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 the one, 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
Birthday Food
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 grateful for.
Grizzly Bear
Jacob and Judah
Snowy Owl
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
Heat-damaged Fir
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, someone 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 mountain tops.
Listening for the Redstart, looking for Swifts
American Redstart
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. We 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 before.
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  
Notes
History
Lunch
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 Bistro where the food was better than I remembered. Delicious, actually.
07/17/2021   Puffins at last  
Horned Puffin
Tufted Puffin
Smith Island 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.
Tufted Puffin
Tufted Puffin
Tufted Puffin
Bull Kelp
Rhinoceros Auklets
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 accommodation.
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 history 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 account 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 absence.
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 Lighthouse Digest. 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 one photo 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 Horned Puffin. 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.
Top, 7/15
Middle, 7/15
Bottom, 7/19
Top, 7/21
Middle, 7/21
Bottom, 7/21
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 security
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.
Our aircraft
Not sleeping
Heading north
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 actual flight.
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 looked depressed.
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
Outing selfie
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 caught it.
Matching sweatshirts
On Mount Constitution with Donna and Richard
Biscuits and gravy for breakfast
Measuring the kids
Tidepool starfish
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 Eastsound.
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
Solitary Sandpiper
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.
Least Sandpipers
Western Sandpipers
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
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 the Sharp-tailed Darchelle noted both features through the scope and they are at least suggested in her photo. 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 birders.
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 list?
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 documentation.
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.
Snowy Plover
Sanderling
Caspian Terns
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
Pink-footed Shearwaters
Sooty (L) and Short-tailed (R) Shearwaters
Black-footed Albatross
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
Buller's Shearwater
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.
Tufted Puffin
Humpback Whale
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 noticed it.
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 of year.
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
Lapland Longspurs
Lapland Longspur
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)
Least Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
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  
Red-tailed Hawk
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 following day 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 Cloudview Kitchen. 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  
Table Mountain
Mount Shuksan
Mount Baker
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 again.
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.
9/30 Sparrows   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 mellow honey porter 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
Sherman Peak
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
Lynx
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)
Ptarmigan Pterrain
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 so Gary 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 for breakfast. We sat and savored our coffee and pastries at an indoor table, our first time to eat in since March of 2019.
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.