Brian's Journal - Spring 2015

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

A perplexing dream last night:
A young man came to the door of my house and I let him in. He was of slight build, about my height, with a rather long brown hair; in fact he reminded me a lot of a fellow student who wanted to be my friend when I was at Exeter, and tried to get me to play bass in his rock band. He wanted to be cool but wasn't.
This young man had a gun. He told me he was a terrorist but he didn't seem to know what to do. Suddenly, as if remembering what he came for, he said he wanted cash. My mother had some cash with her checkbook in a desk upstairs so I directed him to that. I also had several hundred dollars stashed away but I didn't want him to take my money and I hoped he wouldn't find it. The young man looked through Mom's checkbook but I don't know if he took anything. He seemed tentative and unsure of himself so I invited him to come downstairs. I thought that might distract him from looking for my money.
There were people downstairs, but I don't recall knowing who they were; some were old, about my age, and others were young - high school or college age. Daniel was there too. He urged me to call 911 and get a SWAT team to come arrest the young man, so I did. I was glad that Daniel knew what to do. The older people in the room also helped me, talking with the young man to distract him. Pleased by their attention, he sat crosslegged in front of them with his back to the front door.
Through the window by the door, I saw the SWAT team arrive. One of them, a stout man with red hair, peered in the door and I nodded to him to indicate that the young man was the one they should arrest. He closed the door then two other stout SWAT team men burst in. Each grabbed one of the young man's shoulders and together they lifted him up and carried them out the door. He didn't resist, but remained immobile in his crosslegged position, as if he were a statue.
The young man clearly reminded me of myself when I was in high school, or perhaps after college, both in his appearance and in that he was unsure of himself. He didn't know what to do and sought others' approval. I used to sit cross-legged like that when I was in high school, but sitting cross-legged also reminds me of Zen meditation, or perhaps a prayer meeting. Perhaps he represents the me who was seduced by religion, or the religion that seduced me.
The young man was a threat to me. I wasn't very scared but I also didn't want to offend or anger him, and I didn't know how to get him to leave. In effect he paralyzed me so I couldn't take action on my own behalf. It took Daniel's suggestion that I call the police to empower me and I was grateful to him for that. That fits with the religion theme too - Daniel has led the way in my coming out of my conservative Christian belief when I was afraid to do so. Once I took control though, the young man, like a statue, was powerless to resist.
4/04/2015   Stuff  
I'd planned to paint today but couldn't muster the courage to start so decided to unpack a couple boxes instead. Susan packed most of the stuff from the office and around my desk into moving boxes. Most of it falls into the classification of "odds and ends", mugs stuffed with pencils and pens, plastic trays full of spare change, safety pins, samples of floss from the dentist, old business cards, a few small shells and rocks, a spare medal from the Tunnel Marathon, a half-used shampoo sample from the Harvard Club, bottles of unused glucosamine tablets, handwritten notes about enhancements to my now obsolete bird sighting software application and other detritus from my former life. It feels like it's my responsibility to first organize and then dispose of this stuff before I die. This stuff, and the books, and the rocks, and the clothing, the shell collection, the odds and ends of camping and cycling and swimming and fishing gear, all the flotsam and jetsam bobbing in the wake of my accumulative life. So I sorted through four boxes and consolidated them into two, which is still two too many. Later I'll have to finish the task, but not too much later because it's got to be done before my arms and hands die entirely and they were in bad shape today already. I'm ticking off the prerequisites for my death. I have to stick around until I dispose of my stuff, and complete the Peregrine falcon painting, and update my will, and perhaps say goodbye to friends and family too.
The rocks were the hardest. Why did I take them in the first place? When I took them out of their context they lost their meaning. Their beauty was bound up in their original settings; out of place they are just rocks. I never even displayed them; they've been in boxes since the day I picked them up. A futile passion, my collecting. The rocks are already dead; the rest of my collections will die too, along with my arms and legs and the rest of me. Seems somehow to encapsulate the futility of all this life, relationships and things and knowledge and passions - all will be lost.
That calls to mind a dream I had a few days ago about rocks becoming worthless, and death.
The boys and I had backpacked into the mountains and found a camping area by a lake or stream. David was playing the stream making channels and I was concerned that the stream would flood our campsite on the beach. The tent site was already not very good; it was a square pit dug into the sand about a foot and floored with rough Cedar roots.
In a small pile of rocks on the opposite side of a plunge pool from a waterfall in the stream by our camp, I found an agate. Then David and I noticed other agates and David found a big one considered consisting of agatized clam or oyster shells cemented together. Then I found one a foot across in the form of a turtle but when I looked at it more closely I realized it was a cheap ceramic turtle made in China. I wondered if David's agate was also counterfeit.
Some tourists had driven up so I showed them an unusual rock I had found. It had two small quartz crystals on it, one red and one green. As I was explaining to the tourists how rare red and green quartz crystals were, they broke off and crumbled in my fingers.
Returning to the tent site, I found that the pit had completely filled with water as I had feared it would. David said that's okay because there are two daybeds over there and two more in that building. I looked where he was pointing and on a low bluff over the water I saw two brown leather chaise-lounges. The building was L-shaped, old and weathered, of board and batten construction perhaps. A ramp led up the inside of the stem of the "L" to where the additional chaise-lounges were stored. As I walked up the ramp I looked in the windows on my right and saw a rock party in progress. Guys were sitting around listening to rock music. They were oblivious to me and I couldn't hear the music at all.
I looked into the room where the chaise-lounges were supposed to be. It was old and dusty, filled with cobwebs. Spiderlike creatures were sprawled flat on the floor. They had very thin legs with a hooked talon at the end of each one. They looked dangerous and I was a little afraid but then I realized that they had no muscles so they could not move.
The room with the spiders is a place of death. The spiders were alive but had no muscles, a reference to ALS. I think the "rock" party is a pun, but may represent my past; it is inaccessible to me now, and the young men then could not see into the future, my present, either. The extra chaise-lounges were to be for me and someone else. The tent site might represent the home in Auburn but my association with the cedar boughs is with Pat, with whom I used to go agate-hunting. I don't remember feelings in the dream, other than the fear.
5/28-30/2015   Morel Hunting  
David and Daniel at Thunder Bay overlook
Daniel and David had never been over the North Cascades highway and they both like mushroom hunting and there are lots of morels right now in the burns around Winthrop so it was not difficult to persuade them to join me on a trip to hunt morels in the Methow Valley, a decision made even easier by their being unemployed and by my offering to pay all expenses. For my part, I would get to enjoy their company and their assistance from time to time with such things as applying bug dope (my hands and arms being too weak to use the spray bottle effectively.
Our first stop was Wiley Slough near Conway where the previously reported least flycatcher was singing vigorously. I only caught a glimpse of it but hearing it was sufficient to count it as year bird number 282. Our second stop was the scenic overlook above Thunder Bay. The boys were impressed. After a stop in Washington pass to photograph the snow slides coming off Liberty Bell, we turned left in Winthrop and drove up the Chewuch River valley to the Falls Creek road, one of the burned areas set aside by the forest service for personal mushroom picking only. Rumor has it that commercial pickers get up to $25/pound for the mushrooms and things get a little crazy with that kind of money sitting around in the woods. We were pleased to see a forest service truck coming down the road; apparently they do patrol the personal picking areas. We continued almost the end of the road, parking by an unburned area because I figured fewer people would've hunted there. Morels fruit most vigorously in patchy burned areas the first spring following the fire.
Morel hunting spot
Patchy burn - good for morels
Hot burn - not as good for morels
Wondering what morels look like? Here are a few pictures.
We started picking around seven and figured we had about an hour and half before he had had back into town in order to get to the Old Schoolhouse Brewery before it stopped serving food. We did pretty well; I filled one and a half large-size lunch bags, probably 3 pounds. We knew we were cutting it close when we all get back in the car so Daniel drove the Falls Creek Road as if he were piloting a luge in the Olympics. We ordered dinner with three minutes to spare. Delicious burger and nice flight of beers. I would definitely go back, and so we did the next night. We checked into the Winthrop Inn around 10 PM just as the front desk attendant was pulling out. He parked his truck again and checked us in. He was pleased to hear that we were Morel hunting and seemed even more pleased when he realized we knew what we were doing. It was he who told us about guys with guns defending their commercial picking places.
In the morning I went for a bird run up towards Patterson Lake while the boys slept in. It was hot. I soaked my head in a sprinkler on the way up and took a dip in the lake. I hid behind some bushes to put my clothes on and thought I might have to ask one of the boys to help me pull up my underwear but I managed. All they had to do was snap my pants.
Waiting out a rain shower
A local
Did someone say lunch?
We picked for four hours in the afternoon, mostly around and beyond the end of Falls Creek Road. The fire was really hot in much of that area, burning everything on both sides of the stream, but I found a shallow gully on the far side of the stream with lots of mushrooms. I picked my way up to a ledgy ridge then ran out of time. I counted 72 more morels in the quarter mile back to the car but only picked a couple of the biggest ones.
Open ponderosa pine woods
Catclaw Mariposa
Red-naped Sapsucker at the ranch
We stayed at a cabin at the Chewack River Ranch, comfortable and quiet except for the stream rushing by outside. With about 14 large lunch bags full of morels between us, we decided we didn't need to do anymore picking in the morning. While the boys slept in I went for a run up Boulder Creek Rd, which turns out to be the road to Freezeout Pass and Tiffany Mountain where Susan and I went to find the Northern Hawk Owl two years ago. Once again I thought it might find a White-breasted Nuthatch in the pines but did not.
At Washington pass on the way home, we parked at the entrance to the scenic overlook road (not yet open for the summer) and hiked up to the high point on the ridge north of the highway, across from Liberty Bell. Great views. We came across a few patches of snow higher up but nothing we couldn't handl in running shoes. As we approached the summit we met a party of six climbers descending. They had packs and helmets and ropes and ice axes. Perhaps it was my imagination but I thought they looked at the three of us a little skeptically, particularly when Daniel asked them where the trail down was. They didn't catch his humor. They had scrambled up to the real summit and had used their ropes to rappel back down the top 40 feet.
We settled for the almost summit - same great views, no ropes required. It actually was a tougher hike than I anticipated - quite steep with a lot of loose rock. On the way down I took a chance on finding a route through the ledges above the scenic overlook and it saved us fifteen minutes of bushwhacking at the end.
6/16/2015   Crested Caracara and Mount McCausland  
Crested Caracara
A Crested Caracara recently showed up in Skykomish, an old logging town along US Hwy 2 in the foothills of the Cascades. It seems an unlikely hangout for a bird that I last saw in the oak savannas of west-central Texas feeding on a deer carcass with a flock of Black Vultures, but the consensus of the birding experts seems to be that it probably is indeed a wild bird. I'd been planning a hike down by Mount Rainier, but having not seen a Crested Caracara in the state of Washington I decided to hike up at Stevens Pass instead and try for the bird on the way.
A couple of bird photographers with very large lenses pointed the bird out to me when I arrived. It was resting in a large maple tree, or maybe a cottonwood. Other birders showed me the mowed trail behind the local homeowners yard from which I could get a clear view of the bird. When the bird flew, riding the wind on long floppy wings with big white primary patches, there was no doubt that this was not one of the local raptor species. It sailed off towards town so I followed in the car, parking in the shade of the big Douglas fir as the bird flew over town, circled a couple of times then sailed over and landed right overhead. It would've been a good shot had I been able to get the camera in position quickly enough, but at this point only the most patient of birds earn the right to be my photographic subjects.
I'd heard of Lake Walhalla, about 6 miles north of Stevens Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail, but I'd never been there. Decades ago I'd hiked up the ridge on the north side of the pass looking for huckleberries, hadn't found any and had never been back. The hike was nicer than I expected. The trail gets into old-growth Hemlock and Silver Fir after mile or so with occasional talus slopes and meadows. It doesn't gain much elevation and would've been easy running but I mostly walked.
Lake Valhalla from Mt McCausland
Penstemon on Mt McCausland
The trail home
When the lake came into view a gentle open summit (Mount McCausland) just beyond it beckoned so I continued until I found a way trail up the hill. On top I found nice views to the south over the lake and beyond Stevens Pass to Hinman and Daniel but I wanted a view to the north to see if I could pick out Meander Meadows and Clark Mountain. The track continued along the ridge to a ledge, and less obviously across a dip to a north-facing crag. While I stood on top composing shots of distant peaks, I heard a sudden whoosh as a Black Swift sliced past me and arced around to the west, visible for less than a second. That doesn't happen very often!
6/18/2015   Mountain Quail  
Capitol Forest
Hermit Warbler
Mountain quail weren't the original objective today. Hermit warblers were. Mountain quail haven't even been reported in eBird for the past month whereas Hermit warblers are reported daily but will be much harder to see once they stop singing in a couple of weeks. I planned to leave early, search for Hermit warblers up on top of Capitol Peak down by Olympia then drive 2 1/2 hours over to Paradise to look for Ptarmigan and Rosy Finches. The problem is, my plans to leave early are rarely realized. Even finding the Hermit warblers just a half-mile up the Capitol Peak Road instead of 12 miles up on the top of the mountain didn't make up for my late start.
I stopped in three places along the Capitol Peak and Capitol Forest roads and found a Hermit warbler at each stop. The warblers seem to like mature second growth Douglas fir forest but I think they range up into Silver Fir as well. At my third stop the bird came out of young second growth bordering a clearcut but I think it may have come from older forest a quarter mile away. Each bird had a unique song but all three came readily to a recording of a Hermit warbler from California. I find the variation in Hermit songs interesting given that the songs of the closely related Townsend's warbler seem to be pretty uniform. I tried for photos at all three stops but tricky light and clumsy hands let me be successful only on my first try.
Mountain Quail habitat
Mountain Quail
Turkey Vulture
It would've been almost sunset by the time I reached Paradise so I decided to try for Mountain Quail at the Port Orchard airport instead, just 51 minutes away according to my phone. I think I recall seeing one report of them from there this spring. That's also the only place I know to look for them; it's where David and Ed and I found them two years ago.
The path into the clear-cut and the clear-cut itself have grown up considerably in two years. The chest-high Scotch Broom bordering the quarry is now 8 feet tall, a miniature forest with half-inch trunks 18 inches apart bristling with dry twigs and alive with little spiders. Certainly the local sparrows do not lack for protein. As I threaded my way through the Scotch Broom I flushed robins and Mourning Doves and caught a quick glimpse of a bird I could reasonably estimate to be quail-sized as it scurried off. Over the next two hours I accumulated a pretty good list as I strolled along the gravel rampart of the quarry playing quail calls, but I found no evidence of Mountain Quail.
At the last spot I planned to check, the place where Ed and I first heard the Quail two years ago, I suddenly flushed one as I walked down the track. It flew across in front of me into dense Scotch Broom but remained quite close to the edge making worried scolding calls. I got the camera into position on the monopod and stayed put until suddenly after five minutes or so the quail darted out into the open, spotted me and ran away. I got a shot just before it took off. Hearing more of the odd scolding calls from the other side of the track, towards the quarry, I waited for another 10 minutes or so then realized that there were probably baby birds very close to me, so I walked back up the track and waited about 100 feet away. While I watched, an adult female emerged from the bushes and ran across the road and resumed the scolding calls. I kept waiting. Unfortunately I didn't set up the camera this time so when the quail emerged onto the track again and stood looking around I wasn't able to get the camera up without scaring her away.
I can't complain though. Just to see the quail was an unexpected treat, and to get a photo as well really made the trip.

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