Brian's Journal - Spring 2018

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4/02/2018   Another Eastern Washington trip  
Writing this sometime later I don't recall where we stayed the night before, but somehow we managed to get out to Leahy Cutoff Road on the Waterville Plateau by 7:45 on Thursday morning. Perhaps, as Darchelle suggested, we were even at that early hour too late for Sage Grouse. I didn't think so but she may have been right because we did not find them. We drove the road first then walked the area where they were reported last week. I did not wear my neck collar so found the walking on rough ground awkward; unable to maintain my head at the correct angle, I had to hold it back so I was looking at the horizon or let it hang down so that I was looking between my feet. Either way, I couldn't really see where I was going but we did find some birds out there in the sagebrush and Darchelle got a few pictures.
Waterville Plateau
On the Carcass of a Boulder
Northern Shrike
Sagebrush Sparrow
Trolling for Ticks
Sage Thrasher
We abandoned our Sage Grouse search by noon and drove south through the Grand Coulee, Moses Lake and Othello on our way to Walla Walla, snagging year birds as we went along - White-throated Swifts at the Dry Falls overlook, Eared Grebes at Soap Lake, Yellow-headed Blackbirds in the Columbia NWR, Cinnamon Teal and Burrowing Owls outside of Othello and finally a flyover pair of Black-crowned Night-Herons as we were driving past McNary. I might have been able to add a Long-billed Curlew near Rocky Ford had I not initially misidentified it as a Prairie Falcon. We stopped but were unable to relocate it. Darchelle took a few more pictures including one of me driving through the Columbia NWR, which went pretty well until the road turned and my hands fell off the steering wheel.
Driving again
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Burrowing Owls
Our Walla Walla visit included Easter Egg hunting with Sally's kids on a breezy Friday afternoon. Darchelle stocked up at Walmart then she and I hid them all in the backyard. Gracie was feeling sick so Sally towed her around the yard in a wagon so she could hunt too. The boys collected as many as they could as fast as they could while the girls, more discriminating, opened and inspected each egg as they found it.
Easter Egg Hunting
Ready to collect
Great Horned Owl
Sunday morning Darchelle and I got out fairly early in order to squeeze in a stop at the Wallula Poop Piles before meeting Andy and Ellen at the Toppenish NWR at 11. This time it did not take me long to find a few credible Tricolored Blackbirds so we were only slightly late for our rendezvous. We carpooled with them through Toppenish then drove separately out to Fort Simcoe with its beautiful stand of old-growth oak and a crowd of Latino picnickers. We hiked around for an hour or so and found lots of Lewis's Woodpeckers but dipped on the Acorn Woodpecker and Western Screech Owl which had both been seen earlier in the week. Buckwheats and Sagebrush Violets were flowering.
White-breasted Nuthatch
White-headed Woodpecker
Birding the Wenas Wildlife Area
We spent the night at Andy and Ellen's new place in Yakima - much nicer than their previous home, and they've already started planning the native plantings they will do when the weather warms up a bit. In the morning and Andy and I plotted where we might go for the best chance of finding more year birds for me. Blustery weather in the mountains had deposited some snow overnight which precluded searching for higher elevation woodpeckers so we decided to try for White-headed in the Wenas Valley. Darchelle and I would then head home via White Pass with a detour in Lewis County to try for the White-tailed Kite. Parking our car at the entrance, Darchelle and I drove with them up into the WDFW Wenas Wildlife Area and hiked around for a couple of hours in an open stand of mature Ponderosa Pine and Bitterbrush shrub-steppe. Although the sun was out the wind was cold and I was well-chilled by the time we returned to the car. We found the woodpecker, and also a calling Northern Saw-whet Owl, unexpected at midday and in such open forest.
Skunk Cabbage (by Ellen Stepniewski)
White-tailed Kite
Over White Pass a skiff of snow lined the highway but the sun was out and the road was bare. I texted a report back to Andy and Ellen who would be coming over tomorrow. Looking to collect a young Skunk Cabbage we almost stopped outside of Packwood but did not; just as well since even a 15 minute delay would have caused us to miss the White-tailed Kite. We did however detour briefly up a forest road just before town to collect a couple of snowberry bushes. Several birders had a scope on the kite when we arrived at the Lewis County Airport. We watched as it gracefully flapped out over a weedy field, hovered briefly then kited down to the ground and lifted off again with a vole in its talons. A Red-tail may have stolen the vole before the kite was able to finish eating it; we couldn't tell for sure. The kite reappeared in a nearby bush, enabling us to get a few photos. It was the first one I've seen in Washington this century.
4/05/2018   A new low  
My weight hit a new low this morning, 122.4lbs. It's a bad time for me to be setting weight loss records; I go to the ALS clinic a week from today and if my weight is lower than last time, which was about 125lbs, everyone will want me to get a feeding tube installed. Everyone but me, that is. The problem this morning is that I didn't have much of a supper last night. Darchelle worked all day yesterday so she left me lunch with the understanding that I would eat dinner with Daniel, but he had a wine tasting in the evening so didn't get home till 8:30 or so. I have been wanting to eat at Frank's Oyster House so we drove over there. Daniel ordered oysters on the half shell from Alaska and from Willapa Bay because our waiter said they were briny. They were, and bold and sweet too. Really delicious. My Baked Oysters Bing, not so much; they tasted mostly of Parmesan cheese. They were a long time coming too; by the time they arrived it felt too late to order anything else so I didn't end up getting enough calories for the day. My appetite is easily sated and my head drop precludes licking food off a plate so eating enough food is an ongoing challenge.
Speaking of food, I remembered a disturbing dream about eating a few nights ago.
In the dream I was eating a human being, our friend Delia to be specific, as if she were a piece of chicken. I gnawed on her arm, which seemed to be detached from her body, then took up her head in my hands and was about to take a bite out of her cheek. I imagined the flesh rolling up between my teeth like the skin on a chicken thigh and was disturbed to realize how painful that should be for her because she was alive. But she was not saying anything so I decided that she must not actually be in pain, and I kept eating her face. I did not feel much else during the brief dream but I woke up horrified.
I told Darchelle about the dream but I did not have a clue as to what it meant until I talked with my therapist about it this morning. Thanks to her insights I recognized two themes in the dream. One is the declining level of pleasure that I experience in activities which have been important to me, and the other is my distress that I cannot engage in those activities without imposing on someone else to help me. Eating has always been one of life's highest pleasures. It is still essential to life but there's not much joy in it anymore. Most of the time I have to have someone sit with me and feed me, a tedious task for both of us. So in the dream, I had to eat but at the cost of a rather serious imposition on someone else, and I took no pleasure in it. I associate the head in the dream with birding in that Delia (or Ed or Darchelle) often carries my scope for me and sets it up so I can use it. I also associate the head with one of my worst drawings from my time studying art in college, and together those two associations represent my disappointment that I can no longer do things as well as I did in the past. In birding, the quality of the data I record, and therefore my satisfaction in them, is diminished. Ditto for my photographs (which of course at this point I must rely on someone else to take for me). I have even been thinking about quitting birding because I can't do it well and must impose on others to help, but giving up birding feels like giving up on life.
Bird bathing pools
View from the deck
In other news, this past weekend robins and crows began bathing in our stream, two weeks after we turned on the water. So far we have not seen any of the smaller birds use it. The water cleared up over the weekend thanks to our not fiddling with it for the past five days. Maidenhair fiddleheads are sprouting along the inlet pool but aren't visible yet in the photo. Buds are swelling on the green huckleberry and the willow that we planted last week. More vegetation, especially streamside forbs, urgently needed.
4/06/2018   A Great Gray Owl, and almost a Grouse  (photos by Ellen Stepniewski)
When Andy told me about the Great Gray Owl near Bellingham, he explained that Whatcom County was the best place to find Great Grays in Washington in the winter because they migrate south and west down the Fraser Valley from their breeding areas. When they do that, birders migrate north from the greater Seattle area to see them. We joined that migrating flock this morning and located the owl by finding the spot along the road where the birders were parked. The owl was perched on a fence post on the far side of a small field. While we all watched, it flew to a fence post on our side of the field, so close that through the scope I could see tiny droplets of water on the tips of the bristly feathers between its eyes. A gnat hovered over its forehead but the owl ignored the insect. It paid us no attention either, peering from side to side and sometimes up at the sky but never at its flock of admirers. Suddenly it flew toward us and to our right and dropped into the tall grass behind a couple of roadside bushes. Taking a bow, it straightened up with a vole in its beak. It gulped the vole down whole then remained sitting in the grass for a minute or two before taking off and disappearing behind a row of trees on the far side of the field. Unlike most of the birders present, I had not even tried for photos but Ellen got a few despite the low light conditions and graciously shared them with me.
Andy and Ellen had come over to the west side for some birding while their floors were redone but the weather over the weekend would not cooperate so I rode with them back to the east side on Saturday morning to bird the Kittitas Valley. We found lots of hawks and my first Long-billed Curlews of the year. Darchelle met us in Ellensburg after church. We parked our car in Ellensburg and drove with Andy and Ellen north to Grand Coulee. Due to pool and fishing (a pool-fishing?) tournaments the Sky Deck motel was full but fortunately the Trail West had a couple of rooms.
We left for the lek before dawn but though we scoped the fields along Leahy Road until the sun rose on the mountains beyond Chelan, we could not find any Sage Grouse. Darchelle walked ahead down the road and after a while I went to retrieve her. When I caught up to her she was listening to an odd sound, an underwater-sounding sort of "poo-pwuip" which I immediately recognized as the sound of a lekking Sage Grouse. I heard the call clearly myself but only once. It seemed to be coming from about the center of the field on the south side of Leahy Road, about at the low point in the road. I shouted back to Andy and Ellen but they could not hear me, and they never heard the call. We spent several more hours driving the roads around Chester Butte - I Road, J Road and roads 11, 9 and 8 through good-looking sagebrush habitat but did not come across any more grouse. Although there have been scattered reports recently both at the lek and in the Chester Butte area, no one has seen more than three birds at once. That's a bad sign; just five years ago I saw nine at the Leahy lek.
4/13/2018   Magnolia petals  
Bird bathing pools
View from the deck
In the jungle
The Magnolia flowers opened up this week and have already begun shedding, smothering the stream with pink petals which as they rot in the pond seem to be turning the water to the color of tea. It's actually a nice effect, reminiscent of boggy brooks in boreal forest.
4/14/2018   A A Greater Grouse  
At exactly 7 AM, I was standing along the Leahy Cutoff road at the large field on the south side of 19 Rd NE when a male grouse took off about 200 yards south of the road and begin flying directly towards me. When I realized what it was, I shouted "Incoming Sage Grouse" to Darchelle and continued watching as the big bird grew steadily larger. Darchelle jumped out of the car just before the grouse rocketed overhead and disappeared off to the north. We had no photos, just a mental snapshot of the heavy-bodied bird with its long pointed tail, and the striking contrast of its black belly and bright white underparts in the morning sunlight.
We had arrived an hour earlier and had driven the road in both directions without seeing or hearing any sign of grouse. It had been Darchelle's suggestion to return to the spot on the road from which we had heard the grouse a week earlier, and we had not been there more than a minute or two when the grouse flew over. We did not attempt to pursue it but we did continue looking around the area for another hour or so, including walking out to the spot from which the bird had flown than that which we found no sign of any other grouse.
On the way home we collected watercress for the pond from a spring along Highway 97 north of Swauk Pass and drove Forest roads around Liberty where we found several Sooty Grouse and a pair of Williamson's Sapsuckers near Flag Mountain. We lingered just late enough to try calling for Spotted Owls but the weather was cool and showery and we heard no owls at all.
4/21/2018   Morels  
True Morels
False Morels
John harvesting morels
We did not go far afield for morels this year. I was talking to Saraswati in her driveway when John came around the corner from the back of the house and asked if I knew anything about mushrooms. When I told him that I knew a little bit he said "I think I have some morels back here." He certainly did. A patch of about 40 large morels had popped up among the weeds growing where he had previously stored a stack of pallets. After we pulled out our phones and photographed them, he fetched a knife from inside and harvested about half of the mushrooms then shared about half his haul with us. They were delicious, but sadly we did not manage to eat them all before some went bad.
The next day Darchelle spotted some gorgeous False Morels while we were out looking for Forget-me-nots. Ed and Delia have Forget-me-nots and strawberries growing along their stream, an effect I want to emulate. I recalled seeing Forget-me-nots along the Cedar River Trail when I was running up there a few years ago so we drove down to look for them. I thought we would have to walk a mile or more to get to the flowers but they were growing along with wild strawberries just a few hundred yards from the trailhead. We collected a trayfull of both Forget-me-nots and strawberries, then another tray of an aquatic plant with small round leaves growing in moss-like clusters under clear running water in a ditch. We did not collect the false morels. Though my friend Pat eats them I have heard that they can be poisonous so I do not.
4/27/2018   Garden update  
Bird bathing pools
View from the deck
In the past two weeks the Lady and Maidenhair fern fronds have begun to expand and Yellow Violets have unexpectedly appeared around the base of the Lady Fern by the old waterfall pool. We planted the Forget-me-nots and wild strawberries along the left side of the lower part of the screen in place of the mossy log that we had previously put there. Though they are difficult to pick out in the photo, we planted a Devil's Club and a cattail in saturated soil at the back edge of the pond to the left of the Bay, along with some baby Skunk Cabbage that we found in a ditch along the Middle Fork Road. We also put in an area of mud to the left of where the stream enters the pond and planted water leaf and more baby Skunk Cabbage there. The granite boulder holding the mud in place is evident at the left end of the pond. It is not stable enough to step on.
Darchelle's cottage garden
View from the flagstone patio
Front garden
Darchelle built a rock-walled cottage garden to the right of the flagstone patio and planted it with roses and various perennials. The spot does not get as much sun as the roses would like but hopefully they will fare okay. We spent several hours at Sky Nursery up on Aurora Avenue picking them out. My neck was tired and I had a hard time reading the labels without glasses, but I perked up when I discovered that they carried several varieties of hops plants. I brought home a Centennial Hop vine and planted it between the two existing vines in front of the deck. I am hoping it will grow up across the deck to the roof. In a somewhat contentious move Darchelle built up the wall of that little garden, which we consider to be "mine", to match the height of her cottage garden on the other side of the walkway. I did not like it at first but I have gotten used to it. One of my objections was that I did not want to move the California Poppies again. We agreed to leave two of the poppies in their original position so they are now flourishing in a little rock-rimmed well in the corner of that garden between the grapevine and the hop vine. As of a month later, the poppies we did move are also flourishing and they are all just about to start flowering. I rescued them, as well as the Iris and Grape Hyacinth planted behind them, from the property at Ravenna and 68th which is scheduled for demolition to make way for a big apartment block. I also salvaged two Artichoke plants which I put in the tomato box out front but they are not quite visible in the photo of the front garden. That was back in early March and they looked pretty unhappy for the first month but now they are starting to grow again. Like the poppies, they have a long taproot which Marco and I partially cut off when we dug them up.
4/30/2018   Rattlesnake Ridge hike  
Old railroad grade
Devil's Club
Sword Fern
Susan has been visiting from California. We've been talking about hiking since she arrived five days ago but today is the first time we've actually made it out of town. It has been a good visit nonetheless - she has cooked all kinds of vegan food for us; she and Darchelle have been shopping and we have on walking in parks and spent lots of time just sitting around talking. Today I suggested Rattlesnake Ridge in part because it felt like the right level of difficulty and in part because I hoped for a few year birds there. It was, and I got one - Pacific-slope Flycatcher. We didn't quite get to Satan's Overlook but we did make it up to the older growth forest where five years ago I photographed Northern Pygmy Owls. I remember that day because it was the first time I had difficulty handholding my Nikon 200-400mm lens. That would have been May 2013, three months before I realized I had ALS.
Western Oak Fern
Lady Fern (center) and Spreading Wood Fern (left)
Fern Creek (10 days later)
After studying flora and fauna for several decades, I still don't know the names of many of the common ferns. Collecting and planting ferns along our new stream has inspired me to learn a few more of them. That means getting photos. Darchelle took these for me with my phone. Of these pictured here, we have Sword, lady and Wood Fern near our stream, but no Oak Fern. We are calling it Fern Creek nonetheless.
5/22/2018   Healed  
I was healed last night.
I was in the kitchen with friends, helping to clean up after putting on a meal. I carried a bottle of olive oil from the counter over to a set of shelves and lifted it up to head height to put it away. As I did so I realized that I must have been healed, because I have not been able to do anything like that since ALS wasted my arms several years ago. Clari prayed for me a couple of days ago and I didn't notice any change at the time, so Jesus must have delayed my healing until now. I shouted out to the people around me that I had been healed, and as they gathered around me I raised my arms over my head and explained that Jesus had healed me. We went back to work and as I climbed up a ladder to put something else away I wondered how it would go now that I was healed. Now that I could no longer deny that Jesus existed, how would I live with him? Would I need to try to have daily devotions like I used to? Go to church? Refrain from birding on Sabbath? I decided that those answers would come soon enough, and that meanwhile I would just be grateful. I thanked Jesus again and again for healing me.
Then I woke up and my arms were still dead.
Yesterday afternoon Claire and I had prayed together a long time while Darchelle worked in the garden. The last time we had prayed, her primary message to me had been that I will be healed and that I already possessed the power to heal myself. Not only that, but it was my destiny to heal myself because I have a great work yet to do for God. This time she was no less certain of my healing but her focus was more on angels, and experiencing their power for healing and guidance. She told me that I, like her, am a seer - able to see spiritual realities. Later, in a phone message, she urged me to talk to my angels and get to know them as a first step towards realizing my gifts as a seer.
At one point after praying together she had asked me to do some simple act as a sign of my healing. I told her that picking up the reading glasses on the counter and putting them on might be a good thing to try. Cautiously confident of God's power I had swung my hands up onto the counter, slid my fingers over to the arms of the glasses and raised my hands to my face. Or rather, lowered my face to the glasses because my hands would not move. She had to help me slide the arms of the glasses over my ears. I guessed that my my time had not yet come. That is kind of how it has gone with the angels too.
Now, several weeks later, I don't remember much of our conversation. I do remember that I cried at some point from bitter sadness but I don't remember why I was sad. I also remember that Claire asked me if I had anything I needed to turn over to God, and I did. I had two things and I don't remember what the first one was, but the second one was my worry about how Darchelle will fare after I die. How will she cope with the grief, and will she ever find happiness again? I feel anguish at the thought of her sad and alone and I feel helpless to do anything about it. It seemed appropriate to turn that over to God and Claire agreed, so I did. But what does that mean? Allow the sadness I suppose, and forgo the worry. And embrace the love we share today.
6/12/2018   Wandering Washington  
Grand Ronde country
Wenatchee Guard Station
Darchelle and I got back late Sunday evening from a quick trip around the state, our first outing together now that she is taking time off to be with me while I can still function, not counting our trip to Michigan at the end of May to see Gabriel graduate. We returned from Michigan on Friday June 1 and left for Walla Walla on Monday afternoon. We planned to do some birding and some hiking and some visiting, including camping with Ben and Sally and the kids on Tuesday evening and spending Thursday evening with Dan and Catherine in Spokane. We thought we also might try to get over to Garfield and Asotin counties in the southeast corner of the state. Since I had never done any birding there, those counties were still colored gray on the map on my eBird profile. I wanted to hike up Steptoe Butte and swing by the Kalispell River bridge where Waterthrushes and Redstarts hang out so I could pick them up as year birds. It would be a romantic and spontaneous trip where we would wake up each morning and decide anew what we would do that day.
It didn't quite work out that way. We did spend a night together at the Wenatchee Guard Station in the northeastern Blue Mountains but the camping trip with Ben and Sally was aborted due to mosquitoes. We ended up spending two nights with Dan and Catherine in Spokane but to make up the time we had to drive all the way home from Colville on our last day. We ended up driving more and hiking less than we had anticipated, but we did visit some new places and see lots of beautiful country.
Seeking a towhee
Biscuit Ridge
Vetch above Coppei Creek
We arrived in Walla Walla Monday evening in time for dinner. Knowing that it was a favorite of mine, Donna served Greek salad along with three vegetables for dinner. Early Tuesday morning Darchelle and I drove over to the Coppei Creek Road riparian area where we found my first year birds of the trip, Veery and Gray Catbird. We continued up to Biscuit Ridge where we heard but were unable to catch a glimpse of a Green-tailed Towhee. I also tried for the towhee up on North Fork Coppei Creek but Darchelle was sleepy so she napped in the car. I ventured out on my own, tried to use my phone to play a recording of the towhee's song but dropped the phone in the attempt and couldn't pick it up again so I hobbled back to the car carrying it with my toes and gave up. There probably weren't any towhees there anyhow; they seem to be scarcer than usual this year.
Embarking on an adventure
Historic Waitsburg location
Entering Garfield County
Wednesday morning we left Walla Walla early and drove north and east to Garfield County. As we were passing through the Pomeroy area Darchelle had to stop for two private phone appointments of an hour each, during which time I birded. I picked up a dozen species during a warm stroll around the quiet west end of town and another 22 in a more satisfying exploration of montane forest and meadows near the Rose Springs Sno-Park.
Blocked by snow
Country west of Asotin
Approaching Wenatchee Guard Station
Snow blocked Forest Road 40 about 9 miles before the Wenatchee Guard Station so we detoured down out of the mountains halfway to Asotin then back up again, a long drive on mostly rough roads through very scenic country. We spent the night at the forest service cabin there overlooking 1000 square miles of remote canyons and plateaus framed by the peaks of the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon and the mountains along Hells Canyon in Idaho.
Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany and Douglas Fir
Evening near the guard station
Waiting for biscuits
Before the sun set we wandered through ridgetop meadows glowing with yellow and blue flowers, looking for the grove of Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany trees reported to exist nearby. We found a few gnarled specimens but nothing that could rightly be called a grove.
Nuttall's Larkspur
Big-head Clover
Heartleaf Arnica
Large-flowered Brodiaea
Wild (Brown's) Peony
Sulphur Lupine
Darchelle took lots of flower pictures.
Castilleja sp.
At dusk Darchelle built a fire in the fire pit by the cabin while I huddled in a blanket trying to keep warm. She roasted biscuits over the fire and shared charred chunks with me while the sky turned black. In all the country visible to the south and east only a handful of lights flickered on. Suddenly something dark brushed my face, an impression of feathers blocking my sight, a whisper of air as silent as an owl. A few moments later a shadow fluttered up near the corner of the cabin and back to the ground again with little bird-like sounds. A Poorwill? A single Poorwill call from somewhere beyond the cabin a few minutes later confirmed the ID.
Darchelle sleeping in
Admiring the view at the front door
Morning view from the guard station
Morning at the cabin was glorious but the sky clouded over before we finished breakfast and a shower blew in from the south to chase us out of the mountains. Darchelle needed a nap on the way down to Asotin so I did a short morning hike through weedy bunchgrass down into a canyon along Cloverland Road. The climb back up to the car was hot. We stopped again along Asotin Creek where I heard two singing Red-eyed Vireos, our fourth year bird of the trip. A Kestrel was diving on an adult Golden Eagle along the rimrock above us at that stop - two more birds for Asotin County, 59 species altogether.
Steptoe Butte
On top
Wild Turkey along the spiral road
Conical Steptoe Butte rises out of the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse like a volcano but is actually made of hard quartzite much older than the surrounding Columbia plateau basalts. When we reached it we found no trail so drove to the top instead on a road that spiraled up around the peak just like in a children's storybook. Informational signs at the top told of a grand hotel built on the summit by a man named Cashup Davis back in 1888. According to the proprietor of an antique shop in Uniontown who told Darchelle that her grandfather was close friends with Cashup, the hotel also served as the local house of ill repute. Apparently even that was not enough for the hotel to make a profit and it went out of business within a few years. The hotel burned in 1911. Now the site hosts cell towers and offers expansive views of the rolling green wheat fields from the big parking lot where the hotel used to be.
We left Steptoe Butte headed to Spokane with 44 species in Whitman County. We wanted 50. Approaching Oakesdale I noticed a marsh on our right with a duck or two and across the street, two small ponds. A sewage treatment plant - perfect. We stopped for 15 minutes and added eight species for the county. Darchelle spotted the best ones, a group of Yellow-headed Blackbirds and a pair of Wilson's Phalaropes.
Piano Practice
Friday we spent in Spokane with Dan and Catherine except for an afternoon outing to Turnbull NWR. We enjoyed visiting with them and they seemed to want us to stick around so we did. At Turnbull we found Black Terns and a Least Flycatcher, two species I didn't want to miss, along with more birds than I expected for a breezy and warm late afternoon. The habitats are typical for the Spokane area - pine groves, a few Aspen stands, meadows dry and wet, and marshes and ponds.
Saturday we once again left Spokane later than we planned then wasted most of the morning in a vain search for Bobolinks in the rain at Newman Lake. Good habitat, bad conditions. When we had signal we listened to Dwight Nelson's sermon, nominally about ravens, live-streamed over the phone from the Andrews University SDA church back in Michigan. We got lost trying to leave Newman Lake and ended up back where we started. With signal again, we checked the forecast - rain for the rest of the day throughout northeastern Washington. We briefly considered giving up and going home but decided to head up to Kalispell Lake as planned instead. That paid off. The rain quit and as soon as I hopped out of the car at the Westside Calispell Road bridge I heard a Northern Waterthrush singing. That made 300 birds for Washington state this year. Number 301, an American Redstart, was a little harder to find because I couldn't immediately distinguish its song from the more common Yellow Warblers singing in the same area. Eventually Darchelle called one in on the phone, a colorful black and orange male. Four miles beyond the bridge we found a bunch of Bobolinks in their usual meadow. With the sky still threatening rain we stopped Hafer road in Chewelah and called up an agitated Clay-colored Sparrow, our final Pend Oreille County target bird.
We stayed at Benny's Colville Inn and ate dinner at Stephani's Oak Street Grill. When I later looked them up online Google notified me that I had "visited Stephani's Oak Street Grill on June 9, 2018 from 6:12 PM to 7:43 PM." That was a little surprising, but even Google couldn't remember what I had for dinner. Nor can I.
We devoted Sunday morning to a search for the Northern Hawk Owl that we discovered a year ago with Andy and Ellen in the Stickpin Burn east of Curlew. It wasn't there. As we were leaving we turned off on a spur road up on the ridge. It was rough so we parked and I walked ahead to scout. The charred trees were dotted with orange spots where woodpeckers had scaled off the bark in search of bugs. Some spots were bright and others pale. I theorized that the paler spots were from a previous season but the bright ones were probably fresh the spring, meaning the woodpeckers (Three-toed and/or Black-backed) were still around. While I was scouting, Darchelle found them. She set up the spotting scope and we had great views of first the Black-backed and then a Three-toed in the same tree. I was excited about the latter; it has been three years since I last saw one.
After graupel
Washington Pass Overlook
Coffee flowers
Ten hours later we were home. Leaving the burn we drove through an intense graupel shower. From Republic we followed Highway 20 through Tonasket and Omak, over Loup Loup pass and through Winthrop to Mazama. We stopped at the store but they were out of sandwiches so we ordered coffee and a sweet roll but decided not to wait for the coffee. At Washington Pass we walked out to the Overlook together. The road to the Overlook was mostly free of snow but still closed, though the restrooms were open. Our last stop was the bridge by Colonial Creek Campground on Ross Lake, to look for Black Swifts. For once, we found them, foraging high, gliding on their long thin wings. By comparison the Vaux's Swifts foraging at treetop level looked as fat as bats.
Back at home our coffee plant was flowering, fragrant white blossoms with just a hint of the scent of plastic. Nothing like coffee.
6/20/2018   Québec  
Never been there, and have wanted to go for years. Never even driven north in New Hampshire to Dixville Notch, just 65 miles beyond Jackson where I grew up and have visited repeatedly over the years. So on this trip back to celebrate Mom's birthday, Darchelle and I decided to take a few days to make a pilgrimage to Québec City. I booked two nights at the Hotel Le Clos Saint-Louis, a well-regarded but not too expensive boutique hotel in the old city. That took a couple of hours and was about the extent of my advance research about our destination. When we set out from Jackson on a sunny Wednesday morning I realized I didn't even know how to get there. Just head north on Route 16 it turns out. Just south of Errol we stopped along the river because Darchelle needed a quick nap so I got out of the car and immediately heard both a Least Flycatcher and a Northern Waterthrush singing. It felt like I was in the North Country already. We returned to civilization in Colebrook at the Moose Muck Coffee House after slipping through Dixville Notch without stopping. We liked the Moose Muck and stopped there on the way home too. At the northern edge of New Hampshire Canada let us in, apparently not holding Trump's boorish behavior against us.
Québec was not as different from New Hampshire as I had expected, but just the same it did feel as though we had entered a foreign country. It wasn't just the signs in French, but also the way that the houses clustered together along the highway in each town that we passed, the neat woodlots of spruce or Scotch pine embedded in the generally young forests of birch and fir, the slightly more civilized appearance of the bucolic countryside. We did not encounter much sprawl before suddenly we were in the city, passing a wide green lawn which turned out to be the Plains of Abraham where Wolfe died before his men conquered Québec and made Canada British forevermore 249 years ago. Rue Saint-Louis led us through the old city wall and directly to our hotel.
After checking in we walked out to the Promenade overlooking the river, resisting the temptation to stop at the overly commercial-feeling Hotel Frontenac. I had considered staying there but the rooms not only looked rather ordinary but also cost almost double what we paid at Le Clos Saint-Louis two blocks away. The Promenade was crowded with busloads of high school students. Seeking an afternoon snack we retreated to the less crowded Rue du Trésor, inspected the work of several street artists and then settled at a quiet outdoor table at the Café-Terrasse La Nouvelle-France. This colorful but unassuming little restaurant served us some of the best food of our stay, and at a reasonable price too. I had Poutine - French fries and cheese curds with brown gravy - and Darchelle had yellow pea soup, both apparently Québecois staples. I also ordered a delicious beer, Blanche de Chambly, which I later found out was brewed by Unibroue in Montréal. Too full afterwards for dinner, we postponed or canceled our reservation at Le Continental and retired early. We must have gone out again because we did eat at Le Continental. Although it had been highly recommended, I thought their focus was more on putting on a show for tourists than on putting out really good food. I nonetheless enjoyed my red deer (it reminded me of eating elk years ago in Colorado) but Darchelle's vegetarian entrée was underwhelming.
Following breakfast in the elegant basement bistro of our hotel we spent much of the day out and about on foot. We circumnavigated the old Fort and followed forested nature trails along the scary-steep shale bluff which Wolfe and his soldiers ascended to take the city. Returning to the old town we ate Raclette and a smoked salmon(?) crepe for lunch at Le Petit Château. Situated next to the Hotel Frontenac, I assumed it catered primarily to tourists and would therefore be overpriced and underflavored but Darchelle really wanted Raclette and we couldn't find that anywhere else. The Raclette probably was overpriced but we enjoyed our lunch at Le Petit Château nonetheless. Our only regret was that the Raclette machine required electricity so we had to eat inside rather than outdoors in the sunny courtyard.
After lunch we toured the museum directly beneath the Promenade. Located in the excavated ruins of the Château Saint-Louis, the home of both the French and the British rulers of Québec for 150 years, the museum displays an extensive collection of artifacts in the actual rooms where food (and ice) were stored and chefs and servants toiled for the governors. Later we descended to the old Port, now a colorful tourist district with numerous cafés and two fascinating rock shops/jewelry stores fronting the Place Royale. We strolled up the Rue des Remparts past batteries of 18th century cannons guarding the river and lower town. After visiting a shop where we decided not to buy hats we found ourselves along Rue Saint-Anne in front of the City Hall where a small contingent of bagpipers was marching in for an apparently impromptu performance punctuated by musket volleys from a slightly uncoordinated company of four kilted riflemen. That was fun! We ate a late supper of traditional Québecois fare at La Buche on Rue Saint-Louis. Probably authentic but a little heavy on the fat and maple syrup.
Our plans to stroll around the city early in the morning before checking out of the hotel did not work out but we did get downstairs in time for breakfast and across the street for a short bout of shopping before we left town. Our route south took us through Thetford Mines where huge gray mesas of asbestos mine tailings surround the town. The mineral asbestos has always fascinated me ever since I found a long-fibered specimen in Uncle Basil's cabin so it would have been interesting to visit a mineralogical or mining museum in town, but asbestos is poisonous now so maybe no one dedicates museums to it. (Actually they do, but I didn't take the initiative to find out about it in advance.) As we approached the border Darchelle was sleepy so we stopped in the little town of Saint Venant De Paquette hoping to find a coffee shop. We did, but it was closed. I did a bird list in the poetry garden behind the café. The friendly guard at the border crossing wanted to see the rental agreement for our car but we couldn't find it. He graciously did not make an issue of it. We stopped briefly to stretch our legs in the quiet midafternoon heat at Dixville Notch and met Mom and John at Libby's Bistro in Gorham for a subdued dinner. Although we wished that we'd had another day, we enjoyed the trip overall, especially the opportunity to speak French.
I had better birding, including 10 species of warblers, the next day when Darchelle and I hiked up the Old Jackson Road and attempted the Nelson Crag Trail. We were turned back by boulders and ledges which I did not think I could safely descend without arms, particularly if the predicted rain materialized. It was a somewhat bitter experience to realize that there are now trails which I can no longer hike.
That evening, our last in Jackson, we all drove over to South Paris Maine for a performance of the little match girl passion by Figures of Speech Theater. I had never seen any of their performances; puppets and actors seemed equal participants in the story. I have talented friends.
6/25/2018   Garden update  
Backyard at the gate
View from the deck
View from the flagstone patio
In two months the backyard has filled out and become a charming place to hang out. Chickadees come and go from the feeders and juncos flit about practically underfoot. The former bathe in the stream, the latter in the sheltered cove at the back of the pond. The young ones perch at the edge of the water and go through the motions without actually getting wet. Darchelle's flowers are flourishing. The hops vine has grown nearly to the roof. The leading shoot became infested with aphids but Ben and I contracted with a ladybug from Cowan Park and within a few weeks every hops leaf hosted a larval ladybug chowing down on aphids. When the aphids were gone the larvae pupated and are now moving on to the next jobsite.

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