Brian's Journal - Spring 2016

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Yellow-billed Loon - winter
Common Loon - summer
4/03/2016   Neah Bay  
I wrapped up March with 209 species in Washington for the year, a new personal record which put me in first place in the state on eBird for the first time. I guess that's the answer to "What would I do if I had only one year to live?". Birdwatch. In Washington. As much as I can, as soon as I can, while I can still drive and after that, while I can still walk. I can't hold binoculars but I can still use the super zoom camera, and if a bird makes a noise or moves, I can usually identify it. Then if my hands aren't too cold I can dig my phone out of my pocket and count my bird in eBird. It will be a sad day when I can't do that anymore but meanwhile, I'm a happy birder.
Darchelle and I were signed up to run the Yakima Canyon Marathon this weekend but a persistent cold has kept me from running for the past 2 weeks, and because it would be my first marathon in 3 months I would likely be running in the back of the pack, and running alone because Darchelle was planning to switch to the half. Given the state of my arms and hands, I'm no longer comfortable running a marathon without someone to assist me if I need help.
Shine Tidelands
West River
West River mouth
Where the Hooded Warbler wasn't
Neah Bay breakwater
Gray Whale
We went birding instead. A favorable weather forecast and the possibility that the Hooded Warbler might still be around put Neah Bay at the top of my list of prospective destinations. We arrived at noon after fruitful stops at Shine Tidelands and Sekiu but found no trace of the warbler at the Greenhouse Seawatch. Down in town I scoped the harbor and right away hit on what I thought might be a Yellow-billed Loon. Unfortunately it was all the way across the water by the far end of the breakwater. When I lost the bird in the scope we decided to walk out there for a closer look. Bad idea. Breakwaters are not designed for walking. Darchelle fell and skinned both knees and though I continued for another hour while she waited for me on a sunny boulder I never found the loon. We did get really close views of a gray whale, which was some consolation.
Returning to town, I scanned the gull flock at the mouth of the stream and on my third pass with the scope found a second-cycle Glaucous Gull in full view in the middle of the flock. Where did that come from? I snapped a couple of distant photos but when I picked my way across the barnacled cobbles for a closer view I ended up photographing all the wrong gulls. Nonetheless, that Glaucous Gull was the first rare bird I have ever found and reported all on my own. I felt pretty good about that.
Glaucous Gull (center, with black-tipped pink bill)
Common Loon
Marbled Murrelet
We were late getting to our Airbnb home in Port Angeles, and it didn't help that I neglected to note the address. We eventually found it and Gail our hostess graciously stayed up for us. After a quick supper from the Safeway deli, not recommended, we marinated in the hot tub for a half hour before bed. That helped considerably, as did a good night's sleep.
In the morning we took our time, slept in, fried up healthy eggs from Gail's chickens and exchanged pleasantries with a couple from Ireland and a family from Spain. Airbnb is not your grandfather's motel, but it is actually not unlike like the boarding house my great-grandparents Leonard and Eva ran on their farm in Jackson New Hampshire nearly a century ago.
Where the Elwha flooded
Black-tailed deer
Lower Griff Creek Trail
Farther up the Griff Creek Trail
Madrone bark
Elwha overlook
Hiking taking priority over birding and coffee taking priority over both, we set out on the Griff Creek Trail after stopping at the Bada Coffee House and a nearby antique shop in town. Downtown Port Angeles was quiet and uncrowded, giving the impression that it was 8AM and not 1PM. The tourists must all have left early to try to beat the Sunday afternoon ferry waiting lines. We took the opposite tack, hiking until 6:30PM in mossy mixed-age forest in the wild Elwha River valley. Hazy sun, spring green leaves, yellow violets but no Sooty Grouse. Oh well, it wasn't about birding today, right? The Elwha River, as if to celebrate the removal of the dam upstream, had rampaged through the eponymous campground sometime last winter upending outhouses and burying burly USFS picnic tables in drifts of gray sand from which Sword Fern and Snowberry emerged unfazed.
4/05/2016   Birding Snoqualmie Valley  
Alicia was available until 4PM on Tuesday so she offered to drive me somewhere birding. I can no longer drive on my own; my hands and arms are too weak. I'm OK on the highway but in town where I have to do sharp turns it's just more than I want to tackle.
Realistically we wouldn't get started until Darchelle left for work at 10 so we couldn't go too far afield. The Snoqualmie Valley would be about right. I was hoping for a Cinnamon Teal at Prison Farm ponds and a bittern at Stillwater, and perhaps an early Sora at either location. The Sora I almost got. While we were scoping the marsh for a bittern I heard a clear Sora call, and then another. But something wasn't quite right. For one thing, the call was immediately followed by a Western Meadowlark song, and moreover both birds seemed to be up in the big dead Cottonwood above us. We looked up and there was a starling with a big grin on his beak. I found it interesting that the Starling would know both those songs. I assume he learned the Sora whinny in the same marsh last summer, and the meadowlark song somewhere in the valley over the winter. In any case I didn't count the Sora and I found neither teal the bittern though I did pick up Common Yellowthroat and Barn Swallow for the year.
Union Bay Natural Area
Ring-necked duck
Canada and White-fronted Geese
On the way home Alicia dropped me off at Union Bay Natural Area so I could try for the green heron reported there yesterday. I did not find it.
Daniel started school today with classes in Enology (aka the study of wine) and Sensory Evaluation (aka wine-tasting). He's been reading the Encyclopedia of Wine for a week now so he was comfortably familiar with the material covered in his Enology class. In Sensory Evaluation they walked through the process of tasting wine from pour to finish, assembled a wine in the lab from water, alcohol, tannins, acids and sweeteners, and began to learn names for the myriad fragrances and flavors which cannot be added in a lab. The study of wine, like most fields of study, requires learning a language. It's hard to know what you're tasting until you can name it.
Big-leaf maples at Crescent WMA
Ed and Delia with Rick
Cinnamon Teal
Ed and Delia were available for birding on Saturday morning so we went back out to the Snoqualmie Valley. We scoped the Monroe prison farm pond until we got kicked out by the local caretaker then we drove over to the parking lot at the south end of the Crescent WMA and hiked around the pond there, through groves of Big-leaf maples in the Snoqualmie River bottomlands. While we were there the morning stratus overcast burned off and I warmed up. Heading south along hwy 203 we stopped at the Cherry Valley management unit, an area managed for duck hunters with fields planted with corn last summer and partially plowed last fall, along with some brushy marshland and drainage ditches and partly-flooded weedy pastures. A couple of guys with guns and dogs hiked in ahead of us. That did not bode well for birding but to my surprise Ed soon found a pair of Cinnamon Teal and shortly afterwards I called up not one but two Soras and even caught a glimpse of one of them. Both were along a brushy drainage ditch rather than in the flooded tall grass where I would have expected them. At Stillwater, our last stop, we met another birder named Rick Taylor who frequents the valley. We also heard an American Bittern at the exact same spot where Ed and Delia heard one last year. That made three for three target year birds.
4/13/2016   Happy Birthday Daniel  
Apple blossoms in Magnuson Park
Daniel making coffee
Birthday breakfast
Daniel is 29 today. To commemorate his birthday we fixed a special breakfast. We in this case is mostly Darchelle. I bought the apple pie from PCC but Darchelle thought to buy the two candles that spelled 29 and the birthday congratulations in Spanish. She made pancakes and served them with maple syrup and whipped cream. Daniel had school in the afternoon but after he got home I took him out to Osteria La Spiga for dinner. He had wanted to go there because one of his wine professors is the sommelier there. The timing of his birth was good. It is Seattle restaurant week and La Spiga was serving a three course dinner with three matching wines for $30. Daniel explained what I was tasting in each wine, and for the most part I understood what he was talking about, which was gratifying. He would remember what the wines were; I don't, but I was fascinated by how the wine served with my entree changed in the glass as I drank it. A red wine from Italy, it gave off a rich floral aroma at first then developed a more fruity scent with a long creamy finish but eventually became a bit sour. His wine on the other hand had stronger tannins and acidity, perhaps to complement the meat and fat flavors of his braised oxtail entrée. Overall I found the wines intriguing but I think I still generally prefer a glass of good beer with dinner.
4/15/2016   Yellow-billed Loon  
Apartments with Bald Eagle
Teenage Surf Scoters
Glaucous-winged Gull
Alicia is returning to Thailand on Sunday so her parents drove her over from Walla Walla yesterday. They are all staying with us over the weekend. Richard and Donna will be in Daniel's room which he graciously agreed to let them use. Today, Friday, the women had planned a day at the spa so I asked Richard if he would be willing to drive me somewhere birding. Darchelle thought he might be, and so he was. I had two destinations in mind. One possibility was to go down to Tacoma to look for Purple Finches on the waterfront and for recently arrived migrants at Swan Creek Park. The other option was to head out to Port Angeles to look for the Yellow-billed Loon reported last week. A report of the loon again yesterday made it an easy decision.
The loon had been reported close to shore, and sure enough there was preening just off the beach when we pulled into the parking lot at the city pier in Port Angeles. I recognized it even before the car stopped moving. Still mostly in winter plumage, it was considerably paler than a Common Loon. From a distance the bill didn't look all that yellow but it was yellow enough. I was almost disappointed to find it so easily. The last time I saw one was three years ago, out in the middle of the Sound at the limit of scope range from Vashon Island. Before that, in a marina along San Francisco Bay 35 years ago. The loon finished preening and cruised casually around the pier while I chased after it snapping photos. It was a good thing that I had lots of opportunities because the combination of excitement and my shaky and cumbersome hands ensured that most of them were wasted.
After lunch we stopped at the old Dungeness Oyster House in Sequim and found the resident Willet. That made two year birds, both good ones, but my third target, Purple Martins, eluded me at Three Crabs and at the Edmonds ferry terminal where a Bald Eagle presided over their humble apartments.
4/20/2016   Love and Dog  
A dream about Love and Dog:
John M and I are sleeping in bed together. His back is to me and I am curled around him, spooning with my hand on his hip. A big friendly dog, a Golden Retriever perhaps, jumps up onto the bed and wakes us up. I am angry at the Dog and I kick it off the bed but it jumps up on us again so we get up. As we are walking out of the room the dog is lying on the floor and, still angry at the dog for disturbing us, I kick it again. I feel bad about that because I am concerned that John, who is kind to animals, will not like it.
On the desk in the lobby is a chain and though it doesn't appear broken, I suspect that it was the dog's chain. The dog must have broken loose from his chain and come into our bedroom which, unlike the other bedrooms down the hall, has no wall separating it from the lobby. Now that he is up, John has to leave. It is only 5:30AM and I didn't think he had to leave until 8:30, then I realize that 8:30 is when he has to be at work so he has to leave now. The woman at the front desk then tells me that she knows the girl to whom the dog belongs. The owner's name is Majariah Hiffiths, and the woman leaves with the dog to find her.
Though interesting, the dream made little sense to me at first. Why was I sleeping with John, and why was I angry at the dog? When I woke up I took sleeping with John literally and had to reassure myself that I felt no sexual feelings toward him. The dream wasn't about sleeping with John but sleeping together represents intimacy and security. The dog puts an end to that intimacy, and that is probably the reason for my anger.
What is the dog? One clue is that the dog's owner's name is Majariah, which reminds me of Maharaj Ji, a young Indian guru who showed up in early 1970's. Though he now appears to be a legitimate Hindu spiritual leader, at the time I regarded him as a false prophet who claimed to represent God and led a number of my high school friends on a spiritual goose chase. Another clue might be that The word Dog, rearranged, spells God. My mind works that way sometimes. I think that in the dream the dog does represent God and the dream suggests that I am angry at God for cutting my life short with ALS now that I have found love for myself at last.
Does the association with Maharaj Ji and the idea of a false image of God indicate that belief in God is a deception, or rather that my idea of a God who cuts my life short with ALS is false? Perhaps this dream is actually from God, to tell me that my conception of Him is wrong, and that She is actually loving, gracious, understanding and inclusive. On the other hand perhaps it simply confirms my conscious perspective that God does not exist. As far as I can tell, there is no way to know which is the case.
4/21/2016   Duwamish Park  
Flowers in the park
Golden-crowned Sparrows eating Madrone flowers
Great Blue Heron
Roosting Caspian Terns
Monica drives me to therapy on Thursday mornings, then we usually stop by Costco to pick up a few items on the way home. This week and last I added another stop, at Herring's House Park on the Duwamish waterway along W Marginal Way. It's a surprising little oasis at the edge of the Port of Seattle industrial area. Purple Martins, my target bird at that spot, nest in gourds hung from pilings out in the river. I missed them last week but located them this morning by their burry "chirrup" calls out over the water. No photos but I did get a cute shot of a mother Mallard with her chicks. I pointed them out to Monica and we talked about birds and shopping and salmon, in English. It gives her an opportunity to practice.
4/23/2016   Westport  
Glenacres Inn
Delia, Ed and I in front of cottage
Bottle Beach shorebirds
Ed and Delia joined us for the weekend at Westport. We shared a cottage at the Glenacres Inn Friday and Saturday nights, joined a pelagic trip with Westport seabirds on Saturday and chased shorebirds from Westport south to Tokeland on Sunday. It was a good time.
The photos don't do the pelagic trip justice, though I'm grateful to have any images at all from the outing. The sunrise shot was the only one I took. I tried for a few others but was unable to use the camera so Darchelle took them for me. I didn't drive much either, just from Tacoma to Bottle Beach and even on that stretch Darchelle had to help me turn the steering wheel in town. Those are tough losses, being unable to take photos and unable to drive. The one robs me of my primary creative outlet and the other robs me of my independence. Were it not for love, I don't think I could bear it.
Probably the high point of the pelagic trip for me was the flyby of my first-ever Laysan Albatross but the Humpback whale that erupted 30 feet out of the water within 100 yards of the boat was a close second and the Orcas that swam underneath us certainly deserved honorable mention. For four years now I've been checking every white bird flying out near the continental shelf, looking for a Laysan Albatross without success. I didn't see this one coming; one of the spotters called it out but we all had great looks both from above and below as the bird banked over our chum
Sunrise over the stern
Incoming Laysan Albatross
Incoming Orca (5-6' dorsal fin)
Black-footed albatrosses
Black-footed albatross in flight
California Sea Lions in the marina
The whale was one of four in the second group of humpbacks that we encountered. They had blown several times and I was watching the spot off the bow where I'd last seen one of them when suddenly a ten-foot tall gray snout burst out of the water followed by two eight-foot flippers and about half of the rest of the whale. It rose straight up then pirouetted slightly and fell back into the water with a tremendous splash. That got everyone's attention. The whale did about a dozen more nose-only breaches and one more big one before sounding. I don't think anyone on the boat got a picture. The Orcas came by while we were chumming albatrosses forty miles offshore. They surfaced several times as they advanced directly towards us, then dove. Looking down, we could see the white patches on the biggest one as it swam directly under the boat. One of the small ones then surfaced within about twenty feet of the boat before diving again. They were the first orcas I've seen in more than thirty years.
The tide was high when we got back to the marina so after a brief rest at the cottage we drove over to Bottle Beach, where at high tide the shorebirds get bunched up along the water's edge. There were no birds there when we arrived but within a few minutes they began to fly in as the tide receded enough to expose sand flats. By the time we left there were probably 3000 birds along the beach, mostly Western Sandpipers, Dunlin and Short-billed Dowitchers with the smaller numbers of Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers and at least four Red Knots, two of which can barely be distinguished in the center of the photo of Bottle Beach shorebirds.
Common Loon in breeding plumage
Adult Western Gull
Bald Eagle with fish
We ate at Blackbeard's Brewery, which appears to have displaced the Mexican restaurant as the most popular dinner spot in town. Beer and pizza were both pretty good. The rain which had been forecast to arrive during the pelagic trip held off until dinner time and continued through the night but for most of Sunday we basked in an extended sunbreak, though basked is not quite the right word because a steady north wind kept us well chilled all day as we birded south to Tokeland and back. At North Cove we watched a Bald Eagle on the beach rescue its fish from two crows and Western Gull. At Graveyard Spit we found the previously-reported Long-billed Curlew and some Whimbrels but missed the Ruddy Turnstone that Art Wang would find their an hour later. At Tokeland 42 Common Loons in breeding plumage were cruising in a loose group around the pier. At Midway we met Art and decided not to check the marsh when he told us he'd seen no shorebirds there. We drove into Grayland Beach State Park instead and walked out onto the beach in search of Snowy Plovers. We found none but the wind was very cold.
Common Loon in non-breeding plumage
Bleached young Glaucous-winged Gull
John's River rainbow
After lunch at Bennett's Fish Shack where my fried oysters were only so-so we walked the marina float and fishing wall in a futile search for a Ruddy Turnstone reported there a few days ago. The tide was high again and there were no shorebirds at all but I photographed a Common Loon in non-breeding plumage for comparison with the Port Angeles Yellow-billed Loon and a very pale first-cycle Glaucous-winged Gull. By this time of year, improbably bleached by the winter sunlight, they can get almost as white as young Glaucous Gulls. On the way out of town we stopped at the John's River estuary, a place that Ed knew about. Darchelle napped in the car while we walked the dike and found a large group of Greater Yellowlegs out beyond the hunting blind. While we were scoping the flock in search of a Lesser Yellowlegs a brief but cold rain squall blew through leaving a rainbow in its wake.
Snowy Plover on windy Grayland Beach
Plovers after bathing
Looking for dinner (or trouble?)
Ed and Delia headed home but Darchelle suggested that we try again for the Snowy Plovers and drive the beach this time instead of walking. Darchelle likes to drive on the beach. We entered at the Grayland State Park access road and turned south. There were fewer shorebirds along the water than before. About two miles down I suggested we turn around but Darchelle wanted to continue a little farther. Within a half-mile we came across a small group of backlit Sanderlings and Western Sandpipers with one little bird standing apart from the others. I had just explained to Darchelle how a Snowy Plover would look different than the other small shorebirds (collectively called Peeps) because it would tend to stand off by itself and not move very much. Most peeps feed by continuously probing in the sand with their bills but Snowy Plovers hunt by sight so they often just stand still and look around. That's what this one was doing but it was backlit so I couldn't see its markings to confirm the identification. I tried to use the camera but couldn't but Darchelle took it and got several shots before the bird walked behind the car then flew away. Success! We had found a Snowy Plover.
On the way back up the beach we found a dozen more. Some were bathing one of the small freshwater streams which run down across the beach. Others were foraging on the hard-packed sand between the recent high tide mark and the water's edge. All were adorbs.
4/29/2016   Orcas Island  
Darchelle lived on Orcas Island for several years and still has a house there which I had never seen so this weekend we went for a visit. She wanted to show me around. We caught the 10:30 ferry, arriving at Anacortes an hour early because we didn't have reservations, so Darchelle caught up on some business in the car while I went birding. After walking the nature trail through the marsh and continuing a little farther north, I did three hill sprints when no one was looking, feeling a little silly dressed in pants and down vest with my camera around my neck.
Ship Harbor, Anacortes
Purple Martins
Orcas ferry landing
Pelagic Cormorants
Pigeon Guillemots, Shaw Island
Yellow Pond Lily, Victorian Valley
Once on the island we drove straight to Victorian Valley, or would have had we not gotten lost on the way. Eventually we found it, parked in the designated parking area and walked down the winding road to the little white chapel half hidden behind fir trees. The door was unlocked so we walked in and looked around then spent a pleasant hour meandering around the premises. I kept a bird list which included three new species for the year. On the way out we came across a small group of wild turkeys including a displaying tom and a hen with several chicks.
Victorian Valley Chapel
Victorian Valley Chapel interior
Darchelle in Victorian Valley
Wild Turkeys
Wild Turkey tom
View south from Mount Constitution
After checking in at the Blue Heron B&B we set out for Mount Constitution. We had intended to go for a run around Mountain Lake but didn't have time so we drove up the mountain instead. Nice views. Back in Eastsound I suggested I might like a beer and a burger so Darchelle agreed to dinner at The Lower Tavern, reputed to have the best burgers on the island. Mine sufficed. It turned out to be karaoke night so we hung out for a while and listened to the locals sing. Though the first several pieces were quite good, the quality went downhill after that, perhaps inversely correlated to the quantity of beer consumed. Darchelle was going to sing me a song but neither of her choices were on their list so we left for our B&B.
We had considered an early morning outing, perhaps a run up Turtleback Mountain from the B&B, but slept in and stayed for breakfast instead. Fruit, Greek yogurt, muffin, coffee and conversation with the owner about running a B&B. They teach a weekend seminar on the subject. When they want a vacation they hire a substitute to run the B&B for them. Substitute B&B owner - who knew people did that?
Long-billed dowitchers
Western Sandpipers
On the way home we stopped briefly at Wiley Slough where a couple of photographers were photographing shorebirds right by the parking lot. I joined them with my stubby little point-and-shoot. I had hoped to find a Blue-winged Teal as well but did not.
5/01/2016   Carport dream  
I am cleaning out, or maybe organizing, the carport but the owner of the carport starts filling it up with boxes of new clothes and other things for sale or storage. Some of the boxes are in my way and I need to move them in order to move my stuff. I also try to negotiate with the owner for space to park my extra car, which is like Susan's 1980 Saab, but the owner resists, asking why I want to park it on pavement. The question seems odd to me because the carport floor is gravel and moreover why wouldn't I want to park it on pavement. I explain that I might need it if my own car breaks down sometime when I am visiting, but my explanation doesn't make sense to me because my car is newer than the Saab.
A big wooden beam standing up against the carport door needs to be moved. It is too big for me so Daniel knocks it over then rolls it into place in front of the carport with his foot.
My red Subaru is parked in front of the carport and we are ready to drive away but my hands are dirty from spots of something greasy like tar sticking to them. When I try to rinse them off in a small pool or spring in a hole in the driveway, I only succeed in spreading the tar all over my hands. I I'm surprised to find that the water in the pool is warm and that it is welling up in the hole. The warm water alone is starting to clean my hands when I notice an old container of pink hand cleaner in the garage. As I scoop some of it out with my fingers I know that it will finish cleaning my hands.
The dream is full of references to my life with Susan. The car is like the Saab which she bought after selling me her old Saab, shortly before we married. The carport in Auburn is full of my old stuff. For years we kept a few containers of the pink Quick'n Brite hand cleaner that I was selling before we met stashed away in the garage. The hospital when Daniel was born sent us home with literature comparing newborn baby poop to tar. The dysfunctional conversation with the owner reminds me of some of my conversations with Susan.
In a dream a day or two later:
I am at Susan's house helping to register runners for the marathon. The "house" is a small old one-room unit in a storage place and it is crammed full of old stuff, making it difficult to help the runners. Partially waking up from the dream, I reflect that the house represents Susan's life and I am filled with sadness about the regret I imagine she feels when she considers her life and the choices she made that brought her such pain, choices that can never be changed, sadness and pain that can never be healed.
One thing I've learned about dreams that they are not so much about their subject as they are about the one who is dreaming, in this case me. What is it about me that I have to imagine Susan filled with regret and pain? Perhaps those feelings are about my own choices, and not about hers.
5/03/2016   Cruise  
Some time ago I signed up for a cruise organized by Ed Pullen down at the Tacoma Advanced Birding Club. The boat was sailing from LA to Vancouver Canada and would afford two full days of pelagic birding off California and Oregon followed by a day of shore birding in Victoria. We had decided that it wasn't worth Darchelle's taking a week off from work to accompany me so I would go alone but given the steady decline in my arms and hands I wasn't sure I'd be able to manage it. After I missed the deadline for canceling with a refund I decided to take a chance and bought the plane ticket to LA. I would meet the others at the airport to share a ride to the ship. Jon Anderson would be my cabin mate and sounded willing to help me out occasionally when I told him about my condition.
Bow deck 8, Ruby Princess
Battleship Iowa
Los Angeles lighthouse
Our boat was the Ruby Princess, a gleaming white layer-cake of a ship 965 feet long and 120 feet high. It dwarfed the Battleship Iowa which we passed as we steamed out the channel on a hazy Tuesday afternoon. The harbor was full of resident Elegant Terns and migrating Pacific Loons. We scoped them from our vantage point on deck eight at the bow of the ship. I tried unsuccessfully for photos. I was consistent about that for the entire voyage. I was also consistently incompetent at locating birds in my scope. Out on the open water there are no landmarks by which to orient your position relative to the target bird, and I didn't really start to get the hang of it until we were pulling into Victoria harbour. Nonetheless I did manage to get decent views of nearly all the birds spotted on the trip including my three life birds - the Cook's, Murphy's and Hawaiian petrels. Improbably I captured identifiable images of the rarest of the three, the Hawaiian.
Laysan Albatross
Hawaiian Petrel
Hawaiian Petrel
The first afternoon went okay. I had just enough hand strength to haul my wheeled suitcase up the gangway, through the welcoming rooms, onto the elevator and down the long hallway to our cabin. Jon helped me assemble scope and tripod and I was able to carry it myself up to deck 8. We spotted a few shearwaters and phalaropes before dark but nothing unusual. Jon and I shared a late supper in the Horizon dining area where the hostess graciously escorted me through the buffet carrying and loading my plate for me. A waiter brought me a beer, an IPA named Ship Witch brewed especially for Princess Lines. They weren't cheap but I don't imagine the wine was any better. The food however was excellent, substantially exceeding my expectations, and my daily caloric expenditures as well.
In the morning I suffered a crisis of confidence. Jon was up at 5:30, showered and off to breakfast and birding before I got out of bed. That was fine with me; I wasn't quite ready to share my struggles with dressing. I got my pants on but of course couldn't get the fly zipped up so tried to cover it up with my T-shirt but that kept riding up to my waist exposing a bright triangle of whitey tighties below my belt. I trekked up to the dining room anyway but quailed inside when I saw the buffet line and all the other diners before whom my atrocious table manners would shortly be on display along with my underwear. Nonetheless I forged on, levering a bowl out of the stack and prying a spoonful of granola into it. Then I fumbled and it clattered onto the floor. Attendants quickly appeared to clean up the mess and I just as quickly scuttled back into my cabin. Shame was the name of the game. I pictured it as a mathematical phrase: "Shame > courage", and ate the fresh spring rolls with peanut sauce which Darchelle had sent with me for yesterday's lunch while I regrouped. I considered just staying in the cabin and pretending to be sick for the duration of the voyage, then I slid my scope and tripod out from under my bunk, grabbed one leg with my teeth and hoisted the tripod on my shoulder the way I do and made my way up to deck 8.
Taking a break, day one
At sea, day one
Birding, day two
The other birders had for the most part been there for a couple of hours already but it turned out I hadn't missed much. Soon after I arrived someone reported that the light was better along the side of the boat and they all picked up their gear and left me. As luck would have it not five minutes later a rare Laysan Albatross sailed in from somewhere up ahead of us, arced across the bow and soared off down the opposite side of the boat from all the birders. By the time I got my camera in hand it was gone. No one else saw it. My word alone was not sufficient to count it for the trip but fortunately another one came by later that afternoon.
I felt better after that and for the rest of the trip though challenges remained. Despite my layers of down clothing I was cold almost the whole time out on deck. That meant my hands were even more useless than usual so I took very few photos. As with the albatross, the birds were generally gone by the time I got the camera into position. Dressing was difficult; peeing was a pain. I avoided drinking from dawn till dinner. Eating was easy though. The attendants began to recognize me and would pull a plate for me before I had time to ask. The only problem was that they consistently gave me bigger helpings than I asked for.
Lunch on Thursday was typical. I had Lamb in Madras Curry, Grilled green mussels, Corn salad, Stir-fried beef, Grilled fish in lemon sauce, Green beans Provencal, Cornbread, Rigatoni Armenian Style, Profiterole and Indian carrot cake. The green beans were overcooked but everything else was delicious. I think I ate as much at every meal as I would normally eat all day.
The petrels started showing up around midday Wednesday. I missed the first couple but fortunately there were more and by the end of the day I'd had good views of all three species. They are remarkable birds. Slender-winged and very fast, they are to shearwaters as a Hobby is to a Peregrine. In flight they alternately arc steeply up above the horizon then swoop back down to the water, rarely flapping as they ride the wind and surf the cushion of air pushed up by each successive swell.
Thursday, full day 2, was a windy day. The ship's speed plus a 25-knot headwind produced near-gale force winds on deck 8 so we had to set up on the side decks instead. My highlight of the day was my first decent view of a Parakeet Auklet. Though not recognized by the official eBirders on board, Parakeet Auklets were identified by many of the Tacoma folks as well as several other skilled birders. The one I saw was blackish above (darker than the brownish color similar Rhinoceros Auklets) contrasting with bright white underparts (dull white on Rhino's). I had a brief but clear view of a short bright salmon-colored bill and noted the absence of the double white head plumes characteristic of the Rhinoceros Auklets.
Birders and birds at Panama Flats
Pacific Golden Plover
Mute Swan and Great Blue Heron
We pulled into Victoria Harbor around 7AM on a bright sunny morning. The customs formalities that the captain announced over the loudspeaker periodically and somewhat apologetically took a couple of hours to complete. Jon and I took another couple of hours to get off the boat, locate the bus to downtown Victoria and rent a car to transport ourselves out to Panama Flats where a Red-throated Pipit had been seen the day before. It had moved on by the time we arrived there but we found a few shorebirds including a couple of beautiful breeding-plumaged Pacific Golden Plovers. In Panama Flats we picked up a young birder named Andy who was keen to locate the Redwing which spent the winter nearby but had not been reported for several weeks. A local bird guide gave us directions. Our quest was doomed not only by the absence of the Redwing but also by the discrepancies between our individual versions of the directions we heard. After a couple of hours, one of which we spent sitting in traffic, we hit the open road north to the airport where I heard my life Skylark singing even before I got out of the car. Jon and I wrapped up the day at Esquimalt Lagoon where we counted 25 Great Blue Herons and a pair of Mute Swans.
5/09/2016   Indiana  
Hardwood forest
Rose-breasted grosbeak in Oak
Darchelle's friend Youngheun got married in South Bend Indiana this weekend. Darchelle went for the wedding and I went for the birding. The wedding was outdoors on a glorious spring afternoon. Due in part to the rather loud band playing up front I only managed to count 23 species during the ceremony, but I had 30 at a nearby park during the reception while Darchelle visited with former students whom she'd taught at Andrews Academy ten years ago.
Feeders behind Schoolhouse Shop
Birds at feeder
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Baltimore Oriole
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Scarlet Tanager
Though I didn't manage to get any photos of the wedding I did get a few shots of birds thanks to Darchelle making friends with the folks at the Schoolhouse Shop. They invited me to watch birds and take photos at the feeders outside the apartment upstairs behind the shop. Many of the colorful locals showed up during the hour or so but I stood watch - Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Blue Jays and Goldfinches among them. I didn't do so well with the small birds up in the treetops. Flocks of up to a dozen warblers were foraging in the crowns of oak and maple in the woods. Two years ago on my last visit I was still using binoculars and was able to identify the small birds as long as they weren't directly overhead. On this visit I was rarely even able to get the camera on them. Just the same I don't think I missed too many species. Most were singing and there were only a few songs that I couldn't identify. Many of the treetop birds were either Nashvilles or Myrtles. In the marshy to dry hardwood forests of Indiana Dunes, and just in the immediate vicinity of Furnleigh, I counted 20 different species of warblers, though I only actually saw 13 of them.
Wet woods
Wetter woods
Wettest woods
Nashville warblers
Northern Cardinal
I did most of my birding on a couple of miles of the Glenwood Dunes trail near where we stayed both Saturday and Sunday nights at the Dunes Walk Inn. It was a quiet and comfortable place located just a couple hundred yards from the trailhead. I birded both mornings while Darchelle caught up on her sleep, and then again while she explored the Schoolhouse Shop. We made one last stop together on the way back to the airport, at a cattail marsh along a closed section of Beverly Drive. It was a great spot to wrap up.
Cattail marsh
Brushy marsh
Wooded swamp
Solitary Sandpiper
Swamp Sparrow
With several distinct habitats in the immediate area we found a nice variety of birds, including a handful of species which are quite difficult to find in Washington state. We saw them all within 50 feet of each other in the cattails - two Solitary Sandpipers, a Palm Warbler, a Swamp Sparrow and a Sora. Darchelle took photos for me. Also in the neighborhood, a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers, a Barred Owl, a small flock of Veeries and both waterthrushes. The Louisiana was singing in the brushy marsh, the Northern in damp underbrush in the woods.
Red-headed Woodpecker
Gray Catbird
Red-headed Woodpecker
The drive back to the airport was easy, the flight home was not. The security line in terminal 3 was the longest I've ever seen. It was clear we would not make it through in time to catch our flight so we switched to standby on the next flight to Seattle, three hours later. The counter agent helpfully suggested we try the security line in terminal 2. Good idea - it was only a quarter as long. After we got through we checked the board and found that our original flight had been delayed and we might just be able to catch it. At the gate were able to switch our tickets once again, only to see our plane removed from service. It took them a while to find another. We finally departed Chicago on our original flight two hours after it should have departed. Meanwhile our bags remained on the later flight but they eventually showed up in Seattle later that evening. While we were waiting we met a young man by the name of Logan Picket who was moving to Seattle for an internship at the Nucor steel mill which started at 6AM the next morning. Since the trip to his new apartment in Fremont would have taken him an hour and a half, we gave him a ride on our way home.
5/10/2016   Walla Walla birding trip  
Blair invited me to join him on a two day birding trip to Walla Walla. Though I'm heading over there again this weekend with Darchelle, without being able to drive myself I won't get much birding in on that trip so I said yes to Blair despite some concern about being able to manage on my own. I figured he wouldn't mind helping me do up my pants once or twice. As with most decisions made without consulting my fears, it turned out to be the right one. I added 24 state year birds, half of the 49 more I needed to reach 300, and giving me a decent chance of reaching that goal before my hands give out entirely.
Birding with Blair is a fast-paced affair so we covered a lot of ground and saw a lot of birds. Our species total for the first day was somewhere around 107 which makes it one of my biggest birding days in Washington state. Blair got photos of quite a few of them and posted them along with a write up of the trip on his blairbirding blog.
Pine woods near Bullfrog Pond
Female Tree Swallow at Railroad Ponds
Rufous Hummingbird at Hyak
Our first stop was the hummingbird feeders at Hyak. The willows which were no taller than David the first time he and I stopped there are now up to the eves of the house where the hummingbird feeders hang. Not so good for photos. No new species there either but I got six at the Bullfrog Pond, all forest species recently arrived.
Birding at Umtanum Canyon
I picked up four more at Umtanum Creek in the Yakima River Canyon, and a Swainson's Hawk in Blackrock Valley east of Moxee. Heading south through Tri-Cities we stopped at McNary NWR and I added another four including a brief glimpse of a flyover Pectoral Sandpiper. Though I saw only that it was medium-sized and streaked in front, its relatively low-pitched "djreeet" call confirmed my ID. I had hoped to see another along Dodd Road at the Blood Ponds but since we were running short of time and didn't notice any small shorebirds among the stilts, we did not get out the scope. Later I mined my photos for a couple of Least Sandpipers to add to our list but unfortunately could not find the Pectoral reported there a day or two earlier.
Swainson's Hawk nest along Dodd Road
Avocets and stilt at the Blood Ponds
Black-necked Stilt
We missed the previously reported White-faced Ibises and Black-crowned Night Herons at the Millet Ponds so I didn't do a list there but if I had I would've added Lazuli Bunting to my year list. My photo of the Bunting wasn't worth posting but the California Quail on a tilted utility pole was kind of cool. Also cool is an obvious fault trace truncating the rounded ridges on the south side of the Walla Walla River Valley, clearly visible beyond the Millet Pond in my photo. It is part of the Wallula fault zone which forms the steep bluff of the Horse Heaven Hills along the south edge of the Walla Walla Valley. It is also the local manifestation of a statewide physiographic feature called the Olympic-Wallowa Lineament.
Millet Pond and the Olympic-Wallowa Lineament
California Quail
Yellow-headed Blackbird at McNary
We picked up Lazuli Buntings along with a Black-headed Grosbeak on our last stop of the day at Fort Walla Walla Park then drove over to Darchelle's folks where her mother had graciously fixed me lunch for the next day. Graciously and generously - it turned out to be enough food for lunch and supper and lunch again later in the week. Four burger sandwiches and lots of unusually sweet steamed zucchini.
Great Horned Owl fledgling #1
Great Horned Owl fledgling #2
Searching for Green-tailed Towhee
On Wednesday morning Blair and I met up with local naturalist and Walla Walla County bird expert Mike Denny who took us up on Jasper Mountain Road look for a Great Gray owl after a brief stop at Bennington Lake where we saw two fledgling Great Horned Owls hanging out around the parking lot. On the way out Mike pointed out the thin white layer of Mount Mazama ash embedded in the loess wall along the lot. It was a glorious sunny day though the air was chilly up in the mountains. Great day for birders to be out, but not so good for the owls. Mike pointed out all the spots where he had seen Great Grays in the past but none were present in the present. Mike also took pleasure in pointing out the many Townsend's warblers singing in the high-country fir forest.
From the top of the Casper Mountain Road we drove south as far as Lewis Peak Road before returning north to descend on the North Fork Coppei Creek Road. Where that road skirts the brushy rim of the canyon we stopped to listen for Green-tailed Towhees. Mike heard several but I had trouble distinguishing them from Fox Sparrows which were also singing in the area. Eventually I managed to pick out one or two but we never saw any. Back in town we drove up to Mill Creek Road to Kooskooskie, just north of the Oregon border, where the Larsons host three species of hummingbirds at their feeders. Black-chinned was a year bird for me. After a quick stop at Rooks Park to look for a Lesser Goldfinch we returned Mike's place and sat in his backyard watching a variety of birds including a lesser Goldfinch visit his feeders while Vaux's Swifts twittered overhead.
Honeybee swarm along Coppei Creek Road
American Dipper in Mill Creek
Ferruginous Hawk
Blair and I made a couple stops on the way home, visiting locations Mike told us about for a nesting Ferruginous Hawk and apparently nesting Tricolored blackbirds. We stopped at the Walla Walla River Delta overlook too but skipped the Millet Ponds where the Black-crowned Night-Herons and White-faced Ibis were probably still hanging out. A successful trip.
5/13/2016   Walla Walla visit  
First, a dream:
I am driving down a long hill in a small car with Susan. We come around a corner and I see a young man lying on his back at the edge of the road. I think he may be dead. He crashed on his bicycle, which flew through the air and is hanging up in a tree all twisted and bent. Several other people have stop, and as we look at him he opens his eyes and seems okay.
I get back in the car to continue on my way. The car has shrunk now and is a single seater convertible, like a narrow go-kart. The top of the windshield is at the bridge of my nose but when I try to raise it, the front of the hood rises up as well so I can't really see where I am going. I start forward anyhow and immediately run into a sports car which has stopped in front of me. Before I can stop I push it to the side of the road with a grating noise.
An elegant woman dressed in white with a tall fur hat gets out of the car and walks over to the small group of people around the cyclist. Concerned that she might want to sue me for running into her car, I get out of my car and walk after her. I do not see her in the group so I continue up the hill looking for her. The hill is rounded and mostly bare dirt, like a wheat field with stubble after it has been cut. Near the top of the hill several canopies have been set up close together as if for an event, perhaps a car show. There are people there but the woman is not among them. Other people have walked into the woods, where the leaves are just emerging on the trees, but I assume that I won't find her there so I don't follow them and instead run back down the hill.
The dead cyclist who isn't actually dead represents me. After I encounter him I am no longer with Susan and it is not clear where I am headed, but I continue on. I believe the elegant woman represents my mother, and probably as she appeared to me when I was a little boy. In the context of being with Darchelle (through an association of the hillside with Walla Walla wheat fields), I search for my mother in my relationship with Susan (represented by the canopies up on the hillside which I associate with the Tunnel Marathon finish area). I do not search in the woods bordering the open hillside, which represent Darchelle through their similarity to the woods in Indiana last week. The dream hints at a common dynamic at work in my relationship with Susan and as a child with my mother but which is not as present in my relationship with Darchelle.
Touchet Beds in the Burlingame Canyon
Great Horned Owl north of Touchet
Clastic dike (sediment intrusion) in loess
While Darchelle went to church with her parents on Saturday morning, I went birding again with Mike Denny. We revisited the Millet Ponds under a still gray sky while rain coalesced around us. I picked up three timely year birds, the two expected waders and an unexpected Solitary Sandpiper which I recognized at a glance as it dropped in behind a clump of grass, having just seen them in flight in an Indiana marsh. Our birding basically done we toured the valley and Mike pointed out geological highlights, many of them pertaining to the recurrent filling of the valley by the Ice Age floods as they backed up behind Wallula Gap. The 40-odd graded sediment layers exposed in the Burlingame Canyon, aka the little Grand Canyon, south of Touchet reveal more about those floods than any other single feature in the state.
On Sunday Darchelle, Sally and their mother went shopping and made plans while Richard and I drove out to see the Burlingame Canyon and other points of local interest. Late in the day we headed back up the Jasper Mountain Road in search of a Great Gray Owl. The weather was propitious - a dark afternoon With heavy clouds shrouding the summits of the Blues. Richard drove while I scanned the pine groves and field edges but to no avail until, in a mature forest of mixed conifers at the top of the North Fork Coppei Creek Road, I caught the briefest of glimpses of a large gray bird with an apparently floppy wingbeat flying over the road ahead of us. I couldn't relocate it.
The quadruplets and Katie before bed
Richard perusing historical marker
Wallula Gap hillside
On Monday Darchelle's parents escorted us back as far as Tri-Cities so her mother could help her try on dresses. Richard and I dawdled in the Wallula Gap until we thought they might be almost done then met them for the long drives home.
5/21/2016   Bottle Beach  
We didn't just go to Bottle Beach; in fact our primary objective was to see a Hermit Warbler in Capitol Forest. The weather was cold and cloudy with precipitation in the forecast though it hadn't started yet when we left Seattle, caravaning south with Kurt and Bobbie. We followed Black Lake Boulevard into the Delphi entrance and onto Capitol Forest Road where I found the warblers last year. They were there again this year but they kept their distance, singing back in the trees. It began to rain. We tried a couple of other spots up the road but it was about two hours before I was able to call one in. It sang and posed for us at eye level in some young alders along the road, giving me my best to views ever of the species. I was too cold to even get the camera out.
Ed and Delia
Bottle Beach
Greater Yellowlegs
Knots and plover on Bottle Beach
Red Knots
Black-bellied Plover
We considered trying for Mountain Quail as I had last year but decided on the coast instead, in part because the forecast was more favorable there. I was hoping for a Ruddy Turnstone or two but though we had a number of shorebirds at Bottle Beach and I got my first-ever acceptable pictures of Red Knots, we saw no Turnstones. There weren't any Tattlers at the jetty either.
5/23/2016   Chuckanut Bay  
Chuckanut pocket estuary
Chuckanut sandstone
Darchelle in pocket
Darchelle didn't come birding with us but she and I spent Sunday and Monday together on a trip up north. Searching AirBnB she had found us a cozy cabin on Chuckanut Bay for Sunday night. She had also heard about some healings at a church in Burlington pastored by a former professor of hers at the Seattle School. She talked with him on the phone and arranged for him to pray with us after their Sunday evening service. We attended the service and a bread and soup supper afterwards but, distracted by prayer with another church member, failed to meet up with Bob before he and Gracie left for the evening.
Arriving at the Hobbit House on Chuckanut Bay not long before sunset, Darchelle and I took a tour of the gardens and the main house, which has lots of windows and no right angles. After sunset we walked up the road to the Interurban Trail and followed it into the woods until it became too dark to see where we were going. We heard no owls, just the usual scolding robins. Back at the cabin we soaked in the hot tub until bedtime.
Darchelle fixed coffee and fried eggs in the morning. At home I can make coffee and even do a limited amount of cooking because the counters are low enough and I have things placed where I can reach them, but anywhere away from home I am pretty helpless. With a couple of hours before we needed to check out, we set out for a run but ended up doing a hike along the shore around the pocket estuary instead, where waves have eroded interesting patterns and pockets into boulders and ledges of the Chuckanut sandstone, fresh services of which showed cross-bedding and current ripple laminae characteristic of fluvial deposition environments.
We called Bob again and he was going to at the church in the afternoon so we stopped by again and he and his administrative assistant prayed for us in the church office. We talked a bit first and I cried when I explained that I had stopped believing in God because I could only see him as demanding and condemning. Bob told me that there was nothing that I needed to do to be healed other than to simply receive healing from God. He explained that as a child of God, health and healing were my inheritance. He and Anne both prayed for me. I did not feel any physical sensation but I felt changed somehow by the encounter. He gave me his book to read, Reading the Bible With the Damned, and we drove home.
5/24/2016   Lake Serene hike  
Bridal Veil Falls
Skykomish valley
Lake Serene outlet
Darchelle works Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and Daniel has school all three of those days so I don't usually get out during the week. Today though, Daniel's morning class was canceled so he decided to skip his evening class and go for a hike with me. I suggested Lake Serene since Darchelle and I and consider going there on Friday but hadn't made it out of the house. Higher elevations are still snowbound and would have been in the fog anyhow today. I thought that the low cloud cover might also enhance the possibility of seeing Black Swifts in the Skykomish Valley.
The swifts did not show but the hike was suitably strenuous for the first outing of the season and the scenery was as spectacular as advertised even though the cloud ceiling was only a few hundred feet above the lake.
Daniel on Lunch Rock
Daniel taking photo
We took the side trip up to the falls. The view was worth it. Beyond the falls the trees get big, then the forest opens up into avalanche brush for a long traverse back to the lake. We ate lunch, and fed a few black flies, on the lunch rock, a beautifully glacier-smoothed lump of granodiorite that protrudes into the lake near the outlet. Sitting on that ledge, it was easy to imagine the massive weight of ice grinding out the bowl where the lake would one day be, then oozing up over the bedrock lip of the outlet to tumble down onto the valley glacier of the Skykomish below. Now talus fans are slowly filling the lake basin and trees carpet most of the bedrock, though a microburst toppled a bunch of big ones, old trees that had survived many storms, by the outlet sometime last winter. They appear to be recently fallen, but though I perused trail reports since last fall I was unable to determine the date of the devastation.
5/27/2016   Okanogan birding  
Lake Wenatchee North Shore burn
White-crowned Sparrow and Spotted Towhees
Black-backed Woodpecker at nest hole
Searching for an individual bird reported on eBird can be frustrating. A lot can go wrong. Sometimes the given location isn't quite correct, or the bird was just passing through and is no longer present, or it's just too late in the day by the time I arrive. In this case though, everything went right. We found the spot, a small burn along the north shore of Lake Wenatchee, exactly where we expected it to be, and as soon as I hopped out of the car the bird, a Black-backed Woodpecker, flew in and perched on the trunk of a small pine right in front of us. It flew away again before I could get a photo so I scrambled down the hill after it only to watch it fly back to where I first saw it. Returning to the car, I heard baby woodpeckers trilling and soon found the nest hole at eye level in another pine. Both adults came and went several times while we ate some lunch and took a few photos. It was state year bird #281 and the best view of the species that I have had in Washington, so it made a good start to our trip.
Buena Vista B&B
Aenas Valley
Aenas Valley Bobolink
We had been planning to spend the weekend in the Methow Valley but when I finally got around to booking accommodations on Thursday afternoon there wasn't much available so I booked a room at the Best Western in Omak instead. Then Darchelle got online and found a B&B up north of Tonasket. We didn't arrive at the Buena Vista B&B until almost 9PM but our hostess Patti was gracious about it. The room was cozy and quiet and Darchelle loved soaking in the clawfoot tub before bed.
Breakfast was hearty and delicious - fried eggs from Patti's chickens and fried potatoes along with homemade whole-wheat bread and homemade apricot preserves. I counted some birds around the yard while Darchelle took a nap after breakfast, so we didn't get out to the Aenas Valley until after 9:30. The birding was still good; I found all four of the species I was looking for - Bobolink, Veery, Catbird and a Willow Flycatcher. All but the flycatcher are Eastern species that range west into moist valleys in Eastern Washington, not hard to find but only in the right places. The Aenas Valley is one of those places.
Pine Creek Road pond
Yellow-headed Blackbirds along Pine Creek Road
Cinnamon Teal along Pine Creek Road
Wilson's Phalaropes along Pine Creek Road
Male Wilson's Phalarope
Female Wilson's Phalarope
We returned to the B&B to buy a couple of loaves of bread and ended up visiting for a while so we didn't set out on our main adventure of the day until early afternoon. We were going to try to take the back way over to Winthrop via Tiffany Meadows and do a hike up on Tiffany Mountain along the way. It didn't happen. We drove to Conconully via Fish Lake and stumbled across a couple of hot birding spots. The first was a muddy wetland along Pine Creek Road with lots of Yellow-headed Blackbirds and a small group of Wilson's Phalaropes.
Pond along Fish Lake Road
Lupine along Fish Lake Road
Eastern Kingbird in Cottonwood
Ruddy Duck
Eared Grebes
Red-necked Phalarope
Our second stop was a marshy pond just up the road for the Eastern Kingbirds, Eared Grebes and a Red-necked Phalarope. Then we took a little time to look for morels in some burned forest at the pass between Fish Lake and Conconully. We didn't find any.
Riparian area near Fish Lake
Burn near Conconully
Middle Tiffany Mountain in mist
The first snow patch
Dusky Grouse along Happy Hill Road
Some 13 miles out of Conconully, where the road traversed a very steep slope on the north side of a ridge which runs east from Rock Mountain, we encountered a patch of snow that we didn't dare try to cross. We had already almost become stuck trying to cross the first big snow patch we encountered. The weather was misty and cold with a light rain at times and we didn't like the idea of spending the night stuck in the snow or worse, so we turned around and headed back the way we came with a couple of stops to listen for Boreal Chickadees. Below Conconully we stopped at Happy Hill Road so I could show Darchelle the place where I painted the small painting she has in her office. The Dusky Grouse she spotted on the way up Happy Hill Road was the only one we saw all weekend.
We pulled into Winthrop in time to get some dinner and some excellent beer (Epiphany Pale and Hooligan Stout) at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery. I had a mushroom burger and Darchelle the Roasted Veggie Quesedilla, both delicious. After dinner, since it was dark already, we drove up around Patterson Lake on the Patterson Lake Road, Then up the Thompson Ridge Road where it turns off from the road up to Sun Mountain Lodge. We stopped to listen for Common Poorwills and heard one near the lake outlet. Then a half-mile or so up Thompson Ridge Road we heard two Flammulated Owls. Both those species were ones that I was looking for but did not expect to find this weekend.
5/29/2016   Tiffany Lake (Rock Mountain) hike  
Hermit Thrush at Tiffany Springs
Tiffany Mountain from the southwest
Mountain Bluebird near Tiffany Springs
Since we didn't get to do the hike yesterday we did it today instead, and in search of more interesting habitats and birds, I decided to try a loop hike near Tiffany Lake instead of the trek up Freezeout Ridge which I had originally planned. We parked at Tiffany Springs and bushwhacked east along the ridge up to Rock Mountain then descended to Tiffany Lake and hiked out on the trail. At least Darchelle did. When we were almost down to the lake I realized that I no longer had my cell phone with me. Darchelle recalled that I last had it out up at the summit so while she hiked back to Tiffany Springs I returned to the top of Rock Mountain and happily found my phone right where we had thought it was.
Darchelle at start of hike
Moose poop
Unburned patch near Tiffany Springs
Burn on rock Mountain
Tree well
Yoga pose
We ran into a little snow higher up on the ridge but it was firm and not too steep. The breeze was chilly though, especially on top. My hands were too cold most of the day but I still managed to take a few pictures.
Tiffany Lake
Tiffany Mountain from the northeast
Darchelle on Rock Mountain
Meadows at 7000'
Marsh Marigold
Burn near Tiffany Lake
Tiffany Mountain, which is the highest peak in the area, is 8245' high, about 300 feet higher than Rock Mountain, which in turn is about 200' above the tree line. The highest elevation at which trees grow apparently corresponds to the maximum height of the ice during the last continental glaciation. Maybe the glaciers left some soil behind for the trees to grow in; certainly the summit area on Rock Mountain was much more rocky than the subalpine meadows a few hundred feet downslope.
After a decade of insect infestations which killed a significant percentage of the spruce and pine, the forest throughout the region was burned in 2006 by the Tripod fire. Research indicates that both bugs and fire have historically swept through the forests in the area with major fires occurring roughly 100 years apart, though the Tripod fire was unusual in both its size and the amount of time which had elapsed since the previous burn. The dead trees burned hot leaving just charred poles and mineral soil in which woody plants are only now beginning to get re-established. Marsh Marigolds were thriving in damp places. Mountain Bluebirds and Hermit Thrushes were the most common birds but the most exciting one was a possible Boreal Chickadee - slow, hoarse calls we heard in patchy subalpine forest - but unfortunately we couldn't find it to confirm the ID.
False Morel (Gyromitra sp)
Hybrid Flickr
Badger from the back
Though we found no morels, we did find a few false ones. Some people eat them but I don't, having read somewhere that they can be poisonous. Darchelle photographed a Red-shafted Flicker which might have had one red whisker and one black one, along with a red nape patch, making it a hybrid of some kind. Then on the way out, near Rogers Lake, we startled a badger along the road. I had never seen one before; it looked like a fat marmot with a raccoon face and an upturned nose. Darchelle managed to get a photo as it scurried down the road ahead of us.
Back in Winthrop the Old Schoolhouse Brewery had run out of food so we ate at the Duck Brand instead. It was quite good.
5/30/2016   Memorial Day in the Methow  
Condo entryway
Dining rooom
Living room
In Winthrop, we stayed at a three-bedroom condo named Raven's Roost on the south side of town. It was larger and newer than our place at home but the counters were too high for me so Darchelle had to fix our morning coffee.
Falls Creek burn
Not Morels
Falls Creek burn
Monday morning we drove up the Falls Creek road to the burn where a year ago we found lots of morels. I was curious to see how the fungi would fruit the second year after the fire. They apparently didn't. We found lots of little brown mushrooms but no morels at all. I felt as though we were experiencing the future of hiking in the eastern Cascades - sun-dappled strolls on ashy trails through endless charred snags.
Liberty Bell
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Meadow at Washington Pass
On the way home we stopped at Washington for a taste of still-green forest. Darchelle napped in the car while I hiked up the snow-covered road to the overlook, took in the stunning view then wandered back through the woods to the car. Melting has etched the shaded snowpack into knife-edge ridges and flat-bottomed bowls reproducing in miniature the topography of the mountains themselves. I listened for Three-toed Woodpeckers, heard none but did manage to get the photo of a Yellow-rumped warbler.
6/07/2016   Eastern Washington birding trip  
Andy, Ed, me, Ellen and Delia
Great Gray Owl near Chesaw, my first
Ed, Delia, Darchelle and I spent a long weekend with Andy and Ellen Stepniewsky birding across north-central and northeastern Washington. Andy's report is much more comprehensive than mine (you can find it here) so I will just note a few personal impressions in my account.
Garry oaks near Satus Creek
Satus Creek riparian area
Purple Sage
Dry Falls
Grasshopper Sparrow habitat
Grasshopper Sparrow
Bobolink habitat
Near Havillah
Okanogan Highlands - Fields Lake
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow Warbler
Clay-colored Sparrow
Great Gray Owl nest platform
Great Gray Owl
Okanogan Highlands - Beth Lake
View from Westside Calispell Road bridge
Northern Waterthrush
Scoping Calispell Lake
Picnic on the road to Bunchgrass Meadows
Swamp by Bunchgrass Meadows
Bunchgrass Meadows
Spruce grouse habitat along Albian Hill Road
Clark's grebes on Banks Lake
Banks Lake at sunset
6/14/2016   Walla Walla  
View from Saddle Mountain Road
Green-tailed Towhee on Biscuit Ridge
The primary purpose of our visit to Walla Walla was to plan our August celebration and spend time with family so I did not expect to get out much. An inaccurate expectation, as it turned out.
We met in Tri-Cities on Friday afternoon and swapped passengers. Darchelle and Donna did some shopping while Richard and I caught a concert at the University after a brief and unproductive stop at the blood ponds on the way. The pianist gave a powerful performance, especially on Samuel Barber's Sonata opus 26, a dramatic and dissonant piece during which both Richard and I nonetheless nodded off briefly.
Mock Orange and Ocean Spray along Saddle Mountain Road
Blue Mountain ridges
Saddle Mountain
Sabbath morning Richard and I joined Don and Kurt and a former student of Richard's named Ricky for a hike up Saddle Mountain, a ridge of the Blues just south of the Oregon line. The trail is a gravel track which starts up the ridge from the south end of Foster Road. We set out accompanied by the tuneless songs of Grasshopper Sparrows and the distant early bugling of a bull Elk. I kept up with Don and Kurt for a couple of miles. We talked about Trump and God's second book, among other topics, but I lagged behind for photos, fumbling mightily with the camera in my chilled hands. A gentle but persistently cold breeze was sweeping up the slope from behind us and I was underdressed. I also needed to pee but my hands were too weak to extract my penis from my fly. I tried hiking harder to warm up but to no avail. Angry at my hand, I dragged it through a feral rosebush and the sight of my blood appeased my anger but I still couldn't fish my member out of my pants, even with the aid of a hooked stick. The others turned back and passed below me while I was up on the ridge working on it.
Though I didn't see them go by I knew we'd planned to be back by 8:30 so I ran most of the three miles back down the road and met the others just starting back up the hill to look for me. My legs handled the running without incident despite some DOMS over the next few days. I guess the ALS hasn't started in on them yet.
Biscuit Ridge Meadows
High elevation meadow and forest
Red Columbine
Lazuli Bunting in elderberry
Western Tanager
Sunday morning early Darchelle and I drove up into the Blues on the Jasper Mountain Road to see if we could show her brother-in-law Ben a Great Gray Owl. It was my second time to see the sunrise in as many days, and probably just my second time this summer as well. We drove slowly and stopped from time to time in appropriate habitat - open pine forest, clearcuts, meadow edges and mixed coniferous stands - basically anywhere there were trees, but we never saw an owl. We're pretty sure we heard one though, about a quarter mile north of Coppei Road on Mount Pleasant Road where it runs along a ridge crest with forest on the west and an old burn on the east. We heard half a dozen widely-spaced single low soft hoots but could not find the source before the bird stopped calling.
Monday morning Richard drove me back up into the Blues to look for a rare Black-throated Blue Warbler discovered up there about a week ago and last reported Saturday morning. We did not find it. We did get good views of a Lazuli Bunting and a Western Tanager. On the way back down Biscuit Ridge Road I heard a Green-tailed Towhee singing. I got out to investigate and found two of them. One posed so persistently that we had time to get out the scope for a really good look. A breeze was sweeping up the slope and threatening to lift the towhee off his perch on a bare pine branch below us.
Franklin's Gull and Wilson's Phalaropes
Black-necked Stilt and Wilson's Phalaropes
Black-necked Stilts and Lesser Yellowlegs
Mike and Marylynn had been reporting, among other birds, two Franklin's Gulls and a Lesser Yellowlegs at the Blood Ponds along Dodd Road. Although Richard and I didn't find them on Friday, Darchelle and I were going right by there on the way home on Monday so we tried again. This time they were present along with 22 Wilson's Phalaropes, 2 American Avocets and several Blue-winged Teal. I was excited about the Franklin's Gulls; they're not guaranteed, particularly on the west side.
From left, Gracie, Thomas and Willie
Gracie, Ben, Ciena and Thomas at Hood Park
at Hood Park
Though the preponderance of my photo evidence might so indicate, our visit was not only about birding trips into the Blues. We enjoyed good times just hanging out together, watching the sunset from Richard and Donna's living room, talking around the fire pit on Ben and Sally's deck after the children went to bed, savoring a delicious Sabbath afternoon lunch at Hood Park then watching the children discover the joys of running water in a perfectly child-sized stream complete with mallards and colorful mylar balloons which Ben salvaged from a tree. As Richard noted, watching the children explore their world is at least as entertaining as television and maybe more so.
6/17/2016   Black Swifts  
Snoqualmie Falls at dusk
Black Swift over Mount Si
Ed suggested going out to Snoqualmie Falls to look for Black Swifts, a species I haven't yet seen this year. They supposedly nest at the falls but I've also seen them along North Bend Way at Tanner Road so I suggested we try there first. The swifts were unexpectedly cooperative, appearing overhead almost the minute we stopped. To Ed's delight, two nighthawks showed up as well. Common Nighthawks are one of his favorite species. My reputation as bird guide extraordinaire firmly secured, we drove on over to the falls and found a couple more nighthawks but no swifts at all. We wrapped up the evening with a late dinner at Ed and Delia's.

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