had the gift of
hindsight I would apply it to investing in the stock market rather than to birdwatching. Had we
arrived in Hoquiam at 10AM rather than after noon we would have had better views of the oriole as
well as the corroboration of other birders. Instead Darchelle alone had a brief view of the bird as
it flew a few feet out from the cattails then back in again shortly after we arrived. About an hour
later I had an even briefer glimpse as it flew away from us along the dike, apparently never to
return. Darchelle saw a medium-sized yellow bird with gray wings, enough to get our sighting
subsequently confirmed in eBird. Seeking a better view, we stayed the night in Hoquiam (at the
Econo Lodge Inn & Suites, worthy of a repeat visit) and returned early in the morning but the oriole
did not reappear.
Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Killdeer
Enumclaw Buff-breasted Sandpiper #347
Karn and John
Although Buff-breasted Sandpiper was on our list of possible birds for this fall, the possibility of
seeing one was remote. They are a rare fall migrant from the central flyway; one or two show up in
Western Washington around the last week of August in most years but I have never seen one in a
location which could be accessed by a wheelchair. This year only one was reported, at the remote
tip of the Long Beach Peninsula at the end of August. Only one person saw it.
This Monday morning we were relaxing at home when we received a text from Nancy & Bill L,
with whom we had been visiting the day before in Hoquiam while waiting for the oriole. A
Buff-breasted Sandpiper had been discovered in Enumclaw and they were on their way to see it.
Within 20 minutes, so were we.
We spent the whole afternoon down there. After some effort, Darchelle get some decent photos.
We called Ed and Delia and talked them into coming down even though it was rush-hour by that point.
We attached faces to some familiar names from eBird lists - Garrett H
who frequents the Auburn area, Greg H who is just
ahead of us at #3 in the state year-list rankings, Peter Z
who heard the Ptarmigan that we missed at Slate Peak four days ago. After taking a break to visit
John and Karn who live only a mile or two from where the bird was foraging in a cornfield, we returned
to track the bird along with Ed and Delia until Maxine could make it down from Everett. Everyone
saw the sandpiper.
10/14/2021 In pursuit of Ptarmigan, yet again
Putative Ptarmigan location #1 (Shady Peak Road FDR 5900)
Putative Ptarmigan location #2 (Slate Peak)
Another Ptarmigan report surfaced a couple of days ago, this one from FR 5900 near Lake Chelan. The
report read in part:
"Single bird on rocky tallus slope just below a peak approx 6,500' 1/3 of it's body had moulted to
white plumage, mostly on the lower 1/3 of the body... Much of the surrounding area had burned in the
twentyfive mile fire and i first saw it on the road and wandering through ash again later in a nuked
out area near the top of what used to be the treeline."
Darchelle wanted to check it out. I was somewhat skeptical that the habitat would be suitable - in part
because ptarmigan terrain rarely hosts enough trees to support a forest fire. But perhaps the bird
had simply gone a bit astray, so at 5:30 in the morning we left to go investigate.
Twenty-Five Mile Burn along FDR 5900
Twenty-Five Mile Burn along FDR 5900
Twenty-Five Mile Burn along FDR 5900
About three miles up FR 5900 from the lake a big sign announced that the road was closed. Having
driven four hours to get there we were disinclined to turn around so we kept going. The road
appeared to have been worked on recently so I was anxious about encountering construction traffic
but fortunately the only vehicle we met, a big water truck, was able to get by us without any
difficulty. The report wasn't kidding about the fire. Our few photos don't do justice to the
devastation - the ashy gray ground devoid of vegetation, the smoky brown foliage of the ponderosa
pines, the charred black logs and snags.
At mile 11 we recognized the area in which the ptarmigan had been seen. We played a few calls but
it seemed highly unlikely that any ptarmigan, no matter how confused, had ever graced the spot with
its presence. No peak high enough to support ptarmigan habitat was visible for miles in any
direction. The south facing slope had probably hosted pine forest prior to a previous fire; the
forest on the other side of the ridge appeared to be Douglas fir and Lodgepole pine. At mile 12 we
found the road blocked by Forest Service trucks so we turned around and started down. Within a few
minutes one of the trucks came up behind us. The guy was friendly but confirmed that the road was
closed and that we should not be there. He followed us down, perhaps to notify upcoming water
tankers of our approach, or perhaps just to make sure that we left.
The question remained - if the reported bird was not a ptarmigan, what was it? Several days later
I think I figured it out. A
female Sooty Grouse
can show a considerable amount of white on the lower one third of its body, though not in patches
like a ptarmigan but rather as individual feathers. Still, it could appear to be molting into white
plumage. Prior to the fire, the area was probably reasonably good habitat for Sooty Grouse.
Listening for Ptarmigan from Slate Peak parking area
Road up to Slate Peak
Horned Lark at Slate Peak parking area
After another four hours of driving we pulled, or rather plowed, into the Slate Peak parking area.
Our photos show less snow than I remembered but the steep and narrow road was completely
snow-covered for the last mile or so. Ours were not the only tracks but we were the only people
anywhere near Harts Pass that afternoon, as far as we could tell. The ridge was in the fog with an
inch of rime ice on the trees and several inches of snow on the ground. I didn't get out of the car
except briefly to pee. Darchelle played the Ptarmigan call every 15 minutes or so until it got
dark. We never heard any response. Our checklist
included only three species - a pair of Rosy-Finches along the road,
an unhappy-looking Horned Lark
around the parking area and a Raven which dropped out of the fog into a snowdrift in front of the
car and attempted to bathe, crouching down to wag his massive beak back and forth in the snow and
flutter his big wings rather ineffectually on the surface.
Golden Eagle east of Mazama
Approaching Washington Pass on Hwy 20
Dowitchers and Yellowlegs at Hayden Reserve
On our way home the next morning we almost got a good photo of a Golden Eagle perched in a snag
east of Mazama and we almost got to Hayden Reserve in time to catch a glimpse of a probable
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. It had been photographed
the previous day
B and several other birders were keeping watch when we
arrived. When Darchelle got out to inquire, they told her that they thought they'd seen it fly by
with a small group of Dowitchers a few minutes earlier but they didn't know where the birds had
gone. As we lingered in the parking lot to eat some lunch, I saw a small group of Dowitchers fly
over the chain-link fence from the slough to the north. With them was a slightly smaller
white-bellied bird with a dark upper chest and contrasting white underwings. We did not report it
but I believe it was the Sharp-tailed.
Incredibly, the next morning we got up early and drove 3 1/2 hours to Richland to see
a Slaty-backed Gull
then drove 3 1/2 hours home again. Andy was there too, and Greg. Maxine had gone the day before.
We did not get a good view because it was 500 yards away out in the river, but we were able to
identify it. The autumn colors between Snoqualmie Pass and Ellensburg were glorious in the
sunshine. The cottonwoods were a mix of green and yellow and the patches of aspen mostly a deep
yellow reminiscent of the Cadmium pigments I used to use in my oil painting palette but the color in
the understory was stunning - scarlet and orange vine maple supported by yellow willows and
dogwood in deep shades of red wine - all against a backdrop of dark pines and firs. We were
grateful to get the gull (#348) but the scenery alone would have been almost enough.
10/18/2021 Happy Birthday D!
Sally came over to help us celebrate and to go shoe-shopping at Goodwill with Darchelle. They had fun.
They brought back takeout from The Maple
for a birthday eve supper. It was delicious. In the morning we walked and wheeled over to the
Sod House Bakery
We sat and savored our coffee and pastries at an indoor table, our first time to eat in since March
Darchelle got her hair done to celebrate her birthday. While they were out I wrote a card and a poem
for D. I was going to read them to her at our little party that evening but we ran out of time so I
read it to her in bed afterwards instead. She liked it. I need to write more poems for her.
The next morning Alex showed up to put up the new wallpaper in our dining room. It's a much better
match than the old paper.