Brian's Journal - Fall 2016

Brianpen Home  |  Journal Index  |  Previous  |  Next   (1278)   End of page  

10/30/2016   Tri-Cities Marathon  
I've run the Tri-Cities Marathon twice, in '06 and '07. Both times I finished while the clock was still under 3:30 but the first time that was because I started two hours early. The second time I thought I might win an age-group award but was disappointed. I was more disappointed today.
It had been my idea to run the marathon and I talked Richard into doing it with me. When race weekend rolled around though, I was feeling tired and discouraged about my running and I didn't want to do the race. I skipped coffee and didn't eat much beforehand, nor did I use the bathroom. I hoped I might get through the race without pooping but by mile 4 I really needed to go. Fortunately Darchelle was at the aid station and she helped me. The plan was for her to meet me at the next aid station at mile 7. I didn't expect to need help but it would be nice to have her there just in case. Unfortunately by the time I got there I desperately needed to urinate and neither Darchelle nor the car were anywhere in sight so I hit the Porta-potty on my own. My hands were really cold and it took several minutes to get my fingers even partially hooked under the lining of my shorts. I got my penis free and began to pee but my fingers gave out and I ended up soaking the front of my shorts. Urine ran down my leg and into my left shoe. I was pissed.
I kept going but by the time I reached the halfway point I was almost an hour behind the second-to-last runner so I told the sweeper on the bicycle that I was dropping out. By crossing back on the blue bridge rather than continuing down to the suspension bridge I cut off about four miles and found myself ahead of the last runners again. At mile 18 I met Darchelle again and suggested she and Donna go to the finish to meet Richard then come back for me since I wanted to get in a few more miles for the day. They did that, then had a hard time finding me again. When they finally caught up to me I had completed about 21 miles and was ready for a ride. We all returned to the finish just in time to watch Richard come in with a time of 5:53, a new PR by several minutes.
11/06/2016   Neah Bay  
Despite the difficulties imposed by nearly nonfunctional hands and arms, I'm feeling good today. I got out birdwatching yesterday at Neah Bay, with Blair again; a satisfying outing even though I was unable to use binoculars and only barely able to take a few photos. The trip yesterday may be my last visit to Neah Bay for a while; the rarity season seems to be winding down.
Orchard Oriole
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Palm Warbler (photo by Blair Bernson)
Black-legged Kittiwake with California Gull
Black Oystercatchers
Black Turnstones
Yesterday's visit was my fourth in the past three weeks, and the Orchard Oriole we managed to relocate was my ninth year bird from Neah Bay this fall. It was my only new bird today; we were not able to find the Prothonotary Warbler reported yesterday. It was a notably slow morning with little bird activity until we found the oriole in town at Woodland and 1st Avenue right where it had last been seen. It flew down 1st towards Blue Jay Street where the Harris's Sparrow has been hanging out. We did not see the sparrow but did find both a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a Palm Warbler at the spot. Tropical kingbirds nearby made for four rare bird sightings in as many minutes. That's Neah Bay for you. Then over at the beach we found small flocks of Black Oystercatchers and Black Turnstones along with roosting gulls which included a Black-legged Kittiwake.
With John on the breakwater (photo by Blair Bernson)
Neah Bay
Blair in Ba'adah Village
Last weekend Blair and I drove out to Neah Bay and birded with John Gatchet. That's when I had my first sighting of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and, scoping from the breakwater, found one of the previously reported Buller's Shearwaters among the Northern fulmars and Sooty Shearwaters out in the strait. I was particularly grateful for the Buller's Shearwater; after all three of the pelagic trips I had signed up for in October were canceled, I assumed I had lost any chance of seeing one. It was not a great sighting but I clearly saw that it was white below and pale gray above with a diagonal dark bar on the upper wing, flying in the undulating flight with stiff wings characteristic of shearwaters. Both John and Blair saw one as well.
Delia and Ed on Hobuck Beach
Hobuck Beach
Palm warbler at Hobuck Beach
Rose-breasted Grosbeak and other birds at Butler's motel
Dickcissel and feeder birds at Wa'Atch Beach Drive
Dickcissel
The Sunday before that, on the 22nd, Darchelle and Ed and Delia and I made the trek out to Neah Bay. Ed and Delia picked up half a dozen new year birds and I picked up three - Dickcissel, Palm Warbler and a Field Sparrow, though I didn't identify the latter one until a week later when Eric Heisey and others discovered and photographed it. The Palm warblers I expected since they had been reported out at Hobuck Beach. We found at least four out there. The Dickcissel was an unexpected gift; The one at Butler's motel five days earlier had not been seen for several days and I assumed it was gone. Driving through town we ran into expert birders Ryan and Brad who told us about another Dickcissel on Wa'Atch Beach Drive, a funky little neighborhood out by the mouth of the Wa'Atch River. We didn't find it on our first attempt but fortunately Darchelle insisted that we try again. We wrapped up our visit with a hike up to Cape flattery so Darchelle waited in the car because of her broken ankle. We did not see any puffins but there were 165 Black Oystercatchers on the ledges below the overlook and one Tropical Kingbird flycatching from fir and spruce branches over the cliffs.
Cape Flattery
Glaucous-winged Gull and Black Oystercatchers
Tropical Kingbird at Cape Flattery
The Field Sparrow was a fail on multiple levels. We were on our way out of town but stopped at 1st and Blue Jay to try once more for the Harris's Sparrow. Ed was eager to get going so he didn't get out of the car. I left my camera in the car because I can't use it without first setting up the scope so I can rest the camera on top of it while I struggled to get a finger on the shutter button. Standing in the intersection, I spotted a small sparrow fly up to the top of a tall bush. It perched in plain sight, though backlit, and I was about 30 feet from it. The sparrow was clearly smaller than nearby Golden-crowned Sparrows and appeared to have a clear gray breast with no streaking. IAn Neah Bay that meant it was probably a Clay-colored but I couldn't see any face pattern. I thought maybe it was a Chipping Sparrow so I called Delia over to look at it with her binoculars. When she got on it I asked about a face pattern but she kept saying the face was blank. She did confirm that there were no streaks on the breast and when I asked her later what else she had noticed, she emphasized that it had a pink bill. The sparrow did not appear to have any kind of a hood and when it flew it had no white outer tail feathers, ruling out a Junco. It flew across the street to a Holly tree and joined another small sparrow already in the tree. There was someone on the front porch of the house behind the tree so I didn't want to take time to search for the bird in the tree. Instead we got in the car, drove down to the end of the block then turned around and returned to the intersection. A small sparrow flew down out of the Holly tree onto the lawn and it was a Clay-colored. Without really thinking about it, I assumed that was the same sparrow that I had seen at first. We left town.
Chipping Sparrow (Methow Valley)
Clay-colored Sparrow (Okanogan)
Field Sparrow (Texas)
Five days later when I saw photos of the Field Sparrow and compared them a photo of a backlit Clay-colored Sparrow, I realized that on a backlit Clay-colored sparrow, the facial pattern is obvious but the pink bill is not. Ditto for Chipping, and Brewer's does not have a pink bill. A year ago I would've used binoculars. Six months ago I would've had a photo. Now I have to use circumstantial evidence and the testimony of others. Though I doubt my sighting will be officially recognized, I counted it.
Butler Motel feeders
Steller's Jay
Golden-crowned Sparrow
My first trip of the season out to Neah Bay was with Blair and Steve Pink. Blair had been looking for Rose-breasted Grosbeak in Washington for a long time so when one was reported at the feeders at Butler's Motel we caught the 6:10AM ferry from Edmonds and pulled into Neah Bay at 9:45. The grosbeak showed up about 10 minutes later, much to our relief. The streaks on the breast distinguish it from a Black-headed Grosbeak. John Gatchet was also at Butler's Motel and offered to take us out to the marsh along Makah Passage southwest of town where he had seen two Swamp Sparrows the day before. They were still there but though I heard them, I didn't manage to see either one. Back in town we found a Tropical Kingbird or two and Blair photographed an oriole which we never were able to identify definitively.
11/08/2016   Election Day  
Daniel and I did a spur-of-the-moment hike up Snoqualmie Mountain.
The start of the trail
Daniel sampling huckleberries
Late huckleberries
It was a very warm day for November, 62F at the pass and probably mid-50s up on top with almost no wind. Except for a brief stop to sample the still-abundant and slightly fermented huckleberries the head of the valley, we hiked continuously at a hard pace all the way up to the ridge north of the summit. We had no trouble avoiding the few snowdrifts up near the ridge but with close to a foot of snow on the north side, we didn't venture over there. Nor had any Ptarmigan, as far as we could tell; we couldn't spot any tracks.
Glaciated ledges
Mini-tarn
Valley beyond the two crags
The round-trip took us 3 1/2 hours. We ascended via the two big crags above the head of the valley and traversed back down across the talus on the south side of the mountain to intersect the trail coming down the ridge. We made good time, 45 minutes to the valley and less than an hour up from there including berry and photo stops. I felt pretty good, pretty close to max aerobically, but every time I stopped I felt faint. Nothing new, but annoying nonetheless. We worked up a pretty good sweat so when we got back to the parking lot Daniel, who was going directly to work, took a quick bath in the stream and brushed his teeth for good measure, eliciting an incredulous comment from an attractive young woman in the car next to us in the lot.
View northwest down the Middle Fork valley
View south-southeast, Guye Peak and Keechelus Lake
View north, Glacier Peak and Big Snow Mt on right
Watching the election results after I got home, I got really angry that the playground bully got rewarded for all his lying and bullying by being elected president so I posted the following on Facebook:
Congratulations middle america on electing an Asshole-in-chief for our next president. You didn't like Bill Clinton's sexual immorality so instead you chose a real sexual predator (a special thanks to you born-again Christians for your support). You thought Hillary was dishonest so you're electing a compulsive liar who is a master at using other people's money to enrich himself. You wanted someone who understands the little guy so you're electing someone who understands how to screw the little guy. You of course are not racist so you are selecting a racist bigot to represent America to the world. Wtf were you thinking? Oh right, you weren't thinking. Well, enjoy the ride! You've earned it!
11/12/2016   Waterville Plateau bird trip  
The Orchard Oriole last week was my 343rd bird in Washington state this year. There aren't many left to see. I might yet get another opportunity to try for a Ptarmigan, and Bohemian Waxwing should be possible and maybe a Rusty Blackbird or perhaps even a Tufted Duck. Andy was more optimistic. He believed that that I could get three species in the Okanogan alone in mid-November - Bohemian Waxwing as well as Sage Grouse and Gyrfalcon - and he and Ellen offered to take us up there to give it a shot. We were delighted to take them up on it though I still figured that finding either Sage Grouse or Gyrfalcon would be a long shot, and even Bohemian waxwing might be tough given that none had yet been reported this fall south of the Canadian border.
Greater Sage Grouse
Short-tailed Weasel (photo by Darchelle)
We met in Ellensburg around noon and headed north, passing up stops at Soap Lake and in the lower Grand Coulee in order to spend more time in Sage Grouse habitat on the Waterville Plateau. At Banks Lake we turned left onto Highway 2 and drove about 7 miles, then headed north onto the plateau on Heritage Road. We ran into waxwings right away in the trees around a farm at Road 5N, and some of them were Bohemians. Ellen set up the scope and we confirmed the ID but I wasn't able to get the camera into position before they flew off.
Waterville Plateau
Upland wheat fields and grasslands
Rough-legged Hawk
Sage Grouse habitat
Greater Sage Grouse
Short-tailed Weasel
With that auspicious beginning, we had no trouble "Keeping the focus" as we drove the back roads to the east and north along the edge of the plateau above Grimes Lake. The habitat looked good, a mix of sagebrush and wheat fields with signs on the fence posts alerting countries to the presence of the protected Sage Grouse, but we didn't see any. We pulled into Brewster around dark, checked into the Red Apple Motel then drove over to Camperos restaurant on the downtown strip for supper. A Mexican place, it's about the only game in town but fortunately the food is quite good. Mexico and the USA were playing a World Cup qualifying soccer match. Names of some of the Mexican players were emblazoned on the backs of the chairs at the restaurant but the patrons, most of them Hispanic, seemed to all be rooting for the US. Being contrary, we rooted for Mexico and were rewarded when they
Rough-legged Hawk (photo by Darchelle)
won.
We embarked on our quest for Sage Grouse before sunrise, driving south on Highway 17 to Leahy Cutoff Road. Just after we crested the hill from which you can look down on the Sage Grouse lek area, about 4 miles in from Highway 17, we flushed a large gray bird from a fence post on the right side of the road. From my vantage point in the front passenger seat I had a brief but clear look. The long pointed wings and uniform brownish-gray color above clearly indicated Gyrfalcon. Andy saw it as well and agreed with my ID. We stopped and leaped out of the car to watch the bird flying swiftly and steadily away from us and over the horizon, and though we gave pursuit and scoped hilltops and rock outcrops for a couple of miles in the direction it had flown, we never saw it again.
Resuming our grouse hunt we drove the roads north and east of Mansfield, primarily G and H between roads 15 and 21 didn't find too much of note other than a group of five Northern Shrikes in one mile around G and 20. We were working our way to the south and west, selecting the smaller unpaved roads in areas where the wheat fields were broken up by patches of sagebrush, when suddenly we flushed four very large long-tailed grouse. They didn't fly far so we immediately got out to investigate and were graced with good views of Greater Sage Grouse. Incredibly, I even succeeded in getting a few photos. We were ecstatic to have found our three target species and it was not even noon yet on our first morning in the field.
Then the question arose, "Now what do we do?" We ended up driving down McNeil Canyon Road and across the river to Chelan. On the way we had a great view of a Rough-legged Hawk sitting on a wind-swept boulder, and while we were looking at the hawk a pure white weasel ran across the road in front of the car. Though in the sagebrush habitat Andy thought that a Long-tailed Weasel would be more likely, his subsequent analysis of the relative lengths of tail and body determined that it was actually a Short-tailed Weasel. In Chelan we scoped waterfowl on the lake, ate some lunch in a parking lot and heard an unmistakable Chukar calling from a steep burned hillside above another parking lot. Though not a year bird, it was close because my only other 2016 Chukar was a somewhat questionable heard-only record in sagebrush along the Durr Road in Ellensburg back in February.
Okanogan confluence
Okanogan confluence and Coot swarm
1100 American Coots
After a couple of other stops along the Columbia on the way up to Brewster we closed out the day with a sunset stop at the Okanogan confluence overlook. I took a few pictures but didn't do a checklist. Of note was a remarkably dense flock of American Coots numbering perhaps 1500 birds altogether.
Conconully Lake
Long-tailed Duck and scoters on Conconully Lake
Conconully State Park
In part to spread our birding dollars around but mostly to revisit our favorite restaurant in the area, we drove up to Omak, stayed at the Omak Inn and ate dinner at the Breadline Café. I don't remember the beer or the food but both were excellent. Actually I think the beer was a little too excellent and the food not quite as good as last time but nonetheless we will certainly return.
Sunday morning we made our way up to Conconully. In town we found a rather ordinary assortment of birds with northern finches notable by their absence but the lake didn't disappoint us. It is known for collecting water birds that are otherwise unusual in Eastern Washington. We found three Surf Scoters, two Pacific Loons and a Long-tailed Duck.
American Tree Sparrow (photo by Ellen Stepniewski)
First cycle Thayer's and Glaucous-winged Gulls
Hybrid duck
Returning to Omak, we drove up to Omak Lake, another possible spot for unusual waterfowl. According to Andy the area around the lake features some of the most pristine habitat in the Okanogan region. We made it about halfway along the lake before finding the road blocked by a landslide. While we were turning around we heard a panicked clucking and saw a Chukar shoot down over the road followed closely by a Northern Goshawk. Both birds instantly dropped out of sight and we were not able to determine the outcome of the chase.
We stopped in a couple of places around Grand Coulee Dam to look for gulls but found only a couple above the dam and a few Ring-bills along Banks Lake in Electric City. Andy took us on a little side trip up to Northrup Canyon, a narrow valley with walls of basalt and a floor of lumpy granite ledges. The weather was overcast, 48F with a breeze and birds were very quiet, but with a nice mix of habitats it would be a great spot to visit when things are more lively. At Steamboat Rock State Park Andy called an American Tree Sparrow out of the Russian Olives near the entrance road. At Blue Lake in the lower Grand Coulee we stopped again, this time to scope ducks in the low light and developing rain. Andy found an interesting one among the Lesser Scaup and Ring-necks which at first we thought might be a Tufted Duck but subsequently decided was a hybrid of the other two.
Back in Ellensburg we shared dinner together at the Yellow Church Café because the Ellensburg Pasta Company was closed on Sunday. It was a little pricier than the Pasta Company and the food was perhaps a little better but the beer list more limited. I would go there again.
11/15/2016   Gothic Basin Ptarmigan  
Acting on a suggestion by Andy S last weekend that Ptarmigan would probably respond to recording of their calls this time of year, I recorded a Ptarmigan call from the Internet onto my phone this morning. A week ago, on election day, Tim photographed this Ptarmigan in Gothic Basin during his hike up Del Campo Peak. Tim and I had previously discussed hiking up to Gothic Basin but the hike involves some scrambling and I can't use my hands and arms for any kind of climbing, so we concluded that it might be too difficult for me. Daniel and I hiked up Snoqualmie Mountain instead and searched for Ptarmigan there but found none. I did not try playing their calls on Snoqualmie though.
Yesterday I decided I wanted to try to get up to Gothic basin and look for Ptim's Ptarmigan but Daniel had made plans to go kayaking and I didn't know of anyone else who would be able to accompany me up there. The weather would have been better yesterday but it will be worse tomorrow; snow is forecast for the high country for the rest of the week so today was my last chance. From what I understand, once the snow begins to accumulate the birds are much more difficult to find and it is much more difficult for me to get up to where they can be found. Daniel was fortunately willing to join me on my quest despite the inclement weather and the likelihood that I would not be able to make it up the trail. And of course even in the unlikely event that we actually did get up to the basin, the chances of actually finding Ptim's Ptarmigan would be pretty slim.
Setting out with hope and good cheer
The object of our quest
Selfie in Gothic Basin after the wind started
Armed with my recording, Daniel and I drove two hours in heavy rain to the trailhead at Barlow Pass. It is not an easy place to find and not for the first time I got lost and we had to backtrack ten miles or so on the way. We didn't start hiking until 1:30 PM but at least the rain quit just about the time we arrived at parking lot. If it hadn't, we might not have gotten out of the car.
It took us almost three hours to hike the 4 1/2 miles up to Gothic Basin. The first couple of miles were relatively flat hiking on the valley floor, straightforward except for a somewhat confusing set of overlapping detours where the river has devoured the original road/trail. Weedin Creek was too wide to jump across so we gingerly negotiated a logjam just upstream. The next mile was a steady climb on a well-graded trail in generally good condition except for an extended section with a stream running down the middle of it. We stripped off our warm coats and hiked as fast as I could go, which felt slower than last week, limited by my breathing. Unlike last week, I didn't feel faint when I stopped but on the other hand I felt that odd vibrato at the bottom of each breath which I feel only when I am pushing as hard as I possibly can.
Looking up an avalanche gully
View near the trailhead
Silvertip Peak
We ran into the first bit of scrambling at a stream crossing below a waterfall. It was a chest-high vertical step and there was no way I could get up it. There was however a way around it. By dropping down twenty feet or so I found a place where I could jump across the stream and get back to the trail without scrambling. The trail description reported more scrambling above that point but we didn't encounter anything more difficult than three to five foot walk-up ledges which were fortunately not at all slippery. Snow would have changed that but by the time we ran into snow on the trail we were above the ledges.
We did not turn back at 3:45 as I had originally contemplated doing, but even if we had we would not have made it down before dark. At that point the trail was leveling out some and we were beginning to cross openings of snow-covered mountain heath and talus, places I could imagine Ptarmigan visiting at least occasionally. Surely it could not be far to the basin, but it took us another 35 minutes to get there.
Gothic Basin was not a broad gentle meadow the way I remembered it. Though not steep it was basically just a gully framed by slanting snow-covered ledges with patches of snow-covered mountain heath here and there. Everything seemed white, or rather a misty dull gray with a little snow in the air, dark rocks and ledges capped with a few inches of mushy snow. We walked the short distance up to a little lake partly blanketed with gray slush. Daniel played the recording and the wind responded immediately. A cold gust swept down the valley from above and swirled snow around us. We were not dressed for that.
Me walking into Gothic Basin
Slushy Lake with invisible Ptarmigan
Distant Ptarmigan, center of photo
Unwilling to give up I walked over to another outcrop with a little better view. Daniel was still playing Ptarmigan calls on my phone when suddenly he shouted "Look up!". A pure white Ptarmigan had just flown right over my head and had landed on a rock above us. I looked up and spotted it sitting on the point of rock silhouetted against dark conifers. Regal yet dumpy, it was ghostly white except for its dark beak and eyes. As it peered down at us I shouted obscenities. I don't know why; I guess that's just what came to mind. Daniel yelled "Shut up, you'll scare it away." He dug my camera out of my pack but couldn't get the zoom to work properly. While he was fumbling with the camera, the bird, clucking and squealing in response to the recording, flew back overhead and across the lake to the snowy crag from whence it had come. Daniel was able to get a few distant shots with the now functioning zoom lens. We didn't have time to pursue it to try for more photos.
The temperature was dropping and the snow was picking up, and it was of course getting dark. We only made it about 10 minutes down the trail before Daniel had to dig out his iPhone. By its light we hiked all the way down to Weedin Creek, cautiously negotiating rocks and ledges freshly coated with snow. Somewhere in the woods as we approached Weedin Creek, the snow changed to rain. That was not an improvement. I waded the creek, balancing on first one foot then the other in the middle of the stream to stretch out ALS cramps in my upper calves. Prolonged strenuous exercise seems to provoke them, and I suspect that going nine hours without eating or drinking may have been a factor as well. At least I didn't have to pee up there. My mittens were soaking wet and my hands were completely useless.
It was 7 PM by the time we reached the car and we were very cold and wet. Daniel stripped off his and my cold wet clothing while the car warmed up. It was snowing when we pulled out of the parking lot.
11/21/2016   Neah Bay again  
Dusky-capped Flycatcher (photo by Blair Bernson)
Tufted Duck male (photo by Blair Bernson)
Just when I thought rarity season in Neah Bay was over another first state record shows up there - a Dusky-capped Flycatcher. It's a Myiarchus from Arizona; I saw it there a year ago. I called Blair about it on Friday but Blair couldn't make it over the weekend and waited until it was reported again yesterday before deciding to make the trip. Steve Pink and Anne-Marie, regular birding companions of Blair's, joined us.
An atypical November day in Neah Bay
Eurasian Widgeon
Greater White-fronted Goose
Horned Grebe thrashing fish
Red-throated Loon
Snow Geese
It was not a typical day in Neah Bay. The sun was shining and there was no wind at all. On the other hand, the birding was typically excellent. We began by spotting the Eurasian Widgeon along the beach by the Warm House. It was new for the year for Anne-Marie. Continuing through town, she spotted a Greater White-fronted Goose in the fenced play area beyond the Mini Mart. I spotted our first Tropical Kingbird of the day, a rarity from south Texas which has become so regular in Neah Bay in the fall that it could be a symbol for the town as a birding destination. The two local Snow Geese were strolling on the beach by the Senior Center. Red-throated Loons along with other loons, scoters, mergansers and grebes dotted the calm waters of the bay.
Blair, Steve and and Anne-Marie
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Osprey (photo by Blair Bernson)
Red Phalaropes chasing kelp flies
Red Phalarope
Red Phalarope in more typical situation
We pressed on toward our destination, the thickets at the west end of the jetty where the flycatcher had been sighted. When we parked Steve looked down at the beach then called out "Kittiwakes!" But wait, they were too small. A half dozen Red Phalaropes were foraging in the kelp below the high tide line. They are rarely seen from land except on the breeding grounds but a storm a week or two ago blew hundreds of them ashore in Western Washington. These had hung around to feed on an abundant crop of kelp flies.
I think it was Blair who spotted the flycatcher first. We all located it and tried to photograph it. I was determined to use my camera today and figured out how to hang my hands on either side of the camera In such a way that I could both see the image in the LCD and press the shutter button with a finger.
Tropical Kingbird
My finger didn't always work nor was my aim very good. Even when I did manage to locate the bird my hands were often shaking too much for the camera to focus. Most of my shots all day long either missed the target or were too blurry to be of any use. So I sprayed and prayed, as they say, and out of the thousand or so shots I took, I actually got a few decent ones. Blair generously sent me copies of some of his pictures to fill in my gaps.
We admired the flycatcher for a while. An Osprey flew over, my first for Clallam County. They are rare at Neah Bay even in the summer, and by November is generally assumed that there are none left anywhere in the state.
Finding our rare bird so soon after arriving took all the pressure off the rest of the day. All of us had been worried that it might not still be here. We drove back into town and stopped by Butler's Motel but found only crows, jays and collared doves. Then we drove around a while looking for the location of a first state record Blue Grosbeak reported five days ago. Someone had photographed it but nobody had seen it since. We found some other birders - Matt Bartels, Charlie Wright and Paul Bearney who had offered me his place on the subsequently canceled pelagic trip back in October on which I had hoped to see a South Polar Skua. We found a gnatcatcher which I did not succeed in photographing and the Tropical Kingbird which I did.
We also perused the gull flock at the mouth of the stream. All the common large pink-legged gulls with dark wingtips were represented but "Olympic" gulls, hybrids of Glaucous-winged and Western Gulls, were the most common.
''Olympic'' Gull (mostly Western by orange bill, pale head)
Herring Gull (yellow eye, angled forehead, black wingtips)
Thayer's Gull (smaller bill, rounded forehead, white under wingtips)
Glaucous-winged and''Olympic'' Gulls
California Gulls (yellowish legs, slender build, red/black on bill)
Mew Gull (small size, small bill, round forehead)
Anne-Marie suggested we try the sewage treatment ponds just in case a Tufted Duck had showed up. One hung out there for a while a couple of years ago but I had forgotten about that and I was more interested in looking for a swamp sparrow, but I decided for convenience sake to go along with the others. Once there, we found lots of Northern Shovelers, Lesser Scaup and Bufflehead in the near pond. Blair suggested we check the other ponds so he and I walked around the dike. I was playing swamp sparrow calls to the neighboring marsh when Blair called out "Tufted Duck!" Incredulous, I ran over to him saw the duck he was referring to. He was right! It was with a few Ring-necks but its white flanks were lower to the water and lacked the white spur in front. Even without binoculars I could see the head was round but I could not pick out the tuft until he showed me his photo. I tried for a photo too but was still fumbling with the camera when the ducks took off. Frustrating.
Matt, Charlie and Paul looking for the Tufted Duck
Tufted Duck female found by Charlie
Tufted Duck female with female Bufflehead
Anne-Marie and Steve had not seen the tufted duck before it flew so we searched for it in the river And at nearby Hobart Lake but did not find it. Returning to the sewage ponds, we ran into Charlie again told us about the female Tufted Duck he had just found on the far pond. Both Anne-Marie and Steve saw that one and I got photos.
We stopped several times on the way back into town to try to call up a Swamp Sparrow but our hearts weren't really into it. At the marina, where we stopped on the way out of town to use the restrooms, I got my first good photos of White-winged Scoters before my battery went dead.
White-winged Scoter
White-winged Scoter
When I tried to use the restroom myself, my hands were too cold to open up my fly. I tried for a couple of minutes and had just given up when Steve walked in so I asked him to unsnap and pull down my pants. He did, and I went, and he pulled my pants back up. It was embarrassing, for me anyway, but we pretended it wasn't.
11/22/2016   Pintxo Pairing and Duck for Dinner  
Pintxo Pairing
Duck breast with Bok Choy and Eggplant Coulis
Daniel has been researching an assignment to create a successful pairing of food and wine, one which enhances the flavors of both. Sunday evening he attempted to match up the uniquely Spanish sparkling wine called Txakoli with a pintxo he recalled from San Sebastian which consisted of a Spanish green olive, pickled pepper and an anchovy on a skewer. The wine is acidic and minerally, almost saline, and the pintxo is salty, fishy, and vinegary with a little heat. Unfortunately the bitterness in the olives accentuated the bitterness in the wine and the salinity and acidity of the pintxo overpowered the wine rendering it watery and tasteless. Back to the drawing board, er, cutting board.
Monday evening after I returned from the birding trip to Neah Bay, Daniel met Darchelle and me at Naked City, a brewpub in Greenwood, to celebrate my tying my previous Washington state big year record of 349 species. They make some very tasty beer there and their food is definitely above average. They also host a monthly "Think and Drink" night where they arrange for someone with expertise in a particular area to facilitate a discussion of some topic of general interest. Monday night the topic was "The state of race relations in the United States" but unfortunately the discussion was over by the time we arrived. Both Darchelle and I had the Mushroom Entrée, the same as I had last time. For beer I had the rotator sampler and was just as pleased with it as I was last time, when we listened to a discussion hosted by two political cartoonists, one from the right and one from the left. That was fun. Particularly noteworthy beers were the Orange Blossom IPA (flowery), the White Russian Imperial Stout (Milk-sweet), the Betsy's Mountain Brown Ale (creamy finish) and the Fall Guy Autumn Strong Amber Ale (rich Belgian style flavors) and especially the Grapes of Wrath Wine Barrel Aged Strong Sour (complex like good wine). Regrettably most of those beers are relatively high in alcohol content and I have a hard time walking out without a bit of a buzz, especially after day of birding with Blair when I do my best to stay dehydrated so I won't have to pee all day.
This afternoon Daniel sautéed four pieces of duck breast for me and steamed some bok choy to go with it. By trial and error, we cooked the duck breast perfectly. Seasoned just with salt and pepper, it was tender and juicy and very flavorful. At my request he served it served it with a coulis of eggplant and sweet red pepper that comes in a jar from Trader Joe's. Not quite a perfect match for either the duck or the Plover Co 2015 Reserve Lobster Stout, an excellent slightly coffee flavored dark stout which is very hard to find. I had only one bottle which was given to me by Daniel and David for Christmas last year. Altogether an excellent meal even if the presentation was a bit more functional than artistic.
Tomorrow I will start a photo book of our New Hampshire wedding celebration.
11/25/2016   Programming Dream  
I remembered a dream from last night:
I am seated at one of the tables in a large open room like a cafeteria. With paper and pencil I am designing a solution to a programming problem. I devise a solution that I know will work but when I attempt to code it I realized that I do not remember how. I want to write it in C but cannot remember the syntax and functions so I then consider Perl but find that I do not remember that language well enough either. Given enough time I could relearn either of those languages but there seems to be some urgency about completing the program so I look for someone else to do it. Among the few other people around me I do not find anyone who can code my program.
There is a gray cat on the floor by my chair. I have some responsibility to do something with the cat if it is mine but when I try to identify it as mine, another cat appears next to it. The new cat is the same size but its fur is tinted with an unnatural shade of blue so I am pretty sure that the original cat, which is a more natural gray color, is the one which belongs to me.
The entire room begins to tilt, and continues tipping to the side until it is nearly on edge. I think it might be an earthquake, which would be very serious because we are high up in a tall building. The room tips back again until it is nearly level, then continues tilting again to the other side. I expect the walls to begin caving in and the floor to begin falling as the building begins to collapse so I crouch down on the floor on knees and elbows with my hands over my head, trying to curl up in a ball, and in that position I await my death in the destruction of the building. I awaken hoping that it will not hurt.
I think the dream is important because it incorporates imagery from previous dreams but I have not been able to come up with a meaning.
Several nights ago I had another dream in which I was answering an essay question on a test. I had completed the first part of the answer but I did not think it was satisfactory. Answering the remainder of the question seemed almost impossibly difficult. In the dream I thought that if Darchelle were answering the same question, she would do a much better job. The programming problem in the dream last night immediately reminded me of that essay question. In both dreams I was unable to complete the solution myself, though at least last night the portion that I did complete was satisfactory. Programming and answering essay questions are intellectual challenges I successfully faced in the past but no longer engage in the present. I lacked the ability to answer the essay question and lacked the time to learn how to code the programming problem. Perhaps both represent the question of God, a question to which I felt I knew the answer in the past. There was a time when I believed that I knew who God was and how to relate to them, but now I can not figure out how to determine whether or not God even exists.
Both cats are slender and short-haired, reminiscent of the cat we had when I was married to Susan. That cat died earlier in the same year that our marriage ended. In the dream there is some sense of responsibility towards one of the cats, the one with the natural fur color, but not towards the other one which has fur tinted pale blue reminiscent of some artificial hair color which I associate with elderly women.
In a previous dream in which I found myself in a room which was tilting from side to side in danger of collapse, the room stayed intact and its instability proved harmless. At the time I interpreted that to mean that at least for the immediate consequences of ALS were not as dire as I had anticipated. In this dream I am convinced that I am in imminent danger of death and nothing in the dream indicates otherwise.
So as sometimes happens, writing about a dream enables me to decipher what the dream might mean. In this case, the dream seems to be addressing questions about my relationship to God and responsibility to others which come to mind as I think about my death. Though questions about God often appear unanswerable, the dream indicates that Darchelle may hold (or may be) a clue for me. Regarding that sense of responsibility to the people who love me, in the dream that may depend on how real that love is. Part of my problem with dying is that when I die I will cause pain to the people who love me. That bothers me. In general I owe it to them to not cause them pain, or at least to fix it if I do. With dying I will fail to honor that obligation. That being the case, I can at least try to determine to whom I will be indebted. In the dream I am not responsible to the cat with the fake fur. I think that means simply that I will be indebted only to those whose love for me is real. Whatever that means. It sucks thinking about death all the time.
12/05/2016   Good Beer at Brouwer's Cafe  
Daniel and I assembled a flight consisting of the following beers to go with our dinner at Brouwer's this evening (arranged from light to dark):
Breakside Carte Blanche Gin Barrel-Aged Saison (7.7%) - quince and fermented tangerine
Propolis Syrah & Sangiovese Blue Huckleberry Saison w/ Brett (7.5%) - a mild sour with complex fruit (Daniel) or just tomatoes (me)
Mazama El Duque de Porto Spiced Strong Ale Aged in Port Bbl (10%) - creamy cherry and red fruit
Black Raven Splinters Wee Heavy Scotch Ale’15 (10.8%) - peaty and smooth
Midnight Sun Berserker ’15 Bourbon Bbl-Aged Imperial Stout (12.7%) - a fresh-baked loaf of banana bread in the face
Daniel had the Lamb burger and I had a rare steak Caesar. It is a mystery to me why I so often enjoy a Caesar salad more than anything else on the menu. In addition to discussing the beers we talked about more important matters but I have forgotten what they were. Our conversation was nonetheless very satisfying, as were the beers.
12/07/2016   Neah Bay - Rustic Bunting  
A month ago I thought I was done with trips to Neah Bay to chase rare birds, then two weeks ago the Dusky-capped Flycatcher showed up and while we were out there for the flycatcher Blair found the Tufted Duck. Then I thought we were done for sure, until a Tennessee warbler was reported three days ago and an even more rare Rustic Bunting was reported yesterday. Neither Blair nor I was up for long drive out there just for the warbler but there was no way we could pass up the bunting once he confirmed the sighting and description with Cara, who found and photographed it along the road out to the jetty. She even offered to show us where she'd seen it.
Though the ground was bare even as far as Sequim, we found several inches of snow in Port Angeles. At least a thin crust of icy snow persisted as far as Clallam Bay and the temperature was generally below freezing but fortunately the roadway was just bare and damp. We flushed numerous groups of Varied Thrushes and juncos from the road edge but the most intriguing bird was an olive green warbler that flew out in front of the car and back to the edge of the road a few miles west of Sekiu.
As I wrote in my report to the Washington Bird Records Committee (my first ever):
The sky was clear and the sun was behind us, so the bird was illuminated by sunlight. I was in the front passenger seat and watched the bird from the time it flew out over the road until we passed it as it was returning to the roadside. The sighting was very brief, no more than a second and probably shorter. Blair and I immediately discussed the field marks that we each had noticed. After a mile or so we concluded that the bird was definitely a warbler and probably a Tennessee. In retrospect we should have returned to investigate but we were eager to get to Neah Bay to see the Rustic Bunting so we did not stop.
The bird was small with the large-headed, short-winged and short-tailed aspect of a warbler. The tail in particular appeared notably short. My first impression was the dull olive-green color of the upper parts and when the bird banked upward, the evenly pale gray underparts tinged with a yellowish cast. The tail was flared and appeared short and dark relative to the undertail coverts, which I recalled as paler in color than the rest of the underparts. I did not specifically notice the color of the undertail coverts, only that they were paler than the tail and not noticeably colored relative to the breast and belly. There were no white spots in the tail.
Orange-crowned Warbler is easily the most likely alternative candidate. Blair saw one in Neah Bay a few hours later and noted that the underparts were much more yellow and the upper parts brighter than the bird in question, but not all Orange-crowns are as bright as the one he saw. My impression of an Orange-crowned Warbler in flight is that the tail appears longer due to the shorter undertail coverts. I also believe that if the bird was an Orange-crowned, I would have noted the brighter yellow color under the tail.
I doubt our sighting will be accepted by the records committee; it has already disappeared from the eBird Birders Dashboard which probably means that eBird reviewers have rejected it. It does however still count in my year bird list and I'm confident enough in my identification to keep it there, though had I not seen one before I probably wouldn't add it to my life list.
Rustic Bunting (photo by John Gatchet)
Rustic Bunting location
Rustic Bunting (photo by John Gatchet)
Arriving in Neah Bay we found Cara and several other birders on the Boom Road part way out to the jetty. Cara had seen the bird earlier but none of the other birders had found it since. It had been hanging out with a flock of juncos in the narrow strip of brushy woods between the road and the beach. Unable to use binoculars, I searched for it with the others but I assumed that at best I would only see the silhouette identified by the others as the bunting. Blair and I were walking along the beach peering into the woods when the birders along the road announced that they had found it. Blair immediately headed back to join them but I took a chance on the bird continuing to move ahead of where it had been spotted. I took up a position in a little stream, about a third of the way in to the road from the beach and waited. Unfortunately I did not get my camera ready, assuming incorrectly that I would be unable to use it if I saw the bird. Sure enough a minute later the bird popped out of the bushes into a sunny spot on the gravel along the stream. It was less than 15 feet from me but hidden from the birders on the road by a couple of alder trunks. For a magical minute the rare visitor from Siberia foraged along the sunlit streambank in front of me. Eventually it hopped out into the stream where the others could see it. John Gatchet snapped a few shots before it continued back into the brush. It wasn't seen again until late that afternoon so I didn't get another chance for photos but John's pictures captured the moment pretty well for me.
Fox Sparrow
Clay-colored and Harris's Sparrows
Brewer's Blackbird
I did manage to get a photo of a Fox Sparrow which at the time I snapped the shot was probably within ten feet of the bunting. Having checked off the Rustic Bunting we all caravaned over to Adrianne's feeders on Wa'atch Beach Drive where both the Clay-colored and Harris's Sparrows were hopping around on the ground below her feeder. A Brewer's blackbird was there too, showing enough pale brown feathering around the head, breast and upper back to mislead me into thinking for a while that it was a Rusty Blackbird. Better birders recognized it as a Brewer's. With each mis-identification I am becoming a better birder myself but my birding career will be cut short before I ever really get there. Fuck ALS.
Lesser Scaup and Buffleheads
Ring-necked Ducks
First-cycle gulls
Blair was looking for a Glaucous Gull and I was kind of hoping to get a photo of the Tufted Duck but we were both disappointed. We found a lots of Lesser Scaup and Buffleheads and a few Ring-necked Ducks at the sewage ponds but the Tufted Duck was not present. Nor was the previously reported first-cycle Glaucous Gull hanging out with the other ducks at the mouth of the stream by the Veterans Memorial, though we heard later that it showed up about a half hour after we left. Given that we found (and Blair photographed) the Rustic Bunting, and with the bonus of the Tennessee Warbler, it was hard to be too disappointed with our presumably final visit to Neah Bay for the year.
On the way home we did stop at the Tennessee Warbler spot but it was shady, cold and windy and all we could summon up were two skulking Fox Sparrows.
12/14/2016   Emperor Goose  
Emperor Goose
Brant eating eelgrass
Three days ago John Gatchet discovered an Emperor Goose foraging on the beach at Three Crabs. It was remarkably tame and he got great photos. As usual Blair heard about it first and gave me a call, and we caught the 6:15 ferry over to Kingston the next morning. We arrived at Three Crabs at 8:35 and found Eric and Annika, and Alex, already looking for it, but the goose was gone. Pretty miserable weather though, 32F and raining. We all split up the search the area, but in part because of the rain Blair and I concentrated on pastures and fields where we thought the goose might be grazing with Canada Geese or Cacklers instead of heading out to Dungeness Spit where the 2012 Emperor Goose had hung out. We went home without finding a single goose all day but Alex stayed over and relocated the Emperor along Dungeness Spit yesterday morning.
Dungeness Spit
Emperor Goose on the beach
Emperor Goose eating eelgrass
My plans to join Blair this morning for another attempt at the goose were thwarted when Darchelle and I ran out of gas on I-5 just north of 145th Street. We spent a scary hour waiting in the dark for a tow truck to show up to refuel us. Shortly after we got back home again Blair and Anne-Marie, scoping from the bluff on Marine Drive, spotted the goose about a mile out in the bay with a flock of Brant. Meanwhile I lined up a ride with Marco and we caught the 10:30 ferry. Shortly after noon we too were scoping the bay from Marine Drive. We located the goose right away, along the bay shore of the spit about 2 miles out.
Marco was up for a hike so we set out on the trail to the spit and hiked the beach. On the way out we encountered half a dozen groups of other birders, most of them returning with stories of close encounters with the Emperor. The last birder we met, almost 2 miles out, reported that the goose was just off the beach only five minutes ahead of us. Two minutes later the bay came alive as every last duck and goose along the shore took flight. Thirty seconds after that a bald eagle soared overhead. Two more eagles joined it within the next few minutes and they circled around together over the depopulated shoreline of the spit. Marco set the scope up and I scanned the bay and sure enough, there was the Emperor Goose, flickering in and out of view in the midst of a flock of over 100 Brant.
Darchelle had fixed me a lunch so Marco dug it out of the pack and laid it on a big log so I could eat it without using my hands. Finishing lunch well-chilled, we packed up and continued out along the spit in hopes of getting closer to the goose flock. When I scoped the bay again I could not relocate the Emperor Goose but the Brant flock had broken up and many of them had come back to the shore of the spit. Suspecting the goose had done likewise we left the pack and scope, scouted farther out along the shore, and found the goose within a couple hundred yards quietly swimming along the shore sampling eelgrass. Although we got quite close at times in an effort to get photos, the goose did not appear at all deterred by our presence. Hopefully its apparently comfort with humans is not an indication of domestic provenance.
Although I was delighted to find the Emperor Goose and especially pleased to be able to take some photos, the moment was bittersweet. This is likely my last state year bird this year, and my last state big year.
12/16/2016   Naked City  
Naked City Sampler - last six beers from list on the left
Here is a delicious set of beers at Naked City, my favorite Seattle brewpub. I think they're getting to know me there - they provided the straws without me even asking. I liked the two on the right the best tonight - a cherry winter ale and a Belgian dark ale. The food was very good too though the atmosphere is a bit bare-bones.
12/17/2016   Edmonds waterfront  
Marbled Murrelet
Common Murre
Handling the camera has been a struggle in the last several months so I haven't taken as many pictures as I would have liked. Today though, I did quite well. Ed and Delia and I drove up to the Edmonds waterfront where we had great looks at three out of the four local alcids as well as other waterbirds.
Ed inspecting photos
Red-necked Grebe
Rhinoceros Auklet
Surf Scoters
Surf Scoters
Brant and Mew Gull
The local Kingfisher posed for close-up photos too.
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Rock Pigeon Pair
The weather was challenging, 36F and spitting snow at times with slight north breeze at times. After hanging out at the pier for quite a while we drove south around the marina in search of a Palm Warbler recently reported but didn't find it. Then we drove north and stopped at several places overlooking the water, finding lots of Brant at our first stop but progressively fewer birds after that. Eventually the sun almost came out and the temperature warmed up a bit. A good day.
12/20/2016   Christmas at home  
Daniel and I posing with presence
Darchelle, who made it happen
We had a little Christmas celebration at home. Writing this now, months later, I remember only that we gave Daniel a Coravin wine system for extracting a glass of wine from a bottle without popping the cork, and that Daniel gave us a Capresso coffee burr grinder. I suspected that might be coming our way because our old Krups blade grinder was making unwholesome noises but Daniel suggested I not get a new one quite yet. Note the persimmons, from the case I bought at Andy's market in Walla Walla over Thanksgiving. They were good.
12/25/2016   Christmas in Walla Walla  
Sunset Christmas eve
Nieces and nephews, Christmas Eve dinner
Sunset Christmas day
In Darchelle's family the festivities happen on Christmas Eve. We ate dinner at Sally's then the children opened their presents. Darchelle's gifts of sunglasses and flip-flops were a big hit. After the kids went to bed we adults had a white elephant gift exchange. As I recall people got with what they were supposed to have, so for example Darchelle's folks and Sally and Ben both ended up with a copy of my "2017 Washington Nature Calendar", as we intended.
12/26/2016   Long Drive Home  
Wallula Gap
The day after Christmas Darchelle and I drove down the Columbia River Gorge to Portland in hopes of visiting her sister Claire and her family in Salem. We ran into freezing fog just west of the Wallula Gap and entered a cold gray landscape of frost-coated Russian Olive groves and sagebrush flats. I should have kept a bird list; we passed a couple of bald eagles feeding on a duck alongside the road, lots of coots and ducks on the river, and a Northern Shrike and numerous kestrels, red tails and meadowlarks around Umatilla. As we continued west the temperature rose above freezing and the fog was replaced by rain.
We called Doug and Clary from Portland and caught them about to go out to a movie. They agreed to change their plans to meet with us for dinner instead. They seemed happy and upbeat. They had been working on the house - painting the twins rooms, replacing the wood stove with a gas fireplace, installing new carpet throughout and nearly completing the remodel of the downstairs bathroom. After dinner we decided to take the time to drive down to Salem and visit with the kids for a little while so we got to see the home improvements for ourselves. The kids were delighted with Darchelle's presents and presence. We stayed for about an hour then drove north to Seattle in heavy rain, making it home around 1AM. It was a long day.
12/28/2016   Pink-footed Goose  
Pink-footed Goose
Darchelle worked Tuesday and Wednesday then on Wednesday night we caught the redeye to Boston. I slept some; Darchelle did not which was too bad because she is the one who has to do the driving. It was a decent morning, not much above freezing but with a little filtered sunshine. I had a couple of stops in mind, in particular a field near Cranes Beach in Ipswich where a Pink-footed Goose has been hanging out for the last month or so. It would be a life bird for me, a nice way to wrap up the year if we would find it. It had taken Blair two attempts a few weeks ago. The photos on eBird showed it with Canada Geese so we searched for those and soon found them but the Pink-footed was more elusive. Darchelle was the one who spotted it, in flight with Canada Geese in a field not exactly visible from the main road. We found an open gate and drove around the field to where we could see roughly where the geese had landed. When they flew again I caught a brief glimpse of the smaller paler rarity. Darchelle got a few photos but I was not able to handle the camera well enough to get any myself, so had to settle for the decidedly unsatisfactory distant flight view. Fuck ALS.
12/29/2016   Snowstorm  
The house from the hill
Darchelle and me
Visiting with John
A genuine old-fashioned snowstorm closed in on Jackson this morning. The snow quietly began to fall sometime after breakfast and by lunchtime a couple of inches had accumulated on the road. We went for a walk with Mom and John before it got too deep, then continued up the hill to pay a visit to John and Mary. I'd been meaning to see them back in October but had not found the time. They were comfortably snowbound in their cozy little cabin and we talked for an hour or so. Another inch had fallen by the time we got home.
Daniel plowing the driveway
Cooling off
The snow-shoveling crew
The snow kept falling all afternoon, close to a foot by suppertime and still accumulating. After supper Daniel decided he needed a little exercise so, accompanied by Silas and Kirsten, he went out to shovel the driveway. Shirtless. Though he perhaps did more posing than plowing they did manage to clear the area in front of the garage doors where the plow can't reach. I tried my hand at shoveling but couldn't hold the blade steady. Another loss to ALS.
12/30/2016   Christmas Party  
Richards oysters
Virginia
Roger and Silas
Sarah and Brie
Kirsten
Roger's meatballs
Mom and John deferred their Christmas party, traditionally held on Christmas Eve, to New Year's Eve eve when Sarah and Roger, who spent Christmas in Sweden, would be back in Jackson. The grandchildren did a lot of the work preparing the food. Roger fixed his traditional delicious meatballs and I think Kirsten made the Brie en Croute. Richard brought oysters on the half shell left over from his party the day before. As I recall, Daniel and I selected the beer though Daniel wasn't able to stay for the party because he had to return to Seattle to work New Year's Eve. Perhaps I imbibed too much of the beer or perhaps I just waited too long to write this, but I have completely forgotten all of the conversations in which I participated at the party. I do however recall the meatballs and the oysters, the shrimp and the Brie.

Brianpen Home  |  Journal Index  |  Previous  |  Next   (1278) Top