Brian's Journal - Winter 2014

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1/4/2014     
I joined Ed and Delia for coffee and we ended up talking for a couple of hours, nothing important but very pleasant nonetheless with blue sky and sunshine outside and the warmth of companionship inside. David and I had tentatively planned to go birding today but by the time I returned from a run to Seward Park, hungry and weak, the already short day was largely gone. Instead I ate, got chilled, showered, napped and got up to paint but did journal photos instead. Birding Seward Park I counted 22 species putting my total for the year at 55, barely 25% of the 198 species reported year to date for Washington in eBird.
I've been feeling that because my time is short I must make every minute count, wasting no time in thought or deed, but I'm not sure that's the best way. Better I think to live in the present, innocent of time, but innocence feels elusive today and the foreshadowing of decline and mortality too much on my mind whenever I'm alone.
1/05/2014   GogLeHiTe  
One Herring/Thayer's Gull
Thayer's Gull
Herring Gull
Ed, David and I drove down to Tacoma on a bright Sunday morning and found GogLeHiTe natural area shrouded in freezing fog which began to dissipate as soon as we arrived. I barely had time to get a few photos before the frost began to melt in the sun. Birding was unexceptional; I didn't even do a checklist but we did get nice views of a few Herring and Thayer's Gulls in with the Glaucous-winged. One of the Thayer's Gulls had a pale eye and somewhat reduced white tongues on the primaries, perhaps indicating a Thayer's-Herring hybrid.
1/10/2014     
I met Tim for dinner at Aragona, a new restaurant inspired by Spanish cuisine and founded by the same chef (or owner) as Spinasse. Daniel wanted to invest in Aragona but didn't have enough assets to qualify; I selected it knowing it would have been his first choice. The decor is spare and what I would call modern - lots of wood, some tile, some metal - quite different from the more rustic feel of Spinasse.
Our meal:
Ensalada de col y lomo iberico - Shaved cabbage salad with slivered lomo iberico, pomegranate and marcona almond
Tim had this salad - nice mix of flavors, and better than my Romanesco below.
Coliflor con ajo tostado y vinaigre de moscatel - Romanesco on the plancha with toasted garlic and moscatel vinegar
Steamed Romanesco broccoli lightly grilled and served with brown chips of toasted garlic, a nice combination of flavors and textures but not as complex/interesting as the cabbage salad.
Arroz caldoso de almeja real y nabitos - Soupy rice with geoduck and turnip
I liked the mild seafood flavor complemented by the turnip greens in this creamy rice dish but would skip it next time as it made for too much food even though Tim and I split it.
Pulpo a la parilla con trinxat - Octopus with "trinxat" potatoes and onions braised in red wine
I ordered "pulpo" because Daniel has enjoyed it in Spain. I found the six-inch tentacles fixed in mid-writhe on the plate a bit disconcerting but they were tender and chewy with a mild sweet flavor complemented but not overpowered by the nut cream, dark braised onions and somewhat salty potato stick. For an entree, Tim had the pork chop special, a large piece of meat more like roast pork with a bone. It was tasty but didn't feel particularly Spanish.
Torrija classica - Torrija bread soaked overnight in sweet anise custard, caramelized on the plancha and served with sherry caramel and bee pollen
A delicious dessert - thick grilled bread sticks with a sweet creamy texture. The sherry caramel complemented them perfectly but we forgot the bee pollen until afterwards then ate it only because it was too expensive to leave on the plate.
They serve a large selection of Spanish wines by the glass or bottle but we each opted for a Belgian Piraat Tripel IPA instead, a rich malty beer with less hop flavor than I expected. I ordered it because just yesterday Daniel was telling me about Tripel IPA's, and I wasn't disappointed; at 10+% ABV though, it's a sipping beer.
1/14/2014   Nisqually  
Our first visit to Nisqually this year and we found (or rather someone else found, but we got to see) an American Bittern, always a treat. This one was in tall grass on the outside of the dike on the way out to the boardwalk. We pointed it out to passers by for ten minutes or so then watched it eat three tree frogs in the space of five minutes.
Stalking
Striking
Suffering
1/16/2014     
My flight to Colorado took off on a gray foggy morning, fog so thick the plane at the gate next to ours was barely visible. The clouds topped out at about 1000' and above them the day was glorious. We climbed past Rainier on our right, sun glittering on snowfields - backcountry ski conditions must be pretty icy right now. Volcanoes punctuated the horizon all the way south to the Sisters. On the other side of the plane craggy snow-covered ridges filled the windows. Crossing the mountains, we continued east over Mission Ridge, Wenatchee and the Columbia. Long blue ridges ran east with us, veiled by skeins of cirrus as they petered out somewhere south of Othello. We saw mostly clouds after that until we descended into Denver over Long's Peak and Rocky Mountain National Park, marked not by lines on a map but by broad snowy ridges scrubbed down to bare rock by the wind. At the sight of them I longed to be up there (down there?) boots on the rock, the wind at my back and a peak in sight ahead. I don't know if I can even still do that.
If I could write perhaps I could hold onto these precious days of health, fixing each in words before I forget their memories, their impressions, their joys, griefs and insights. As they ebb away so does my strength, wasting out of my arms and shoulders, slipping away in a silent cacophony of pointless twitching - the lights flickering before the power goes out. Who knows when that will be, how much or how little time I have left to wash my hair, fix my breakfast, tie my bootlaces, heft a pack, hug a friend.
On my way down I-25 a few miles outside of Colorado Springs, passing familiar open mesas with sun glancing across them from dark piney foothills to glint in the grama grass and silhouette spiky yucca, I wondered about my disturbed housemate Lewis, a Goth before his time who introduced me to the subtleties of identifying the grasses amidst those mesas. I recalled my ecology professor Jim Enderson pointing out the flight pattern of a redtail soaring over the pine groves. I still think of him and that formative class from time to time when I identify a red-tailed hawk in silhouette flapping and gliding that way. Since then urban sprawl has infected those mesas, corporate shops and eateries fringing a blight of angular suburban residences extending all the way to the distant horizon. So many lives, so many joys and sorrows out there, only God can keep track of them all. But the open field from which I painted my first really good landscape is probably now a postage stamp of irrigated lawn enclosed in board fence behind a residential box, and the scene I painted is gone, a forgotten memory.
After supper (delicious quinoa and kale in sesame oil, and a plate of Brussels Sprouts braised in balsamic vinegar and garlic) Liz and I cleaned the painting I'd promised to finish for her on my previous visit here. I pried it out of its frame, laid it on a bed of newspaper on the kitchen counter and went to work, rubbing off spots of ancient spaghetti sauce with hot water and turpentine and special painting cleaner like that used by conservators at fine museums. The hot water worked best but the food spots had bleached the underlying paint so now the sky is dotted with white spots. Easy to remove in Photoshop, not so much with bristle brush and paint.
1/17/2014   Garden of the Gods  
Beautiful Colorado morning - cloudless blue sky, bright sunshine on conifers and snow, the Black Forest dark on the horizon 20 miles to the northeast across suburban Colorado Springs. I bid Liz goodbye "Have a nice day at work dear" and sat in her stucco and log living room (a classic Colorado/southwestern feel to the place) reading the paper and finishing my tea before heading out for a bird-run, lured up into the forested foothills by the calls of Steller's Jays and Pygmy Nuthatches and even an eastern Blue Jay, the latter much more common along the Colorado Front Range than they were 35 years ago when I lived here.
I ran a couple of miles (which felt like twice that) up the Old Stage Road before turning around at a sharp bend and starting back down. Part way down I scrambled up onto a roadside crag of 1.9-billion-year-old Pikes Peak granite and contemplated the precipice at my feet, the steep slope of Doug fir and scrub oak falling away to expensive mansions, the Broadmoor golf course and the sprawling carpet of Colorado Springs. I thought about jumping off and as is usual these days, concluded that I didn't want to. I turned the other way and looked up into the forested peaks above me, the narrow valleys incised back into the heart of the range, the cool sunshine and bright sky, and felt joy. Joy that I have life yet to grow into, joy that I have someone to grow with, to love and be loved, and gratitude that I was able to gain a little deeper understanding of my ambivalence about the tasks ahead.
On the way over to Garden of the Gods to start finishing Liz's
painting after my run, I stopped by her office so she could join me for lunch. We drove separately out to the park since she would return to work for the afternoon. Garden of the Gods is the slightly hyperbolic name for a cluster of huge red and gray sandstone crags which jut up out of an area of scrub oak and pinon-juniper woodland at the very base of the foothills. The area has been a city park for years but in the three decades since I started the painting, access to much of the park has been significantly restricted to allow the native vegetation and wildlife to return. The organization Liz works for has been heavily involved in the revegetation and restoration efforts and it has paid off; deer emerge at dusk to prune the remaining non-native conifers and even a bear frequented the meadows last fall after rains brought up a bumper crop of mushrooms. Unfortunately, access to the spot from which I did the painting has also been restricted.
Liz and I scrambled up there anyway, as discretely as we could. Because the painting was fairly faithful to the scene in front of me, we were able to find pretty much the exact spot from which I'd started the it back in 1979 on a flat ledge above where the old gift shop had been. Getting restarted on it was a bit difficult but I was able to make enough progress on the painting that I didn't need to return and violate any more city ordinances. Liz left after an hour or so but I stayed until the local crows had flocked up into the hills for their overnight roost and the afternoon warmth had yielded to the chill of evening.
1/18/2014   Paint Mines  
Pike's Peak, March 1978
Pike's Peak from Progressive Insurance
Liz and I considered hiking up on Pikes Peak but decided to sleep in. She fixed refried beans and fried eggs with chorizo sausage for breakfast. I took a break from coconut oil because I've had a lot of gas since starting in on the new bottle and thought it might be the new brand. We packed a lunch of leftover carrot-ginger soup and leftover chorizo sandwiches and drove up north to see if we could find that spot where I painted that first good landscape, a hazy morning scene of Pike's Peak above Colorado Springs. After a stop to inspect the marvelous murals and dioramas at the new Bass Pro superstore, where we got separated and spent twenty minutes waiting in different spots for one another, we drove down a wide boulevard until we found almost the exact spot where I parked to do the painting.I was prescient in parking there - the spot is now a huge parking lot for Progressive Insurance. We continued east through pine forest ravaged last June by Colorado's all time most expensive fire and further east into short-grass prairie now dotted with houses large and small, each on its own 20 acre estate, and the whole almost devoid of raptors. The only Rough-leg and Redtails that we saw were, oddly enough, in one of the more residential areas. Out some 40 miles east of town we found our destination, the Paint Mines interpretive park.
Paint Mines looking north
Snow on northeast slope
Hoodoos
Cap stone
Badlands
The Paint Mines are a set of small but colorful badlands carved into gentle prairie slopes. White, pink and yellow clays are eroding out from under a layer of soft white sandstone forming capped pedestals called hoodoos as well as a labyrinth of ridges and gullies of the sort children love to run around on and grownups, especially those without children to worry about, love to explore. Liz didn't do as much scrambling around as I did but when I found something interesting, a slot barely wide enough to squeeze through sideways or a pair of bulbous sandstone caps close enough to straddle the chasm between them, I'd find a way for her to get there too. So we explored until the sun dropped down to the horizon illuminating just the caps of the hoodoos and spreading long shadows across the golden prairie grass. Pikes Peak and the foothills cast shadows up into the sky as the sun set behind them, and the lights of the city came on as we dropped back down off the high prairie into town.
1/19/2014   Red Rocks  
The forecast was calling for 61F and sunshine. Liz and I debated the Pikes Peak hike again and decided that it made sense to spend the day down in the lowlands to enjoy the warm day and do Pikes Peak tomorrow. Because David would be working all day Monday I wouldn't need to get to Denver until evening, giving us time to do the hike.
Front Range - Colorado Springs
Death Valley
After breakfast I re-glazed the two other paintings of mine that Liz has, one a rather nice landscape looking north along the foothills on a cloudy November afternoon, the other a plein-aire landscape of Death Valley with nice color and detail but too little dynamic range - basically the darks are not dark enough. Re-glazing involves cleaning any dirt off with soap and water then using turpentine to remove any existing glazing (I couldn't remember if I'd glazed them before or not) before brushing on the new glaze, which is a solution of Dammar varnish in turpentine. The glaze serves both to prevent external contaminants from binding to the paint and to put a glossy finish on the surface which highlights the colors. The foothills landscape was somewhat spoiled because after I finished it I'd glazed the lower half with painting medium which had yellowed over the years. I wasn't able to remove all of the yellowish cast but cleaned it up enough that it is no longer obtrusive. The new glaze really spiffed it up.
Painting on the deck
Before
After
I put both paintings out on the deck in the sunshine to dry and got inspired by the light and warmth to get out and work some more on the Garden of the Gods painting. I set up my easel on the deck and painted from memory with a little assistance from photos on my laptop until mid-afternoon. I made quite a bit of progress, resolving the two remaining problem areas (the meadow and foreground ledges), but I ran out of sunlight, time and energy before I could finish it. I took a few photos as I went along but unfortunately forgot to get a photo when I finished working. It would have been nice to be able to study the painting over a few weeks to develop a sense of what else it needs. I figure it will take another two half-day sessions to complete it. Liz worked around the yard while I painted but, absorbed in my work, I didn't notice what she did. I both enjoy and dislike that aspect of painting, the intense concentration that it requires.
Quarry in hogback
Ponderosa Pine
Red Rocks trail
Liz fixed another soup, more of a vegetable stew, for our lunch. I think she enjoyed having someone to cook for. With the day waning, we figured we'd better get out and enjoy what was left so drove over to Red Rocks Park for a walk. The park didn't exist when I lived there and the city was fortunate to rescue it from development (the power to prevent the developer from getting water rights helped). The park incorporates several prominent hogback ridges and the valleys between them. The hogbacks are 100' high fins of red sandstone, an extension of the same formation that is exposed in Garden of the Gods. Climbers love the rock; hikers, runners and mountain bikers love the trails that wind through meadows, oak brush and pine groves around the base of the rocks. I enjoyed challenging my fear of heights on the more accessible portions of the hogbacks and poking around on somewhat sketchy ice on the several shallow ponds in the park. I looked for birds too but saw only two or three species, basically just juncos and magpies. Just as well since I'd forgotten my binoculars.
It being my last night in Colorado Springs I took Liz out for dinner. We ate at the Blue Star, a moderately expensive local place with excellent food and somewhat disturbing art on the walls. The exhibit was new, a collection of older works of an artist named Brett Andrus. The paintings were large, up to 5 feet across, and featured harshly-lit and scantily-dressed women with disturbing expressions, difficult to ignore. I've forgotten our conversation but it was a comfortable time together.
1/20/2014   Pike's Peak  
We got a fairly early start. The temperature was 38F at 9:00AM as we drove out of town and 15F an hour later at 12,800' along the toll road on the shoulder of Pike's Peak. Assuming the air had warmed up a few degrees during that hour, that would work out to a change of -3.5F for every 1000 feet' we'd climbed which fairly closely matches the general rule that the temperature drops three degrees per thousand feet of elevation. For the first minute or so after we got out of the car, it didn't feel like 15F. Then it did.
Setting out
Pike's Peak summit at left
Rest stop
We hiked west across snow-crusted alpine meadows for about three miles to a prominent peak called Sentinel Point at the west edge of the massif. Our route dropped some 700' and gained about 300' but the whole way, we were on a broad open ridge in full sun, and fully exposed to a steady NW breeze. On the way out the left side of my face was comfortably warm and the right side biting cold. On the way back the sides were switched, so I got equally sunburned and wind-burned on both sides. We ate lunch on the shoulder of Sentinel Point in the lee of some big boulders. Soft snow had drifted in between the boulders making further ascent difficult and a little dangerous. I tried for the top anyhow while Liz started her descent after lunch and made it to within about 15 feet of the summit before reaching the limit of my comfort zone. It was high enough for views off to the west, to the peaks I used to love when I lived there - the collegiate range (Princeton, Harvard, Yale etc) and their neighbors Antero, Quandary and others. The air was hazier than over the weekend but visibility was still over a hundred miles.
Below our lunch spot
Petroglyph boulder
Returning I caught Liz fairly quickly. At a sausage-shaped boulder with a cross-shaped petroglyph (proving that even primitive Indians had some concept of God's truth, right?) I suggested that I might like to return via the ridge to our right rather than the low route we'd followed on the way out and Liz said she'd be OK on her own across that stretch. I could see her below me most of the way, until I had to cross around behind a peak, kicking steps into steep hard snow and pausing few steps to pant. Several times my heart got to beating so hard it felt as though it were vibrating, almost as if I were purring. I tried to stick my hand inside my coat to feel if that was actually the case but I had too many clothes on, and my hand was too cold, to tell. Nice boulders and snowdrifts up there and rather fun ledge-walking. I'd been falling asleep walking with Liz across the easier terrain, probably an effect of the altitude, but had to wake up a bit for the more challenging ridge route.
Wind-scoured tundra
On top of the ridge
Snowdrift descent
We met up again for the last mile, an easy descent down a long snowdrift along the crest of a ridge followed by a slow slog up a gravel path back to the car. That last bit was considerably enlivened by the piecemeal passage of a flock of Brown-capped Rosy-finches, a Colorado specialty which I hadn't seen since leaving the state in the 80's. There must have been about 50 of them and among them, one Black Rosy-finch, an even cooler bird. Other than the rosy finches we'd seen only 9 birds all day, 8 Ravens and one Golden Eagle. The ravens would surf their way slowly over our heads, using the wind both for lift and drag so as to better scrutinize us I suppose. I doubt they see many people up there in the winter, but they may also associate people, in the form of tourists who've driven up to the summit, with food.
Back at the house Liz fixed me coffee for the drive up to Denver while I packed. I drink coffee when available but never fix it myself, kind of like those kids back in high school who were always ready to mooch a joint but never bought. It turned out I could have done without the coffee. John and Mom called when I was a few miles outside of Colorado Springs and we talked until just before my exit in Denver some 55 miles north.
David and I went shopping for dinner since he'd only just returned from NYC the night before. We bought scallops and spinach. I steamed the latter and he braised the former in white wine and garlic, then we mixed them together and pronounced them delicious.
1/21/2014   Denver  
Enjoying the quiet inside David's living/dining room/kitchen. The sun streams in over the kitchen sink, blessing me earlier this morning as I did the dishes then went on to clean his counters and stove. Like David P and Susan, I have a hard time resisting cleaning up someone else's house, especially the house of a bachelor like David. His Tibetan prayer flags on the back porch flutter in the wind outside the open door, and shadows of bare aspen branches play across the dining room blinds. The forecast is calling for 61F this afternoon. I meant to take advantage of the warm day and go for a run but Kassie the masseuse will be here in a half hour, so have only time to shower beforehand.
Kassie's massage was wonderful. She did my whole body but focused on my legs, varying her pace, pressure and style. It felt like a symphony, a work of art, the ebb and flow of the tide, wind swirling through fallen leaves. I lay half-awake in that state between wakefulness and sleep when thoughts melt together into impressions and spin off startup dreams. I thought of questions and let them go unasked. Afterwards I was a little stiff and sore though that might have had more to do with the hike yesterday. In the evening we ate dinner with his community in the common house and talked about his upcoming hut trip. Back home afterwards we played with Emily's remote-controlled helicopter for a while, talked about women then watched the movie Bridesmaids until midnight. The movie was not that great.
1/22/2014   Denver  
David worked all day and I was out all day. Though not as warm as Tuesday the sun was just as bright. Suzanne (girlfriend of my nephew Silas) and I ran around Sloan's Lake and though I was only in shorts and the temperature was only in the mid-30's, the sun kept me comfortable. We ran much of the time at a pace which made it difficult for either of us to converse but we did anyhow, about training and travel plans mostly since we don't know each other all that well. I pointed out some of the birds - a colorful male Ruddy Duck, a fleet of male Common Mergansers, a collection of clucking Northern Shovelers, a pair of Common Goldeneyes - and we wondered where they and all the geese go when the lake completely freezes over.
We met Silas for lunch at the Kitchen, a rustic-classy place downtown which is one of Daniel's favorite restaurants. Appropriate then that he called, from Spain, as we were finishing a delectable soupy dark chocolate souffle. It was too noisy to talk much so I handed the phone in turn to Suzanne and Silas then arranged for him to call me back in 15 minutes. I took his call in the car while the parking meter ran out of time. It sounds as though he'll probably not do the Goteborg half-marathon in mid-May but it would work out well for me to visit him in Spain either the previous or following weekend.
I was 45 minutes late meeting Dave at his house but that was OK. We hung out and talked mostly geology while I drank a Cappuccino from his new Espresso machine. "Cheaper than Starbucks", I asked. "Cheaper than Peet's", Dave explained. It did the trick. I drove and I didn't fall asleep despite the large lunch with beer. We headed east on I-70 to Watkins, a few miles beyond the edge of the city, got off on the frontage road and backtracked a mile to look for a big Prairie Falcon I'd just seen fly up to a utility pole. We didn't find the Prairie, just a pair of Red-tails and a Kestrel and a big flock of Rock Pigeons and Red-winged Blackbirds. I searched the blackbirds but couldn't find any rare Rusty ones among them. We drove south on Watkins Road to E Quincy Rd with a brief stop at a wash with a few cottonwoods in it out in the middle of mowed corn fields. No small birds there but we did flush two Great-horned Owls, big sandy-colored birds which didn't allow us to get anywhere near them. We didn't find much along E Quincy Rd either though we drove east as far as Kiowa Creek. Conoco-Phillips is prospecting for oil or gas out there at the edge of the Denver basin; otherwise it's still short-grass prairie, variously grazed but apparently not very productive of mice this time of year.
On the way back into town we made a last stop at Aurora Reservoir. The sun was getting low and the wind had a chill to it. We parked the car without paying and walked up onto the dam where we found two birders a ways off to our right scoping a flock of gulls well out on the ice. When we introduced ourselves they asked if we knew gulls and I said "Yes, I know gulls." They were trying to pick a Thayer's out of the Herring Gulls scattered through the flock of mostly Ring-billed Gulls, and were anticipating the arrival of an overdue and considerably more exciting Slaty-backed Gull. They explained that they'd already found two Glaucous Gulls, and there'd been one or two Lesser Black-backed present earlier. That's some exciting gull-watching, I told them, compared to what we have out in Seattle, where we have to sift through hundreds of Glaucous-winged to come up with a handful of just Herring and Thayer's. We get Glaucous-winged too, they said, and Franklin's, Sabine's and Ross's for good measure. I found the Glaucous Gulls right away, big pale brown-patterned birds which I recognized immediately despite never having seen a first-year Glaucous before. What a thrill! As best I could tell though, all the other large gulls with dark wingtips had the pale eyes of Herring Gulls and without seeing the wingtips, I couldn't confirm a Thayer's among them. I searched through the flock several times and eventually found one dark-mantled gull. I immediately thought it might be the Slaty-backed, but then realized the legs were not pink but yellowish, and the back wasn't dark enough. Too dark for a California though, and too bulky, and lacking the black spot on the bill. That makes it a Lesser Black-backed, I realized, a life bird! That was really exciting, but Dave and I were also really cold so we bid the birders good bye and good luck with the Slaty-backed and drove back to Denver. Even with the heat on full it took me an hour to warm up again.
David had a coupon for a new sushi place so we walked over there. The sky had clouded up and a northeasterly breeze was spitting a few snowflakes. The sushi was delicious and I ate too much. Who knew raw fish could taste good? Back at his place we talked about God and psychology, then he suggested we meditate. Zazen is simple, he said, you just sit erect with your legs folded and neither think nor avoid thinking. I had to modify the position because my legs don't really fold anymore, a result not of ALS but of years of running with no stretching. My right leg got twitchy and I erred perhaps on the side of not thinking in the ten or fifteen minutes we sat there. Neither of us got enlightened, but then again, they say that enlightenment is the work of a lifetime.
1/23/2014   Big Year presentation  
The snow hadn't started yet when we went to bed but by morning five inches had fallen, sparkling crystals as light as shredded feathers blanketing streets and cars and the formerly dusty green suburban lawns. The temperature in the morning was only around 10F so I figured the snow would be cold enough to blow off the streets. Not so. It packed down into remarkably slippery ice which made the morning drive to the airport more than a little dicey. I only saw a couple of cars off the road, one with the driver still behind the steering wheel, but my Hyundai Elantra handled with an uncomfortable floating feeling most of the way. Traffic was bad but my phone directed me on an alternate route which avoided most of it and got me to the plane just as they were finishing boarding.
I was sad this morning, sad about returning to Seattle and real life, sad about dying; at times I wonder how can I possibly even face death, let alone accept it; I'm not dealing with it, I'm just avoiding it. Much of the time I can't believe I have ALS; it's just a bad practical joke. I may be weaker than normal but I'm not really declining, not really descending into helplessness, not really dying. With others I can laugh about it, joke about it, keep it at bay but when I'm alone it sneaks back in like a wary but determined predator certain of its prey, and I face it alone and unsure of my defenses, fending off teeth and claws with puny twigs of faith, hope and love. But I have hope too, hope in days of health yet remaining for me and ways of coping that I don't yet know because I don't need them yet, and the ability to rejoice in what I have today rather than fear what I may lose in the future.
From the time I got back to the casita until fifteen minutes after we should have left for the bird club meeting, I worked on my big year presentation, pruning my selection of 360 images, ordering and editing the 288 I couldn't resist including. If I have 40 minutes, that will work out to an average of 8 seconds a slide. Hopefully that will be about right. And it was. I wrapped up just three minutes before our 9PM deadline for releasing our room. I carpooled with Ed and Delia and met Susan and David there; Susan had proposed dinner first but Ed was adamantly opposed to any place expensive and I didn't have time anyhow. I think my photos and tales of a year of birding were well received. As I reviewed the images in preparation, I was amazed at how many days I actually spent in the field; I submitted 239 eBird checklists in the month of May alone including five different trips to eastern Washington in four weeks.
My effort level dropped way off in the second half of the year. We put on the marathon in July then were out of state for 5 weeks until late August, then I found out I had ALS - all compelling distractions from birding. As a result, I submitted 317 checklists before July 1 and only 81 during the rest of the year. I reached 300 species at the end of May, added 25 through the end of August and another 25 in the last four months of the year for a total of 350. Without too much additional effort, perhaps 10 additional days in the field, I could probably have reached 360. I missed half a dozen vagrants by not rushing out to see them (sometimes as far as 200 miles each way) when they were first reported and I missed a few others by not sticking around another day to try again when I did get out. Blair Bernson managed to get 365 for the year, probably a state record, so I didn't do too badly.
1/26/2014     
Skyscraper reflections
Leucistic Junco
Hooded Mergansers
I went birding over to the Peninsula today with Ed and Delia, as far as Sequim. We ended up with about 70 species for the day and a dozen or so year birds for E&D. I picked up a Harris's Sparrow, Eurasian Wigeon, Long-tailed Ducks and a Western Grebe for the year - not bad for a days outing. Next time I'll try to leave earlier and make it as far as Port Angeles where the Thick-billed Murre has showed up again.
We stopped at half a dozen spots - Shine Tidelands, Discovery Bay, Jimmy-come-lately Creek, John Wayne Marina, Three Crabs (plus 770 Three Crabs Road, location of the Harris's Sparrow) and Gardiner Beach - but I forgot to bring the scope so we had to leave uncounted most of the thousands of ducks and gulls visible from Three Crabs. The weather was foggy at first, then just cold and overcast; it seemed as though my hands were never quite warm and several times they got partially paralyzed by the cold. A good day nonetheless.
1/31/2014     
Undisciplined today, tired, off my schedule. I slept in, didn't take my Rilutek until 9:30AM so couldn't eat until noon, so missed breakfast and never did get my Deanna Protocol mixed up (the AAKG powder and days-worth of AKG liquid in a half-pint bottle of water to sip all day long at regular (ideally but rarely) hourly intervals. My arms were weak most of the day and the third finger of my right hand drooped while I type, a somewhat irritating symptom that started about 10 days ago. I have to hold my pinkie high in order to lift its neighbor (O and L, period and open parenthesis) off the keyboard.
I didn't get out for a run (discouraged somewhat by how tired I felt on yesterday's three-mile slog), didn't get my clothes washed, didn't get the Tunnel Marathon website updated, but on the other hand I did arrange with Tony for registration to open on the 2nd and 5th of March at 7PM PST for 200 runners each time. Later in the afternoon Ed and I went to Costco together, and then to Hilltop (Red Apple) Market so after six weeks here I now know how to get to the grocery store. I spent much of the day on the computer, updating journal pages.
Yearbird total is 112 so far which puts me at about #27 on eBird for the state, and somewhat less than 50% of the total reported species count to date.
2/04/2014     
This morning I drove out to Monroe to look for rare sparrows at Crescent Lake WMA. I found lots of Golden-crowneds and Juncos but nothing rare. Meanwhile another birder who watched sparrows briefly with me went over to Snohomish and saw the Gyrfalcon. He reported that he'd seen it when I met him as I was leaving Crescent Lake, so I drove over to look for it but it was gone.
From there I drove to Auburn to walk down to the river with David. We had a nice walk and saw a fair number of birds for a cold January afternoon but no Dipper or Ruffed Grouse. I wanted to talk about something meaningful but couldn't think of anything to say. He's flying down to California tomorrow to visit Katie for the next twelve days.
I met Marc R for dinner at the Rainier Grill. He was shocked to hear about my ALS. He felt bad for having talked about his problems at work when I was facing disability and death but I tried to reassure him that problems are problems and that I wasn't really much more stressed about my situation than he was about his. The first couple of months were tough, I admitted, but since then I've been feeling more at peace about it. Sad from time to time, yes, but not overwhelmed.
2/06/2014     
I spent the afternoon birding with Ken P. We met in Snohomish and drove out the Old Snohomish-Monroe road in search of the Gyrfalcon, reported to perch in a tree at 127th St. No Gyr, but we met a man who told us that yes, it did indeed frequently perch in that tree, sallying forth to nail ducks in the valley below only to lose them to one or another of the numerous juvenile Bald Eagles hanging out in the same area. He even told us the best place to stand to view it - on the manhole cover in front of the big white house on the east side of the road. After missing the Gyr we drove down to Crescent Lake WMA and walked a two mile loop around the three fields studying sparrows along the woods edges. In the last flock we checked, at the south end of the field by the lake, I finally spotted a White-throated Sparrow foraging in one of the corn patches in the field. We had lots of other sparrows, especially Golden-crowns and Dark-eyed Juncos, but couldn't find either of the other reported rarities, the Swamp and Harris's sparrows. I wore my insulated winter pants and hiking boots and was for once almost warm enough even though the temperature was only around 30F. Arms felt weak though, holding binoculars and getting stuff in and out of the car. Driving doesn't present any problems and using binoculars is fine if I can rest my elbows on something so I should be able to get out birding for a while yet. Ken carried the scope, which was nice.
2/10/2014     
Finally got the desktop connected to the internet after about 12 hours of fiddling with it. The MediaLink USB network adapter I borrowed from David didn't come with a CD and it took me hours of searching on the internet to find the right drivers - labeled for the Ralink RT2870 adapter. Once installed (and re-installed), I was able to briefly connect to the internet though at very slow transfer rates. Before I could load even a single page, the connection failed and never came back even though I re-installed both the adapter and the drivers. So today I drove over to Fry's and picked up a TP-Link TL-WDN4200 N900 Wireless Dual Band USB Adapter. I installed it and the accompanying software and it worked! I also got my new Canon Pixma MX922 printer working. That too failed to work on the initial install, so I removed everything with Canon's name on it from my installed programs, connected the computer directly to the printer with a USB cable I picked up at Fry's and reinstalled the printer drivers from the CD. The prints are coming out with a greenish tone, so that's the next challenge.
2/14/2014     
Yesterday I figured out settings which do fairly well at reproducing on the printer (with Costco photo paper) the color and appearance of images in Lightroom on my ASUS ProArt monitor. For the 8 1/2 x 11 paper, in the Lightroom Print module under Color Management, Profile = Managed by Printer, Print Adjustment is checked and Brightness=+15, Contrast=+5. In Printer Properties, under the Quick Setup tab Media Type is "Glossy Photo Paper", Color/Intensity Manual Adjustment is checked, print quality is Standard. Under the Main tab Preview before printing is checked and Color/intensity is Manual. Click on the Set button to bring up the Manual Color Adjustment dialog. Under the Color Adjustment tab Cyan=-5, Magenta=0, Yellow=6, Brightness is "Light", Intensity=10 and Contrast=15. Under the Matching tab, "Driver Matching" is selected. For printing a 4x6 photo, Cyan and Magenta are 0, Yellow is 5 and Contrast is 20, otherwise the settings are the same as for the 8 1/2 x 11 photo.
2/16/2014     
Ran the Presidents Day marathon yesterday, my 185th marathon/ultra race. I arrived late and had to push hard to catch up to Darchelle, who'd started on time at 7AM. I didn't finish my granola until right before I began running, a sub-optimal situation which typically leaves me with insufficient energy during the race. It's better if I finish eating about two hours before the start. True to form (and consistent with my lack of sleep the night before), I was tired throughout the race, and particularly my legs. Nonetheless I managed to catch Darchelle by about mile 8 so we ran the rest of the first half together. She went to church and I stayed to run the second half, alone out to the turnaround then with Monte briefly, then with Tracy M the last 5 miles.
Daniel called from Spain as I was driving home in the rain. I pulled over into a strip mall parking lot off 124th in Kirkland and we talked for two hours. We made tentative plans for me to visit him in Spain in May after the half marathon in Sweden. He told me about the meal of local cheeses and cured meats he fixed the other evening, and about his outings to the local cider houses, about blistering his hands from climbing three days last week. The waves are consistently too large for him to surf this time of year so he's climbing instead, having bought a three-month membership at a local climbing gym to tide him over until conditions are favorable for surfing again.
This evening I joined Tim and Julia and Tim's sister Jan for dinner at the Tamarind Tree provincial Vietnamese restaurant. Jan is out here from North Carolina for a university chaplain conference in Tacoma. Driving over in the storm and rain I determined not to talk too much but ended up telling my story anyhow. Jan asked about God, and how it was that after all those years with Him/Her, now that I really needed God I no longer had that support in my life. I talked about my image of the exclusive and demanding conservative Christian God whose standards I was never able to meet, and my imaginary friend Jesus who reassured me, whenever I encountered Him, that He loved me without reservation and accepted me wholly, and how much easier it had always been for me to believe the former as God and not the latter. She urged me to find Him, suggested that He was looking for me, and was well able to accept me despite the choices I've made, which may not be contrary to His will for me after all.
2/19/2014     
E and D are away this week so I've been cat-sitting, sleeping in their house rather than in the casita. The cat is rather more needy than some, particularly the other night when he wanted to sleep under the covers with me. When I declined, he spent the night sleeping on my pillow with his nose next to my ear. Every few minutes he licked his chops twice, a nervous habit perhaps, and I found his slurping in my ear quite distracting but didn't have the heart to reject him.
This evening I did a painting, a 5x7 of Mt Rainier from the Sarvent Ridge above Panhandle Gap. It's probably my favorite spot on the mountain. Despite its small size the painting took me three or four hours. It's a study for the 12x16 of the same scene that I've already sketched, and I was happy with how it came out.
2/23/2014     
For the first time, I've been having mild fasciculations in my legs - mostly in my left calf and shin this morning, but also perhaps in my right glutes. I take that as an indication that the ALS is beginning the process of destroying the nerves to my legs. If that destruction proceeds as it did in my arms, then I'd guess that by next September I will no longer be able to run, and within a year, I'll have difficulty even walking. But it's possible that those dates are too soon by a factor of two, and that I'll be able to run and hike for another year yet.
My arms are now weak enough that washing my hair and brushing my teeth feel like a workout with weights, leaving me fatigued and even somewhat out of breath. My sensation of weakness varies - sometimes activities like chopping vegetables, lifting a mug of coffee or holding a pen to jot down a phone number, feel strenuous and other times I don't notice any strain at all. The past few days I've felt pretty good and even when running it hasn't been difficult to hold my arms in a comfortable position with elbows bent more or less at right angles, though for several days before that I could barely flex my arms at all while running. The weakness gets me down sometimes, reminding me that my days of freedom and independence are coming to an end. The prospect of disability and dependence remains deeply disturbing and I've been again feeling at times that I should go away and die on my own while I still can. But most of the time, whether through denial or acceptance, I'm able to not think much about the future and enjoy, or at least live in, the present.
2/25/2014     
At the dentist this morning I had a new hygienist, a young woman named Sarah. When she asked the routine question about changes in my health, I told her I had ALS. Sarah handled my news graciously, responding with kindness and sympathy but not making a big deal of it. She was familiar with the disease; the mother of a childhood friend had died of it a few years ago after surviving eight years after her diagnosis.
With clean teeth I drove over to Green Lake. I warmed up with a slow jog around the lake in the sunshine, then I ran a fast lap around the inner path, about 8:10/mile for 2.8 miles. Well under my BQ pace but also well under the marathon distance. I faded fast at the end but by then it had been five hours since breakfast. Driving over to the church I met John who'd brought in some eggs for me. He was just sitting down to hamburger rolls with peanut butter and apple sauce for lunch and shared them with me. He told me about a geology field trip he was doing in May and how that would be his dream job, to lead field trips for amateur geologists. We had a good conversation - we laughed a lot, touched on some tough things for each of us, enjoyed each other's company.
Returning to the casita I thought I might fix some vegetables and an omelette for lunch but wasn't that hungry so I just cooked up a little kale for later instead, then took an hour long nap with the cat, who was happy for the company and his warm dark place under the covers. Groggy afterwards, I couldn't summon up the energy to paint so I read email for a while then called Mom and John in Florida and Sarah in New Hampshire. After an hour or so on the phone I joined Ed and Delia for supper, this time steaming up some Brussels Sprouts and fixing an omelet with green chilis and Manchego cheese. They pronounced the omelet delicous but I was a bit disappointed; it needed something else, mushrooms perhaps, or sour cream, to balance the green chilis. Delia's rainbow chard braised in olive oil and tamari was very good too, and Ed butchered a grapefruit for desert. We talked about his business at the market, and why he doesn't sell originals - they're a high-priced product incompatible with his low-priced retail orientation at the market and the gallery in Edmonds through which he used to sell an original now and then closed up shop last year.
On balance it was a good day - some fatigue at times, some sadness at times, but also some happy conversations with friends. No painting though - no progress on my legacy.
2/26/2014   Skiing at Steven's Pass  
I wasn't sure if I could handle skiing/snowboarding but the weather was good and I'd declined Jeff's invitation twice already so I decided to give it a try. My arms felt particularly weak and shaky as I was getting breakfast and fixing a sandwich this morning. Putting on ski boots at the rental center was also very difficult until I mentioned my problem to the guy at the counter and he showed me how to open the boots up first. I went with the basic ski package figuring I wouldn't notice the difference between regular shaped skis and the fancy powder boards, having only ever skied on long straight 70's era downhill skis. They do turn more easily than the skis I remembered, even in powder though having grown up on boilerplate I still haven't figured out how to ski in soft snow. Maybe next time.
It was fun to listen to Jeff and Graham's companionable banter. Graham told stories of climbing in Alaska and prospecting for gold in Eritrea, where he used a gravity meter to detect the extremely faint variations in surface gravity caused by the higher density of ore deposits as compared with the host rock. Graham and I skied while Jeff rode (symptomatic of the failure of the snowboard industry to interest the next generation). Jeff generally declined to do the chopped up powder of the steeper terrain. I followed Graham down double black diamond Corona Bowl and a couple of other steep pitches and did OK though had to stop to catch my breath from time to time. I think maybe I was focusing so intently on making my turns that I was forgetting to breathe. At the end of the day, all four hours of it, it was my legs and not my arms that felt worn out. So much fun, so much beauty of snow-covered trees and gleaming mountains, blue sky and sunshine.
3/1/2014     
Horned and Eared Grebes
Horned and Eared Grebes
Greater White-fronted Geese
Went birding today, with E and D and David, temperature in the low 40's with rain developing. We drove down to Gene Coulon Park to look for the reported Palm Warbler. I had so little faith that we would find it that when I saw a small brownish bird foraging in beauty bark under a pine tree, I dismissed it as a Chipping Sparrow, which doesn't even occur here in the winter. By the time I realized it might be the Palm Warbler it was too late to get a photo, or even get binoculars on it. E identified it.
Before the Palm Warbler, we'd met David at Gene Coulon Park where, casually scanning the usual Horned Grebes and Buffleheads offshore, we suddenly spotted what looked like an Eared Grebe. I've been trying to turn Horned Grebes into Eared Grebes on Lake Washington for thirty years, and until today I've never been successful. But this one really was an Eared Grebe, and side-by-side, there's no mistaking them. The Eared is smaller and darker with much less white on the face and neck, and a distinct peak at the front of the crown. Four Greater White-fronted Geese were roosting on the lawn, not new for me but a year bird for E and D.
3/7/2014   Ant war  
Bedroom
Office/kitchen/living room
Unwelcome house guests
Three days ago I declared war on the Odorous (odious) House Ants by putting out Terro ant traps and little paper squares with dollops of Terro Ant Killer on them. The ants responded by emerging in force to join the feast. Today the floor is littered with dead and dying ants. Reinforcements paratroop in from the ceiling, dropping softly onto my desk. They sniff along invisible trails like tiny puppy dogs or rear up on their hind legs, antennas stretched out towards heaven like Pentecostals supplicating the Lord. With a little wad of paper towel (so as not to get their formaldehyde stink on His fingers) the Lord nails them. It's like a perpetual game of Whack-a-Mole - spot an ant and whack it, before it can take cover under my desk debris. Though they outnumber me I will not concede defeat. When I did my core exercises today I shared my pad with seventeen of them. On my computer monitor two march across Word documents and advance on Excel, where I gently whack them. When I get ready to crawl into bed, I sweep three off my pillow and another dozen out of the sheets and hope they go away when I turn out the light.
A dream last night:
Daniel and I were returning to our rock-hunting spot after a trip into town. I was driving. Daniel pointed out a mountain that he'd hiked up; at first I wasn't sure which one of the several ridges above us he meant but as we drove closer it became clear, the one with lots of steep ledges higher up. We passed the trailhead but didn't stop and there wasn't any place to park anyhow.
We turned off to the left onto a gravel road and not far up we noticed a car, maybe a VW beetle, in a pullout on the left in a clearcut area. We stopped because the car appeared to be snowed in. Beyond the car we saw a blue tent, the old A-frame style with a center pole at each end, but the walls had collapsed and torn from the weight of the snow. We looked past the doorway and saw the bodies of two men lying exposed and mostly naked in the tent. Old snow was banked up on one side but melted away on the other as if the bodies had been there a long time. One man was tall, the other shorter and stockier. The bodies were greenish-colored on the side toward the snow, particularly the taller one on the left. On the side where the snow had melted away the skin tones seemed more normal, though perhaps a little oversaturated with red and purple on the stockier man. We assumed the two men were dead and Daniel said we needed to go back and report them but I didn't want to take the time to do that. Then I thought that they might be alive so I touched the stockier one, who was on my side of the tent, and he stirred a little. I was afraid that if we woke them they might be angry and hurt us but I think Daniel felt we should wake them up to see if they were OK. I think the stocky man did get up because I remember him sitting up, naked, groggy and silent, in the snow by the tent.
Daniel and I continued up the road. I noticed we only had a tenth of a tank of gas left. I pointed that out to Daniel and thought maybe we wouldn't have enough but we decided we would be able to make it to our rock-hunting spot and still get back to town for gas. Then I realized I had forgotten Susan and David (or perhaps another couple of people somehow related to Susan) in town and needed to go back to get them. Though I didn't want to go back I felt that it was my responsibility to do so. I offered to drop Daniel off at the trailhead so he could go hiking while I went and got them but he chose to go with me instead.
Waking up from the dream, I didn't want to go back to sleep without figuring out what the two men represented because I thought that in the morning, removed from the dream, I wouldn't be able to understand it. After a while, I decided that they probably represented my past somehow. The tent resembled my first backpacking tent; the VW beetle reminded me of the '66 bug I owned for years; the stockier man suggested a painting of a naked, foreshortened corpse we studied in Art History class in college. Other meanings - Daniel and I plan to live together in Seattle after he returns from Spain. David is with Susan at home. I've been figuring that due to ALS, I've only a tenth of my previously anticipated life span ahead of me.
3/13/2014   Snohomish Gyr  
Cottonwoods with Gyr
Gyrfalcon digiscoped
Morning rainbow
At the start of our weeklong Eastern Washington birding trip, David and I drove to Snohomish to try one more time to see the Gyrfalcon. We succeeded! Although it was very high up in a very large Cottonwood, I was able to get a photo through the scope with David's help. David was also the one who spotted the bird in the first place, though I knew where to look from previous reports.
Flush with our success, we celebrated at a Mexican restaurant ($30) in Sultan and stayed at the Stevens Pass motel for $80. In the morning I did a 10 mile run up to Wallace Falls thinking I might find my first Dipper of the year but did not.
3/14/2014   Waterville Plateau  
Gaining the Plateau on Badger Road
Waterville Plateau
Injured Rough-legged Hawk
The dippers were all in Tumwater Canyon; we counted five there in 5 miles. Continuing east past Wenatchee we drove up onto the Waterville Plateau on Badger Mountain Road, then east on US 2 from Waterville to Road C NW. We checked out a windbreak of scraggly Douglas firs near an abandoned red barn just north of Route 2 for owls. No owls but we did find a Rough-legged Hawk with a broken wing in the dried weeds along the road. I searched my phone for wildlife rescue places and called one or two but no one answered. We photographed the hawk. Perhaps others might have tried harder but we could not see a way to save it.
Late in the afternoon we stopped by the Lamoine Windbreak and found one Long-eared Owl at that reliable spot for them. We dropped down to Brewster for the night, ate supper ($33) at the only open Mexican restaurant we could find and stayed at the Apple Avenue Motel for $94.
3/15/2014   Ferry Canyon and Cameron Lakes  
In the morning we drove up Central Ferry Canyon Road and birded along the riparian area then continued up to Packwood Memorial Cemetery near the rim of the plateau and hiked around there for a while. On the way back down to town we found a lingering Bohemian Waxwing feeding on rotten crab apples and got a few great photos. I was recalling the Black-backed woodpeckers there a year earlier but we didn't see any this time.
View from the rim, Packwood Cemetery
Bohemian Waxwing
Basalt boulder, Cameron Lakes Road
Snow Bunting
Snow Bunting
Killdeer
In the afternoon we drove the Cameron Lake Road from Brewster to Omak. About a half-mile north of Timentwa Road we stopped by a brushy draw and hiked up to a prominent boulder east of the road. In sparse rocky grassland nearby we found a solitary Snow Bunting which allowed close approach for photos.
We stayed in Omak at the Motel Nicholas for $60 and ate dinner ($44) at the Breadline Café, my favorite restaurant in the region.
3/16/2014   Conconully and Havillah  
In the morning we drove up Riverside Cutoff Road towards Conconully in search of grouse. We found two out of the three species we were looking for - Chukars along Riverside Cutoff Road and Gray Partridge along Happy Hill Road. The Chukar was calling from the top of a cliff about a quarter mile west of Johnson Creek Road, standing in bright sunshine against a deep blue sky but too far away for a photo. We did not find the Sharp-tailed Grouse I had hoped for in the valley below Conconully nor did we find any winter finches in town. The snow was gone but the reservoir was still mostly frozen. We ate breakfast in a sunny spot along the road above the reservoir at the west edge of town. At the top of Happy Hill Road we flushed four Huns and down over the hill in a thicket we found a group of American Tree Sparrows, year bird #159 and #160.
Eating granola in Conconully
American Tree Sparrow
David at Tonasket natural food store
Havillah Sno-park
Williamson's Sapsucker at Havillah Sno-park
Northern Shrike, Havillah Road
We returned to Omak and drove north to Tonasket and stopped for a late lunch at the natural food store, where I was surprised to find one of Ed's flyers promoting shade grown coffee as beneficial to birds. After lunch we drove up to the Havillah Sno-park. The fields were bare but the trails were still covered with hardpacked snow, easy walking but not many birds. We wandered around quite a while in hopes of maybe coming across a Great Gray Owl or something. Didn't happen.
3/17/2014   Havillah to Chesaw  
We returned to Havillah in the morning early enough to catch the full moon setting in the west. Despite our early start we still did not find a Great Gray Owl. We wandered through the woods around the Sno-park in hopes of stumbling across a Boreal Chickadee or Three-toed Woodpecker, or maybe even a Spruce Grouse. No such luck, though we did find lots of Williamson's Sapsuckers and some friendly Mountain Chickadees. The sapsuckers do not winter here but are apparently very early migrants.
Full moon
Mountain Chickadee
Old house, I forget which road
We drove several of the roads above Havillah but didn't find anything unusual. Walking along Mary Ann Creek Road we found a very well preserved paper wasp nest in the grass and I collected it for a souvenir. While I was carrying it, a border patrol guy in a white government truck pulled up to us. I wondered if he was going to confiscate my hornet nest but he was friendly and just wondered why we were walking along a remote back road so close to the Canadian border. Fortunately both David and I are impeccably white-skinned; that, and our binoculars and camera, apparently supported my assertion that we were merely birdwatching so he moved on. I should have asked him if he'd seen any Great Gray Owls recently.
Red-tailed Hawk, Havillah Road
Barrows Goldeneye, Mary Ann Creek Road
Rough-legged Hawk, Hungry Hollow Road
From Chesaw we followed back roads down to Wauconda and over Sherman Pass to Republic. It was a warm sunny afternoon. We checked into the Klondike Motel ($64) early and relaxed in our room with the door open and the sun streaming in. I hung my hornets nest outside in the sun in hopes that the warmth would wake up any remaining residents before I moved the nest inside. None emerged. I started a painting of the spot along Happy Hill Road near Conconully where we had flushed the Gray Partridges, working from photos on my camera. Photos are great but there's nothing like the satisfaction of creating a painting to recall a place. Before I had done much more than just the sky, it was time for dinner so we walked down to the Freckle Face Gourmet ($42). I don't remember how it was.
3/18/2014   Sherman Peak  
We hiked up Sherman Peak today. Although the snow was still pretty deep and the soft where it hadn't been packed or windblown, people had snowshoed or skied most of the trail so we didn't sink through much. I had hoped that more of the trail would be in old forest but most of the mountain burned back in 1988 and the new growth, mostly lodgepole pine, has been slow to get going. All of the chickadees turned out to be Mountain Chickadees and not Boreal but we did come across a Three-toed Woodpecker right near the trailhead. That and a Dusky Grouse were new for the year for me.
On the trail
Me on the summit
Sanpoil River near Republic
We drove back to Omak so we could stay at Motel Nicholas ($60) again and eat at the Breadline Café ($40) again. That's a winning combination. It also put us in good position to get an early start up onto the plateau to look for Sage Brouse around Leahy Junction.
3/19/2014   Leahy to Dry Falls  
Sage Grouse country
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Long-eared Owl
We missed the Sage Grouse at the lek along Leahy Road. Maybe the lek has moved this year. We did catch a glimpse of one grouse as it disappeared into the sagebrush a mile or so from where the lek was. Driving over to the Lemoine windbreak we walked the line of trees but found no owls. Out of curiosity we walked past the gravel piles north of the road a half mile to the east and explored the patch of Locust trees just to the northwest. We flushed two owls which flew to the far end of the trees. I crawled into the patch while David walked around the far end and sure enough the owls flew back to where I was. One of them perched about 5 feet off the ground about 20 feet from where I was lying in the dirt. Creeping into position while it watched me, I propped up the lens on a fallen branch and got a bunch of photos. The owl kept an eye on me, its ears blowing in the wind, but never flushed even when I backed off and crawled away.
We spent the night at the Interstate Inn in Moses Lake ($54) and ate dinner at Michael's on the Lake ($46). I had sturgeon, the first time I ever tasted it. I I found it a bit like Bluefish, fairly rich for a white fish, soft and sweet.
3/20/2014   Othello to Yakima  
David birding along Crab Creek
Lower Crab Creek
Black Rock Valley
We spent some time in Othello in the morning scouting around for Burrowing Owls but didn't find any. We did spot my first Long-billed Curlews of the year in fields north of town and my first Loggerhead Shrike along Crab Creek Road west of town. From Beverly we drove south to the Black Rock Valley where other birders find Ferrginous Hawks but I don't. Heading south from Moxee over Konnowac Pass we counted 17 Red-tails in less than a mile, the densest concentration I've ever seen.
We stayed at the Economy Inn Motel ($56) in Yakima and ate at El Rinconsito ($20), a fast food Mexican place. It was good, not great, but it was cheap.
3/21/2014   Yakima to home  
I must've been tired or uninspired because I didn't take any photos on this the last day of our Eastern Washington trip. We hiked around Yakima Sportman State Park for an hour or so in the morning and drove back out Highway 24 through the Black Rock Valley but still didn't find a Ferrginous Hawk. We took another little hike at Selah Cliffs, drove north through the canyon and scored a final year bird, an early Osprey, south of Ellensburg. That gave us 115 species in nine days including all five possible falcons. Nine days of exploring with David, lots of great scenery, a half dozen good bird shots, a nice winter hike and a start on a painting. It was a good trip.
3/30/2014   Walla Walla trip  
I ran the Badger Mountain 50K yesterday, an ultramarathon over three desolate hills just east of the Tri-Cities. The course was beautiful but very tough with 6000' of up and down and several miles with softball-sized rocks underfoot. I did the early start at 6AM and the first hour was so cold and windy that I almost dropped out. I was glad I didn't. I ran a 14 minute negative split on the out and back course and counted 25 species of birds including lots of Redtails and a big flock of American Pipits. No Ferrginous Hawks though I was looking.
Three Hills, Badger Mt on the horizon
Selfie at Badger Mountain turnaround
Hills near Wallula
Sage Thrasher
Mountain Bluebird
Long-billed Curlew near Wallula
I drove over to Walla Walla in the afternoon with a few birding stops including at Nine Mile Canyon Road just west of the Touchet hill where someone told me about a Ferruginous Hawk sitting on a nest platform. I was not disappointed; the bird was still there.
Driving through the Yakima River Canyon on the way home today I hit a rock. I should've seen it coming and avoided it but I was looking for birds. My tire immediately started going flat; I had to stop twice to pump it up on the way into Ellensburg. I bought some green slime at the car parts store but that didn't stop the leak so I had to change the tire. With my weakened arms that was quite difficult but I succeeded in getting it done. Doughnut tire or not, I didn't want to miss stopping at Durr Road outside of Ellensburg to try for sagebrush sparrows but I parked the first pull off so as not to spend much time on the gravel road. I didn't find the sparrows but I did get decent photos of a Sage Thrasher and Mountain Bluebird.

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