Brian's Journal - Winter 2017

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Harris's Sparrow, Carnation, January 8
Rusty Blackbird, Bellingham, March 19

1/07/2017   Green Lake frozen  
Green Lake ducks
Hybrid Canada x White-fronted Goose
Monica's fish stew
I ran and walked around the lake today. It was almost completely iced over, and the ice was thick enough that people were walking on it. They stayed close to shore except for one man on skates who took off out across the center of the lake with his young daughter in tow. We stood on the shore and watched, expecting at any moment to witness an irreversible accident. If the man and his daughter broke through, no one would be able to rescue them. They skated all the way across to the island along the far shore. We who prudently obeyed the signs to keep off the ice sighed with relief, or was it in envy, when they returned without mishap.
Wigeon, including two Eurasians and a hybrid, were concentrated in an opening in the ice along the north shore of the lake. Canada Geese clustered around a similar opening on the west side. Among them was an unusual Greater White-fronted x Canada hybrid, the size of the Canadas with the white chin strap and similar coloration but with orange legs and white on the front of the face around an orangish bill.
In an informal arrangement, Monica brings supper over on Tuesday evenings when Darchelle is working. This week she brought fish stew with fresh vegetables, warmed with red chili flakes.
1/08/2017   Carnation sparrows  
Carnation Marsh
Harris's and White-crowned Sparrows
Harris's Sparrow
Today, Sunday, we drove out to Sikes Lake and Carnation Marsh in search of sparrows - a Harris's in weedy flower fields by Sikes Lake and a Swamp at Carnation Marsh. Darchelle and I had been out there on Friday but failed to see either sparrow. Ed and Delia joined us today and we were able to photograph one of the two Harris's sparrows. They were sufficiently sedentary that I was able to get acceptable photos. We found no sign of the Swamp Sparrow.
1/14/2017   Sequim  
Sunrise on the Olympics
Palm Warbler at Three Crabs
Great Blue Heron in frozen marsh
Dunlin at Three Crabs
Hanging out on Ediz Hook
Harlequin Ducks
Another birding trip with Ed and Delia, targeting a Palm Warbler at Three Crabs and a Ruddy Turnstone in Port Angeles, among other species. We stopped at the usual spots on the way out - Shine Tidelands (where we at a good look at a Pileated Woodpecker in the morning sunlight), Gardiner Beach (where we did not see a Yellow-billed Loon), Jimmy-Come-Lately Creek Estuary (where we missed a White-throated Sparrow), John Wayne Marina (where the Long-tailed Ducks were very far out) and finally our first destination, Three Crabs, where I surprised Ed by quickly locating the Palm Warbler then alarmed him by walking across the new man-made lagoon on the ice, which was thick and opaque. With daylight left to kill We continued on to Port Angeles in search of the Ruddy Turnstone. We scanned the waterfront and picked up Black Turnstones but no Ruddy. Sunset was approaching behind a gray overcast and most people had gone home by the time we got out to Ediz Hook. We scoped the bay, hit the bathrooms then started home ourselves but stopped to scan the gulls which had accumulated on the log booms by the paper mail while we were out on the spit. Nothing unusual but suddenly while I was looking through the scope the Ruddy Turnstone popped into view in the scope and just as quickly disappeared again, unfortunately before anyone else could see it. The Turnstone made 19 year birds for the day and 104 for the year so far, but I'm not planning to do a big year or anything like that.
1/16/2017   Skagit Flats  
Looking for the Falcated Duck
Padilla Bay
The Falcated Duck
A Falcated Duck was reported along the Padilla Bay shore trail yesterday. Blair was already on it, confirming that it was still around, when I called him this morning so Darchelle and I drove up there too. Blair was gone but the duck was present when we arrived. Other birders pointed it out among the thousands of Wigeon in the bay. We had good scope views but it was too far out for good photos though we took a few anyhow. My first life bird of the year.
Lindgren Road
American Tree Sparrows at Lindgren Road
Yellow-headed Blackbird, Francis road
Since we were in the area we decided to stop by Lindgren Road to look for the pair of tree sparrows wintering there and to check the blackbird flock at the farm on Francis Road where we saw the Rusty Blackbird last fall. I found the tree sparrows fairly easily. The Rusty has apparently moved on but I did find a juvenile Yellow-headed Blackbird in the crowd of starlings and Redwings.
1/17/2017   Magnuson Park  
Bohemian Waxwing
Bohemian and Cedar Waxwings
Cedar Waxwings
Greater and Lesser (lower left) Scaup
Robins visiting at bath time
Robin bathing
Our local Magnuson Park has drawn the attention of lots of bird photographers this month because of the flock of Bohemian Waxwings foraging with the more common Robins and Cedar Waxwings on the bumper crop of Hawthorne fruits. I've taken my camera down there a couple of times and just gone down there running and walking several other times. As luck would have it, I had my best views of the waxwings on mornings when I left my camera at home. Nonetheless I did manage to get a few pictures.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Gray Squirrel
Cooper's Hawk
Ruby-crowned Kinglets don't usually show their ruby crown. This one had just bathed. Note that the squirrel and the Cooper's Hawk both have rounded tails. The shape of the tail is more helpful for identifying the hawk than the squirrel. In another pointless comparison, the park's Cooper's Hawks are generally much more skittish than the local squirrels, but today the squirrel was worried when I stopped for a photo while the hawk appeared indifferent not only to me but also to dog walkers and other photographers. Speaking of dog walkers, I'd like to take a moment to rant about all the loose dogs in Magnuson Park. Off-leash dogs are supposed to be confined to the dedicated off-leash dog area but many local dog owners pay no attention to that rule, probably because the park personnel also pay no attention to it. Loose dogs rummage everywhere through the natural habitat areas of the park, often times with their owners tossing balls or squeaky toys to actively encourage the incursions. To be fair though, the dogs probably don't disturb the wildlife any more than the photographers do.
1/23/2017   Rosario  
Last week Eric Heisey reported a Yellow-billed Loon at Rosario Beach State Park. I think his sighting was a flyover but when it was reported again in the bay off the beach I decided to follow the crowd up there to see it.
Samish Flats
Bald Eagle
White-crowned Sparrow
Ed drove me up on Friday the 20th. We went to the Samish Flats first, perhaps in search of a reported Gyrfalcon. Lots of Snow Geese, ducks and Bald Eagles. At the East 90 we found a Short-eared Owl, my first owl of the year, out hunting by day with the Redtails, Rough-legs and Northern Harriers. In the falcon department we had to settle for a Kestrel and a Peregrine.
Harlequin Ducks
Black Oystercatchers
We didn't have to settle at Rosario. The Yellow-billed Loon was right where it was supposed to be, drifting around the bay off Rosario Beach, and as advertised it was nearly in breeding plumage with a big bright yellow bill. Although the light was excellent for photos the loon generally stayed some distance off the rocks. Not so with the Harlequin Ducks and Oystercatchers; they posed practically underfoot and we took lots of pictures. Even with my gimpy hands I got some nice ones.
View from Rosaria Head
Yellow-billed Loon
Intertidal Song Sparrow
Darchelle and I drove back up on the 23rd, a sunny mild day. The loom was just off the beach when we arrived. I struggled to get the camera into position and depress the shutter, and more or less failed. I was very angry and swore a lot. I think I may have shocked Blair, also down on the beach taking photos, because I have in the past maintained my composure when I have been with him. Oh well. We hung out quite a while on Rosario Head. I enjoyed visiting with other birders and Darchelle enjoyed sitting among the rocks in the sunshine working on some stuff. I did end up getting a few photos.
Black Oystercatcher and Crow
Yellow-billed Loon
Harlequin Ducks
This time we also got decent scope views of the rather rare Rock Sandpiper which has been hanging out on the Head. It had been out on the distant rocks with turnstones last Friday and Ed and I had been only barely able to identify it.
1/24/2017   Birding with Blair  
Blair photographing the Mockingbird
The Mockingbird
Mount Rainier looming above Tacoma
Gog-Le-Hi-Te gulls
Bald Eagle
The Barrow's Goldeneye
In a day of birding, Blair and I tried for several targets. We found the Mockingbird in Kirkland and came away with a sixpack of frozen wild duck breasts. That was unexpected. We heard the Red-shouldered Hawk at the Green River Natural Area in Kent but at the time I didn't recognize the call and couldn't locate the source. Continuing on down to Tacoma, we looked for the Slaty-backed Gull but did not find it. I did get another year bird though, a Barrow's Goldeneye along Ruston Way.
1/30/2017   Vancouver lowlands  
Ridgefield Red-shouldered Hawk
Snow Goose with Cackling Geese
Snow Geese
Since Darchelle and I were driving down to Longview for Andy and Xyrene's baby shower, we decided to coordinate with Andy and Ellen to do some birding. Darchelle booked a couple of nights at a two-bedroom AirB&B in Vancouver for less than a motel would've been. It had a kitchen so we shared breakfasts and dinners there as well. The shower was Sunday afternoon so Sunday morning we drove the Ridgefield loop drive together, where we both heard and saw a Red-shouldered Hawk, my first in the refuge in multiple attempts. The shower was sweet; I will post some photos when I get them from Darchelle.
Monday was a quiet overcast day. We spent most of the day birding the Vancouver Lake lowlands, lots of ducks and geese and a fair number of Sandhill Cranes. The sights and sounds of large flocks of Snow Geese were stirring but I was more excited by a brief scope view of a White-throated Sparrow. That sighting meant that I had seen all four of the hard-to-find Washington wintering sparrows - Harris's, Swamp, American Tree and White-throated - in the first month of the year. I didn't get a photo of this one or of the Swamp Sparrow, which I managed to see only briefly at Lake Union Park several weeks ago.
On the way home we ate at La Tarasca, a Mexican restaurant in Centralia that Daniel recommended to me. Loved it. I would get the Chili Relleno again but the Carnitas was a bit bland.
2/01/2017   Padilla Bay  
Padilla Bay widgeon flock
Wilson's Snipe
Wilson's Snipe
Andy and Ellen decided to hang out one more day on the west side so we drove up to Padilla Bay to see if we could find the Falcated Duck, even though it hasn't been reported for more than a week. We walked the Bayshore trail and scanned the widgeon flock several times. Last weekend therd were almost no widgeon at all in Padilla Bay but today I estimated that there were 3000 or more. Later when I reviewed a panorama of photos I took of the flock I counted at least 5500. Photos also revealed 9 Eurasian Widgeon where I had only been able to pick out 3 in the field. In the ditch along the trail where we had found one Wilson's snipe last weekend, there were two today, both sitting quietly in the sunshine.
We spent much of the day on the Samish Flats, driving around to see what we could find, scoping here and there in search of large falcons. Nothing unusual, though we did find Short-eared Owls at the East 90 this time. As we drove by the swan flock in the field at the north end of the Bayshore trail an adult Bald Eagle flew over the White fronted Geese and flushed them. The eagle singled out one of the geese and pursued it. In level flight it was able to overtake the goose but at the last moment the goose would dodge the eagle and regain a lead of 50 yards or so. This strategy worked until another eagle joined the chase, flying a little below and behind the original pursuer. This time, when the goose dodged downward to avoid the first eagle, the second eagle snagged it with one foot and knocked it to the ground. Both eagles immediately landed and the fate of the goose was clear. Though we were well aware that eagles regularly catch and eat geese, we still found it disturbing to see it happen.
On the way back to Seattle we stopped at Eide Road. It was around sunset and the photographers were packing up but there were still half a dozen cars in the parking lot. The attraction is the Short-eared Owls. There must be lots of mice there because we counted five owls, four harriers and two each of Redtails and Rough-legs. We also saw two pheasants left over from hunting season. I wasn't able to get any photos.
2/02/2017   Another God Dream  
Talking with my therapist the other day, I noted that I had not remembered many dreams recently. Last night I remembered one:
I am outside in the corner between the barn shed and the playroom at the house in Jackson as it was when I was a boy. Through the window I see Leslie Caza in the barn shed. She makes a gesture as if to throw something through the window and I hear a loud crack. The window is undamaged but I am surprised at her anger. I go inside to meet her and she hands me a gray lump of something like putty, about the size of a ping-pong ball. As I hold it in my palm it begins to melt into a slimy mess. I quickly walk to the kitchen sink and rinse it all off my hand.
Going out to the front door of the house, I go outside. I'm surprised to find that there is a party of some kind going on. Darchelle is there, and others. I feel a bit embarrassed that I didn't realize or remember that it was happening.
There was more to the dream but I have forgotten it.
The setting refers to a time when I was young, perhaps figuratively rather than literally. Leslie Caza was a conservative Adventist friend of ours when we first married. At the time I viewed her as a model Christian, hence my surprise at her anger, though I did not find it threatening in any way. My only association with the lump of putty is a brain, which together with it being a gift from Leslie may indicate that it represents the conservative Adventist belief system which we adopted in part due to her influence. My movement away from and eventual separation from that belief system felt like a return to myself or to my roots, represented by the house in Jackson where I grew up. The act of washing it off at the kitchen sink reminds me also of an occasion when I was young, when I tried washing my hands repeatedly in an unsuccessful attempt to get rid of the feeling of dry skin. Though I feel pretty well recovered from the detrimental aspects of that belief system which I held for so long, God is an addiction not easily given up. Or to put it more positively, I am still deeply interested in finding a true experience of God, if such exists.
2/08/2017   Plantronics Voyager Legend problem resolved  
I downloaded an updated version of the Plantronics Hub software yesterday and today my Voyager Legend BT300 would not talk to Dragon Naturally Speaking anymore. That's a problem because I can't type with my ALS-addled hands. I vaguely remembered having a similar problem a year or so ago but could not remember the the solution. Google galloped to the rescue once again. Actually it took a while but in one of the Nuance forums I found the answer. Within the Plantronics Hub software select Settings -> General then under "Software Settings", change the value for "Headset to PC Radio Link" to "Active Always". Once that is set properly, pressing the call button on the headset activates the microphone. I record this here for no one's benefit but my own, in case I am still using the computer when I encounter this problem again.
Speaking of ALS-addled hands, I was so angry at them yesterday that I slammed them into the wall and savored the satisfaction of their pain. That was after I came in from running when they were almost completely nonfunctional because of the cold and I had great difficulty taking my penis out to pee. It is irritating how consistently running makes me need to urinate.
My hands were dead from the cold again this afternoon after I finished running, and once again I had to urinate but today I pulled off my sweats and underwear by hooking them on the knobs of my chest of drawers, did my business then just walked around the house bare-assed until my hands warmed up enough to get my pants back on. No anger. That's the way it goes - sometimes I'm angry about this ALS, other times I take it in stride.
As far as I can tell, that equanimity has nothing to do with my new meditation practice. My friend David Nichol, co-author of The One-Minute Meditator, sent me a Muse headband as a gift a few weeks ago. For a while I did not even open it up but for the past week I have been using it daily for at least one 12 minute session. It has achieved what David never could, and that is to get me to meditate. The trick apparently was to turn it into a game. Muse rates my sessions on how calm I was, and actually plays electronic bird sounds during the session whenever I managed to stay calm for more than a few seconds. Electronic or not, birds motivate me.
2/09/2017   Another Death Dream  
I remembered a dream from last night:
Darchelle's sister Claire is sitting on a small white boulder at the edge of a lake. I have come to tell her that it is time to go down to the party downstairs. As I stand next to her, a wave surges up from the lake and swirls around Claire's feet, threatening to wash her coffee mug out into the water. I worry that her motorbike, behind her, will also be dragged out into the lake by the receding water. Two more waves surge up around her but her motorbike and mug are okay.
I am carrying a large clear plastic bag containing leftover sautéed onions, peppers and olives from a party. I need to dump them out and clean out the bag but I can't find a compost bin so I put them in the trash. When I rinse the bag in the lake water some of the onions and peppers spill into the water. I am concerned about having polluted the lake but reassure myself that they will break down after a while. On the inside of the bag is a black mark wherever an olive was touching the plastic, as if the olive skin had stuck to the bag. By rinsing the bag two more times I am able to remove some but not all of the marks. On the outside of the bag is printed "Please reuse this bag" but I won't be able to because of all of the olive skin marks.
Claire has moved to a nearby patch of flat ground where she has laid out some cards in front of her. The cards have something to do with telling the future and she wants me to come over and select one or more of them. I reminded her again that we need to get down to the party but she tells me it won't take very long. As I consider selecting a card, I decided to first enter a meditative state so as to make my choice without engaging my conscious mind.
At this point I woke up and thought through the dream, attempting to fix it in mind. In doing that I slipped back into the dream while still semi-conscious. I pick up one of the cards and turn it over. It is white, about the size of a 3 x 5 index card, and it is blank on both sides. I am not surprised by that.
I think this is another dream about death and God.
In my experience a relationship with God is based on the one hand on objective doctrinal truth (derived from Scripture and the authority of the church) and on the other hand on subjective personal experience of God as a virtual person. Claire represents for me the approach to interaction with God in which personal experience is all-important and doctrine is almost irrelevant. I now lean towards Claire's approach but still expect that interaction to be primarily verbal, like a conversation with a friend. Recently though, as a result of meditating with Muse, I've begun to consider the possibility of finding or experiencing God in a nonverbal way. Selecting a card from Claire represents that more mystical, or perhaps meditational, approach; the two sides of the blank card may represent the wordless focus on inhaling and exhaling during meditation. That the card is blank may indicate some doubt about its effectiveness in leading to God.
In previous dreams over the last several years, going downstairs has represented my approaching death. That is the setting of this dream as well. I think disposing of the leftovers in the bag represents cleaning up the loose ends in my life before I die. I still have some anxiety about doing that successfully, particularly with reference to my relationship with my ex-wife Susan, who is represented in this dream by the black olives in the fried mixture in the bag. The bag itself, ostensibly reusable but in fact unusable, may represent some hope of a lasting legacy or a handing off of my achievements to those I leave behind. A vain hope, apparently.
I think Claire herself in the dream represents Darchelle, and the surge of waves up from the lake, my death. I associated the waves with the destructive tsunamis in Japan and Thailand in the past decade. The motorbike and coffee mug - less clear. The motorbike, transportation worldwide and particularly in the Third World, perhaps represents Darchelle finding her way after I'm gone. As for the coffee mug, perhaps that is about finding comfort - drinking my mug of coffee in the morning is a comforting and anchoring ritual.
2/12/2017   No Slaty-backed Gull again  
Mount Rainier from the 11th Street Bridge
The 11th Street Bridge
Goose tracks
Common Merganser
Red-winged Blackbird
Song Sparrow
It was seen back in January but on this, my third attempt, Ed and Delia and I failed again to find the Slaty-backed Gull. We tried first at the 11th Street Bridge and then at Gog-Le-Hi-Te, where we also failed to find the Black Phoebe. Giving up on Tacoma, we drove down to Olympia and found a Black Phoebe at the Hawks Prairie Settling Ponds. Ed and Delia introduced me to the McLean Creek Nature Trail and we walked around the pond, finding a few birds. On the way home we stopped at American Lake but the Western Grebes were too far out to distinguish the Clark's Grebe accompanying them, even with the scope.
2/14/2017   Thinking about nothing  
As I was meditating this morning (I've been doing one 20 minute session every morning with my Muse headband) I began feeling very discouraged about how pointless this exercise was. They call it "mindfulness" but in reality it feels like mind emptiness. I sit still and whenever a thought arises in the back of my mind, I cut it off by returning my awareness to my breathing. It seems to me that I spend enough time already sitting around thinking about nothing, so how could doing more of the same be good for me. That is my likely future, sitting in a wheelchair with my dead hands in my lap thinking of nothing and doing nothing.
At that point I recalled or realized that my feelings of discouragement were just feelings, a kind of thought, and the point of this exercise I was doing was to acknowledge those thoughts and feelings when they arose, and then without judging them return my attention to my breath. This meditation exercise was not something I had to do in order to obtain some benefit; it was an activity I freely chose to do to satisfy my intellectual curiosity, to play the game of improving my "calm" scores, and to some extent because I was coming to enjoy it. As I regained my awareness of my breath I felt a bit of joy in my freedom to choose an activity unconstrained by any external evaluation of that activity as good or bad. I was free to choose for now to just pay attention to my breath, and free for now of the need to condemn or commend myself for doing so.
2/24/2017   Toppenish NWR  
Hills above Toppenish NWR
Flooded road
Sagebrush Sparrow
On our way over to Walla Walla this weekend we stopped in Yakima for an afternoon of birding with Andy and Ellen. After looking unsuccessfully for the Saw-whet owl previously reported at the Wapato Cemetery we continued south to the Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge. The valley has received a lot of snow this winter and not much warm weather to melt it but early spring migrants like the Sagebrush Sparrow have arrived nonetheless. The snow is starting to melt now and the runoff is backing up in fields and over low-lying roads. Ducks and geese were paddling around in ice-free areas of the ponds. A Great Horned Owl was sitting in her nest in a Willow tree and another was hooting in the distance.
2/26/2017   Three Owls  
Great Horned Owl (by Richard Worley)
Barn Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl (by Richard Worley)
Having missed Mike and MerryLynn Denny's "Owls by Day" field trip last weekend, Richard and I set out this afternoon to conduct our own abridged version. Mike gave me tips on where to find them - the park in Touchet for the Great Horned, the Blue spruce in Charbonneau Park for the Saw-whet. I knew about the Barn Owl near Wallula from prior years; they've nested in that hole every year I think. With only a couple of hours of daylight available for our outing we only tried for those three and were delighted to find them all. On the Owls by Day field trip they saw Long Eared Owls as well, but those will have to wait for another outing.
3/4/2017   Okanogan birding trip  
When I found out that Andy was scheduled to present a talk on ecosystems of the Okanogan Friday evening March 3 in Tonasket I suggested that we join forces for a birding trip in the area over the weekend. He and Ellen agreed. Darchelle booked rooms for us at the Buena Vista B&B a few miles north of town. We met Andy and Ellen in Ellensburg and left our car there. In part because we were a half-hour late, we didn't have much time for birding on the trip north. I don't think we missed much. The lakes in the Grand Coulee were still frozen over. We stopped briefly about Sun Lakes State Park to listen for Chukars but if present, they were silent. The Waterville Plateau was completely snow-covered with at least a foot on the ground and snowbanks along highway 17 sometimes too tall to see over. In the 13 miles south of Leahy Junction we spotted only one Rough-legged Hawk and a pair of Redtails.
The road out to the edge of the bluff along Highway 97 across from Anderson Field Airport was plowed so we stopped for 20 minutes to scope the Okanogan River mouth area. The Columbia was open but the Okanogan River was still iced over. We spotted a variety of ducks including Canvasbacks, Redheads and Ruddy Ducks, more than a dozen Bald Eagles also watching ducks, and a few Bohemian waxwings flycatching from the treetops.
Andy's slide show and talk went very well. He covered all the habitats from Alpine to Shrub Steppe, discussing their affinities to ecosystems in other parts of the state and highlighting a few of the plants and birds in each one. He wrapped up around 9PM and we debriefed over beer and tea back at the B&B. Darchelle took a bath in the clawfoot tub before bed.
Great Gray Owl (by Darchelle)
Buena Vista B&B
Patti had breakfast on the table for us by 7:30AM, poached eggs and bacon and fresh-baked bread. Because the weather was bright and sunny we did not try to get out early in search of a Great Gray Owl up near Havillah. We stopped in town to watch Bohemian Waxwings hawking for insects even though the temperature was barely above freezing. At the Fancher Flats feedlots we counted Bald Eagles (25) and tried to call in Chukars from the cliffs and talus on the far side of the valley. No luck on the partridge but we watched a pair of Golden Eagles courting and breaking off pine branches for their nest in a crevice of the cliff. In the Ponderosa pine forest along the Havillah Road we found Mountain Chickadees and all three nuthatches but no finches of any kind. Along the Sno-park road we located a single Gray Jay and a single Clark's Nutcracker and three Western Bluebirds. Although the road was almost completely covered with hardpacked snow it was not as slippery as had been reported.
Continuing up the road through the hamlet of Havilla we passed our first and only Rough-legged Hawk of the day perched on a utility pole. Spears of fresh snow were drifted across the bare pavement of the road ahead where we crossed the saddle onto Neely Road. At the feeder place we found only American Goldfinches, Red-winged blackbirds and Black-capped Chickadees. A woman pulling out of the driveway told us she had seen no Rosy-finches all winter. Descending into Chesaw we parked the car and walked along road below town perusing the riparian for Ruffed Grouse and Pygmy owls but found only a few chickadees. Heading back up Mary Ann Creek we flushed a Northern Shrike then stopped to look at the small birds it had apparently been tracking. Though the calls weren't quite right for American Goldfinches I didn't pick up on that until Ellen got a visual on one of them. It was a Common Redpoll, one of the first spotted in Washington state all winter. We all had a really good view through the scope but the bird was too distant for photos. It was a beautiful bird, frosty white and brown with the red on forehead and chin framing a black face. We continued up Mary Ann Creek Road to the feedlots along Teas road where it was Ellen again who spotted the Snow Buntings on the far side of a field where hay and grain had been strewn over the snow for the cattle. As we watched more and more of the white and black finches materialized and coalesced into a swirling flock of maybe 400 birds sweeping over the snowy hillside. They would alight on the snow but never for long and after 15 minutes or so we got too cold to continue watching them. On the other side of the past, past the ski area, we spotted another flock of about 150 in a distant hayfield.
Trying again for birds along the Sno-park Road we heard a couple of distant Great Horned Owls hooting but the recently reported Great Gray Owl declined to appear, prudent of it given the proximity of the larger predators. We had just turned off the Sno-park Road to head down to Tonasket when Ellen noticed one of the Great Horned Owls on a utility pole along someone's driveway just off the road. Except, wait a minute, that big owl has no horns. Was it really the elusive Great Gray Owl? Yes it really was! We jumped out of the car and set up a scope while it waited patiently, peering around from its perch. Spreading its long bowed wings it floated down to the snow-free skirt under a big ponderosa pine, dropped briefly out of sight then flapped up again to perch awkwardly on a pine branch before drifting over to the stiff leader of a nearby young pine where it parked quite comfortably while we took a few photos. Unable to manipulate the camera I turned it over to Darchelle and she managed to get one reasonably sharp picture despite the fading light. We celebrated our success at the Breadline Café in Omak even though it was 30 minutes out of our way back to the B&B. Dinner was better than I remembered from last time and worth the drive.
Andy and Ellen by Hess Lake
Chukar habitat
While we were eating breakfast, scones and coffee this morning, it began to snow and by the time we set out for Conconully the roads were white and the birds were lying low. We tried for Chukars again in the talus above Crumbacher Lake. Few birds there but we did see both White-tailed and Mule deer in segregated groups on the hillside. We also stopped to play Chukar calls below the cliffs along the Cutoff Road. David and I watched them calling from the crags there three years ago but there were none today. Conconully was quiet and snowy. There were no Sharp-tailed Grouse in the water birch along Scotch Creek either coming or going. Since the snow had quit we took a detour up the Hess Lake Road and played for Chukars below the cliffs at the head of the lake. This time Chukars answered. It took us a while but we finally spotted five birds foraging in the talus just above the fringe of bushes along the shore. From there we walked up the road for a little exercise, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine and the glimpses of eagles circling overhead.
Having expended much of our daylight in the Conconully area we decided not to drive the entire Cameron Lakes Road but we did start up from the Omak end to try for woodpeckers and maybe a Pygmy owl in the pine forest. We found Hairy and Downy woodpeckers but no White-headed, and a Northern Saw-whet instead of a Pygmy calling from a Ponderosa pine near the basalt rimrock. We triangulated on the tree, hiked up to it on the crusty snow and with some difficulty succeeded in spotting it out on a branch about 15 feet up. Ellen got a couple of photos. We thought it quite unusual for the Saw-whet to be calling in bright afternoon sunlight; usually they wait until well after sunset.

We ate at Camperos in Brewster, rather good Mexican food and excellent salsa with the preliminary chips, and stayed at the Red Apple with plans for an early start to try for Sage Grouse in the morning. An early start we got but the road from Leahy Junction out to the Sage Grouse lek was only plowed for the first mile and a half. Although the crust was sturdy, getting to the lek would have required three miles of hiking each way and the grouse would likely be gone by the time we got there. They only display for an hour or so after sunrise.
Sage Grouse habitat
Sharp-tailed Grouse habitat
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Returning to Bridgeport Hill Road we looked for Sharp-tailed Grouse in the Foster Creek Wildlife Area instead. After a half hour of scoping the sagebrush-covered hills where Sharp-tails have lekked in the past We found the grouse in the usual winter spot - the Water Birch along the creek down in the valley. Apparently with all the snow around they were still more interested in breakfast then in sex. The light was excellent and we enjoyed great scope views of the birds clambering around in the birches. I think they were eating buds rather than catkins but it was hard to tell.
We spent much of the day driving around the snow-covered plateau searching for a Snowy Owl. We found mostly Horned Larks, including about 100 per mile along hwy 172 from Sims Corner to Mansfield. A few Snow Buntings were mixed in with them. At the Lemoine wind break Ellen and I trekked out around the line of pine trees, mostly on top of about a foot of snow, in search of Long-eared Owls. We found a Red-breasted Nuthatch, a couple of robins and the small flock of American Tree Sparrows. A snow flurry from the mountains blew through and was gone by the time we got back to the car. On our way south Andy directed us to stop at the grain elevators in Withrow where we found three Gray Partridge. That made three out of five chickens for the trip. Not bad considering.
With a little sunlight remaining in the day, we took a side trip up Moses Coulee to Jameson Lake. Sagebrush sparrows were on territory at their northernmost range extension in Washington. Though the lake was frozen and quiet, a pair of Golden Eagles was playing around the cliffs and first one, then a few, then twenty or more Gray-crowned Rosy-finches were flitting around the sunlit crags exploring cavities in which to roost for the night. Chukars called from the shadowed talus as if to bid us goodbye.
Back in Ellensburg, in a repeat of last weekend, a snowstorm had clogged up traffic over the pass so we decided to eat again at Ellensburg Pasta Company in hopes of giving the traffic time to clear. That did not work last weekend; the traffic it got worse instead. It didn't work this time either; by the time we finished dinner the pass was actually closed due to multiple collisions. We considered the longer route over White Pass (chains required) and alternatively trying to get a motel in Cle Elum before deciding to take Andy and Ellen up on their offer spend the night at their house. I reasoned that though they were 40 minutes out of the way if we ended up going over Snoqualmie in the morning, we would be 40 minutes closer to White Pass if, as seemed at least possible, Snoqualmie was still closed. The Western Screech Owl, never an easy bird for me to find, hooting in their backyard when we arrived seemed to confirm my decision. We had a restful night and a tasty pancake breakfast in the morning before a four hour drive in moderate snow over Snoqualmie Pass. Apparently we made it just in time; the pass was closed again midday Tuesday and did not reopen until Wednesday morning.
3/09/2017   Dreaming of kayaking and snowboarding  
I remembered a dream this morning:
I am standing roughly waist-deep in a stream. Floating near me is a toy canoe maybe 2 feet long which I identify as a kayak, and in this kayak a baby is sitting stiffly upright. It is too large for the kayak which would swamp in the swirling water except for my holding it up. Sometimes I even have to pick it up, baby and all, and tip it on end to drain out the accumulated water. A woman behind me wants the baby and kayak to float down over a small waterfall. I look at the rocks underwater at the foot of the falls and imagine the baby and kayak capsizing in the turbulence below the falls and the baby striking his head on the rocks. I argue with the woman, explaining that the baby cannot possibly negotiate the falls successfully, especially since it does not even have a paddle.
Continuing in perhaps the same dream or another, I am walking across the ski slope carrying a snowboard. I cross under a chairlift, ducking to avoid being hit by the upcoming chairs with skiers in them. The run I was planning to descend is narrow and steep at the top, somewhat like the waterfall. It had been well snow-covered but the snow has mostly melted except for narrow ribbons between patches of ice and rocks. I conclude it would be too difficult for me so I walk up the gentle open ski slope above me instead. About 100 yards up I stop and attempt to put on my snowboard. It is then that I realize that my plan to snowboard on my knees is going to be very difficult to implement because I cannot fasten my knees into the bindings properly. I wake up considering that problem and further realize that my feet dragging on the back side of the board would also be a problem, particularly on heel-side turns.
This dream pictures my fears that due to the physical decline caused by ALS, I cannot meet either my own or others' expectations of me. Kayaking is an activity I did with others - first Jon then Jenny and others - and though I engaged in it wholeheartedly, I also did it because they wanted to. I am the helpless and paralyzed baby in the kayak and I am also the active agent trying to enable the baby to function, to make life with ALS work. Though in the dream nothing about her indicates her identity, the woman is probably Darchelle and the waterfall, our plans for a future together. Snowboarding on the other hand is activity I picked up on my own, and not at anyone else's urging. As such, it represents passions of my own which are also impossible in my disabled condition.
3/13/2017   Musing towards perfection  
3/01 20 minutes, 94pct calm
2/14 20 minutes, 95pct calm
2/17 20 minutes, 99pct calm
2/21 20 minutes, 100pct calm
3/13 20 minutes, 99pct calm
Although the concept of perfection in meditation doesn't make much sense, obtaining a perfect score for a meditation session in Muse is beginning to look quite doable. My current goal is a 20 minute session in which my graph line remains entirely in the "Calm" band. That would give me 3600 points and 240 birds. I came very close to achieving that this afternoon, and would have had I not begun to get sleepy in the last seven minutes. Muse recorded a spike in brain activity each time I started to nod off. In the last three minutes I counted my breaths (11 per minute) and my brain activity settled down again.
The low activity in the middle of today's session, in which the spikes did not even reach the midpoint of the "Calm" band, is a new development. My breathing felt very even and still and as I rested my attention in the dark stillness between each breath I seemed to be able to go for several breaths at a time without any thoughts at all. On one hand, I suppose it could be argued that there is no benefit in sitting without thinking, but I find that it goes pretty well with sitting without doing, which is something that I, with my nearly nonfunctional hands, find myself doing all too often. On the other hand, nearly everyone agrees that progress and growth are good, and so I'm happy to be making progress in the game of Musing even if what I am progressing towards is a level of brain activity graphically represented as a flat line.
3/16/2017   West Tiger III  
David and I have been planning a hike for several weeks now but today was the first time the weather has cooperated. Actually the weather cooperation was a last minute thing, sunshine and fluffy cumulus clouds replaced the rain predicted in the morning forecast. David showed up around 9:30, about the time Daniel got up. They worked on reconfiguring David's financial assets to fit the allocation model Daniel has designed for his own finances. Daniel has spent the past couple of months researching different asset classes and allocation models and coming up with a plan for selling his existing holdings and buying primarily ETF's to match his preferred model.
We hiked the new trail rather than the cable line. The boys hiked side-by-side in front of me and talked most of the way up. I looked for birds and listened for owls; the last time I was on that trail I saw a family of Barred Owls right near the trailhead. Although I spotted a dozen species, owls were not among them. A group of Gray Jays joined us at the summit. We had no food for them at all but Daniel seduced them into landing on his hand by holding up a bit of bark. I think the round-trip hike, 6 miles altogether, took us about an hour and a half. I was able to keep up without feeling much shortness of breath. Back in the car, I felt the first hint of hay fever season - slightly itchy eyes and one spell of sneezing.
3/18/2017   Dreaming of an earthquake  
I remembered portions of another dream this morning:
I am in a green meadow on a hillside, and I am tired so I lie down to take a nap, turning down the request of some friends, perhaps including Violet D, to join them in a project to help someone else. I feel a little guilty about not joining them.
I hear a distant roaring sound then feel the ground shaking. Down the hill from me a half-dozen White-tailed Deer leap up from the grass and bound away, waving their white tails in alarm. I realize that I am in an earthquake but am not too alarmed because the shaking subsides to a gentle rocking motion, not rough enough to dislodge the boulders on the slope above me.
A small group of friends, from high school I think, are with me. I notice Tim Ftraversing the hillside not far below us, characteristically going his own way. I think Sarah may be in the group with me. John F is too, and maybe George B. John observes that now, just like back in high school, I always seem to have a group of people around me, and the sense is that they liked me and admired me. He asks a rhetorical question of himself "Did I want to be like you?" then answers it emphatically "Fuck yeah I did!" I feel warmly affirmed by the vehemence of his response, and wake up feeling a little embarrassed about how good it made me feel in the dream.
I still feel a little embarrassed about how pleased I was with myself about John's comment. If I had to guess about the meaning of the rest of the dream, I'd say that the guilt I felt had to do with the belief I held as a Christian, and before, that I was bad because of my selfishness. I'd say that the earthquake represents my getting ALS, the deer my fears about it, and the friends the rich relationships I have developed since then.
3/20/2017   Rusty Blackbird trip  
Rusty and Brewers Blackbirds
Female Brewers Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
A Bellingham birder discovered a Rusty Blackbird among a small group of Brewer's Blackbirds in the Costco parking lot there several days ago. Ed and Delia were amenable to a trip up there to look for it, and Darchelle and I would make a weekend of it by staying in an AirB&B in Sedro Woolley Sunday night and catching the ferry to Orcas on Monday morning in order to go hiking around Mountain Lake. We didn't get up early enough to catch the Orcas ferry but otherwise everything went as planned. The Rusty Blackbird was in the Costco parking lot when we arrived. Coincidentally, Gary Bletch pointed it out to us; it was Gary who pointed out the last Rusty Blackbird I saw, on Francis Road near Mount Vernon the last December. Ed and Delia were with me that time too. We had much better views this time though; This bird was very habituated to cars and people, which may indicate that it has been in the local parking lots all winter. Both the Brewers and the Rusty were singing.
3/23/2017   Dreaming of bedtime  
I remembered yet another dream this morning:
I am in a large bedroom with two double beds separated from the rest of the house by French doors. It is bedtime and Darchelle is going to sleep in one of the beds but I will be in the other bed with a different woman. I'm not sure why I will not be sleeping with Darchelle but instead with this other woman about whom I can discern little other than that she is wearing something red. At the side of the bed I put on a pair of underwear, and then realized that I am already wearing a pair of underwear. Two other women suddenly open the French doors, step inside the darkened room and look around.
I am standing across the room from the doors with two women, perhaps the same two who had just entered the room. One of the women, rather short with dark hair, is wearing very large white fake boobs. Made of plastic or fiberglass, they are strapped on over her shirt and stick out 10 inches or more. She explains why she is wearing them but I do not recall the conversation.
I am walking with this woman, minus the fake boobs, along a dike beside a large clear river. She takes off her shirt and slips her skirt down an inch or two over her hips then dives into the water. She swims with the swift current downstream into a pool where I lose track of her in the turbulent water. I am somewhat afraid for her because there is a rough rapid below the pool. I also wish that I could be swimming in the river with her but I cannot because my arms are paralyzed and I would not survive the rapids below the pool.
Although I felt a subdued sexual excitement in the dream I do not think it has much to do with sex. I think it instead has a bit in common with my dream two weeks ago about kayaking and snowboarding. Both dreams featured a clear river with rapids downstream but the earlier dream was about how I cope with the impact of my disability on the expectations that I and others have of me. This dream is more about how I cope with the prospect of dying soon, symbolized here by going to bed. The woman in red represents myself and sleeping with her instead of Darchelle pictures my tendency to withdraw into myself in response to my suspicion that I am declining more rapidly than it appears, and that within a year or even less I will be dead. The other two women I believe represent Daniel and David, David being the one with fake boobs. I have a coaster picturing him on Christmas morning a few years ago holding two wooden bowls up to his chest as if they were breasts. Swimming in the river with rapids up ahead recalls the kayaking dream and in this case represents the challenges I fear he faces working out his path in life after I die.
3/29/2017   Indications of Decline  
Shortness of breath: Back in mid-February I started noticing a feeling, mostly when I was sitting around the house, that I couldn't breathe as deeply as I needed to. I wasn't exactly short of breath; instead I felt like I needed to take a deep breath but couldn't. I didn't notice it when I was active or when I was lying down, only when I was sitting. I also didn't notice it if I was doing something that engaged my attention, like sitting in the car on a birding trip looking out the window for birds. Maybe it's just anxiety, though I haven't felt particularly anxious recently, or maybe it actually does indicate some loss of strength in the muscles in my chest and back that contribute to breathing. Certainly some of that is going on because my ability to cough has been pretty limited for upwards of a year now. I guess I won't worry about it too much until I start having difficulty breathing when I'm lying down, because that would indicate that my diaphragm was going.
Choking on liquids: I started worrying about this back when I first discovered I had ALS but in recent months the problem seems to occur a little more frequently. Yesterday evening for instance, tasting wine at The Walrus and the Carpenter with Daniel, I accidentally inhaled a bit of beer or wine three times during the course of dinner. Which by the way, I enjoyed very much. We each had one each of all eight oysters on their menu paired with Muscadet, a dry white wine with high acidity, a mild saltiness and aromas of green apple and citrus. Consistent with its reputation, the wine paired very well with the oysters, allowing their subtle flavors to stand out. The oysters, varying from sweet to briny, called up memories of long-forgotten visits to the coast, from the glacier-polished granite shorelines and sandy clam flats of Maine to the kelp-strewn beaches and estuary salt marshes of the Pacific Coast. But I digress. Tasting wine, holding the liquid in my mouth while attempting to inhale the faint aromas of the bouquet, tends to put me a greater risk of choking than usual. Maybe my more frequent choking is simply a consequence of my more frequent winetasting.
ALS throat cramp: At the wine store yesterday with Daniel, I yawned and felt an odd tightening in on the right side of the floor of my mouth, under my chin. I recognized it as an ALS cramp, my first ever in the muscles of my face. That is unfortunately a clear indication that the disease is progressing into the muscles involved in talking and swallowing. In the past three months I have also felt a fasciculation or two in my face. Of course, ALS could still take out my breathing before it significantly affects the muscles in my throat and face, so worries about not being able to eat or talk are premature.
Difficulty running: About a year ago I was running nine minute miles around the half mile loop track in Magnuson Park. Six months ago I was still able to run a mile or even two, I think. At this point though, I would be hard-pressed to make it around half-mile track without stopping to walk at some point, and my overall pace would be somewhere around 15 minutes a mile. My walking and even hiking seem unimpaired so I haven't been sure what's going on but today I think I figured it out. My hip flexors are going. When I stand and attempt to raise my knee to my chest I can do it okay the first couple times but after about five reps I can barely get my knee above my waist. In running, it is the hip flexors that move the knee and lower leg forward at the beginning of each stride. Without them I can shuffle but I can't stride. So I shuffle forward day by day into an ever more limited future. In another analogy, I'm still enjoying the party even though it's not as much fun as it used to be, but it's been clear for a while now that I'm going to have to leave early, and my bedtime is approaching.

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