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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.