Brian's Journal - Spring 2017

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New House
Hawk Owl

4/05/2017   New Hampshire  
Lots of snow
Jean, Ali, Igor, George, Diana
Stacy, John, Donna, Mom at the rental
Here it is June and I'm finally writing about our visit to New Hampshire back in April. It must have either been important or involved people because people and important events are what I don't write about. Maybe it wasn't all that important, but Darchelle and I returned to Jackson for a reunion of my high school friends and for a visit with my folks.
The Wildcat River
Carol, John, Diana, Stacy, Brian, Donna
Brian, Donna, Diana, Stacy, Carol, John
The reunion was inspired by our get together last fall at Darchelle's and my wedding celebration in Jackson. Mom and John couldn't make it out for our wedding on Orcas last August so we took our wedding to them in mid-September. It was one of those important things I didn't write about. I invited a number of my high school friends and we had a great time together but too little time to really visit so this time we rented a house on the Carter Notch Road for the weekend and hung out together pretty much the whole time. We stayed up late talking and ate breakfast together and went for sunny walks on snowy roads and trails. Although their importance to me feels somewhat diminished by time and distance, those high school friendships remain as warm as ever, even closer in some ways than family.
Mom, Darchelle and John on the Triangle
John reading his Kindle in the dining room
Eric, Mom, John and Brian at the Thompson House
In the quiet week after they left we had a pleasant time with Mom and John and Eric. More sitting around and talking, walks around the triangle, dinners out. On our last evening, during dinner at home, I got a phone call from our real estate agent. We had bought a house.
4/14/2017   New House  
It's a big old house, 2800 sq ft (all but about 80 of it finished) with four bedrooms, 2 1//2 baths, a small room for my office and a large sunny "family" room off the large and recently remodeled kitchen, plus a one-bedroom basement apartment with its own full bath and full kitchen (included in the 2800 sq ft) The house was built in 1910 and the living room and dining room are pretty much original equipment but the previous owners added a full bath upstairs and completely remodeled the kitchen, which had already been remodeled at least once, perhaps when the family room was added. That was done probably 40 years ago and according to the listing agent its original purpose was to house a hot tub, now long gone. Although the house has had five owners (including ourselves) in the past 25 years, all have apparently been content to retain most of the original features of the house - the fine-grained fir floors, the single pane leaded glass casement windows, the varnished fir window trim and dining room paneling, the built-in craftsman-style drawers and shelves, the custom-spaced original cedar siding and the slightly leaning tall brick chimney among them.
Our new house
The front yard
The living room
The back 40
The backyard from the deck
The magnolia tree
Scrounging around online, we found a few photos of the front of the house going back to the 1940s. It was built as a farmhouse surrounded by apple orchards. According to neighbors, the orchards were platted for development after World War II and most of the surrounding houses were built in the early 50s. While the neighborhood changed around it, the house stayed about the same though notice the missing porch column(s) in the black-and-white photo from the 1970s. Bushes and lawn have come and gone but the house has been blue forever.
March 2017 listing photo
2012 listing photo
Summer 2011
2003 listing photo
Circa 1970
Circa 1940
I have found it interesting to compare the staging shots from 2017 and 2012, particularly for the kitchen and family room. The living room was basically unchanged. Covering the dark red paint in the dining room with light and whimsical wallpaper brightened the room up though I would not have replaced the Art Deco chandelier with the IKEA-style spaceship. In the kitchen bringing in gas, swapping the sink and the stove and adding high-quality cabinetry were good ideas. Painting over the varnished wood trim, not such a good idea. The cold gray and white color scheme may be modern but isn't very appealing.
2017 staging - dining room
2017 staging - kitchen
2017 staging - family room
2012 staging - dining room
2012 staging - kitchen
2012 staging - family room
Removing the carpet to expose the original wood floors in the master bedroom was a good idea. So was adding the full bath upstairs, displacing a third of the then very long and narrow north bedroom. Prior to that, all three upstairs bedrooms used the master bath, which is located behind the bed in the master bedroom and was formerly accessed from the north bedroom via the open door visible in the 2012 staging photo. In the backyard the grand staircase down from the deck and the removal of lots of concrete were the main changes although it appears that perhaps a tree, visible the upper right corner of the 2012 photo, may also have been removed.
2017 staging - master bedroom
2017 staging - north bedroom
2017 backyard
2012 staging - master bedroom
2012 staging - north bedroom
2012 backyard
Darchelle's folks came to help us pack up and move. Marco and Monica came over and Ellen too. We all packed boxes on Sunday morning then Richard and I rented a U-Haul Sunday afternoon. After one trip Sunday evening we had mattresses to sleep on the new house so we slept there. We filled the truck twice more on Monday and somehow managed to take 65 boxes of stuff out of our little 1000 sq ft apartment. On Tuesday movers came for the big stuff, the heavier pieces of furniture, and by Wednesday we were all out of the old place. We were sorry to leave the tulips behind.
The Duplex
Magnolia outside our bedroom
Magnolia petal fall
Daniel decided to rent the downstairs apartment from us. For the first week or two he called it the dungeon. He slept on a pad in the bedroom and didn't turn on the heat. Since then he has settled in. He lined the windowsills with his plants. We moved the large carpet and a table and chairs into his kitchen and a full-sized mattress and box spring into his bedroom. He bought sheets and is planning to stay a while.
A week after we moved in, the Magnolia, which had been flowering gloriously outside our bedroom window, began to shed its petals, carpeting the driveway and backyard in pink for a few days. Then it rained and the pedals turned into brown slime which dried up and flaked off the pavement when the sun came out again. A few other minor problems manifested themselves. The gutters are clogged so they overflow onto the deck rather than draining into the little pond created for that purpose in the backyard. A tall limb of the flowering plum out front is rubbing on the main electrical line to the house and needs to be pruned. Every now and then a carpenter ant shows up in the kitchen. Overall though, we are very pleased with the place.
4/23/2017   Birding  
Red-breasted Sapsucker (by Darchelle)
Vesper Sparrow, #199 for the year (by Darchelle)
Sandhill Cranes near Potholes (by Darchelle)
Despite all the activity with the house, Darchelle and I took a day off to go birding east of the mountains. We stopped at most of my usual spots - Bullfrog Pond, Durr Road, Frenchman Coulee, Dodson Road, Lind Coulee, Para Ponds, the Othello Burrowing Owl sites and County Line Ponds, as well as a warbler-rich stop at the Super 8 motel in Ellensburg. I picked up 16 new year birds for the state but missed some of the species I was hoping for including Ruffed Grouse at Bullfrog Pond, Tricolored Blackbird at Para Ponds, American Avocet at County Line Ponds and the Burrowing Owls. Ducks were generally scarce though we did find a Cinnamon Teal at Para Ponds.
We took a few bird photos - mostly Darchelle since it is very difficult for me to handle the camera. The photo of the Red-breasted Sapsucker was from Lake Sammamish State Park back on the 9th but I included it here because it was too nice to leave out. I think Darchelle took that one too.
Exit 62
Bullfrog Pond
Spring Beauty
It has been a snowy and wet winter and the sagebrush steppe was unusually green. Particularly at Durr Road the flowers were in fine form but I found photographing them difficult even with my phone.
Durr road
Yellow Bells
Dagger Pod
Frenchman's Coulee
Balsamroot at Frenchman's Coulee
Yellow-headed Blackbird addressing the crowd (by Darchelle)
We did short hikes at Bullfrog Pond, Durr Road and Frenchman Coulee,
4/25/2017   The garden  
Front yard from steps, left
Front yard from steps, center
Front yard from steps, right
Front yard from driveway, front
Front yard from driveway, back
Here's what the garden looked like 10 days after we moved in. Here's what it looks like a month later.
4/28/2017   House Guests  
Sally and Ben with the girls
Ben and Sally and the kids came to visit this week. It was great to have a house big enough to hold them. They slept in the Sunshine bedroom while the kids slept in the North bedroom. The children had portable beds but they preferred to sleep in large cardboard boxes, of which we had plenty to go around. More boxes, stacked up in the family room, kept them busy building houses and forts while we played with furniture, rearranging and contemplating and rearranging again.
My one-handed landscape phone photography technique
The arrangements we settled on have so far (two months later) worked well. Ben also rigged up the remote control I bought a few months ago for my camera so that I could use it with my teeth. Though it is not the same as using my hands, it has at least enabled me to continue taking some photos. At this point I can't begin to use the camera without it.
5/4/2017   Wiley Slough  
Darchelle drove me up to Wylie Slough today to look for shorebirds. Both dowitchers and both yellowlegs have been reported up there recently but the tide was fairly high when we got there. At first we were able to find only a couple of Short-billed Dowitchers roosting on a log but as we scoped the marsh we found a few more along with a few Least Sandpipers. As we were getting ready to leave, a flock of large shorebirds flew over. Without binoculars I couldn't identify them, nor could I get any photos, but they did make several different vocalizations including a sharp "tee tee tee tee tee", a curlew-like "tiewlee tiewlee" and a rising tremolo call, almost loon-like. Listening to recordings, I confirmed that only Whimbrels make all three of those calls. They, and the dowitchers, were new for the year.
Short-billed Dowitchers (by Darchelle)
Tree Swallow
Bald Eagle
The question occasionally arises as to whether this pursuit of state year birds is the highest and best use of my limited time remaining here on the earth. I don't know if anyone else poses it, but I do from time to time. Perhaps Darchelle references it as well when she wonders if there is any point to our lives. I recognize that it is a game, but it is a game that gets me outdoors looking for and looking at birds and that is something I love. I like this part too, posting images of what I see and writing about them. I used to feel guilty about spending time on activities that didn't benefit others but I don't worry about that much anymore. Some do more good for others and some do less but unless we love what we do we may do more harm than good and in any case, we all die in the end.
5/5/2017   Serving God?  
Harassing Muslims
This afternoon when we drove by NE Northgate Way and 15th Ave NE, a self-styled street preacher from South Park Missionary Baptist Church occupied the corner in front of the Idris Mosque. Dressed in black, holding a large sign saying "Depart from Evil and Turn to Jesus" and bellowing Bible verses over the noise of the passing traffic, he appeared to be picketing the mosque but in the context of the current times the impression he gave was more sinister, a radical representative of the dominant religion and race demonizing Muslims in front of their own church. When I spotted him on the corner I was instantly furious so we parked a few blocks away and I walked back to confront him. Swallowing my anger, I asked him where he was from and what he was doing. He replied that he was a missionary to the Muslims from South Park Missionary Baptist Church. When I asked what impression he might be making on them and others in the community he didn't seem to care. He explained that he was simply serving God by preaching the gospel. I suggested that he was serving the enemy rather than God but, secure in the conviction of his own righteousness, he was impervious to suggestion. A man turning the corner in a blue sedan paused, rolled down his window and cursed us. Several others shook their fists as they drove by. Although they included me in their ire, I was gratified by their support. The preacher, cheerfully unmoved, was still there an hour later as Muslim worshipers converged on the church for Friday evening worship. Their casual responses to him seemed to imply that he might be a regular fixture there, a simple-minded reminder of the ugliness of fundamentalist devotion to God.
5/7/2017   Westport - day 1  
Bottle Beach
Red Knot and Short-billed Dowitcher
Western Sandpiper (by Darchelle)
Ruddy Turnstone at Bottle Beach
Whimbrels at Tokeland
Snowy Plover at Midway Beach
Ed and Delia joined us on Sunday for a trip to Westport to look for shorebirds. We stopped first at the Hoquiam sewage ponds where we failed to find the relatively rare golden plover that others saw around the same time. We arrived at Bottle Beach on the Westport side of the bay just as the tide was beginning to recede, opening up mud flats frequented by lots of Knots and other shorebirds. I was pleased to get some decent shots of the Knots and a Ruddy Turnstone.
We didn't do as well elsewhere along the coast until late afternoon, after Ed and Delia had left us to start home. Darchelle and I drove out onto the beach at Grayland Beach State Park. Both the sun and the tide were low. Just as we did a year ago we found Snowy Plovers foraging on the damp sand near Midway Beach.
Midway Beach backshore
Dune ponds
Midway Slough
Beach Strawberry
Savanna Sparrows
Red-necked Phalarope
We parked the car on Midway Beach and I walked inland across the dunes to the slough while Darchelle napped in the car. The sun cast long shadows across the windblown sand. Rainwater ponds lingered in hollows between the grass-covered dunes and the showy flowers of the Beach Strawberries caught the evening sunlight. Savanna sparrows flushed out of the grass ahead of me. As I approached the slough I heard a Sora whinny - my first of the year. In the flooded marsh I spotted another year bird, a colorful Red-necked Phalarope. I was able to take a few photos and it felt like it used to before ALS, when I could explore beautiful places on my own and find birds and bring back photos to remember them by.
5/8/2017   Westport - day 2  
Darchelle behind Glenacres Inn
Barn Swallow (by Darchelle)
Beach Crow
Darchelle and I stayed at the Glenacres Inn. I called shortly before we showed up and at first they said they had no room but then they relented and let us stay upstairs in the simply-named Guest Room. It is a comfortable place with a historical feel and pretty good birding on the grounds and it doesn't cost much more than generally rather dank local motels. In the morning we spotted 28 species on the grounds in about 45 minutes.
Westport Jetty
Ruddy Turnstones
Western Gulls
Ruddy Turnstone
Red-throated Loon
We spent the morning out at the jetty where I picked up three more year birds. Northbound shorebirds were flying over every few minutes but I was more interested in the "rockpipers" out on the jetty itself, in particular Wandering Tattlers which I wanted to see before they flew north. I walked halfway out the jetty before I finally spotted one. Darchelle followed me for the first hundred yards or so then returned to wait in the car, a good idea since leaping from boulder to boulder would be hard on her still-recovering ankle. Aware that the consequences of a slip or fall would be disastrous for me, I wasn't as comfortable out there as I used to be but I went anyway. I even got some photos though not of the Tattler, despite getting a second chance when I flushed another one just off the beach.
In the afternoon we birded the coast down to Tokeland again but didn't find anything new.
5/10/2017   Western Tanagers  
Male Western Tanager
Female Western Tanager
Western Tanagers are moving through right now. On my way down to the Fill to see what I could find (maybe a Green Heron?) I counted 3 in Ravenna Park and about 20 in the Bigleaf Maples along the Burke-Gilman trail on the west side of University Village, where I took these photos. I felt pretty bold going out by myself for several hours with no one to help me set up the camera. I missed the best shots but was pretty happy with these. I was also pleased that I was able to get my pants down and back up again when I had to pee, back in the bushes in Ravenna Park.
5/13-15/2017   Yakima County Birding  
Rattlesnake Lake forest
Andy and Ellen's Iris
Lazuli Bunting
We had a great trip to Eastern Washington this weekend, birding with Andy and Ellen and picking up 25 new birds for the year. Most of our birding was within Yakima County but we stopped by Rattlesnake Lake and Bullfrog Pond on the way to Yakima on Saturday afternoon for our first six new species of the weekend, then we added two more - Black-chinned Hummingbird and Lazuli Bunting - when we arrived at Andy and Ellen's. We also traded clouds and rain in Seattle for sunshine and temperatures in the 60's in Yakima. That felt good.
Upper Satus Creek
Satus Creek
Andy birding
Western Kingbird
American Avocet and Black-necked Stilts
Mabton Boat Launch marsh
Sunday was a long day, especially for Andy who did almost all of the driving. After admiring the Black-chinned Hummingbirds and Lazuli Buntings in Andy and Ellen's yard, we drove south down Hwy 97 to the Klickitat County line, turned around and birded north through the Satus Creek valley. Though the traffic was heavier than we expected for a Sunday morning, the birding was nonetheless very good. I'd picked up nine new birds for the year by the time we turned off into the Toppenish NWR at the south edge of the Yakima River Valley. Among the new ones we had good views of the Lewis's Woodpeckers, Ash-throated Flycatchers and a Grasshopper Sparrow but only managed to photograph a Western Kingbird. In Toppenish NWR we had 52 species but nothing new for the year. Andy took us to several other areas in the south end of the county, and for new birds I picked up an Avocet at Kerry's Pond, a Lesser Yellowlegs at the Mabton Boat Launch and Long-billed Curlews at Lewandowski Road. All three were new locations for me as well. We returned to Yakima via Hwy 24 through the Black Rock Valley, where the light was particularly beautiful.
Black Rock Valley
WDFW Kelley Hollow in Wenas Valley
Dusky Flycatcher at Wenas Creek
After supper we imprudently decided to head up highway 12 to look for owls. Though the evening was clear and relatively calm, it was also quite cold with temperatures dropping into the high 30s by the time we reached Bethel Ridge. Whether the temperature was to blame or not I don't know, but we did not hear any owls or poorwills anywhere that we stopped.
We slept in a bit on Monday morning so didn't get out to the Wenas Valley until around 11. Andy managed nonetheless to find us a Loggerhead Shrike, potentially the only one I will see all year, at the WDFW Wenas Valley game area. Up in the Wenas Creek areas we found Olive-sided and Gray Flycatchers but no Least Flycatcher; it's probably still too early for those. Along the Mud Flats Road where Darchelle and I have for several years found Sooty Grouse and White-headed Woodpeckers we dipped on the grouse and only barely heard one of the woodpeckers. It was a great weekend of birding nonetheless and we ended up with 120 species for the three days.
5/20/2017   Westport Pelagic Trip  
On this, my first pelagic trip of the year, I picked up 13 new species but took no photos. That was too bad because we had remarkable views of large numbers of marine mammals along with close-up Red and Red-necked Phalaropes, a Tufted Puffin in breeding plumage and a close flyby of a Laysan Albatross. Conditions were pretty good - mostly cloudy, temperature in the high 50s, swell around 5 feet and a generally NW breeze which kept the windward side of the boat pretty wet on the way out. The birding seemed slower than usual much of the time and even when we came across shrimpers and fishing boats we didn't find big flocks of seabirds. We did have good diversity though, with 35 species for the trip including the inshore birds. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Red Phalaropes close enough to the boat that I could see their colorful breeding plumage even without binoculars. I was also happy to pick up Common Tern for the year, not to mention the Laysan Albatross.
The mammal show was amazing. At one point we were in the middle of a group of Pacific White-sided Dolphins which was probably a half mile across with perhaps a hundred individuals visible on the surface at once, many of them leaping out of the water. We had half a dozen of them riding our bow wave for five minutes or more. We encountered multiple groups of Risso's Dolphins, the only dolphins I have previously seen in large numbers out of Westport. We saw similar groups of Northern Right-whale Dolphins, a species I have never before seen well. This time we had individuals leaping out of the water not far from the boat and seven of them right under our bow, weaving in and out beneath us. Their bodies are long and slender and their tails notably smaller than other dolphins. Lacking a dorsal fin, they look like black torpedoes. In addition to the dolphins we had more than a dozen Humpback Whales, one of which breached within 100 yards of the boat.
Hydrangea with pot - $10
10 inch succulent - $5
Bed frame - $75
Delia was out of town so we persuaded Ed to join us on the overnight to Westport. We even persuaded him to take Darchelle's place on the boat. For the first time, he didn't get sick even once. Darchelle, back on shore, spent more time at garage sales than she did at the beach and met us at the gangplank with a car full of treasures. On the way home we picked up yet another treasure, a very nice full bed frame from Olympia which we just barely squeezed into the car.
5/26/2017   Liberty  
Audubon's Warbler
Mixed coniferous forest above NF123
Ruffed Grouse (by Darchelle)
Having missed Flammulated Owls and Common Poorwills 10 days ago with Andy and Ellen at Bethel Ridge we decided to try again, this time in the Liberty area along Hwy 97 south of Blewett Pass. A recent report of a Spotted Owl over there provided an added incentive. Since we were headed to Walla Walla for the weekend anyhow we decided to camp out above town, my first time sleeping under the stars since camping out with David near Mount Baker a year and a half ago. Though I have declined quite a bit since then, I can still get up from a prone position on the ground, and that is the key requirement. Pooping in the woods is also a challenge nowadays but if necessary Darchelle can help me with that.
At our first stop a half-mile above Liberty we found a Williamson's Sapsucker, a year bird. Actually it was not our first stop; that was at a perpetual yard sale in town where they had some cute birdhouses and lots of junk, including the exact same model of backyard fire pit that Darchelle had just ordered online. Seeing it in its rusty real-life glory we realized that it would be too big for our yard. Darchelle was able to contact the company but they refused to cancel the order. Oh well, it will make a good birthday present for someone in the family.
Heading up Cougar Gulch to scout out the region before dark, we turned off on NF123 and parked when the road was blocked by a closed gate. We got out and hiked up the road another half-mile or so until we started to run out of daylight. On the way up we pinpointed the exact position in the exact pine tree where a Sooty Grouse was hooting but neither of us could manage to actually see the grouse. That was my first grouse of any kind for the year; I'm hoping for a Ruffed Grouse next.
As darkness fell we drove back down NF9718 to Liberty then up NF9712, stopping every third of a mile or so to listen for owls. We heard quite a few, including 8 Flammulated and a Great Horned as well as several Common Poorwills. None of the Flammulated Owls were close enough to the road to tempt us to wander into the woods in an attempt to see them. I haven't actually seen a Flammulated Owl since I stumbled across a young one sitting on a branch in the middle of the afternoon on a steep slope above the Conejos River Valley in Colorado, a few days before I got fired from my job at the Division of Wildlife back in the summer of 1981. That was a formative moment, but that is another story.
We camped out at the end of NF118 on a remote-feeling ridge overlooking Williams Creek, about a mile northeast of town by air. One mosquito started buzzing me at dawn. Since I couldn't slap it I got up and went birding, hiking over a knob south of us and down to the toe of the ridge then up a valley past an apparently unguarded miner's cabin and back up an open forested slope to camp. I was exhausted at that point from lack of food and sleep so I crawled back into bed with Darchelle and slept another half hour before we both got up. As we were driving back down Cougar Gulch after breakfast and packing up, we ran across (but not over) a Ruffed Grouse in the middle of the road. Check!
5/28/2017   Birding in the Blues  
Blue Mountains montane forest
Nest Hole
Great Gray Owl on nest
Having to some extent gotten over my shyness about asking for assistance from other birding experts, I called Mike Denny on Friday afternoon when we got into Walla Walla and asked him if he was going out birding anytime over the weekend, and if so could I join him. He graciously agreed to take me out for a couple of hours on Sunday morning. After I hung up I realized Richard would want to probably want to go to so I called him back and it would be fine with Mike if Richard joined us. That worked out really well because Mike and Richard had a great time swapping stories and political opinions while we drove between birding spots.
Foremost among those was a Great Gray Owl nesting site on Jasper Mountain which Mike's wife MerryLynn had discovered a year or two ago by spotting an owl body feather stuck to the side of an old Aspen snag. This morning that Aspen snag contained a female Great Gray Owl apparently sitting on eggs. I think Mike told us that the year before last several Great Gray Owls fledged from that nest but that last year their nesting attempt had failed. Hopefully this year they will be successful again.
Richard observing the owl
Searching for Green-tailed Towhees
North Fork Coppei Creek
After watching the owl for a while we drove over to Mount Pleasant Road to bird some in the montane forest before heading down North Fork Coppei Creek Road. There we heard and maybe glimpsed a Green-tailed Towhee, another local specialty. The first time I saw them in the Blue Mountains, back in 2013, I found it very difficult to distinguish the towhee song from the very similar Fox Sparrow and Lazuli Bunting songs. Now, having heard the towhees singing every summer since then, I immediately recognize them.
Back down in the valley we stopped along the beautiful strip of riparian Hawthorne scrub habitat along South Fork Coppei Creek. MerryLynn had discovered a Least Flycatcher there yesterday but though Mike and I both thought we heard it singing once or twice we were unable to confirm it. A few minutes later on the Biscuit Ridge Road we almost ran over my second Ruffed Grouse of the year.
On the way home, Darchelle and I returned to Liberty after dark and owled until 1:30 AM. We ended up at an open mine landing on a hillside above Williams Creek just about a half-mile by air east-northeast of the center of town. We had just started heading back north towards NF114 when Darchelle stopped the car and said "Get out, I want you to listen." I did, and heard nothing other than a couple of the ubiquitous distant Flammulated Owls so I got back into the car. Then I thought I heard something different so I told Darchelle "Stop. I want to listen again." Stepping behind the car, I heard it clearly - soft, rather deliberate barking notes, "renh renh renh renh renh", medium in pitch with a somewhat nasal quality, from high in a tree behind us. Darchelle got out of the car and heard it too. We waited and after a minute or so heard it again, this time farther away back towards the mine landing from which we had come. We both immediately thought "Spotted Owl" and reviewed the possible alternatives in our mind. Too high-pitched for Great Horned, too low-pitched for Flammulated or the other small owls. That left Barred or Spotted. Because every Barred Owl call I have ever heard has been much more emphatic than the few Spotted Owl calls I have heard, I believe it was a Spotted Owl.
5/29/2017   The Garden  
Front garden from the sidewalk
The Herb garden and Shade garden
Back yard - Rhododendron under the Madrone (5/21)
Lilacs blooming by the front door (5/07)
We haven't done much in the garden yet except admire the flowers as they come out and dump a little water on things if they begin to wilt. Though there are still a few bare spots, it has really filled out since a month ago. I meant to document its progress with a regular series of photos but these are about all I have.
5/31/2017   May Wrapup  
Lewis Creek Trail
Darchelle gardening
Great Horned Owl at Wylie Slough
Darchelle works Tuesdays and Wednesdays so those two days I am stranded at home, unable to drive and often unwilling to venture out in case I find myself in an embarrassing situation. Needing to urinate and being unable to get my penis out of my pants to do so is one such situation that comes to mind. Usually I sit in front of the computer half the day and surf the web, getting up now and then to eat some of the food that Darchelle fixes for me before she leaves in the morning. Sometimes though I summon up the initiative to arrange for someone to take me on an outing. If I cut back on liquids in the morning and pee right before I leave the house I can usually hold off on peeing again until I get home.
This month I got out twice on midweek outings. Laurie took me out hiking on the Lewis Creek trails on Cougar Mountain mid-month. We hiked right past the house where she grew up and where I stayed at times with her parents when I first moved to Seattle back in the early 80s. It is now part of an expensive private school surrounded by expensive housing developments but back then it was a rural farmhouse on the edge of suburbia. One of my last visits there was for Laurie's wedding in the backyard. After I became an Adventist and got married I more or less lost touch with her parents, as I did with most of my other non-Adventist friends and former hangouts. But Laurie and her parents were very important people for me for a while back then. It was Laurie who encouraged me to pursue programming as a career, and her dad's Apple IIc was the first personal computer I ever encountered.
My other midweek outing was on the last day of the month when Ed and Delia and I drove up to Skagit County. Our initial objective was shorebirds, particularly a Wilson's phalarope, recently reported at Eide Road. We found only Semipalmated Plovers and Greater Yellowlegs, and had to work hard for those. Continuing up to Wylie Slough we spent an hour or so feeding mosquitoes and photographing Great Horned Owls. No new year birds but a reasonably good outing nonetheless.
I wrapped up May with 282 species in Washington for the year and 224 for the month, of which 73 were new for 2017.
6/2-4/2017   Northeast Washington birding  
A spring season of birding in Washington is incomplete without a trip to the northeast corner of the state. Again this year we shared the trip with Andy and Ellen, meeting them in Ellensburg after spending the night listening for owls at Liberty again. This time we slept at the mine landing after sitting quietly and listening for about an hour and a half before dark. We heard one each of the usual suspects - Common Poorwill, Flammulated Owl and Great Horned Owl. Around 11:30 PM after we had crawled into our bed under the stars, we heard the mystery owl again. This time it gave only three short soft barking hoots, "renh renh renh". We were too tired to crawl out of bed and find the flashlight to try to see it, and we did not hear it again.
Othello Burrowing Owls (by Darchelle)
Lesser Scaup (by Darchelle)
Sprague White-faced Ibis
We had other owls to chase, including the Burrowing Owls in Othello which we failed to find last weekend. This time I paid closer attention to Blair's directions and found the owls exactly where he said they were, hanging out just off the road along a concrete-lined irrigation ditch. Even knowing where to look though, we might haved missed them but for Ellen's sharp eyes. In other Othello highlights, we found a Tricolored Blackbirds at the grain terminal above the Para Ponds and Wilson's Phalaropes at the County Line Ponds. Continuing north to Lind Coulee, we promptly found both Forster's Terns and Clark's Grebes, the latter outnumbering Western grebes by 3 to 1. That doesn't happen very often. They were unfortunately too far off for photos. Our next stops were around the town of Sprague where high moisture levels this year have turned all the hollows in the scablands into grassy marshes. We expected to find Black Terns there and we did, and Eared Grebes at their usual breeding area in the Reardan Ponds at Davenport. We did not expect to find White-faced Ibis at Sprague since they're scarce in the state this year and had not been reported for a week, but Ellen spotted them nearly hidden in a grassy marsh below the waste treatment ponds. That made nine year birds for the day, a great start to our trip.
Davenport Eared Grebe
Davenport Ruddy Duck
Davenport Cinnamon Teal
We ate supper outdoors at Mondo's Italian restaurant in Chewelah but had to spend the night down the road in Colville because the Chewelah motels were full for the local high school graduation. We stayed at Benny's Colville Inn and admired the stunning collection of stuffed fish adorning the lobby while we checked in.
Stream at Westside Calispell Road bridge
American Redstart
Pileated Woodpecker in nest hole
Bobolink (by Darchelle)
Eastern Kingbird (by Darchelle)
Lewis's Woodpecker
In a long day of birding we hit the highlights of the area today and a few other spots as well to pick up another eight new birds for the year. We found all the species that I was particularly looking for: a Clay-colored Sparrow at Hafer Road south of Chewelah, Red-eyed Vireos, a Northern Waterthrush and an American Redstart at the Westside Calispell Road bridge and a Bobolink in the fields farther north along the Westside Calispell Road. We did not find any rare sparrows along the Kalispell Reservation Dike Rd but we didn't really expect to. Salmo Pass was still snowed in so we returned to Colville, dropped Darchelle off at the motel and drove north along the Kettle River to Orient. Least Flycatchers (scarce in the state this year) and Veeries (rare in the northeast corner of the state) had been reported recently along the Orient Cutoff Rd east of town. We found them both by sound, the flycatchers in pine groves and the Veeries along the stream. A female Dusky Grouse with little babies unwisely contemplating crossing the highway near Barstow was an unexpected bonus. Andy noted that this far east in the state the Dusky Grouse truly are Dusky and not Sooty hybrids.
After tasty sandwiches and excellent beer for supper at the Pourhouse (Old Chub by Oskar Blues) along the main drag in Colville we ventured out into the valley west of town and heard lots of Nighthawks, Soras and Virginia Rails overhead but no Common Poorwills on the hillside above the valley.
The Stickpin Burn east of Curlew
Black-backed Woodpecker
Northern Hawk Owl
In the morning we searched for Spruce Grouse and Three-toed Woodpeckers on the Albian Hill Road and at Sherman Pass. We heard the woodpeckers drumming right away but could not get a visual and I don't quite trust my ability to identify Three-toeds by their drumming so I didn't count them as new for the year. FWIW, Andy said he would probably have counted them. After hearing Hairy Woodpeckers drumming a few hours later, I was inclined to agree with him. Hairy Woodpeckers, consistent with their high-strung aspect in other respects, are frenetic drummers as well. Three-toeds are more laid-back.
After lunch Andy offered us a choice. We could head home immediately or we could take a couple of hours to explore the country east of Curlew where another highway crossed the Kettle Range about 20 miles north of Sherman Pass. We chose to explore, unaware that the entire region had burned two years ago in the Stickpin fire complex. We explored anyway, driving up NF6120 west of the crest to look for woodpeckers. At 4.5 miles in we missed a nesting pair of Three-toed Woodpeckers (reported by others later) but we did discover a nesting pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers in the same general area. At 5.6 miles from the paved road we crossed Lone Ranch Creek, turned left down the valley and proceeded past a temporary barricade. Seeing the little damp meadows along the creek surrounded by burned trees, Andy commented that this would be "Primo, el primo, habitat for a Northern Hawk Owl". Darchelle, who had been napping, woke up at the mention of a Hawk Owl, peered out the window and suddenly exclaimed "A bird. A big bird! A Hawk Owl!!" Incredibly, she was right! Not because she's usually wrong, but because it was incredibly unlikely that we would stumble across a Hawk Owl, primo habitat or not. There has not been a known nesting record in Washington since 2013. But there it was, sitting in the top of a small dead spruce just 50 feet from Darchelle's window.
The Hawk Owl meadow
The Hawk Owl on its perch
Northern Hawk Owl
Andy stopped the car and we got out and took a ton of pictures. The owl did not seem to be disturbed by our presence. It made a high-pitched chattering call from time to time as it watched us and scanned the meadow around its perch and kept a wary eye on the sky overhead. Darchelle thought she heard another owl calling nearby but we could not find it. A week later birders confirmed the presence of two adults and at least two fledged young.
So our trip began with an owl and ended with an owl, and Darchelle picked up the rarest of the 15 owls she is trying to see or hear in Washington state this year.
6/12/2017   About me  
I came across a pretty accurate description of myself today on the Internet. I have reworded it slightly here:
While at times you are extroverted and sociable, you often feel introverted and disinclined to engage with people around you. In general you have found it unwise to be too open in revealing yourself to others. You take pride in being an independent thinker and tend not to accept others' opinions without satisfactory proof. Preferring a certain amount of change and variety, you can become dissatisfied when hemmed in by a daily routine or other people's rules. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. You at times have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. Although you generally come across as disciplined and in control, internally you tend to feel insecure and worry about things. You are also bothered from time to time by the feeling that you have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. Like many of us, you have a tendency to be critical of yourself, which perhaps explains your pronounced need for other people to like and admire you. Nonetheless, those who are aware of your personality flaws feel that you compensate for them well.
Did whoever wrote this know me very well? I don't think so, though here's why it initially seemed to fit.
6/15/2017   Local Outings  
Yesler Swamp
Most of the birds I'm still looking for in the state this year are far afield but there are a few local birds I haven't seen yet. I found one of them two days ago with Daniel's help at Yesler Swamp down along with Lake Washington by the UW. Green Herons nest in marshy areas along lakes and ponds Western Washington, including at Yesler Swamp, but I have a hard time finding them until August when they seem to be everywhere out in the open. Daniel wanted to go kayaking on the lake so I suggested he put in at Belvoir Place on 42nd Ave NE, a narrow pocket park offering waterfront access not more than 100 yards from Yesler Swamp. I walked over to the swamp and waited for him and as soon as he came into sight he shouted at me and gestured toward a grassy island out at the edge of the open water. As I looked over there I spotted a Green Heron foraging along the shore and just about to disappear into the grass. Thank you Daniel!
Another bird that shows up locally now and then isn't really local. Black Swifts nest under waterfalls and spend sunny days cruising the Cascade Crest but when it rains or the mountains are shrouded in clouds the swifts forage across the lowlands as far west as Puget Sound. I've seen them in Auburn and in Seattle but the nearest nest site is Snoqualmie Falls in North Bend. We found them in North Bend a year ago so this afternoon I suggested we attempt to repeat last year's success. The weather was overcast with bands of rain moving through at times. It was raining fairly heavily as we headed over to pick up Ed and Delia but I had checked the Doppler and there appeared to be a break in the showers heading our way. The break was only apparent because it was drizzling fiercely when we arrived in North Bend. As we did last year, we drove down North Bend Way and this time it was Darchelle who spotted the swifts overhead. At just about the same time, I caught a glimpse of a Common Nighthawk above us. She pulled over and we all jumped out into the rain but the swifts were gone. Trusting her sighting, we waited and within a minute or two the swifts returned and they had the long-winged and long-tailed silhouette of Black Swifts. We watched in the rain while Darchelle went to get gas and the swifts disappeared and reappeared a couple more times but the Nighthawk never showed up again.
6/14/2017   Wenas Creek  
Western Bluebirds
Wenas Creek riparian at the yellow gate
The Indigo Bunting
Ed and Delia joined us to seek the Indigo Bunting which has been singing at the entrance to Wenas Creek for a week now. Our eagerness to see the Bunting did not dissuade us from stopping along Durr and Umptanum Roads to pick up a few a few sagebrush species. Using the remote, I even succeeded in getting a couple of photos.
Juvenile Sage Thrasher
Pine forest along Mud Flats Road
Ed and Delia above Mud Flats Road
The Indigo Bunting was spectacular, even if backlit. We found it exactly where it has been reported, singing in cottonwoods by the yellow gate. Continuing up the valley we did not venture into the campground area but instead drove up Mud Flats Road past the big meadow where a couple of families with guns were shooting target practice. We waved and they waved back. We parked a short distance above that and hiked west into the pine forest seeking Sooty Grouse and White-headed Woodpeckers. We found a grouse (about 300 yards NNW of the big meadow) very high up in a pine tree thanks to great spotting by Delia, and I located a pair of the woodpeckers nearby though unfortunately no one else had a good view of them.
Aspen Grove along Maloy Rd
Rose and Aspen
Mule Deer in velvet
In the Aspen grove where Maloy Road crosses Wenas Creek we found the continuing Least Flycatcher, and at the edge of the pine woods a quarter mile up the road we photographed several Mule deer bucks with velvet antlers. Attempting to reach NF1712 and the high country above South Fork Wenas Creek, we followed one of the dirt roads up past the horse camp but it eventually petered out so we returned to the horse camp and tried another road up into the montane forest. We reached a point on one of the ridges overlooking the Wenas Valley about 4 miles northwest of the Maloy-Audubon road junction but the sun was getting low and Ed was getting nervous about our ability to find our way back to civilization. For my part I was getting nervous about getting back to Ellensburg in time for beer and dinner at the Ellensburg pasta company, so we turned back.
Lupine in Montane Forest
Scarlet Gilea (Ipomopsis aggregata)
Bitterroot and Buckwheat
Thanks to my recollection of the route and Darchelle's aggressive pace driving down the mountain, we made it to Ellensburg Pasta Company for dinner, though I forget which beer I ordered. On the way home we took Ed and Delia up to Liberty to listen for owls. A Poorwill and a couple of distant Flammulated Owls were calling, both new for the year for Ed and Delia. I think we heard a Great Horned Owl as well but we did not hear the mystery owl.
6/17/2017   Lake Serene Trail  
I don't recall what we did all day this Saturday but at 5:30 in the afternoon Darchelle and I set out for a hike on the Lake Serene trail near Index. I had Darchelle douse me in bug dope despite minimal evidence of mosquitoes. The forest is deep leafy and green and the understory so lush and deep that we could not catch a glimpse of a presumed bear not far above the trailhead even though it was only 50 feet off the trail. We passed many people descending. It seemed to me that most of them were either Asian or Indian but when I counted for a little while, Caucasians were predominant.
We hiked maybe 20 minutes past the falls before concluding that he did not have enough daylight to reach the lake. We were impressed by the big trees along that part of the trail. I did a bird list which included 20 Swainson's Thrushes singing and calling during our descent.
Lake Serene Trail
Darchelle and me
Bridal Vail Falls
On the way home we took a little side trip up the Sultan Basin Road in pursuit of a reported Northern Pygmy Owl. We did not hear the owl but we did hear lots of nighthawks calling and diving over the clearcuts.
6/21/2017   A Birding Dream  
This morning I remembered a dream but unfortunately this evening I have forgotten some of it:
Darchelle and I are birding with Andy and Ellen, in their car. I am outside of the car when I spot a small bird that I do not recognize though it is familiar, perhaps from another dream. Brightly illuminated, it has the general coloration of the Clay-colored Sparrow with the addition of fine streaking like a Lincoln's Sparrow, but its shape and posture are more like a short-tailed Bewick's Wren and the erect feathers of its crest are curved forward like those of one of the rare native birds of Maui. I try to point the bird out to the others but by the time I get their attention my focus is on a dark patch of bare dirt in front of me where several very small brown birds are either lying on or digging in the ground. A small fish is buried between them about an inch under the surface. My son David comes over to look and I tell him to be careful because he almost stepped on one of the birds. Ellen then scolds me for scolding David, saying something to the effect that I would have made the same mistake myself. I feel a little ashamed that she scolded me.
I have pretty much lost the rest of the dream. There were several men dressed in military uniforms, olive-brown with red markings, which I made note of at the time to remember in the morning when I woke up so that I would be able to remember the dream. Too bad that didn't work. There was also something about balancing alongside the car on sliding panels of glass like textured and tinted shower doors. The dream felt significant but I just don't remember enough to do much with it.
Considering the dream a few days later I was able to decipher a little more of it. It is in part a recap of my experience of birding over the past several years and in part an illustration of how I deal with the impact of my increasing disability on this activity that I love so much. The first bird in the dream refers to several birding trips I did with Susan while we were still married. Birding was basically a solo activity for me back then and it was the highlight of my life, represented in the dream by the bright light by which I viewed the bird. In the 2013 I began to bird with other people, represented by my calling others over to see the bird in the dream. I also learned that I had ALS and was facing disability and an early death, represented by the dead fish and the dark birds partly buried in the soil around it. Ellen, who is almost invariably kind, gracious and helpful in person, scolds me for scolding David for being clumsy in the dream. She represents the two attitudes I adopt at different times towards myself in connection with birding; sometimes I am patient and kind to myself but at other times I am angry and critical, an approach which I know is not helpful.
While I'm writing, I might as well mention that today I am still feeling weak from my fever on Monday but did not have to take any Tylenol last night. It was an odd illness, apparently a relapse of a very slight fever I had ten days ago when we visited Claire. This morning I still had a hint of a headache and a dizzy feeling if I turned my head too quickly. I told her Darchelle it felt like a hangover so she asked how much beer I drank last night with Daniel, but I'd had only a few ounces.
After Darchelle left for work this morning I turned on the computer and surfed the web for about five hours. Having told Gabriel about varves and how they have been used to track changes in climate, I thought I would read up on them and see if I was correct. I was, partly. I found this website on glacial varves and learned that they have been used to precisely date the retreat of the continental glacier northward across New England between 18,000 and 14,000 years ago. They have not been as useful in determining paleoclimate. For that, glacial ice cores have been more helpful.
6/24-25/2017   Bethel Ridge and Liberty  
Silver Falls
Bull Elk
Common Poorwill
Daniel knows of people who have kayaked Sunset Falls on the Ohanepecosh River on the east side of Mount Rainier National Park but I couldn't imagine it. I walked down to look at the falls because Darchelle needed to stop for a nap while we were on our way over to White Pass. The purpose of our trip was to look for a Three-toed Woodpecker at Bethel Ridge and listen for owls again at Liberty. We did not find the Three-toed Woodpecker at Bethel Ridge and we heard only a single Flammulated Owl at Liberty.
While birding at Bethel Ridge we first ran into Richard and Mary from the Tacoma ABC (who had also not found the Three-toed Woodpecker) and then into Blair, with whom we birded for an hour or so. The flowers up there were beautiful - red Paintbrush, blue Lupine, pink and white Phlox, yellow Arnica and many more, but I didn't have the energy to take pictures. As we started down the hill we flushed two big bull elk in velvet then Darchelle spotted a rabbit with big fluffy feet in the road - a Snowshoe Hare.
We arrived in Liberty around 8:30 PM. Darchelle wanted to explore so we drove up the (private) Boulder Creek Road and tried a couple of the roads south of Boulder Creek. A lot of the area has been selectively cut but there were small patches of mixed-age conifers. I was worried about getting intercepted by irate locals but we didn't meet anyone. Returning to Williams Creek, we drove about a half-mile up NF-114 and found a flat spot to camp about a quarter mile up a spur road to the right. A Nighthawk was diving directly overhead when we arrived; the noise was startling. Darchelle photographed a Common Poorwill on the road by the light of our headlights. We listened for owls for a couple of hours and heard only the Flammulated but we saw an owl which may have been our mystery owl. We flushed it as we drove up to the mine landing and glimpsed it only briefly flying away, long enough to determine that it was definitely larger than a Flammulated and probably smaller than a Great Horned. It could have been a Spotted.
Tiger Lily
Black-backed Woodpecker
In the morning we slept in until the sun became too warm. I looked at my phone after I got up and was surprised to see that it was almost 8AM, not 6AM as I had supposed. We ate some granola for breakfast then bushwhacked up to the crag on top of Flag Mountain, all of a quarter mile away but it felt longer. The birds were more active than I expected for late June and I assembled a pretty good list including a female Black-backed Woodpecker in a lightly burned area along the ridge near NF-114. It offered us some excellent photo opportunities but the remote kept malfunctioning when I tried to take the photos. Very frustrating. Otherwise it was a pleasant hike in sunny mixed forest with some nice wildflowers.

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