Brian's Journal - 2020

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01/01/2020   An Omen  
Dead Junco on our front step
It feels good to be home again, where I am able to get up without assistance from most of our chairs and where I can use my remote-controlled bidet to clean up on my own after pooping. Neither Darchelle nor I are looking forward to the coming year though. We'll take it a day at a time but I doubt I'll be walking without assistance 12 months from now, and I expect to be on the ventilator during the day as well as at night. My breathing continues to decline; this morning I found it difficult to stand out on the deck for more than a minute or two without feeling short of breath. Oddly enough I breathe more easily when walking than when standing still. Darchelle, Susan and I walked around Green Lake this evening and I made it okay even in flip-flops though I wasn't able to talk much and they had to wait a bit for me now and then.
Susan found the dead Junco lying on the bottom step in front of the house this morning. I think maybe it struck the window and was able to flutter as far as the steps before it died. I do not believe that it is really an omen indicating that I will die before the year is done, or even that my birding days are over, but it is an interesting coincidence that the new year begins with a dead bird at our front door. Sometimes it feels to me that I could die just as suddenly. Complications of respiratory insufficiency, a fall, an abrupt deterioration in my ability to swallow, a case of pneumonia triggered by an aspiration incident - the risks are present but their likelihood is difficult to assess, so I continue to assume that I will still be around a year from now.
02/02/2020   Murrelets and a Dream  
First of all, notice that today's date is a palindrome; it reads the same from right to left as it does from left to right. It is the first date palindrome in about 700 years (since 12/31/1321) if you use the American MM/DD/YYYY format, or about 830 years (since 29/11/1192) if you use the more universal DD/MM/YYYY format. BTW, I didn't notice this myself; an article in the news pointed it out to me.
Varied Thrush at Fort Flagler
After 30 days of rain in January, today was mostly sunny. We took advantage of the weather to go out birding with Ed and Delia at Fort Flagler State Park over towards Port Townsend. We considered Skagit Flats but I had read a forecast of river flooding and possible snow showers. Fort Flagler offers a grassy point with an extensive gravelly beach and good scope views of the channel south and east of Port Townsend. Three days ago it had both Murrelets. Marbled Murrelets, despite their rarity, are relatively easy to find around the Sound but Ancient Murrelets are not a bird I manage to see every year. They are typically well offshore and moving fast low over the water. Today was no exception but both Ed and I were reasonably confident that at least one of the Murrelets we spotted in the scope was Ancient, based on the darker overall appearance of the bird on the water compared to Marbled Murrelets at similar range. Although the breeze was cold the light was good and we found about 50 species for the day, putting me at 105 for the year.

On another subject, since the beginning of the year a new way for me to die has become available - the Wuhan coronavirus. It is currently offered primarily to patients in China but experts are saying that it should soon be more widely accessible here in the US. Just in the past week some have begun calling it a pandemic. For most people the fatality rate is low, currently estimated at about 1%, but among men older than 60 with compromised respiration it promises to be quite effective. Given that the regular flu has killed about 10,000 people so far in the US in the past year while the Wuhan virus is not killed anyone in the US yet, it may be premature to get concerned, but while I did get a flu shot last fall there is no vaccine for the coronavirus.
Related to the subject of dying, I had a dream the night before last.
Daniel, Darchelle and I are in a car on a snowy road following a storm. Daniel is driving. When we suddenly come to a fork in the road I recognize where we are and I want him to bear left up a hill despite a small snowbank partly obstructing the way but he instead turns right. Blocking the road immediately ahead of us a horizontal tank, cylindrical in shape with rounded ends, is sitting on a low platform with a couple of plastic hoses attached to it. I immediately realize that someone has set it up in response to the storm as a temporary water supply for the multistory old wooden house just downslope below the road. I also realize that this road that Daniel has chosen is a dead end but he does not stop. Instead he simply crashes through the obstacle, shattering the tank.
Angry that Daniel did not stop and I am now left to deal with the homeowner, I don't for the moment care what might have happened to him. I am standing in the road above the house. A woman from the house has come up to the road and is standing in front of me. She is wearing a faded blue and white house dress and she is quite obese but the most striking aspect of her appearance is the beer bottle protruding from her left eye. It is just the top 2 inches or so of a brown beer bottle with the cap attached, and unlike her right eye it is angled downward as if looking at the ground in front of her. I wonder if the top had been broken off and jammed into her eye, but if so, it was long ago because the wound appears fully healed.
I expect that the woman will be angry but she seems calm, though she does mention something about "law enforcement". She then draws my attention to Daniel who is lying on his back on the road some distance beyond us. Sympathetic now, I can hear him whimpering in a small high-pitched voice. Leaning over him I see that his pants leg is torn at the knee, exposing a hinged knee brace made of gray plastic. The brace does not look damaged but the skin underneath it is scraped in several places and seems to be wet.
The recent snowstorm places the dream in the context of my dying, that is to say since I was diagnosed with ALS and separated from Susan. Beyond that, despite the striking symbols of the woman with the beer bottle in her eye, the jury-rigged water supply tank and the knee brace on Daniel's leg, along with my sudden and uncharacteristic (in my dreams anyhow) anger, I couldn't imagine what the dream might be about. Daniel's actions did seem to be in character but to what they referred, I couldn't say.
Regardless of the meaning of the specific symbols in the dream, I think it may be an attempt to work out issues of anger and accountability for causing harm in the context of family relationships.
Note: another dream three weeks later seems to explore some of the same ideas.
02/13/2020   Okanogan trip - Soap Lake to Brewster  
A winter weekend in and around the Okanogan Valley in north-central Washington is one of the highlights of a year of birding in the state. After rain in the forecast canceled their intended visit to the Skagit Valley this weekend, Andy and Ellen called to invite us to join them in the Okanogan instead. They would be coming up tomorrow but we left this morning instead, in part to get over the pass before it started snowing. That we did, and after breakfast at Pioneer Coffee Roasters in Cle Elum (where the coffee never fails to mildly disappoint) we pulled into the park in Soap Lake around 2:30 PM. The lake was full of Ruddy Ducks, including a handful in breeding plumage - our first year bird of the trip. After 10 minutes of scoping I found a couple of Eared Grebes too. The lake was completely free of ice - good for ducks but not promising for those winter visitors such as Redpolls and Crossbills which don't make it south to Washington in mild winters.
Atkins Lake
Snowy Owl at Atkins Lake
American Tree Sparrow at Heritage Road
Aiming to reach Atkins Lake and its reported Snowy Owls before sunset, we stopped in the coulee only at the Lenore Caves for Chukars (tick) and the Dry Falls overlook for Canyon Wrens (nope). The ground was bare at Atkins Lake and the Snowy Owls stood out like big white rocks. Some of them actually were big white rocks but with the scope Darchelle picked out three real owls while I tried to track down a sparrow in the lakeshore weeds. Seeking closer views of the owls we drove 1 Road NE across the north end of the lake, flushing Horned Larks and something small and brown that wasn't a Horned Lark which although we pursued it across a stubble field, we were unable to identify. Possibly an American Tree Sparrow. Our last scheduled stop was at the old homestead along Heritage Road at 13 Road NE where the expected American Tree Sparrows popped up and sang when we played recordings for them. The sun was setting and despite the low light Darchelle was able to get at least one good photo.
On the way into Mansfield after dusk we spotted a buff-colored owl with long wings and stiff flight off to the side of the road. We went back and played recordings of a Short-eared Owl and heard the same call echoed back at us so we counted it.
We stayed at the Apple Avenue Motel in Brewster (better than I remembered) because The Inn at Gamble Sands was full, presumably for Valentine's Day. We ate at Camperos because we didn't know better.
02/14/2020   Okanogan trip - Waterville plateau  
Harlan's Hawk
Along I Road NE
Golden Eagle
Friday dawned bright and frosty. Heading back up to the Waterville plateau, we drove the back way through Bridgeport searching for a coffee shop. We didn't find any but we did get photos of a very dark Harlan's Hawk, a color morph I have only identified once or twice before, and actually didn't identify this morning either until I studied the photos on the computer. It is currently a subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk distinguished by its dusky tail, chocolate (not rufous) brown color with white speckles. Someday it may be its own species again.
We scanned Bridgeport Hill Road for Sharp-tailed Grouse and drove I Road NE both north and south of 9 Road NE in search of Greater Sage Grouse, but found neither. When there is snow on the ground the Sharp-tailed Grouse hang out in the Water Birch along Foster Creek but there was no snow on the ground. We did flush a Golden Eagle along I road very close to the car, and very large.
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Great Horned Owl
666 American Coots
We met Andy and Ellen, and Joy and Kerry with them, at the Heritage Road tree sparrow spot then continued on to Bridgeport State Park where I found a Saw-whet Owl in the very first tree I checked. I don't recall who found the Great Horned Owl. I continued to search for other Saw-whet Owls but without success. At Andy's Lake Pateros overlook the American Coots were all bunched up because of the Bald Eagles circling overhead. I estimated 640 birds in an elongated group below us, counting by hundreds, then came up with 666 (plus or minus 50 or so) counting by fives in the photo. We whiled away the afternoon until suppertime studying ducks on the Okanogan River.
02/15/2020   Okanogan trip - Okanogan highlands  
Bald Eagle and Horse
Rough-legged Hawk kiting
Birding at Beaver Lake
We spent Saturday in the highlands from Tonasket to Wauconda via Fancher Flats, Havillah and Hungry Hollow, Nealy and Mary Ann Creek roads, then through Chesaw to Beaver Lake and Toroda Creek. We saw lots of Rough-legged Hawks but no finches other than a flock of Snow Buntings around the town of Havillah. We Spotted a swift Prairie falcon on Fancher Flats and found all three nuthatches along Havillah Road then walked almost a mile on the Mary Ann Creek Road and saw only chickadees.
River Otter
Northern Pygmy-owl - front view
Northern Pygmy-owl - rear view
The highlight of the day was a stop at Beaver Lake where we found a pair of River Otters and a couple of singing American Dippers along with a photogenic Pygmy-owl which Andy summoned while trying to rile up some little birds with Pygmy-owl calls. We had less success trying to find a Great Gray Owl at dusk along Highway 20 near Wauconda, though we did spot a Canada (formerly Gray) Jay along Toroda Creek Road.
02/16/2020   Okanogan trip - Conconully to home  
Sunday morning we tried for Sharp-tailed Grouse along Scotch Creek on the way up to Conconully but there was no snow and therefore no grouse. There was a bit of old snow in town. Driving around we found a half-dozen Wild Turkeys hanging out with some Mule Deer. A few years ago we found lots of California Quail in Conconully but today there were none. We met up with a WOS field trip led by Shep Thorp in town and I suggested to Shep that they try Hess Lake for Gray Partridge. We met up with them again when we ourselves stopped at Hess Lake. They had not found Partridge so we didn't even try, but Shep pointed out a flock of Rosy-finches that we had missed. That was nice. We should have been a little more diligent with the Partridge; they were reported at Hess Lake after we all had left.
The day being yet young we drove Cameron Lakes Road, called for White-headed Woodpeckers and scoped for Gyrfalcons, but without success. We didn't find Bohemian Waxwings at the junction of Hwys 97 & 17 either. Then it was time for us to head home, albeit with one last stop at Lenore Lake where Andy had seen Redheads on Friday. They were still there, along with our first Meadowlarks of the season.
Our fair weather forsook us outside of Cle Elum and we had heavy snow, though fortunately not much accumulation on the highway, the rest of the way to North Bend for an extra hour of white-knuckled driving.
02/20/2020   Lawn birds  
Snow Goose
Eurasian Wigeon #1
Eurasian Wigeon #2
I extended my birding streak through the week. Monday Darchelle and I checked out a report of a rare Ross's Goose at Lake Ballinger. We found a white goose on the golf course but its large size and the large bill sloping down from its forehead made it a Snow Goose, not so rare after all. Continuing out to the Edmonds waterfront we found the Black Scoter I missed a couple of weeks ago. Tuesday, Ed, Delia and I drove up to Arlington to look for a Swamp Sparrow at Portage Creek. We didn't find it. Perhaps it was the unidentifiable sparrow fleeing for its life a foot ahead of a pursuing Northern Shrike. On Wednesday Andy and Ellen came over to the west side early for an evening meeting and took me up to the Skagit for the day. Despite searching most of the morning we could not find either of the two Gyrfalcons reported on Fir Island and near La Conner. We did see lots of Bald Eagles; Ed D, whom we ran into at Hayden Slough, told us that a recent count had recorded 725 eagles on the flats of Skagit County. Ed studies Cooper's Hawks in Seattle, where a year ago there were 40 known nests with 145 fledglings.
Today Darchelle and I walked around Matthews Beach Park where she photographed these two Eurasian Wigeon grazing with a tight flock of about 60 American Wigeon. While I was watching the wigeon a crow waded into the middle of the foraging flock which parted around him (you could tell he was a guy by his swagger) like the Red Sea around Moses. The flock closed behind the crow to form a ring of still vigorously grazing ducks. After surveying his enclosure for a moment, the crow darted over to one of the ducks and grabbed it by the tail. The startled duck flew up but landed again a foot or two away and resumed grazing. Having opened a gap in the ring, the crow turned around, returned to the center then casually strolled out through the other side of the ring as the ducks parted to let him pass.
02/21/2020   Peninsula Pilgrimage  
Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull with Olympic Gulls
Glaucous Gull
While we were in the Okanogan, someone spotted a Glaucous Gull on Ediz Hook in Port Angeles. They are hard to come by in the course of a year in Washington so today we drove out there with Ed and Delia. It was standing in the parking lot with the usual gull flock when we drove up. It isn't always that easy. But we were lucky twice today. A rare Pacific Golden Plover recently showed up at Dungeness Landing so we drove over there and almost as soon as Ed had set the scope up for me I spotted the bird a third of a mile away foraging with Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlin.
We had tried first for the plover at Three Crabs and while I was inspecting ducks I discovered one I had never seen before.
American Wigeon x Green-winged Teal (hybrid)
Trumpeter Swans
Mussel Beach at sunset
The above photo of a hybrid American Wigeon x Green-winged Teal at Three Crabs was taken by Bruce Domazlicki, a friendly birder from Sequim who happened to be nearby with his wife when I first spotted the unfamiliar duck. I tried calling out to Ed and Delia but they were down the beach a little ways and my voice was too weak to reach them. After a while they came over and although I still had the bird in sight, Ed was not able to get a picture that was any improvement over the photo Bruce took. I would have had Darchelle take a photo but she was napping in the car and I was afraid that if I took the time to go get her I would lose track of the duck, so with his permission, I am using Bruce's photo here.
02/24/2020   Causing harm  
Sometime last week I had a couple of dreams about causing pain to others. The first dream was more confusing than some - the sequence of events was not completely clear and some of the symbols seemed to change during the dream.
I am doing something in a big house, perhaps working for the man of the house. I take three sticks and stand them up in a big pot of sand. Three strangers, perhaps homeless people, show up at the door and I let them inside. One of them is wearing a red and gray flannel shirt. The strangers need shelter so they stand with the sticks, or perhaps they are the sticks, and I drape a sheet over the top of the sticks like a tent. I touch a lit match to the base of one of the sticks. Fire runs up the stick and becomes a small patch of blue flame flickering over the sheet so I try to beat it out with my hands. While the strangers are in the tent I work on cleaning up, trying to shake the sand out of an old wool blanket but the blanket is too heavy for me to handle all at once. Eventually I get it folded up.
I suddenly realize with alarm that the strangers were in the burning tent and that they may have suffered from the smoke. Checking on them, I see that their faces are completely black so I lift them out and lay them side-by-side on the floor. They are straight and rigid and thin, like sticks, or maybe like puppets because they are fully dressed. Their clothes do not seem to be harmed by the smoke but I am afraid that the three strangers are dead. They had taken off their shoes before getting into the tent so I look in the shoes to see if they left their wallets or other identification, but the shoes contain only a few pieces of candy or bubble gum. One of the pairs of shoes looks like women's slippers.
Worried that I might have killed the strangers, I find the man of the house and tell him about them. I wonder if I should call the police and confess because if I don't they might accuse me of murder, but if I do talk to the police they will ask me who the strangers are, and I don't know how to find that out. The man comes back with me and pokes at one of the blackened heads, actually one of two spare heads next to the bodies. The head crumbles into charcoal and the man says "Yup, they're dead all right!"
A man in a white sweatshirt is outside the house and wants to come in. Darchelle is ready to let him in but the man of the house sees him and adamantly refuses. Darchelle wants me to go try to persuade him to let the man in the sweatshirt in. I'm reluctant to talk to him because I'm convinced that he won't change his mind but I'm also concerned that Darchelle will be upset with me if I don't try.
I awoke feeling anxious about the whole thing. Free associating while still half asleep, I identified the three strangers as me (in the flannel shirt) and Sarah and Eric, but as children, not adults. The young man in the white sweatshirt I identified as Eric as an adult. The blanket with sand in it reminds me of the old wool blanket I slept under when I lived on my own in Seattle prior to marrying Susan.
Intending to help the strangers (who may in fact be my own family), I inadvertently caused them grievous harm while trying to get my own life in order. My father was of no help to me as I tried to deal with the consequences, but instead caused further harm by rejecting my younger brother. The primary theme of the dream might be that like my father before me, I hurt those whom I love. A secondary and less obvious theme might be that in believing the idea that I cause them harm, I am overstating my power and understating their agency in our relationships.
This dream appears to be exploring some of the same themes as my dream three weeks ago. The following night I remembered a brief but powerful fragment of another and apparently related dream.
I was with David N and feeling very sad because my girlfriend Ali had broken up with me. That's all.
I awoke feeling the sting of rejection and pain of loss as vividly as I did when it actually happened more than 50 years ago. That breakup and others back in high school made a profound impression on me, influencing how I perceive the impact of my own actions on those whom I love. But we are adults now, and they can recover, just as I eventually did back then. Right?
03/06/2020   Coronavirus Consciousness  
What a difference a week can make! A week ago this (Friday) afternoon we drove over to Walla Walla to celebrate Sally's birthday and to give her kids' rooms a surprise makeover. Some guy in Snohomish County was reported to have the coronavirus but he was doing okay. We stopped at Selah Nature Preserve to look for a Canyon Wren and found a flock of early Violet-green Swallows instead. We reached Walla Walla in time for dinner with Richard and Donna. Saturday morning Darchelle got up early to meet Sally at Weight Watchers and share coffee at the Whitman coffee shop. We took baths while Darchelle's folks went to church, then we all drove up to the Alpine Outpost Inn at 5000 feet in the Oregon Blue Mountains for dinner. Their parking lot was hedged in by six-foot snowbanks and by the time we finished dinner it was snowing hard. A Kirkland woman became the first person in the United States to die of the coronavirus. Four others, it was reported, were infected.
Sunday, while Ben and Sally and the kids stayed up at the Alpine outpost, Darchelle and Claire and their parents along with Ben's father worked all day on the kids' rooms. The result was beyond charming. Sally was delighted and the kids were thrilled. Back at Richard and Donna's that evening, we learned that 11 people in Kirkland now had the coronavirus, the most of any place in the country. Monday, 2 March we drove back to Seattle after a lingering visit with Sally and the kids. Alarmed by reports of people already stockpiling food in Seattle, we stopped at the Costco in Yakima and did likewise, though unfortunately we forgot to pick up Purel hand sanitizer. By the time we remembered, a day or two later, no place had it in stock; even Amazon was out. We also stopped at Roza Recreation Area in the canyon to try for a Screech Owl. Not only did we hear two of them calling, but we also heard calling Long-eared, Saw-whet and Great Horned Owls. By the time we arrived home, 18 cases had been diagnosed in the greater Seattle area, almost all of them associated with a nursing home in Kirkland, and six people had died.
By Tuesday morning Darchelle and I had decided that she should not see her patients in person after this week until the threat of the coronavirus diminished. That seemed a little extreme until the next day when one of her patients informed her that they had been to a ballgame a few days earlier with the husband of a woman who might have been sick with the coronavirus. That meant that Darchelle could herself possibly already be infected. Then King County sent out an advisory that people over 60 years old or with compromised respiratory function should stay indoors at all times. We celebrated my new (and still optional) reverse quarantine status by walking part way around Green Lake to look for the recently and regularly reported Sora. Thanks to a young birder on a bicycle who pointed it out to me, we found it, by which time the number of local cases of coronavirus had risen to 39, with nine dead.
That works out to about 1 out of every 100,000 people in the greater Seattle area. It is not likely that either Darchelle or I would run into any of them as we go about our daily activities even in public. Except that the number of cases is much more reflective of the limited number of test kits available to diagnose the infection than it is of the actual spread of the virus. Apparently the US government and public health agencies have been woefully remiss in preparing for the coronavirus. Although the CDC has stopped publishing the number of tests performed due to political embarrassment, that number is probably less than 2000 (per The Atlantic) across the entire country. For comparison, South Korea has been testing upwards of 10,000 a day. The political calculation here seems to be that if no one gets tested, then there won't be any confirmed cases so there won't be any problem, right?. The stock market apparently is not buying that argument; the S&P500 dropped 12% last week. FWIW a not unreasonable estimate of the actual number of contagious individuals in the greater Seattle area might be in the neighborhood of 500.
At the ALS clinic last week (was it really just last week!) Dr Elliott implicitly confirmed that if I catch the coronavirus it will kill me. My FVC is at 21% (0.98L), supine 22% (1.08L), MIP -25, FRS 25/48. Breathing capacity is adequate for sitting but barely sufficient for standing and level walking. Supplemental oxygen would cause harmful carbon dioxide buildup so the only effective therapeutic intervention for COVID-19 is not an option for me. Neither is wearing a mask; it impedes my breathing too much.
If I do manage to elude the coronavirus then I should be able to make it for a while longer. I asked Dr Elliott how much longer and he characteristically declined to give me an answer in months or years but he did opine that my flight wasn't ready to lift off the runway yet.
Transmission data from Wuhan indicate that family members generally catch it from each other. But how easy is it to catch out in public? Is it safe for me to go out to eat at a restaurant? To go birding with Ed and Delia? Can Darchelle catch it by opening a door that someone with the virus opened before her? If she then uses her phone before washing her hands can she get reinfected by touching her phone afterwards? Is it possible to keep it out of our house? We feel besieged by an invisible enemy. We have already decided that we will no longer travel by air, or use Uber. Should we leave town? If so, when? And is it okay to stay in a motel or will we need to try to camp? And the restaurant question again...
I expect to die of the coronavirus before the end of the year. But it is rather late in the evening right now; after a good night's sleep I will not be so pessimistic.
Meanwhile, a disturbing dream last night:
I am in a full-sized blue van with Mom and Daniel and a very active little girl in a red dress. The van is not moving and has only one row of two seats behind the driver's and passenger seats. The cargo area behind the back seats is empty. Mom is standing behind the driver's seat, facing the back seat and I am sitting in the other back seat. Daniel is standing between the two back seats. The little girl jumps in the driver's seat then races back to the cargo area. Mom wants her to settle down so she grabs her as she runs by, picks her up and throws her down into the back seat. I am shocked by Mom's anger and I shout at her, "Don't do that to her! You are angry!" or something to that effect. It occurs to me that Mom might have treated me that way when I was little and I burst into tears, overwhelmed by sadness.
The little girl in the red dress seems to represent joy, or perhaps feelings in general, freely expressed and unconstrained by fear or thought. Mom represents a more analytical approach to life together with an aversion to the messiness and risk of unrestrained emotions. I have lived in tension between the two, always drawn to people who seem to feel freely but always fearful of pain and anger whether in myself or others. This dream appears to explore a source of that fear, though I cannot recall any incident even remotely similar to what it depicts.
FWIW the blue van places the dream in the same general time frame as the wool blanket in my dream on 2/24, the period after college when I was trying to become an adult. I traveled to fairs and sold Quick 'n Brite cleaner out of a blue Econovan. The little girl is inspired by my niece Katie. Daniel again represents me.
As of today the Times seems to have stopped tallying the total number of local cases, though somewhere I inferred that the number is at least 90, with 15 dead.
03/11/2020   The Bull is Dead  
When the Dow closed at 23,553.22 this afternoon the 11 year old bull market officially died; today was the first time in 11 years that the Dow closed 20% below a previous high. That said, the market is still about 15% higher than it was when we bought our house three years ago, and it would have to drop another 22% from today's close to get back to where it was when Trump was elected. I don't think it will go down that much, but I could imagine it dropping another 10% to 21,000 or so.
NOTE: Drop 10% it did, to 21,200.62, the very next day!
Meanwhile the coronavirus numbers in Western Washington are headed the other direction, up to 258 cases and 23 deaths as of yesterday. It is all a bit surreal. Darchelle is trying to wash her hands whenever she comes inside after being out in public. We are trying to minimize our trips to stores and avoid going to restaurants or coffee shops or the movies or the bank or the post office or the barber. We are even trying to minimize in person contacts with friends. So far we are not completely successful at any of this. Life still seems to be normal out there. Traffic is lighter than usual but there are people on the streets and in restaurants and walking around Green Lake. Daniel reports that business at John Howie Steak is about half of normal. Planes are flying overhead but my nephew Silas, who visited this past weekend from Denver, said there were only 30 people on his flight. But that is secondhand info. It is hard to radically change our behavior with nothing around us seems any different, except for the news. Perhaps reading the news is the behavior which I really ought to be changing. Hard to do though when the news is so exciting! And how can I be a credible prophet of doom if I don't have the latest news to back up my scenarios?
03/22/2020   Westport  
Anticipating that by next week we might be required to stay at home, Darchelle and I drove out to Westport yesterday and spent last night at the Glenacres Inn. At the time we did not realize that the Westport city council had just issued an emergency declaration closing all motels and hotels in town in an attempt to control a sudden influx of tourists. We asked for, and Steve gave us, a room which had been unoccupied for more than a week. We paid online and neither entered the main inn nor had any contact with anyone all weekend. Except for the guy who coughed (into his arm) as he passed me on the boardwalk at Nisqually during our brief stop there on the way home... I held my breath as long as I could after I passed him.
We drove directly out to the beach, arriving about two hours before sunset. There were more cars and trucks than I expected, perhaps as many as a dozen in the first mile south of the Grayland Beach State Park entrance with a few vehicles and a handful of people and dogs within the Snowy Plover reserve area, which is open to public access this time of year. Most parties did seem to be practicing Social Distancing; I noticed only one instance of three vehicles parked together and only one or two groups of more than two adults. Once I saw all the human activity I did not expect to find any plovers but I needed steps so we found a gap between other vehicles about a mile south of the entrance and pulled up into the soft sand above the last high tide line.
Snowy Plover 1
Snowy Plover 2
Least Sandpiper
Walking back into the older sand-drifted wrack line, I found a whole bunch of little bird tracks. They could only be Snowy Plover tracks. Following them farther back into the expense of dry sand, it didn't take long to find the birds, three of them. Darchelle joined me and got photos of the plovers and of three Least Sandpipers along the edge of a nearby freshwater pond. She also
Snowy Plover tracks
Mystery tracks
My tracks with Frog tracks?
photographed a few other mysterious tracks in the sand.
We did a checklist while we waited for the sun to set, hoping to see a green flash. As usual, a bank of clouds right at the horizon thwarted us.
Sunset minus 4:08
Sunset minus 0:09
Sunset minus 0:05
The Mexican restaurant had cars out front when we drove by but we ate in our room. In the morning I remembered a long narrative dream, though I couldn't recall how it began.
I am in a large room with other people including two attractive young women. I don't recall what the young women looked like or exactly what they were wearing (running clothes perhaps?) but I am pleased by their interest in me. They and I go into a smaller room to wait for a train, but I briefly return to the large room to make sure I didn't leave my phone behind. On a bedside table I see a brass padlock and another item, but not my phone. I don't know exactly when the train is scheduled to depart and I am not too worried about it but the women go out to check then return to tell me that it is leaving. I am glad they checked and I go out with them.
We board not a train but rather a large gray vehicle like a Hummer with several rows of seats. A slender dark-haired woman helps me get up into the vehicle and take the one remaining open seat which was saved for me. She tells me that she is glad I made it because they are about to leave. I turned to the two young women who are now seated behind me and say to them "I am grateful to you girls for getting me here on time." I feel a bit embarrassed, or maybe disappointed, that I called them "girls", because it demonstrates that I am not of their generation so there is no possibility of romance between us. A rather slender man somewhat younger than I am with curly hair and wearing blue-gray pants and shirt gets out of the vehicle. He approaches the closed window on my side and motions for me to kiss him goodbye through the glass so I lean over the middle-aged woman sitting next to me and press my lips against the glass as he does likewise. He walks away and I feel happy that I kissed him because the young women will think I am cool for doing that.
Darchelle is with me in the vehicle though I cannot see her. She asks me about the dream and the two women and I tell her what has happened so far though I can't remember the first part of the dream. We talk about the women too, the way we often talk about people and relationships.
We are on a tour up into the hill country with small farms like we saw in northern Portugal. I spot a pair of large yellowish birds with stout beaks and long tails and I immediately realize I've never seen them before. I tell Sarah, in the vehicle with us, that I wish I had my European bird book so I could look them up but then I remember that we are not in Europe, and anyhow I have the Birds of Europe on my phone. Maybe we are in Hong Kong because I have hiking maps on my lap for trails in the mountains of Hong Kong, but I am not sure if that is where we are either.
We get dropped off at another waiting room, from which we follow the two young women (I think) into a second room which has four different ways to exit - a doorway to the left, a stairway descending to a lower level, a blue emergency exit door and an elevator. We don't know which exit the tour group took. Suddenly Ali enters the room. She is wearing a blue plaid flannel shirt and seems larger and brighter than any of the rest of us in the room. Just then Roger barges in through the emergency exit door and announces "It's a floodpuddle out there" before leaving by the door from which we all had come in. Roger had been with the tour group so we now know which way to go. Ali immediately goes out the emergency exit door, and after hesitating briefly, we follow her. A paved path extends ahead of us across a broad lawn like on a college campus. It is nearly dark and raining hard and large puddles extend across the path. Ali is already more than halfway across the lawn but we will get soaked if we venture after her.
How did I get here? What happened? Where are we going? This dream explores these questions on multiple levels. It is structured as a play with three acts. The central act consists of two scenes in the safari vehicle while the first and third acts transpire in empty rooms with different casts of characters. The movement from one room to another within these two acts identifies them as periods of transition while the actions and symbols in the central act present my personal transformation through those transitions.
References to running, birding and travel place the time context of the dream in the past decade or so when I fully engaged in those activities. The two women recall the several younger women with whom I ran from time to time during my marathons. The brass padlock reminds me of the locks on the gates we opened on the Tunnel Marathon course. The lock was sitting on a bedside table with a lamp like those in a motel room. The waiting room suggests a train station; the Hummer, a safari vehicle (and also the boat on which I have been taking guided seabird-viewing trips out of Westport since 2013). The yellow birds appeared to be a cross between two species Darchelle and I saw in Zimbabwe - Crested Barbet and Gray Go-away-bird - during our trip to Southern Africa. Darchelle grew up in Africa. She joins me in the dream after I get into the safari vehicle and is with me in the dream from that point on. Sarah, Roger and Ali appear in the dream after that and indirectly indicate where to go next.
The characters in the safari vehicle offer clues to the meaning encoded in the dream. The dark-haired woman who welcomes me feels European and familiar but at first I couldn't place her, then I recognized in her our hostess at the Abbey/Château de Camon where Darchelle and I spent a magical two days during our trip to France. Everything just came together perfectly as if pre-arranged specifically as a gift to us, and in some ways our relationship has been like that too. The man in blue whom I kissed through the window represents myself but resembles Pastor McLarty, and thus symbolizes my belief in God. The woman across whom I lean to kiss him looks like a church member whom we call "the church lady", but I associate her with Susan. I don't see Darchelle in the safari vehicle but she is present with me, almost like a part of myself, and we talk because that is what we do. Sarah symbolizes the choices I made with Darchelle, having divorced her husband and married Roger a few years before Darchelle and I met. We also visited them in Sweden before our trip to France.
To continue with the analogy of the dream as a play in three acts, in Act 1 I am alone and running marathons, and finding a substitute for emotional intimacy in the companionship of other (particularly female) runners. I am not looking to change my situation, not seeking to actually engage in any new intimate relationship, but running leads to Act 2. I begin running with Darchelle and realize that I am looking for intimacy and that I cannot find it in my running relationships. I instead inadvertently find the connection I am looking for with Darchelle through our extended conversations while running together. I also recognize (thanks in part to therapy) that the demanding and condemning God to whom I subjected myself for 30 years was my own creation, a virtual parent onto which I projected my own self-criticism. With that recognition I am empowered to acknowledge Him as part of myself and choose to let that part go. Some might see that as kissing God goodbye but I think of it as taking responsibility for my feelings about myself. Concurrently (more or less) I embrace my passion for birdwatching, which is another manifestation of accepting myself for who I am rather than believing that I must change in order to be okay. But things change, and as my ALS continues to progress my health continues to decline. In Act 3 Darchelle and I face a future in which the only certainty is that I will soon die. Roger almost died once, and when he recovered, determined to pursue love with Sarah, as I have done with Darchelle. Ali encouraged me in that choice but also talked more freely with me about dying than anyone else, urging me to accept my growing dependence on others and to give those who love me an opportunity to share with me as I progressed towards my death. We actually have done that, in part through our wedding celebrations a few years ago, but I have kept on living since then. At this point the way ahead remains dark but we are still together and the play still continues.
Glaucous Gull with Western Gulls
Semipalmated Plover
Beached Bald Eagle
We lingered over breakfast in our room, talking over the dream. Sometime before lunch we drove down to Tokeland and found the Willets then hit the beach again on our way back north. We found an unexpected Glaucous Gull in the first little flock of Western Gulls that we came across. Rare, but for once not a new year bird. We did find three of those - Western Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover and Turkey Vulture - before turning in at the Bonge access road. That was a bit dicey because the sand was deep and soft. At the marina in Westport we found 20 Marbled Godwits but no Kittiwake. At
Surfbirds with Black Turnstone (ur) and Rock Sandpiper (lr)
the groins at the north edge of town I found a big flock of rockpipers but concluded that they were all Black Turnstones, not new for the year. Fortunately Darchelle got some photos which revealed that my turnstones were mostly Surfbirds with a generous handful of hard-to-find Rock Sandpipers, perhaps our best sighting of an excellent trip.
And now for the news...
The DJIA closed at 19,153 Friday, the S&P500 at 2,305.
Greater Seattle coronavirus stats are 1627 cases and about 90 deaths, with about 30,000 tests performed statewide. The number of cases for King, Snohomish and Pierce counties combined continues to grow by about 250% per week. Governor Inslee closed all restaurants bars and coffee shops a week ago. City parks are packed on sunny days, and at least half the people out there appear to be maintaining the recommended 6 feet of distance from each other, not including family members.
04/10/2020   Staying Home  
Flowering currant in front of the house
First the news...
The DJIA closed at 23,719 yesterday, the S&P500 at 2,790. Both are up more than 20% from their lows on 3/22.
Greater Seattle coronavirus stats are 6621 cases and about 355 deaths, with about 110,000 people tested statewide. The number of cases for King, Snohomish and Pierce counties combined is currently growing by about 35% per week. Governor Inslee issued a statewide stay-at-home order on 3/24, two and half weeks ago. Apparently it is working as evidenced by the slowing growth in the number of cases. It is unfortunately not working as fast as anyone would like. The stay-at-home order has been extended to the beginning of May but no one expects it to be lifted until June. Given that we in Washington are ahead of most of the rest of the country in the progression of the epidemic, that bodes ill for the economy despite the optimism of the stock market.
Trail to Promontory Point
Orange-crowned Warbler
Anna's Hummingbird on nest
Except for a couple of visits to Magnuson Park to look for the White-throated Sparrow on Promontory Point and for a few walks around the neighborhood or in nearby Ravenna Park, we have been staying home. We have ordered take-out from local restaurants a few times but we still have not been to the grocery store since the beginning of March. Today for the first time we bought bread at Grand Central and every two weeks we received a CSA box of fruit and vegetables so that helps. We have not seen the sparrow yet and are running out of time because it will head north any day now. Instead we found an Orange-crowned Warbler in a maple tree and a hummingbird building her nest in a little Douglas Fir.
Anxiety about dying of the coronavirus has been largely displaced by anxiety about how Trump may use the crisis to block the November election and install himself as president for life with the craven support of the Republican Party. I woke up last night worrying about the Republican Supreme Court. Reminding myself that I am dying and so need not be worried about these things didn't help. It also doesn't help to recognize how privileged we are to have the luxury of worrying about politics instead of how to get enough money to pay for the rent this month or for food this week.
04/13/2020   Happy Birthday Daniel  
Let them eat Tortilla
Social distancing
Conception discussion
I invited Daniel over for a beer on his birthday. I thought we might have some hors d'oeuvres too but in talking with Darchelle we decided to make a little more substantial - Spanish tortilla, soup and a delicious salad. Daniel went kayaking on the Sky (forgot his PFD and ran Boulder Drop anyway but that's another story) so arrived a little later than we planned. On the way over he mentioned his destination to Susan. I was on the phone with David so didn't get her message that she was coming too. To say we were surprised would be to understate it a bit. It went well though, with the possible exception of when Susan asked me if I recalled when Daniel was conceived.
04/15/2020   Social distancing  
Several days ago I walked over to Cowan Park via the 20th Ave bridge and the trail along the south edge of Ravenna Park. I did not encounter too many people through the neighborhood or along the trail but 13th Ave NE along Cowan Park was a real obstacle course with people getting in and out of their cars on one side of the street and walking in both directions on the sidewalk on the other side. One young woman caused a pedestrian traffic jam while she photographed crab apple blossoms along the sidewalk. One by one we detoured out into the street to get around her. I was concerned not only about oncoming people but also about people overtaking me from behind because I walk slowly now and had to stop every few minutes to replenish my oxygen supply by breath stacking.
Then two days ago we finally went to the grocery store. We got up at 7 AM, uncharacteristically early for us, to take advantage of seniors-only hour at the View Ridge PCC. Driving east on 65th blinded by the just-risen sun helped us to wake up. The store was not crowded though it was nonetheless impossible to avoid coming within arms length of other people. Such intimacy was alarming after being so careful for the past month to avoid it. We completely filled a grocery cart. Tired of struggling to get enough air and to avoid other shoppers, I retreated to the car while Darchelle checked out to the tune of $485. Now we have to wait two weeks to find out if our outing will prove fatal or not. Darchelle was quite nervous about it last night because she had a bit of a sore throat when we went to bed.
Social distancing even cropped up in a dream I had this morning.
I am walking on a waterfront promenade paved with large stones (like some city streets in Spain) when I began chasing, or get chased by, four children who are I think dressed entirely in brown, like little monks. I follow them into a house and continue to play a sort of tag or hide and seek with them. The house is a long rambler and the main hallway running the length of the house is partly obstructed with dead and dying potted trees, as if someone stopped watering them quite a long time ago.
I sit down on an old sofa in one of the rooms. A black woman is casually sprawled on the floor in front of me. Her face is open and round, her hair rather short and curly and I notice that she has a short white goatee on her chin, like Colonel Sanders. Perhaps it is because of the goatee that someone else in the room is saying to her "I didn't know that you became gay", but I am thinking that they meant to say "trans" instead of "gay". I need to leave but I'm not sure how to say that to the others in the room so I just get up and walk away. As I reach the front door at the end of the hallway I realize I left my backpack behind and I'm somewhat embarrassed as I return to the room to retrieve it but no one seems to notice. I forget something else and have to return again and again no one seems to care. I suddenly realize that when I followed the children into the house and sat in the room with other people I had completely forgotten about social distancing. As I am opening the door to exit, Ben comes up and I exclaim to him "Man, it's really hard to remember about this social distancing stuff" and he says something sympathetic in return, then shuts the door behind me because I have a little trouble getting it to close.
I'm surprised to discover almost a foot of fresh snow on the ground when I step outside. It seems to be nighttime though I can see okay. One lane of the street has been plowed so I start to walk in the cleared area but have to jump out of the way when a young man guns his car backwards towards me. Maybe he yells at me, I'm not sure, then he continues to race his car backwards down the street, stopping at a house some distance away. I follow the car into his driveway and wade into the snow as if to detour below the house then, realizing that the road veers up and to the right, cross through a flower bed onto his driveway. As I do so a rose cane breaks off and sticks to my coat, then a larger trunk of a small tree does likewise. The mother of the young man looks out of the house, sees me and yells at her son "Did you do that to him?" referring to the debris sticking to me. I assure her that I am okay then continue trudging through the snow along a fence which runs along the road. Discovering that I cannot get through the fence to the road, I backtrack until I find an opening to get back into the plowed road again.
I had thought that I was in Jackson but I do not recognize my surroundings. Ahead of me I see a group of runners approaching. Much like my surroundings they appear to be colorless, a sort of grayish flesh color, but when they get closer I see two Marathon Maniacs among them dressed in bright scarlet and yellow gear. One is a Main Maniac but I don't recognize him so I don't say anything to him. The other is being supported by two other runners, one on either side, as he stumbles along like a soldier wounded in battle. I look for someone familiar and recognize Fran Cunningham so I ask her what road we are on, and whether it joins up with Route 16 or some other road I would know. She doesn't seem to want to talk but she does tell me that the name of the road is Laurelhurst and that it does meet up with 16. As it approaches the intersection, our road descends a hill covered with rough brown ice and both Fran and I skid down it on our feet but we don't fall. Across the intersection there is a bus stop so I wait there with a couple of other people.
Lots of references to death, I think, in this dream, but I don't have a clear sense of a story it might be trying to tell. The house resembles the ranch house in New Mexico which belonged to Delia's parents, now deceased. The black woman seems to be a composite of Darchelle (short hair, African background) and Susan (the Colonel Sanders goatee). The person talking to the black woman seemed to be a church acquaintance from Auburn when the boys were young. The four children might be Ben's quadruplets. Disregarding social distancing could prove fatal. The angry young man driving his car backward would presumably be me; perhaps it is because of him that I twice detour off the cleared way into the snow. Both snow and nighttime have referred to end-of-life in other dreams. Fran Cunningham died (was murdered?) within a few years of graduating from high school. The wounded Maniac is most likely me. through the encounter with the runners, including Maniacs, that I figure out where I am and presumably, how to get where I want to go.
My best guess is that the dream is about how to die, and learning to live with dying. Leaving the house probably represents leaving my first marriage through divorce, with echoes of leaving my second through death. The sudden appearance of snow probably marks my diagnosis of ALS, the backward driving young man my initial impulse to suicide in response, and returning to the road after detouring through the snow my re-engaging with life despite losing my future. Although the setting remains bleak and I remain alone (and no longer able to run), Fran reassures me that I am not far from home and that I can get there.
Our caboose
Bathroom looking out at the trail
Inspired by reports from Eastern Washington by a few other birders, we decided to distance ourselves from the social life of the city and escape to the east side. Darchelle booked us a couple of nights at the Iron Horse Inn Bed and Breakfast, where they assured us that no one had occupied our prospective caboose for at least three days prior to our arrival. I felt a little guilty that we were not staying at home, but not so guilty that I didn't appreciate our first year bird of the trip, a Caspian Tern flying over the I-90 floating bridge. We stopped at Hyak and found a Rufous Hummingbird sitting on a willow protruding from a four-foot snowbank. Bullfrog Pond was pretty quiet but we spotted an Osprey and heard a Cassin's Finch before heading over to the B&B.
04/16/2020   Pine forest  
Lanceleaf Springbeauty (Claytonia lanceolata)
Northern Pygmy-owl with nuthatch
Grass Widows (Sisyrinchium inflatum)
Eric's birthday today. With the excitement of being out and birding with Andy and Ellen, I forgot. He would have been 63. He voted for Trump; I wonder if he would still favor him now.
In separate cars and with separate scopes we birded up Highway 12 as far as Bethel Ridge Road. We did well until our late start caught up to us at Bethel Ridge and we were unable to rouse our target Black-backed and White-headed Woodpeckers, or a Red-naped Sapsucker either. Instead we woke up a fierce little Northern Pygmy Owl and some irritated nuthatches. Lacking birds, Darchelle photographed some unassuming pine forest flowers instead. It was delightful to be out with Andy and Ellen again.
04/17/2020   Sagebrush steppe birds  
Sage Thrasher
Mountain Bluebird
Black-necked Stilt and American Avocets
It is the season for birds of the Sagebrush steppe. They arrive early and breed early then go silent in the summer heat. Between Old Durr Road and the Quilomene Wildlife Area we found five new species, everything we hoped for except a Sagebrush Sparrow. County Line Ponds produced four more year birds but we could not find Blair's Tricolored Blackbirds at Para Ponds nor have any Burrowing Owls been reported around Othello this spring.
04/18/2020   Sabbath birds  
Long-billed Curlew
Ferruginous Hawk approaching nest
Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler
We glamped in a spacious wall tent next door to Mount Hope Cemetery in College Place and were charmed by a pair of Screech Owls tooting together during the night. I lay in bed and compiled a bird list beginning at dawn which included our first Evening Grosbeaks of the year. Church is now online and can be viewed any time of the day so Richard and Donna joined us on an outing to Wallula where we showed them Long-billed Curlews at Lambdin Road, the Ferrginous Hawks at 9 mile Canyon and Clark's Grebes out on the river. At Millet Pondks we ran into Mike and Marylynn Denny who directed us to warblers and a Dusky Flycatcher in the flowering willows. They had also seen a Black-crowned Night Heron but we did not. Perhaps the woman who strolled out there ahead of us with her cat in her arms scared it off.
Mike Denny reported that the Great Gray owl is nesting along Jasper Road again this year so we drove up there shortly before sunset. It was there.
04/19/2020   Sparrows  
CRP grassland
Horned Lark
Sagebrush Sparrow
Looking for Grasshopper Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrows
Savannah Sparrow
We set up chairs on Richard and Donna's front lawn and sat in the sun with them for a couple of hours this morning. We devoted the afternoon to chasing two sparrows, driving north from just east of Prosser until we reached sagebrush and Sagebrush Sparrows, then driving south and east from Prosser up into the Horse Heaven Hills where we did not find a Grasshopper Sparrow in the CRP grassland. We may have been a little early for them. As with Durr Road two days ago, the sagebrush was full of White-crowned Sparrows.
On the way home we drove up above Liberty and played for owls but heard none. We did not get home until 1AM and the last few miles were tough.
04/24/2020   Hosting visitors  
Wistful rodent
Northern Flicker bathing
First yard visit by White-crowned Sparrow
We find ourselves hosting more than birds at our birdfeeders. In recent weeks first one, then two, and now three cute little rats have been visiting our backyard feeders. We are not pleased. After exhausting the supply of seeds spilled onto the ground under the feeders by the birds, the rats learned to climb the poles to access the mother lode. We installed baffles. They began to scramble around in the bushes surrounding the feeders, breaking off branches and twigs in the process of trying to access them. No problem we thought, until we spotted a rat on top of the suet feeder. I chased it away then a couple of hours later, discovered how it got there. I watched as it climbed up to the flexible leader of a ten-foot tall willow which stands some six feet from the feeder. As it continued up the leader, the willow gradually bent down until the tip of the leader just happened to come to rest on top of the feeder. The rat inched its way across the precarious bridge until it gained its objective and its reward. Darchelle tied the willow to the fence and the rats are grounded again, so far. Nonetheless it frustrates me to no end that I can't get out there and exterminate the buggers. So far. Darchelle ordered a rat trap from Amazon today.
Meanwhile I hosted Mike Adair in a dream this morning.
Darchelle and I are lying in a big bed in the room in the house in Jackson which used to be my parents' room when I was young. She is reading but I lean over to her and begin kissing her lower back right above the hem of her flowery underwear. We would make love but suddenly Mike Adair appears in the doorway. He is wearing a brown suit. I had forgotten that he was coming but I get up to show him to his room. He seems unsure of himself and I am surprised to realize that I have as much or more self-confidence than he does. We walk into a new addition to the house in place of Mom and John's current bedroom, office and greenhouse. It is a large room painted entirely in white with a bathroom and shower, also white, in one corner. The room has a shiny appearance everywhere as if it is made of white porcelain.
Mike Adair seemed to be perhaps the most self-confident person I had ever met when I worked with him at Microsoft and Expedia but he died in 2016 after suffering for several years with complications from a severe stroke. In this dream I think he represents death, and illustrates how death equalizes the living. No matter what we are in life, in death we are all dead. The ceramic quality of the room for Mike suggests the permanence of death and perhaps also our loss of agency with regard to dying. We can't choose not to die. The bed Darchelle and I are lying in is my parents' bed. Just as my father left my mother when I was a child, so I will leave Darchelle through death, symbolized by Mike Adair interrupting our potential lovemaking. But I am still living, and still with Darchelle whom I love.
04/26/2020   News  
At the risk of some redundancy with prior entries I include this excerpt from an email I wrote to Ali today.
Unlike so many people in this country and around the world, our lives really haven't changed all that much as a result of the pandemic. I hang out in my office and read the news or create entries in my online journal. Darchelle works from home two days a week. She putters in the garden rather than in secondhand stores. She cooks tasty food and feeds it to me. We sit around and talk. We stay up too late binge watching series on Netflix and Prime. Our latest indulgence is "Anne with an E", and update of Anne of Green Gables. We like those historical and romantical dramas and are enjoying this one very much. My only real objection is that although the background bird songs are correct for Prince Edward Island, they really shouldn't have Robins and White-throated Sparrows and Wilson's Warblers singing in the dead of winter, nor should they play the Downy Woodpecker call quite so indiscriminately. Prior to "Anne" we watched "The Crown" and they did a very nice job with the background birdsong in that one. I enjoyed refreshing my memory of the birds of the English countryside.
We've taken one break from staying home. Last weekend we drove east of the mountains, spent a couple nights in a caboose in the Cle Ellum and a couple of nights in a tent in Walla Walla. Both places were AirB&Bs which maintained a three-day gap between guests as well as thorough cleaning and disinfecting, so we were encouraged by that but we won't know for sure if we escaped infection or not for another week. That's our new reality - uncertainty. Can I get infected by someone bicycling or running past me in the park? Is our takeout dinner safe? Is it okay to drop into the grocery store for a dozen eggs or should we keep eating beans and oatmeal for breakfast for another three weeks instead? Life has always been risky and in reality it probably isn't much more risky now than before. It just feels that way. We are driving much less than we used to before Covid. Perhaps that compensates for the increased risk from the disease, which according to my neurologist will kill me if I catch it.
In Walla Walla we sat out on the lawn in the sunshine with Darchelle's folks and her sister's family and mostly stayed 6 feet apart while we visited. The air was fairly warm and there wasn't much of a breeze. It was pretty much like hanging out in their living room except we got a bit of a sunburn. We also did quite a bit of birding. The urge to get out and see the new arrivals finally overcame my reluctance to violate the stay-at-home order. Most, but not all, of the state's most active birdwatchers are staying pretty close to home, and occasionally expressing at least mild disapproval of those who are not. I call them the moralists, and the scofflaws, the hedonists. My friend Ed tried to convince me that given my limited future, I was more justified than most in joining the hedonists. I'm not sure I agree with him but on the other hand I would be more concerned about the hit to my reputation if I knew that my future as a member of the local birding community were measured in years rather than months.
I keep putting off writing instructions for my executor. Each morning that I wake up with a runny nose (a known side effect of using a ventilator) afraid that I have the coronavirus, I swear I am going to work on that document, then when my runny nose tries up after a few hours I lose motivation...
Daniel is practicing his sommelier skills on his housemates while his restaurant is closed. He is studying for his Advanced Sommelier exam in October but takes a break now and then to go hiking or kayaking or even backcountry snowboarding. Mostly alone I think; he is quite careful about social distancing but has always enjoyed spicing life up with a little more risk than I am comfortable with. Hopefully we'll get through this pandemic before that catches up to him.
Hopefully we'll get through this pandemic before it catches up to us. I fear that things will never get back to normal though.
For David in Taiwan, things have pretty much remained normal. He and his girlfriend KC are both working as much as ever, which in David's case is about half time. They eat out from time to time and usually go for a hike on the weekends, and/or hang out with friends.
John and Mom are happily settled in Jackson and feeling quite safe. That feeling probably doesn't fully account for their frailty, their risk of falling, John's multiplying health problems and of course the possibility of accidental exposure to the coronavirus. There are no reported cases in Jackson as far as I know but Sarah told us that the young man who is renting a room in their house down in the field during their absence believes that he has Covid-19. John has fluid accumulation around his lungs and in his legs for which he recently began to receive treatment at the hospital in North Conway. He also has a serious laceration on each leg due to a fall and a collision with a piano bench. One of them is infected, but that too is being treated. They have two close neighbors each checking in on them at least daily, so that is somewhat reassuring. They are where they want to be, and where they want to remain. We talked to them weekly and Sarah Skype's with them from Sweden every few days.
I continue to gradually lose leg strength, core strength and breathing capacity. Nothing dramatic but even gentle uphill walking is very difficult, so hiking is pretty much out of the question. My current walking goal is 25,000 steps a week and I haven't missed it since the beginning of the year. The brace which we reengineered during your visit last fall makes that possible.
Darchelle and I are delighted to have to hang out together all the time. Things could be worse.
Also, a dream. I've been remembering them more often in the past few weeks since I've been working my dream catalog.
I am standing in a meadow at the edge of woods. The trees are very tall with fresh spring foliage glowing in the sunlight. One of the tallest trees is an elm. I try to take photos but even zoomed all the way out I can't quite capture their beauty. I hike up a broad green hillside, mostly open pasture with scattered groves of aspen trees. I try to take photos of the aspen groves but cannot find a good composition. A dog appears, a tall and slender breed which is all white with somewhat curly hair giving it a rumpled appearance like a well-loved stuffed animal. Contributing to the stuffed animal impression, it moves stiffly around me even as it playfully runs towards me and then bounds away from me again. I give chase and we move down the hillside because I need to go in.
At the base of the hillside is a structure which is like a drive-through fast food place or an mobile amusement park ride, the kind that folds up onto a trailer so it can be towed from one fair to another. With the dog, I climb over the platform and through some crossbars, trying to take care not to get grease from the skids on my clothing, and end up in a narrow hallway which gets smaller and becomes a lighted tunnel ahead of me barely large enough to crawl through. An employee of the fast food place comes in and retrieves the dog, but I remain trapped in the tunnel and wake up feeling a bit panicked.
My best guess is that this dream is a brief and highly selective synopsis of my life with God. It opens with me seeking to capture the beauty of nature through photography, as I did in high school when a few American Elms still survived in the wild. Aspen groves on the hillside suggest a subsequent context of college in Colorado. There follows a dalliance with a dog, which has generally represented my belief in God in other dreams. The dog appears alive but resembles a stuffed animal, a child's comforting toy. When I find myself facing a difficult situation, trapped in a tunnel which in another dream represented death, the dog is withdrawn. For no particular reason other than perhaps the context, the fast food place/carnival ride, which are both alien environments to me, may represent the church. If so, then the employee taking the dog away may represent my acceptance of the continuing ownership by the church of the idea of God. Another way to put that is that in the situation in which I now find myself, I have been unable to come up with a believable concept of God now that I have rejected the God promulgated by the church.
05/01/2020   May day  
Socially distancing aka. Solitary Sandpiper
Engaged in essential activity
Purple Martin colony
We've been talking about chasing the Mountain Quail for a month now. I only know one place to go for them, a regenerating clear-cut on the north side of the quarry behind the Port Orchard airport. I never got down there last year so thought we should give it a shot this year but couldn't be bothered until I realized that we could stop in Fife and probably pick up a Solitary Sandpiper (or two) along Frank Albert Road. We did not get an early start, but did not for that reason miss the Mountain Quail. We missed them, I think, because the quarry expanded and bulldozed away all the Scotch Broom in which the quail formerly lived. Darchelle took a cute selfie of us in the former clear-cut. At least we got the Sandpiper, and the Purple Martins along Ruston Way in old town Tacoma, and even the Green Heron in the park at the Cedar River mouth. No photo, it was almost dark.
Rufous Hummingbird
Mourning Dove
Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler
The Myrtle Warbler stopped by the backyard and bathed in the stream a day or two ago.
05/11/2020   Where we are at  
First the news...
The DJIA closed at 24,270 today, the S&P500 at 2,930. Both are slightly higher than a month ago. The Dow is off about 18% and the S&P500 about 13% from their highs in February but on the other hand the Dow is up 31% and the S&P 500 27% from their lows in March. Despite some volatility neither index has changed much in the past month. Financial commentators do not agree on whether we are enjoying the early stages of the next bull market or merely indulging in a dead cat bounce.
I lean toward the latter hypothesis, perhaps because I don't see my personal economic activity returning to normal as long as the coronavirus is on the prowl. The economy won't substantially recover until I and most other Americans feel safe to get out and start spending, and I don't think that the market can recover until then either. With at most 5% of the population immune to the virus, and without infrastructure in place to track clusters of infections as they arise, I don't see how we can avoid additional waves of illness and consequent economic slowdowns.
The silver lining in this ominous cloud is that economic slowdowns tend to be disastrous for incumbent politicians up for reelection. Not only the Trump regime but Republican control of the Senate are at risk. It could prove to be the salvation of the Republic, though at a cost of 80,000 deaths to date in the US, a number which I believe will reach a quarter million by election day. Hopefully I will not be one of them.
Greater Seattle coronavirus stats are 11441 cases and 693 deaths with about 256,000 people tested statewide. All three of those numbers are approximately double what they were a month ago. The number of cases for King, Snohomish and Pierce counties combined is currently growing by about 10% per week. If the current decline in our daily new cases continues, they will be down to their levels of early March within about two weeks. The statewide stay-at-home order prohibiting non-essential travel is currently scheduled to expire at the end of this month, although state parks officially opened a couple of days ago, begging the question of whether a visit to a state park can be considered essential.
Trail to Bottle Beach
Dunlin, Red Knots, Short-billed Dowitcher and Western Sandpiper
Red Knots and Dunlin
Shorebirds are staging at Bottle Beach State Park outside Westport for the next few weeks as they migrate north. There are five species out there that I have not yet seen this year so in my opinion a visit was indeed essential. Ed and Delia agreed so we drove out there in our separate cars on Friday. Darchelle and I had considered spending the night so as to get an early start but the tide schedule meant that we did not have to be there untill around noon, which we could manage. When we arrived we found the parking lot still cordoned off but a car had parked along the highway across from the old entrance so we did likewise. Out at the beach we found a half a dozen other birders and photographers. I have no idea where they had all parked.
Bottle Beach is always a surprise. Today the surprise was hundreds of Red Knots instead of the more typical handful. The gbirds were clustered as usual on the mudflat at the leading edge of the incoming tide. Along with the Red Knots were smaller numbers of Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitchers, Western Sandpipers and Black-bellied Plovers. Two, the Dowitcher and Knot, were year birds. We just missed a third target species, Ruddy Turnstone, which was too bad because Bottle Beach was our best chance for them. Fortunately Ed spotted one on one of the floats at the Tokeland Marina. Scoping Graveyard Spit a few minutes earlier, he had also found a flock of Whimbrels. That made four out of five species found.
Wandering Tattler
Around Westport the fifth shorebird I was looking for, a Wandering Tattler, frequents the intertidal zone on jetties and breakwaters but when you go to look for one it often seems to be somewhere else. That is where the bird I spotted was headed as I walked up the ramp to the observation deck on the Westport breakwater. I had the briefest of glimpses before it disappeared around the point of the nearest groin. Ed and I set off to look for it but clambering around on the angular boulders of the breakwater is a risky operation for me at this point. With a little help from Darchelle I made it up in one place but we could not find the bird so we returned to the observation deck. While we were watching a Gray Whale blowing just off the rocks, two more Tattlers flew in and landed right below us. Darchelle texted Ed and Delia, 100 yards down the breakwater, about the "toddlers" and they came running back in time to get a good view. Both Darchelle and Ed got photos. Those tattlers gave me a total of 237 species for the year in Washington state so far.
The last couple of outings have been pretty challenging because my breathing is so limited. After walking out to Bottle Beach I was so winded that I couldn't use the scope until I sat on a log and rested for a minute or two. It was quite warm, 87F by midafternoon in Tokeland, which may have been a factor contributing to my breathlessness, but I was continually panting anytime I was not sitting quietly in the car. Fortunately I can recover by resting, but for how much longer, I wonder. Difficulty breathing is already becoming a deterrent to walking, and by extension, birding. Contemplating that left me pretty depressed all weekend.
05/14/2020   Montlake Fill  
Bald Eagle studying goslings
Mother (or Father) guarding goslings
Mothers (or nannies) and children at the Fill
We walked around the Fill this Thursday afternoon partly to get out and partly to look for a previously reported Blue-winged Teal. We encountered quite a few people so wandered off the trails partly to avoid them and partly to inspect the ponds for the teal. I was struggling a bit to breathe so we found a bench and sat for a while watching women with children enjoying the lakeshore and waiting to see if a teal might emerge from the cattail marsh. Eventually two teal did fly out but they were Cinnamon not Blue-winged.
05/15/2020   Cle Elum  
Rufous Hummingbird at Hyak
Yellow Warbler
Hiking behind Railroad Ponds
Seeking Red-naped Sapsucker and White-headed Woodpecker, both of which we missed at Bethel Ridge a month ago with Andy and Ellen, we drove over to Cle Elum for the day. We missed them both again but picked up five other new birds for the year and enjoyed strolling in the sunshine around the railroad ponds. On our way home we stopped at Bullfrog Pond where Darchelle collected landscape rock while I went birding.
05/17/2020   Chasing Bobwhite  
Blackbird on the firing range
A Quail but not a Bobwhite
Hermit Warbler woods
We hoped we might see one and maybe even get a photograph at the usual spot on Joint Base Lewis McCord but no such luck though I did accumulate a pretty good list, mostly by ear despite a considerable amount of activity over at the firing range. We heard three different Bobwhite, our most ever, but they were all quite distant and remained out of sight. On our way out of the base we stopped to check out a previous report of a Hermit Warbler. I managed to get a distant view high in a Douglas fir of a warbler with a gray back and a yellow face (I think) and a rapid song quite different from the simpler buzzy song coming from elsewhere in the Douglas firs, and which I assumed was a Townsend's Warbler. So I counted it, but I continue to be somewhat uneasy about my practice of distinguishing Townsend's, Black-throated Gray and Hermit warblers by the combination of habitat and song.
05/20/2020   Yesler Swamp  
Mallard hen with ducklings
Great Blue Heron and Gadwalls
Yesler Swamp
On a dark and drizzly Wednesday evening we walked the boardwalk through Yesler Swamp hoping we might find one of the Blue-winged Teal recently reported in the area. No such luck though the emergent grass along the far end of the boardwalk was alive with ducklings.
05/23/2020   Christmas Lake  
Western Tanager female
Western Tanager male
Christmas Lake marsh
Yesterday we again sought Mountain Quail, this time in a clear-cut off of 147th St NW. We heard one but did not see it so did not take any photos. The Scotch Broom and other vegetation was wilted and withering, apparently from a recent application of herbicide, so I doubt the quail will persist there much longer. We did not linger either. A woman emerged from a nearby house and from a distance gave us the stink-eye. Once again, we were glad we were not birding while black.
Today we were going to stroll through the woods below Rattlesnake Lake but the road was barricaded before the pullout across the Snoqualmie Valley Trail where I had intended to park. We joined numerous other cars in parking between the no parking signs along the side of the road and walked an extra quarter mile up the trail to my original destination. From there we followed a trail into the woods where I have previously found Swainson's Thrushes. I had forgotten that that trail led to the shallow wooded pond and marsh called Christmas Lake. We found my first-of-year Swainson's Thrush along the trail and photographed Western Tanagers at the lake. We heard Townsend's and Black-throated Gray warblers singing their typical songs from Douglas Fir and Big-leaf Maple respectively, but we also heard a third song from the Douglas Fir which was very similar to the Hermit Warbler we heard a few days ago down at JBLM. The bird would not show itself in response to recordings so I did not report it. Hermits are rare in North Bend.
Walking on the uneven trail was tricky at times because my legs are weak and my balance not as good as it used to be but I made it without incident. I think we walked about a mile and a half and I was quite tired at the end.
05/24/2020   Black-backed Woodpecker  
Black-backed Woodpecker scaling
Black-backed Woodpecker posing
Me in the burn watching the woodpecker
We made another trip over the pass to Kittitas County today to look for woodpeckers - White-headed at Hart Road, Red-naped Sapsucker at the Teanaway River bridge and Black-backed along Iron Creek Road up near Blewett Pass. We missed the first two and found the one which I considered to be least likely. I successfully stumbled around the burn (1.5 miles up FR 9714 from Highway 97 south of Swauk pass) while Darchelle found the previously reported Black-backed Woodpecker and got some excellent photos. We only saw the one bird, a male, so I do not know if there is a pair.
With a little time to kill before prowling for owls above Liberty, we drove up the Old Blewett Pass road as far as a hairpin turn with a spectacular view. While admiring that view we heard a woodpecker drumming in the valley below us. It was a long and relatively slow drum which faded towards the end - a Three-toed Woodpecker drum - and by triangulating on its location then studying satellite photos after we got home I was able to determine that it was coming from along Iron Creek about a quarter mile below the burn. Unfortunately we had not brought the bluetooth speaker with us so we were not able to call it effectively. The only other woodpecker with a similar drum is the Black-backed but I do not think that bird would venture a quarter mile out of its burn to do its drumming so I counted it as a Three-toed.
Above Liberty after dark the hills were alive with the sound of ORV's so we avoided the main road up Cougar Gulch and took 116 instead. We heard one Poorwill near Nighthawk Knoll (that access road was blocked by blowdowns) and one distant Flammulated Owl a little higher up. Good enough.
05/27/2020   The Backyard  
Around the Stream
Chipping Sparrow in the pond
The Pergola
The Rock Garden
Anna's Hummingbird at the Hotlips
Under the apple tree
For a month now I have been doing almost daily checklists from our backyard. The Chipping Sparrow first appeared about a week ago and is the first one I have ever seen in the yard. It is the 45th species this year and the 69th species since we moved in three years ago. With its diversity of plantings and variety of flowers in bloom now, the backyard is quite a pleasant place to hang out. The combination of seed and suet feeders with the pond and recirculating stream attracts about 15 species of birds on a regular basis with two or three more that fly over regularly and another dozen that show up occasionally. New birds appear often enough to keep it interesting - 10 in the past month and 10 in April as well. Thanks to the coronavirus, the ambient noise level has been lower this year which has helped. My increasing difficulty with walking has also helped my yard list - I spend more time sitting on the back deck instead of birding down in Ravenna Park.
05/28/2020   Tri-Cities  
Black-chinned Hummingbird near Windy Point
Cormorants at Millet Pond
Rainbow over Nine Mile Canyon
The discovery of a Black-throated Sparrow near Benton City yesterday altered our itinerary as we set out for a four day birding trip with Ed and Delia to Kittitas County, the Columbia Basin and the Walla Walla area. Instead of spending the morning in Kittitas County chasing woodpeckers, I decided to head directly for the Black-throated Sparrow with only a brief stop near Windy point just south of Yakima to look for a Black-chinned Hummingbird in the spot where Ellen showed me one a year ago. The hummingbird showed up right where it was supposed to, thereby burnishing my birdfinding reputation with Ed and Delia. We did not do as well with the sparrow; it apparently departed last night. We also missed White-faced Ibis at the Millet Ponds although we did have nice scope views of Black-crowned Night-Herons. At 9 mile Canyon the Ferrginous Hawks were feeding two young under the echo of a bright rainbow.
05/29/2020   Blue Mountains  
Gray Catbird along South Fork Coppei Creek
Great Gray Owl
Great Gray Baby
We introduced Ed and Delia to one of my favorite birding spots in the state this morning, the South Fork Coppei Creek Road. It is just a narrow strip of riparian tickets along the creek and about a quarter mile of brushy hillside along the road but it is good for a nice variety of birds, including three new ones for the year this morning. Heading up the North Fork Coppei Creek Road we stopped at the usual brushy hillside overlooks and heard two Green-tailed Towhees, my primary Blue Mountain target bird, though we were unable to see either one. It took me a couple of years but I can now reliably distinguish their song from the quite similar songs of Lazuli Buntings and Fox Sparrows, so I counted the towhees. With almost enough time to spare we drove back down the mountain and up Jasper Mountain Road to show Ed and Delia the Great Gray Owls nesting up there. The nest appeared empty but one adult and one young one were hanging out nearby.
We returned to town early enough to visit with Richard and Donna on their shady front patio for an hour or so before heading over to Ben and Sally's for supper. Sally ordered out some delicious Mexican food from a new place she has been wanting to try and the kids led Darchelle on several treasure hunts before we ate it. We lingered outside talking after the kids went to bed and until even the nighthawks went to bed.
05/30/2020   Columbia Basin  
Barn Owls
Redhead with Ruddy Duck
Coot with cootlet
We ate breakfast with Ben and Sally and the kids and Richard and Donna on the back patio, so we did not get going until almost noon. That would not of been a problem as the birds we were seeking were not morning types but our late start caught up to us later in the afternoon when a band of big thunderstorms overtook us near Connell while we were looking for a Burrowing Owl. (No luck, but we did call in a Grasshopper Sparrow for consolation, and Ed and Delia found several pairs of Long-billed Curlews.) The most intense cell passed far enough east of us that all we saw was some distant lightning and an ominous array of mammary clouds overhead but the prospect of rain and the reality of wind jinxed our search for Forster's Terns and Tricolored Blackbirds. Nonetheless we did very well on our first couple of stops, with a Franklin's Gull and four White-faced Ibis, both difficult to find, at the Walla Walla River Delta, and Wilson's Phalaropes at the Tyson ponds. Darchelle was delighted with six Barn Owls at the Dodd Road borrow pit and I was delighted to finally get Blue-winged Teal at the Madame Dorian pond. We didn't take enough pictures anywhere except at the little marsh pond off Dodd Road which featured a very showy Ruddy Duck and a more traditionally handsome Redhead, along with baby Coots.
05/31/2020   Woodpeckers at last  
Pygmy Nuthatch along North Wenas Road
Red-naped Sapsucker
We spent the night at a western-themed AirB&B in the town of Kittitas across the street from a vacant western-style store with a big "Trump Headquarters" banner across its false front. Morning was breezy and brisk but sunny. We met Ed and Delia at Days Inn, where they had stayed for half what we paid, and caravaned to Starbucks before heading out the Umptanum road to seek a White-headed Woodpecker in the pine forest north of the saddle. Andy had recommended that area to me in an email after I complained about my difficulty in finding one.
We walked about a mile and a half of the gravel North Wenas Road through the pine forest. The air was cool, the sunshine warm and the traffic light. Lots of birds were singing but though we played woodpecker calls repeatedly, I heard a White-headed call only briefly and it was so distant I would not have counted it except that we stopped again on the way back and heard the bird call more clearly from the same area. In between we drove down to Maloy Road and found a Red-naped Sapsucker almost immediately in the aspens along Wenas Creek. So in one morning I picked up the two woodpeckers which I've been looking for all month. We also picked up a much more difficult bird, a Northern Goshawk which Darchelle spotted as it flew up into a pine tree along the North Wenas Road. Characteristically it did not linger but immediately flew across the road to another tree then took off in rapid level flight through the pines and was gone. It seemed smaller than I would have expected but that was my only reservation about the ID. Darchelle, who had the best view, described it as gray above with a dark rim along the entire trailing edge of the wing. She also noticed fluffy white undertail coverts. Both of those observations, as well as the pine forest habitat and powerful flight, would indicate a Goshawk. They are rare; it is not a bird I see every year. Nonetheless we may have seen two more that afternoon up at Iron Creek, where Darchelle managed to relocate the Black-backed Woodpecker for Ed and Delia. We did not manage to relocate Three-toed Woodpecker Darchelle and I heard drumming a week ago but failure to arouse a woodpecker at 4 o'clock in the afternoon does not by any means indicate that it is not present. According to Andy they are typically morning birds.
We arrived home in time for Darchelle to do some work in the yard while I got on the computer, but I got quite cold without really paying attention since I'm used to being somewhat uncomfortable and just putting up with it. My chill may have been the reason that my leg gave out when I stepped the wrong way on some clothing at the top of the stairs. I collapsed in a heap on the landing but fortunately did not slide over the edge. My left leg hyper flexed and was quite painful but as I took inventory of what hurt I realized that my left big toe was also uncomfortable. It was Darchelle who noticed my entire toenail lying upside down on the floor nearby. She had been taking a bath but jumped out of the tub and got me up and seated in a chair in the bathroom where she covered me with blankets because I was shivering uncontrollably, partly from cold but also from shock, I think. I told her to get some gauze and tape and wrap up my toe, which was now beginning to bleed and to hurt. She did that and also fed me a couple of ibuprofen and I began to settle down.

A note from the real world
The city of Seattle is under a 5PM curfew order in an attempt to restrain initially peaceful protests which turned violent over the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last Monday. We don't see any impacts here in mostly white Ravenna but I-5 was closed and sirens still interrupt the calm of the evening. The news is full of reports about demonstrations turning violent across the country as police respond to protests about police violence with even more violence. The Floyd incident seems to have triggered an awareness of injustice and demand for change among both Whites and Blacks that have been building due to several other widely-broadcast examples of racial inequality in the country.
Back on February 23rd a black jogger named Ahmaud Arbery was stalked and murdered by three white men, one a former police officer, in a suburban neighborhood in Georgia. No charges were filed by the local police department until one of the men involved released a video online more than two months later. The video went viral and two days later the men were finally arrested.
On the night of March 13 police burst into the apartment of Breonna Taylor and her boyfriend in Louisville Kentucky while they were asleep in bed. When Taylor's boyfriend, "standing his ground" like white folks do, pulled out a gun and shot at the intruders, the police fired eight bullets into Breonna, killing her in her bed, then arrested Walker for shooting back. The police were acting on a "no-knock" warrant which they obtained by falsely claiming that Taylor was receiving drug shipments in her apartment.
On Monday morning, hours before George Floyd was killed, a black birdwatcher named Christian Cooper was looking for migrants in a wild area of Central Park in New York where off-leash dogs are not allowed. When he encountered a white woman running her dog loose, he asked her to put it on the leash and told her that he would offer it dog treats if she did not do so (what a great idea!). Christian began to record the incident on his cell phone. She approached him and demanded that he stop the recording, and as he asked her not to come close to him, she repeatedly told him that she was going to call the police and tell them that an African-American man was threatening her. When she did call 911 and told the operator that an African-American men was threatening her, Christian said "thank you" and walked away. By the time the police arrived, the woman had also left the scene but when Christian and his sister put the video online, the woman's attempt to use the police as a potentially deadly weapon against Christian backfired. The video went viral; the woman's employer fired her and even the animal shelter demanded that she returned the dog. The term "birding while black" became a thing.
Widely reported recently are the facts that Covid-19 is four times more likely to be fatal for black people than for white people. An encounter with police is far more likely to be fatal for a black person then for a white person. The average white household has 10 times the net worth of the average black household.
It begs the question, how are we to engage with this real world?
06/04/2020   North Bend  
Least Flycatcher
Mount Si from Three Forks Park
Least Flycatcher
This afternoon we drove up to North Bend to chase a Least Flycatcher at Three Forks Natural Area, though I hoped to pick up a Red-eyed Vireo and a Black Swift as well. Darchelle hoped to pick up a couple of Sword Ferns and Goatsbeards along the recently reopened Middle Fork Road, our usual plant collecting spot. It was about a half-mile walk out to the NE corner of the second field where the flycatcher had been reported singing in the willows. It was doing just that when we arrived. Another birder had his long lens aimed at the bird making it easy to spot. Darchelle got a few photos too. We didn't see the Red-eyed Vireo but I heard three of them singing around the perimeter of the field. No swifts, either there or at Snoqualmie Falls where I leaned against the railing and studied the sky for about an hour while people came and went, including a family picnicking on fragrant Indian food behind me. That was not the only fragrance wafting around the overlook; other visitors generally kept their distance but collectively seemed to be more perfumed than usual crowd. I wondered whenever I caught someone's scent whether that meant that I could also catch their virus, if they had any.
The sun had set by the time we started up the Middle Fork Road. Swallows were darting above the treetops and above them another bird with long slender wings set in a bow sailed without apparent effort on the wind - a Black Swift! Darchelle stopped the car and tried for a couple photos then we chased it for a mile or so down the valley but did not spot it again. Just beyond the Maidenhair Fern cliff we stopped and Darchelle was able to excavate a couple of ferns so we did not go home empty-handed.
06/07/2020   A Blackbird, an Owl and a Cloud  
Red-winged Blackbird at Kahlotus Lake
Bullocks Oriole at Kahlotus Lake
Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds at McManamon Road
We drove over to Othello this morning to see a Tricolored a Blackbird but our quest proved more difficult than I anticipated because there were none at the supposed colony below the Kahlotus Lake Overlook, nor could we find any among the blackbirds feeding on spilled grain at West McManamon Road. Darchelle finally spotted one sitting on the fence by the Para/McCain's Ponds. All afternoon we kept thinking that the Red-wings that we were looking might be Tricoloreds but when we finally found an actual Tricolored we had no question about it. The shoulder bar is white instead of buff and the red above it is crimson rather than scarlet.
Although I saw the bird on the fence, I confirmed the identification from Darchelle's photo. That was typical of my day - The birds were usually too far away for me to identify without optics and I was too short of breath to use the scope effectively. There were some memorable moments, such as the Prairie falcon stooping on blackbirds at Kahlotus Lake, but generally I felt too physically stressed to do an adequate job of recording our sightings in eBird, and that was frustrating. The weather was challenging too, quite windy and sometimes rainy as well, but when the sun did come out the contrast of bright landscape under dark clouds was glorious.
Tricolored Blackbird
Burrowing Owl
Noctilucent Cloud
The four hours we spent searching for a Tricolored Blackbird left us little time for our other two targets - Forster's Tern and Burrowing Owl. We tried for the tern at Lind Coulee and Perch Point but found only gulls. We had more success with the owl. I considered it unlikely and probably would not have chosen to try for it at all given that we would not get to the spot near Soap Lake until after sunset, but Darchelle really wanted to see one so we drove up there. As we approached the area whereI was it had been reported, a weedy boulder field near the Rocky Ford turn-off from Highway 17, I spotted an oddly owl-shaped rock balanced on the top of a four-foot boulder quite close to the road. Just in case, I asked Darchelle to pull over and back up to where we could check it out. The "rock" had just come into view when it flushed and flew away with rapid wing beats. It seemed long-tailed like a falcon but it pretty much had to be a Burrowing Owl. Fortunately we spotted it (or perhaps a second one) again, this time sitting on a fence post and looking more like a typical Burrowing Owl.
As we were heading west up I-90 towards Ryegrass Summit from Vantage I spotted a large and luminous cloud rising above the hills to our north. The sky was clear and the sunset had long since faded leaving a faint glow behind a thin dark band of altostratus hugging the horizon. The color of the mystery cloud was unlike any cloud I have ever seen, a cold pale greenish blue with a brownish cast at the horizon. Were it not for that color and the somewhat fibrous texture it might simply have been the city lights of Wenatchee reflecting off a patch of stratus, but the sky was clear all around us and city lights cast an orange, not a bluish, glow. This cloud was in fact a rare Noctilucent Cloud, as far as I know the first one I have ever seen. They appear an hour or two after the summer sunset and are composed of water ice crystals in the Mesosphere 250,000 feet above the earth where the temperature is about -200F, reflecting the light of the sun after the lower layers of the atmosphere are in darkness. Very cool!
06/09/2020   Yard birding  
Male Anna's Hummingbird
Bewick's Wren
Juvenile Rufous Hummingbird
The male Anna's Hummingbird who considers our yard his territory has had to yield a bit to one or two juvenile Anna's, perhaps his own offspring, as well as a juvenile Rufous which Darchelle fortunately was able to capture in a photo. It is smaller and more golden green on the back than the Anna's but I wasn't certain of the ID until I was able to catch a glimpse of the orange in the tail. In other news the local juncos have contributed at least three broods of one or two juveniles each to our back yard clientele. The Bewick's Wren has been working hard softening up seeds to feed to its young. A flock of baby Chestnut-backed Chickadees have been perfecting their flight skills in the backyard. There were seven when they first showed up on 21 May; now there seemed to be only five but they are considerably more agile than they were back then. In mammal news I finally got to see the rat swim across the pond. Darchelle told me about it about a month ago but I had not seen it for myself. It makes the 6 foot crossing in less than two seconds so I doubt we will ever get a photo of the phenomenon.
Finishing breakfast
Backyard Rose
Watching birds
I have my favorite hangouts. In the morning I sit at the counter in the kitchen while Darchelle makes coffee and fixes our breakfasts. We have been drinking a couple of new varieties of coffee recently and Darchelle has been using the French press rather than the cone filter. Trying different coffees "livens up our little lives" she noted the other day. Sometime during the day I sit outside on the back deck for an hour or so and make note of the birds I see or hear, entering them into an eBird checklist. I have a streak going on eBird of 45 consecutive days on which I have entered a checklist. Probably two thirds of them are from the backyard. I only get a dozen or so birds on a good day and they are for the most part the same birds each day with one or two variations, so I don't know if my checklist streak is really legitimate, but it livens up my little life.
06/13/2020   Indigo Bunting  
Offleash Dog trail at Marymoor
Indigo Bunting
Lazuli Bunting
So does chasing year birds - birds I have not yet seen this year in Washington state. This Indigo Bunting was #280. It was discovered in Marymoor Park in Redmond two or three days ago, singing on a territory in the offleash dog area. The off leash area is actually quite good habitat, a tall grass meadow dotted with clumps of Spirea and a few ash and cherry trees, and bordered on two sides by dense groves of willow and cottonwood. It supports a healthy nesting population of Savanna Sparrows and Lazuli Buntings among whom the Indigo Bunting seems to be holding his own.
We spent our first half hour at the park chasing the Lazuli Bunting pictured above nibbling on grass seeds. I thought it might be the Indigo; Darchelle proved otherwise. The real Indigo was about 50 yards further south singing in the top of a dead Willow. The Indigo's song seemed to have fewer high-frequency tones then the Lazuli song giving it a richer fuller sound though the distinction was nothing if not subtle. In my experience with Indigo Buntings in New Hampshire I found that each bird had its own unique song (with perhaps one or two alternates), so you could identify individuals by their songs. This bird likewise seemed to have its own song. Once we fixed it in mind we could follow the bird around its territory, and distinguish it from neighboring Lazulis, by listening for it. While we were there we only encountered a couple of other birders but there were so many reports on eBird for the following day that I think the birders may have outnumbered the dog walkers.
The East Meadow at Marymoor Park
Tree Swallow
Savanna Sparrow
This chase was successful. They aren't always. Wednesday afternoon (the day the Indigo was first reported) after Darchelle's last session we jumped in the car headed north to Mount Vernon where a rare Black-throated Sparrow was being seen in a horse pasture. We made it about 20 miles when Darchelle noticed that we were almost out of gas and we both realized that between us we had neither cash nor credit card nor even a drivers license. We had enough gas to get home but only if we turned around immediately. So we did. By now it was rush hour and we couldn't get back up to see the bird until around 7PM, so I decided to put off a second attempt until the next morning when we could try for two other year birds also in the area. It was the wrong decision. The sparrow was seen at 7:30PM but was gone by Thursday morning, so we missed it. For consolation though, we did see (distantly through the scope) a beautiful and also rare American Golden Plover in full breeding plumage out on the mudflats at Hayden Reserve.
06/21/2020   Inland Terns  
Spokane, self-proclaimed capital of the Inland Empire, is a long drive from Seattle but time was running out for finding the two inland terns - Forster's and Black - which nest out in that area and which we missed and almost missed respectively last year. A recent report of the rare Eastern Phoebe which was discovered north of Spokane about a month ago confirmed our decision to make the overnight trip.
Forster's Tern over Crab Creek
Clark's Grebe in Crab Creek
Black-crowned Night-Heron, North Potholes
Forster's Terns nest somewhere around Moses Lake but seem to range widely while foraging so on our way east we stopped to check a couple of locations where they had been recently reported. We did not find them at North Potholes (where Darchelle photographed this Lark Sparrow and the Black-crowned Night-Heron) but on our way out Darchelle thought we might get another view of the lake from the end of Road C NE so we detoured out there and she was correct. Road C NE ended at the waters edge underneath the power lines and offered a view south down the marshy channel of Crab Creek, and that is where the Forster's Terns were foraging this afternoon. Although they were quite difficult to photograph, Darchelle managed to get one good shot before we resumed our trip east.
Perennial Cornflower (Centaurea montana)
West Plains prairie at sunset
Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata)
The Black Terns were not where I had hoped to find them at Ames Lake along I-90 (somewhere around milepost 252) so we decided to try for the Clay-colored Sparrow reported recently in the West Plains area just south on US 2 west of Spokane. It is a known location for the species, which is relatively uncommon in Washington, but the habitat is atypical. Clay-coloreds prefer open hillsides with a mix of tall grass and brushy patches of snowberry and/or wild rose but West Plains offers only tall grass and sagebrush - typical habitat not for Clay-colored but for the closely-related Brewer's Sparrow instead. Nonetheless David and I found both species there back in 2013 so I knew where to look, more or less.
Clay-colored/Brewer's Sparrow (hybrid?)
West Plains offers a pretty good patch of native-looking prairie along the north side of McFarlane Road and irrigated fields along the south side. It has flowers. On a quiet Sunday evening it was a very peaceful place, yet with a surprising amount of bird activity. We had no difficulty finding sparrows; several species were singing, but I did not hear any Clay-colored songs among them. When we played a Clay-colored recording, a sparrow immediately flew in and perched in a nearby sagebrush bush. It looked rather like a Clay-colored but when it sang, it gave a Brewer's song, albeit one which started out with five dry buzzes very similar to one of the typical Clay-colored songs. The bird had the pronounced cheek pattern of a Clay-colored but with an overall grayish rather than buffy color. There was only a trace of the white median crown stripe which is characteristic of a Clay-colored sparrow but absent in the Brewer's. I called it a Brewer's but my best guess is that it was a hybrid.
Eastern Phoebe
Black Tern diving into Ames Lake
We returned to West Plains the following afternoon after successfully finding both the Phoebe and Black Terns. We spent a quiet and hopefully Covid-free night at the Best Western Plus in North Spokane then drove up towards Newport to chase the Phoebe before (a rather late) breakfast at Arctos Coffee shop back in Spokane, where the Macchiato, made with cream, was super yummy. Discouraged by our late start and the possibility of missing the Phoebe, I might've skipped skipped the 40 minute drive north to look for it but fortunately Darchelle insisted. The Phoebe, hanging out in verdant streamside tickets, responded promptly to a brief recording of its song and Darchelle got photos while it repeated its call several times for us. The Black Terns were equally cooperative but less amenable to photographs. Darchelle tried while we parked uncomfortably on the shoulder of I-90 at Ames Lake.
Clay-colored Sparrow (probably)
Brewer's Sparrow
Having done a little more research, I knew to look for the Clay-colored in the conspicuous brush pile about 100 yards west of where we had looked the day before. The sparrow which popped up on top of the brush in response to playback looked only a little more like a Clay-colored than the bird Darchelle photograph yesterday evening. A little later she photographed it, or another one, out on a sagebrush bush while I waited in the car because I was too tired to walk out there with her. She thought she heard that one sing a typical Clay-colored song but unfortunately I had played the recording at about the same time, so we don't know for sure if she actually heard it sing or not. Whatever, based on her photos I counted it as a Clay-colored this time though I still suspect it might be a hybrid. Darchelle also got a good Brewer's Sparrow photograph for comparison.
06/26/2020   Winthrop  
American Redstart
Selfie at Washington Pass overlook
Canada Jay
We got the Redstart at Oso Loop Road on our second attempt, this afternoon on our way to Winthrop. We also stopped at the Washington Pass Overlook on Highway 20, my favorite place to look for (and fail to find) Three-toed Woodpeckers and Pine Grosbeaks though our visit today was memorable more for the urgency with which I needed to defecate than for the birds we spotted. The road was gated and the bathrooms were locked and my ALS-addled legs do not squat. Long story short, I did not poop in my pants but it was damn close.
Flower bed at Chewuch Inn
Lewis flax (Linum lewisii)
Scarlet Gilia and Penstemons
I had not reserved a place to stay by the time we rolled into town but fortunately the Chewuch Inn had a room and even a homemade breakfast in the morning. Darchelle was delighted with the place. We ate our own supper sitting on a bench outside our room in the quiet of the early evening. While we sat there under a little patch of Aspen with native wildflowers at our feet, Daniel called with news that he had a new job as wine director and sommelier at a new high-end restaurant in Geneva New York. He had been excited about the opportunity and after four interviews via phone and FaceTime (one of which was on our back deck one evening recently), he knew that he was in the running but was nonetheless thrilled to report that he had been accepted. For his career it is a great next step but he has become close to his housemates and other friends over the past couple of years and it will be tough to leave home in Washington. We were excited for him but a little alarmed that he will be leaving in less than two weeks.
Dusky Grouse keeping cool
Dusky Grouse
Dusky Grouse with fly
Western Kingbird nesting along Patterson Lake Road
Western Kingbird on nest
Western Kingbird
In the morning despite a late start Darchelle insisted that we stick with our initial plan and drive up to Sun Mountain Lodge to look for a Dusky Grouse around the tennis courts. Again this year she spotted it first. The past two years we have seen a hen with chicks but this time it was a male who showed up and cooperatively permitted some close-up photos while it hung out under a pine tree at the far end of the parking lot. At one point, while Darchelle was lying on her stomach to get some eye-level shots, the grouse walked right up to her and looked as though he might hop up on top of her butt for a better view, but he didn't. We also got photos of a pair of Western Kingbirds nesting along Patterson Lake Road.
Boreal Chickadee in Lodgepole Pine
Boreal Chickadee foraging
Boreal Chickadee
I have never seen either Boreal Chickadees or Spruce Grouse up around Tiffany Mountain but others have so we tried again today and batted 500. Had I been able to poke around in the remnant unburned stands of Lodgepole Pine around Rogers Lake we might have been able to find the grouse but my legs no longer do blowdowns. We didn't find any Boreal Chickadees there either but we did find them in another lodgepole stand about halfway between Freezeout Pass and Tiffany Meadows. They came in promptly to playback and hung out while Darchelle tried for photos. She did pretty well considering how difficult they are, in my experience, to photograph. The bird on the right looks particularly scruffy; that is actually one of the characteristics I use to distinguish them from other chickadees - Boreal Chickadees almost always look scruffy.
06/27/2020   Eden Valley and the Okanogan Highlands  
Dinner at Eden Valley Ranch
The view from dinner - Bonaparte Mountain
Nighthawk alert
I was hoping for three species - Bobolink, Clay-colored Sparrow and Gray Partridge - in the Okanogan Highlands. Andy claimed that the Partridge, which probably reside in the hayfields around the ranch, sometimes call to each other right at dusk, so after supper (shared at suitably-separated tables outside our cabins) we caravaned out to the main road to listen. We heard Great Horned Owl babies begging for supper but, perhaps fearing to become that supper, the partridge remained silent. We also heard and saw Common Nighthawks overhead, which delighted Ed.
Male Bobolink at Eden Valley Ranch
Lupine and Wild Rose along Fields Lake
Clay-colored Sparrow (definitely)
Yellow-headed Blackbird at Sidley Lake
Roadside flowers near Sidley Lake
Northern Harrier with mouse
When we arrived Friday evening our hostess Robin, hearing that we were looking for Bobolinks, said she thought she had a pair in her field. She was right! Our companions found them right away in the morning along with a host of other species while Darchelle and I slept in. I did a partial checklist of my own just so I could include Darchelle's excellent photos of the Bobolinks.
Post-Bobolinks we drove the short distance to Fields Lake where we found an indisputably Clay-colored Sparrow right where we saw one (but neglected to eBird it) last year.
Red-tailed Hawk above Salmon Meadows
Hess Lake Valley
California Quail along Hess Lake Road
Saturday afternoon we drove down to Conconully and braved the rocks and ruts of NF-3820 for about a mile above Salmon Meadows in search of Spruce Grouse and Pine Grosbeaks. We parked at a trailhead and followed an old logging track into the woods, where Andy was able to call in a whole flock of little birds including one or two Boreal Chickadees, here. Darchelle, exploring a little farther into the woods, flushed a grouse but never saw it. I didn't attempt to follow her; the half-mile walk on the logging road was challenging enough.
We stopped briefly at Hess Lake on our way back down into the valley but it began to rain so we didn't get out and try to rustle up a Gray Partridge.
Female Bobolink at Eden Valley Ranch
Meadows along Dry Gulch Road
Tree Swallow along Dry Gulch Road
Sunday morning we spotted (and photographed) the Eden Valley Bobolinks again then birded our way out Dry Gulch Road to Havillah road. Andy suggested that Darchelle and I drive in front in case we flushed any Gray Partridge but unfortunately we got too far ahead to follow Andy's commentary on the portable radios so we missed a few things. We all reunited on the Havillah Sno-park road where we ran into Khan Tranh with a client and Andy called up a Pygmy Owl for all of us. Darchelle heard it first but by the time it came in a squadron of Robins had also discovered it and shortly drove it away again. No photos.
Williamson's Sapsucker nesting habitat
Female Williamsons Sapsucker
Social distancing at Lost Lake
Red-winged Blackbird on Beaver Lake
Common Loon and baby on Lost Lake
American Widgeon on Beaver Lake
Williamson's Sapsuckers frequent the montane mixed-coniferous forest around Bonaparte Mountain but though we had great views of a female near her nest hole, close photos of the male eluded us once again. My best photo of a male remains this one taken the last time I was at Lost Lake back in June of 2013. Lost Lake is aptly named but Andy found it for us. We walked the nature trail at the south end of the lake while a Common Loon gave its haunting call from out on the water. Feeling weak, I returned to the trailhead while the others continued and accrued a slightly longer list. It turned out that the Loon had a young one to which it fed a trout while Darchelle and I watched and the others waited for us.
We drove east, more or less, to Beaver Lake for our last stop of the day. There Darchelle and I were pretty sure we had spotted a Tricolored Blackbird, extremely unlikely in that location, but Andy straightened us out on the ID. You gotta admit that the wing bar is pretty white (not yellow), but unfortunately the red epaulet is not crimson but scarlet. Darchelle and I returned home via Wenatchee and Cle Elum while Ed and Delia took the North Cascades highway, which they had never seen. We beat them back to Seattle by two hours but they had better scenery. Andy and Ellen spent the night in Winthrop and found the Dusky Grouse at Sun Mountain Lodge in the morning.
07/10/2020   Lyle  
Lyle is a small town in the Columbia Gorge about an hour east of Portland where Douglas Fir and Bigleaf Maple yield to Ponderosa Pine and Garry Oak and meadows begin to compete with the forest. Acorn Woodpeckers and Ash-throated Flycatchers like the pine-oak habitat so we drove down there to look for them. The woodpeckers can be found year-round but the flycatchers are summer visitors and will be quite hard to find once they've stopped calling sometime later this month. So as to get an early start, we again spent the night beforehand at the Lyle Hotel where we had an exciting night last fall. While Darchelle unpacked the car we asked the proprietor about the Sheriff's visit but he did not recall anything about it. I did not recall the intimidating stairway to our second-floor bedroom but it went fine, as did our night in room 10, the one with the comfortable king bed.
Biggers Road meadows
Ash-throated Flycatchers
Acorn Woodpecker
In the morning we ate breakfast by ourselves in the dining room, just like last time, then drove over to Biggers Road, the original Acorn Woodpecker spot a quarter mile east of Balch Road. I thought we might get lucky and find them there instead of having to hike up Catherine Creek like we did last fall. I would have a lot harder time with that hike now than I did then. We got lucky. Before we had even pulled over to the side of the road I had spotted both the woodpecker and the flycatcher. We hung out there For another half hour while Darchelle tried for photos and we considered what to do with the rest of our day.
Wild Turkey at Balch Lake
Mt Adams from Trout Lake
Cedar Waxwing in Lewis County
After a sunny stroll along Balch Road we decided to head home the back way via forest roads from Trout Lake to Randle. Darchelle bought a few tops at a yard sale on the way to Trout Lake, where we tried to stop for coffee and a snack but there were too many people. We stopped a couple of times in the forest above Trout Lake to try to call in a Hermit Warbler but without success. Reaching Randle, I realized we were in Lewis County, one of the only two counties in the state where I have not yet seen 50 species so we went birding at a nearby hotspot. The highlight was a Yellow-breasted Chat but I think it was the Cedar Waxwing that put me over 50.
07/18/2020   Wylie Slough Peep Sweep  
"Peep" is a generic term for any of the five small species of sandpipers which breed in the North American Arctic and pass through the United States on their spring and fall migrations. Four peeps frequent Washington, where southbound migrants start showing up in early July, typically adults still in breeding plumage whose early arrival may indicate that their attempt to breed failed. Semipalmated Sandpipers, the rarest of the Washington peeps, have been reported around the Sound for over a week already, long enough for me to start worrying that I would miss them so we devoted the past two days to looking for them. Western and Least Sandpipers, the two common peeps in Washington, have also arrived and one or two Baird's Sandpipers have been reported as well though I personally have never seen one of those before mid-August.
The four Washington peeps are so similar in plumage and behavior that I find that I have to reacquaint myself with them each migration season in order to reliably identify them. The trick is to scrutinize the two common species until I can recognize them at a glance, then the other two will immediately stand out when I come across them. That is what we spent yesterday doing - studying Western and Least Sandpipers through the scope trying unsuccessfully to turn them into Semipalmateds. We committed most of a hot afternoon to a long walk at Eide Road near Stanwood then wrapped up the day at Jensen Access where the high tide had pushed the peeps up against the dike, great for close-up viewing through the scope. It would have been good for photos too had I not left the memory card in the computer at home.
Western Sandpipers
Western Sandpipers
Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers
Today we drove directly to Wylie Slough near Conway, about an hour from home. The tide was low and there were lots of shorebirds to scrutinize. Most of them were Westerns, which like to hang out in tight flocks. They forage in a generally upright posture and have variably longish bills which taper to a fine tip which curves down a bit. Adult breeding plumage shows quite a bit of fine dark streaking on the breast and back with black, gray and buff coloring in the wings with generally at least some orange mixed in and on the crown. Semipalmated Sandpipers are quite similar to Westerns but the bill is short and straight and relatively stout at the tip. They also never show orange in the plumage and the streaking below is limited to a bib across the upper breast. I could not locate any of the latter through the scope but I asked Darchelle to photograph a group of four sandpipers that were off a bit by themselves and of those, two were Semipalmated.
Baird's Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Baird's and Least Sandpipers
Least Sandpipers don't generally form big flocks but rather feed alone or in small groups. They are the smallest of the peeps and characteristically forage with a forward lean, perhaps because their bill is rather short. In breeding plumage they are quite dark above, mostly blackish on the wings with buff feather edges forming thin whitish lines. Blackish streaking on the breast forms a bib. I wanted Darchelle to get a few photos of them but when she showed me what she had, I suddenly realized that one of the birds she had found was a Baird's. It was still in sight, right in front of us in fact, and it was a very good-looking bird. They look a bit like a larger version of a Least Sandpiper but pale feather edgings on the wings and back create a beautiful pattern of streaks on the nape grading into fine scales on the upper back which grow larger towards the tail. I had Darchelle take lots of photos, particularly when the Baird's and the Least cooperatively foraged together.
Lesser Yellowlegs
Wylie Slough
Bald Eagle pursued by Red-winged Blackbird
Seeing all four peeps, and even getting photos, in one day left me glowing inside, but the afternoon was yet young so after wrapping up the checklist at Wylie Slough with a couple of Lesser Yellowlegs, a fearless Red-winged Blackbird pursuing and actually alighting on a Bald Eagle, and finally a Peregrine Falcon which dove on the peeps and sent them all fleeing to safer shores, we decided to try for an easy year-bird, a Black Oystercatcher at Rosario Beach State Park.
Scoping from Washington Park
Rhinoceros Auklet with sardines
Olive-sided Flycatcher at Rosario Head
We didn't find a Black Oystercatcher. When we ran into stop-and-go traffic two miles before the turnoff to Rosario Beach we turned around and drove out to Washington Park near the Anacortes Ferry Terminal instead. It is a large forested park with lots of the rocky shoreline that oystercatchers favor and they are reported to nest there. We drove the loop road and stopped near Green Point (I think) to scope the Sound where we found lots of Rhinoceros Auklets with their beaks full of sardines, and also a pair of Marbled Murrelets - my 200th species for Skagit County - but we did not see or hear any oystercatchers. From there we drove the back way along the shore to Rosario Beach where we walked out to the headland amidst a thinning crowd. No oystercatchers there either although they were reported a day later just a half mile to the east.
It was a good day. The walking was difficult and the scoping was even more difficult, both due to lack of breath, but the birding was great!
07/24/2020   Salmo Pass  
Salmo Mountain
Shedroof Mountain Trail
Juvenile MacGillivray's Warbler
After our visit last summer I wasn't sure we would be back. It has been hard to estimate how fast I will decline. A year ago we walked perhaps 6 miles. This year I struggled to make it 2. Last year we fared better with birds and photos as well, our only year bird for the trip this year being White-winged Crossbills, identified by voice. We searched for Spruce Grouse and Pine Grosbeaks, both present but neither easy to locate, and we missed both despite two days of searching Salmo Pass, Salmo Mountain, Pass Creek Pass and Bunchgrass Meadows. On the other hand we did find a few of the local specialties. In addition to the two flocks of White-winged Crossbills we had at least one American Three-toed Woodpecker drumming at Salmo Pass, and around Bunchgrass Meadows, a couple of groups of Boreal Chickadees and a Northern Goshawk.
The Crossbills' flight call was a quick soft "chichichichi", less harsh than the similar calls of the ubiquitous Pine Siskins and lacking both the ascending "zieeeet" of the Siskins and the pronounced "chit chit" of the few Red Crossbills in the area. That said, identifying White-winged Crossbills by voice is for me a still a bit sketchy. I counted them, #293 for the year, but in my mind they joined the Hermit Warbler from back in May on my marginal-sighting list for the year. Fortunately I would be able to redeem them at Bunchgrass Meadows in October when Delia and Ellen would get visual confirmation that White-wings were present so that when I spotted a group of five flying overhead giving a more extensive rendition of their flight calls, I felt certain of the identification. For future reference, should I have another opportunity, the crossbills' flight calls can also include a thin metallic-sounding "key key key" along with the "chichichichi".
On the way home we spent the night in Davenport so that we could search for Gray Partridge and Sharp-tailed Grouse in the native bunchgrass habitat southwest of town early the next morning. We stayed at the remarkably kitchy Black Bear Motel and alarmed the neighbors by strolling out into the middle of the street well after dark to view the fading Comet NEOWISE through our spotting scope. "What the fuck are you doing out there?" two girls yelled at us out of their second floor window. They sounded drunk. "We're looking at the comet through a telescope" we replied. We invited them to join us but they declined. The comet was a fuzzy spot low in the sky to the WNW, barely visible to my naked eye but quite clear in the scope with its triangular glowing tail.
The grouse hunt was a bust. I found my inability to identify the sparrows along the fence lines quite discouraging. Not only could I not identify them without binoculars, but I could barely even turn my head to look at them. I felt that because I had to leave so many birds unidentified, I could no longer produce a quality checklist. Unable to photograph the birds, unable to identify them, unable to even look at them, and now unable to record them in a checklist - I felt that I was losing the pleasure of one of the few activities left that I have been still able to enjoy.
08/15/2020   Two dreams  
I sat on these two dreams for two months before writing them down so have probably lost a few of the details but because they ushered in a couple weeks of depression I thought it worth recording them nonetheless. Each dream was sufficiently disturbing that I woke up frightened and alarmed afterwards. In the first one a spider with large jaws bites me on the bridge of my nose. In the ssecond one I prepare a noose to hang myself.
09/13/2020   Smoke  
Smoke over the Sound
Orange-crowned Warbler
Black-capped Chickadees
Smoke moved in on the 8th, smothering the autumn sunshine predicted for the next week. Air quality plummeted to hazardous and worse, approaching 400 ppm; Alexa kept us updated with the current numbers. I had already ordered an air purifier to defend us from potential Covid aerosols. It arrived a day ahead of the smoke so we huddled around it the way we would a space heater in midwinter. It helped. We stayed mostly indoors until a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was reported over in West Seattle on the 12th.
After resting On the Sabbath according to the commandment (and because I didn't see the report until late in the day) we hustled on over there Sunday morning (technically Sunday afternoon but it felt like morning) and searched the several spots where it had been seen. Visibility was about a half-mile and the air smelled faintly of woodsmoke and perhaps burned plastic, credibly hazardous. Finally I spotted a little bird on a utility wire across the street. It was very active, turning this way and that with its long tail cocked upward like a wren and flicking from side to side. It appeared to be the color of smoke. Before I could figure out how to explain to Darchelle, standing next to me with the camera, exactly where the bird was it flew across the street towards us and into a dense apple tree. Its flight was jerky, its silhouette more slender than a bushtit, longer-tailed than a chickadee, smaller than a Bewick's Wren. Initially I did not count it because I did not get as good a look as I would have liked and because I was still feeling discouraged about my inability to identify birds without optics but Ed talked me into including it based on my elimination of similar species. #297.
We drove back over on Monday but could not find it, nor could Blair or anyone else, though Blair did adjust my hat for me since Darchelle was away retrieving the car. My breathing was noticeably worse for a day or two afterwards.
09/27/2020   Closing in on #300  
Red-necked Phalarope at Green Lake
I've been watching reports of Phalaropes on the Sound and Pectoral Sandpipers in local marshes and feeling pessimistic about my prospects of finding either one but yesterday a slightly errant Red-necked Phalarope was photographed along the northeast shore of Green Lake. That was close enough to home that even if the bird was no longer present we wouldn't have invested much in looking for it. The parking lot was closed due to Covid so we had to walk a bit. Darchelle carried the scope and a folding chair for me to sit in. The water was nearly flat, the sky gray and the lakeshore dotted with ducks (Mallards) but no phalarope. But a white spot offshore was too small for a duck and too big for flotsam; Darchelle put the scope on it and described what sounded like a Red-necked Phalarope but it kept moving out of the field of view before I could look. After half a dozen attempts, I finally saw it too.
Pectoral Sandpipers in Everett
I sat in my folding chair following the phalarope as it fluttered over the surface of the water while Darchelle returned to the car to retrieve the camera, then photographed #298.
Pushing our luck we drove out to Golden Gardens to scope the Sound for a Parasitic Jaeger but my scoping is limited by my breathing and we would have been lucky indeed had a Jaeger happened by during one of my brief periods of peering through the scope. We fared better at the 12th St NE mitigation marsh in Everett and counted seven Pectoral Sandpipers among the dowitchers and ducks. #299. Perhaps we should have leaned a little harder into our luck and driven the extra half hour to Wiley Slough, which this afternoon hosted not only Pectorals but also a much less common Sharp-tailed Sandpiper as well.
10/02/2020   Chasing #300  
White-crowned Sparrow
Hybrid White-crowned X White-throated Sparrow
Hybrid White-crowned X White-throated Sparrow
Anxious to reach my goal of 300 species in Washington for the year, I recruited Andy and Ellen to help and we drove over to Yakima to join them in pursuit of Boreal Owls at Ahtanum Meadows in the mountains west of town. We almost didn't get there. As we were climbing the hill out of Ellensburg the Check Engine light came on and more ominously, the Automatic Transmission Oil Temperature Warning light started flashing. Google instructed us to stop the car immediately, wait 15 minutes then start the car again and hope like hell that the light doesn't come back on again. It didn't, for about 15 miles, until the next big hill. We stopped and waited again and this time, made it into Yakima where it turned out that the Subaru dealer located less than a mile from our motel would be able to check the car out in the morning. Andy and Ellen offered to let us borrow Ellen's car while ours was in the shop but we elected to ride with them instead, with the windows open to flush out our collective Covid germs. It was a gamble and we all won, this time.
Painted Turtle at Kerry's Pond
It felt like the good old days, birding with friends. We did not hear Boreal Owls at Ahtanum Meadows; Andy suspected that the full moon was the reason the owls stayed silent. We did not find the White-throated Sparrow previously reported at the Arboretum but we did see a much rarer bird, a hybrid White-throated X White-crowned Sparrow. We toured the fragrant sewage lagoons near Prosser and spotted a handsome Painted Turtle at Kerry's Pond along with 14 Killdeer. At sunset, on Andy's suggestion, we stopped by Konnowac Pass just south of Moxee and walked about a quarter-mile up a gravel road into the dry grassland to listen for Gray Partridges calling. And heard them! #300. We saw two flocks, about 20 birds, as they flew up into taller grass for the night but it was too dark for photos.
Pursuing Gray Partridge at Konnowac Pass
As for the car, the transmission problem was simply that the oil level was too high. Apparently it had been overfilled when we had the fluids topped off recently. While it was in the shop though we went ahead and replaced the left front axle and had the brakes done - two jobs which we've been planning to do for a while now. They quoted us $1100 but charged us $1700. When Darchelle objected they let us take the car without paying anything while they resolved the discrepancy. In our favor.
10/08/2020   Chasing #301  
Fire cleanup along hwy 410
Sarvent Spires from Sunrise
Admiring the sunset at Sunrise
Enlisting Andy and Ellen's help again, we set out on a weekend expedition to the northeast corner of the state in pursuit of four candidates for my 301'st bird in Washington this year. Boreal Owl seemed to be our easiest target, having been reported recently at Sunrise on the north side of Mount Rainier. One potential hitch was that Highway 410 near Enumclaw was closed due to cleanup from a fire, at least according to the DOT website. The alternative was an extra two hour's drive around the mountain, but a friend of Ellen's had reported that every hour a caravan of cars was allowed through the closed area so we took our chances Wednesday afternoon, figuring that worst-case, we can drive around the mountain and still get to Sunrise not too long after dark. We caught the 5PM caravan. On the way through, we discovered that the fire burned the patch of forest where for several years the boys and I have hunted chanterelles. The boys have dispersed and I am no longer able enough to hike up to the mushroom patch, but it was disappointing to realize that the patch is probably ruined anyhow.
Bugling elk were serenading the sunset at Sunrise but after dark the owls were silent. We played recordings of their calls at 7:30 with no response. About 10 minutes later when we played again both of us thought we saw an owl fly in and we both heard rustlings and squeaky noises and the flutter of wings but nothing which would confirm the identity of the owls. After that, silence. We pulled into the Best Western in Yakima around 11:30 and watched the vice-presidential debate until about 2AM. We came away with a deeper appreciation of Kamala Harris and considerable irritation at Mike Pence for his persistent talking over his time in violation of the debate rules. Had to appreciate the fly that perched on Pence's head though - it knew where to find the bullshit.
Juvenile White-crowned Sparrow at Wentel Grant Park
Song Sparrow at Wentel Grant Park
Andy and Ellen searched for vagrants around Potholes while we slept in. They were driving up to Salmo Pass when we pulled into Spokane and stopped at a neighborhood park where a White-throated Sparrow (our second most likely candidate) had recently been reported. Great little spot for sparrows to hang out but we couldn't find the White-throated. Meanwhile Andy and Ellen bumped into a small flock of Pine Grosbeaks, another one of our targets, before a rainstorm chased them back out of the mountains.
Historic Washington Hotel
Shedroof Mountain trail
Together on the trail
Darchelle had booked a room at the historic Washington Hotel in Metaline Falls because we like the character of those old Victorian inns. Unfortunately in those old inns the guest rooms tend to be upstairs, and stairs challenge me. The stairs were indeed intimidating but with Darchelle's support I took them one at a time with a couple of stops on the way to try to catch my breath and we made it. The bed was a bit hard and the light a bit dingy but we slept well enough and I appreciated the long carpeted hallway. I did my walking up and down that hallway and succeeded in making my step goal of 25,000 for the week. Perhaps for the last time.
We spent a pleasant fall day in the mountains above Metaline Falls, first at Bunchgrass Meadows then at Salmo Pass, with Andy and Ellen and Ed and Delia, who made the long trip east to join us. We walked some at both places; Darchelle shot this brief video of me on the trail at Salmo Pass. We searched both areas for Spruce Grouse and Pine Grosbeaks but without success then lingered at Salmo Pass until after dark to look for Boreal Owls but heard no responses to our recordings despite near-perfect conditions. That made three strikes for the owls in three different locations in the past 10 days. I don't know what that means. Actually I do; it means that with snow poised to move into the high country, we won't get Boreal Owls this year.
Rainbow near Usk
Clearing the road
Saturday morning after a leisurely start we drove mountain roads in Little Pend Oreille NWR looking for Spruce Grouse again. It rained. The grouse stayed home. Perhaps we should have done likewise. Actually we considered heading home but decided to stay in Colville instead and try Albion Hill Road near Sherman Pass on Sunday morning because Spruce Grouse live there too.
Wapaloosie Trail
Andy's Three-toed Woodpecker
Sunday morning arrived sunny and crisp. We departed Colville two hours after the rest of our party and caught up to them on Albion Hill Road, where little patches of frozen snow lingered in openings and Thimbleberry leaves glowed in the sunshine filtering through Lodgepole Pines. And where, unfortunately, no Spruce Grouse had been seen strolling along the road verges. As a consolation, Andy spotted a sunlit Three-toed Woodpecker which obligingly drummed for us but despite several hours of searching several miles of suitable habitat, none of us were able to rustle up a Grouse.
It was a long and challenging drive home. We ran into rain coming into Tonasket and drove through mostly heavy rain from Omak all the way back to North Bend. We marveled at the extent of the Cold Springs fire, which burned almost everything for 10 to 20 miles east of Highway 97 from Omak down to Brewster then leaped the Columbia and burned another 30 miles south to Highway 2. The fire started about five weeks ago and during the next 24 hours spread southward at an average rate of about 100 feet per minute. As we drove down the Okanogan Valley in the rain a smell of wet ashes hung heavy in the air. Somehow, many houses along the highway had been spared, but some were not. Most of the good bird habitat in the region was destroyed as well, along with 50% or more of the population of Sharp-tailed and Sage Grouse according to preliminary estimates.
10/12/2020   Catching #301  
Golden-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow from behind
#301: White-throated Sparrow
While we were out of town, Sarah P reported a White-throated Sparrow in her backyard just 12 minutes from our house. As of this morning it was still present so we drove over there sometime around mid-afternoon to find it, and after standing around for an hour or so, we did. A more strategic year-birder would have chased the rarer Black-throated Blue Warbler at Lake Sammamish Park instead, as quite a few other people successfully did, but I find warblers generally more difficult to locate than sparrows so I settled for the easier quarry and was grateful to get it.
10/18/2020   Outings  
Steller's Jay
#302: Parasitic Jaeger with Heerman's Gull
The Steller's Jay does not represent much of an outing. Darchelle photographed it bathing in our pond; judging by the clarity of the image she stepped outside onto the deck to get the shot.
We had to venture farther afield, a ferry ride followed by a short drive to Point No Point, to get the Parasitic Jaeger, my 302nd bird for the year in Washington. They've been reported up and down the Sound for weeks now but it was the prospective bonus of a rare Little Gull which lured me out to try for one. On the beach with a mostly socially-distanced cluster of other birders we had good views of a handful of the jaegers but the gull did not show up. Photos revealed that some of the jaegers were actually Heerman's Gulls, which in flight look more similar to jaegers than I had previously realized.
Darchelle has been wanting to go out mushroom hunting all fall. Being unable to traipse through the woods myself anymore, I have been less than enthusiastic about the prospect but after trying a couple of places locally without success, I called my friend Pat. Pat is the best chanterelle hunter I know and I figured he would be willing to direct us to one of his spots. Unfortunately he is not a very good health either and has not been getting out on his own, and moreover most of is locations have been clear-cut since he used to hunt them. He did suggest a couple of places up near the height of land on King Road between Boistfort and Winlock. He also mentioned that his electrician had brought over a bagfull from up near the headwaters of Ceres Creek. I looked at the satellite photos to identify suitable habitat, figuring that was our best chance, and we drove on down there.
As a deer hunter we met at dusk on a logging road near Meskill would tell us that evening, "Chanterelles are where you find them. You just walk around in the woods long enough, sooner or later you'll run across some." I don't think I conveyed that understanding to Darchelle in advance, so she was anticipating that we would drive to the exact spots Pat had given me, walk into the woods and find mushrooms. She was understandably disappointed to discover that I did not know exact spots, and further frustrated when the spots I did choose yielded no fruit.
We gave up on King Road and drove over to Meskill Road looking for access to Ceres Creek. Around sunset we pulled into a gated logging road in a patch of woods which I thought was probably too young. Darchelle got me out of the car and I toddled unsteadily around the gate after her. Not 20 feet beyond the gate I spotted several chanterelles in the mossy verge of the old road. Mushrooms at last! Darchelle picked half a dozen then we walked the road as dusk descended. She carried my chair and parked me about 200 yards in while she explored for another 15 minutes, meeting the above-mentioned deer hunter. Two pygmy owls began calling, then a barred owl.
It was dark when we returned to the car. Darchelle wasn't done looking for mushrooms so leaving me In the front seat with my phone on the floor (so I could operate it with my toes), the door open for air and the dome light on for illumination, she marched off into the dark woods. She had her phone for light and the lights in the car for direction. Until they turned off. I began to need to pee. After maybe 20 minutes I called Darchelle and she answered right away. She had not found any chanterelles and agreed it was time to quit, but she did not know exactly which direction to go to get back to the car. That would have been no problem if I could have honked the horn or turned on the lights, but I could not. I shouted but she could not hear me. She was probably no more than 100 yards from Meskill Road but it had been at least a half hour since the last car went by. I still needed to pee.
I called Pat and Shirley, who were delighted to drop everything and come to our aid. Three minutes later a pair of pickups drove by, headed to Meskill. Darchelle headed for the road. I called Pat and Shirley to cancel the rescue but they had already left and neither owns a cell phone. Darchelle reached the car about five minutes before they did, time enough for me to pee. When they arrived they crowded around my open door and hugged me like they'd never heard of Covid. I was still driving the last time I saw them, and they had never met Darchelle. Pat, with three fused vertebrae in his lower back and chronic chest congestion, is not in much better shape than I am. Shirley, still as sturdy as ever, has joined Pat in polishing rocks instead of constructing the complex greeting cards she used to make. They still have goats and a garden, but no cows. We talked for nearly an hour before parting with promises to get together soon. Not sure how, with Covid and winter and all.
11/01/2020   Pre-election distraction trip  
The idea was to combine birding and mushroom hunting in a trip to southwest Washington so as to distract ourselves from obsessing about the upcoming election. We would drive down to Ilwaco where several Tropical Kingbirds have been hanging out for several days, then return via Chehalis in order to search for chanterelles armed with more precise descriptions of the area where Pat found them in the past. Discouraged by our late start though, I at the last minute decided I did not want to go. Darchelle graciously insisted that we go anyway. I thanked her later.
Peregrine Falcon at Hoquiam sewage ponds
Peregrine Falcon at Hoquiam sewage ponds
Since we were not going to get to Ilwaco before sunset, Darchelle suggested we try for the Palm Warbler at the Hoquiam sewage ponds. Two Peregrine Falcons were guarding the ponds from two adjacent alder trees but they did not seem to be discouraging the activity of small birds in the bushes along the ponds, at least one of which had Palm Warbler potential. Closer inspection failed to confirm the warbler but we had a nice visit with Eric H whom we hadn't seen for a couple of years. Like me, he has grown a beard, but Darchelle recognized him. He has been traveling around and birding, and seemed quite content with that for now. It was a pleasure talking with him.
Ilwaco Community Park
Stalking kingbirds in the park
After some deliberation we selected Heidi's Motel in Ilwaco despite its low price because it was only 0.4 miles from the park where the Tropical Kingbirds had been reported. It was spare but surprisingly comfortable, with none of the musty odor typical of budget motels along the coast. They did not supply motel coffee but the espresso stand a block away proved quite good in the morning. But that wasn't our first stop.
We were the first birders to arrive at the Ilwaco Community Park in the morning. Only a maintenance man was there, cleaning the bathrooms. An hour after sunrise the Tropical Kingbirds were already active, flycatching out of alders on the north side of the ball field. Half a dozen other birders arrived shortly. After they all got onto the kingbirds, the maintenance man asked us what we were looking at. He observed that the Bald Eagles and Egrets and Snowy Plovers which are usually at the park early in the morning had already left, so he was curious what else was around. Someone pointed out the Tropical Kingbirds and someone else showed him a photo off their camera, explaining that the kingbirds normally live in Texas and are way out of place here in Washington. Nobody inquired about the Snowy Plovers, which would be even less likely than Tropical Kingbirds to show up in the Ilwaco Community Park.
#303 Tropical Kingbirds
Tropical Kingbird
Tropical Kingbird
After we checked out of the motel we returned to the park to say goodbye to the Tropical Kingbirds and found Andy and Ellen in the parking lot. While we chatted the kingbirds showed up and Darchelle and Ellen were able to get better photos. Andy offered to help us look for Black-legged Kittiwakes at the Beards Hollow overlook where they had seen them yesterday, but they were gone.
Back at King Road near Boistfort the gate was open on the woods road at the height of land where I had wanted to walk in and look for mushrooms in a stand of relatively mature trees. We drove in and found the grove I had seen on the satellite photos; it did indeed look good for mushrooms but a timber company employee drove up and told us that we weren't allowed to drive on that road. He was very helpful though, and explained that chanterelles in his opinion were more likely in the more dense 30-year-old forest than in this 50 to 60-year-old timber. He suggested one or two spots further down the road and seemed to know what he was talking about. Darchelle did a quick walk through the older woods while I sat in my chair in the road worried that the timber company guy would come back and find us but he didn't. Darchelle found the understory too dense for mushroom hunting, so we checked out the patches of younger trees and eventually Darchelle found a few chanterelles. At the end of the day we tried the spot, we think, which Pat had told us about but it was rough going and Darchelle returned empty-handed.
11/03/2020   Election anxiety  
I'm anxious. This morning, sitting in my chair at the foot of the bed talking with Darchelle, I noticed an uncharacteristic feeling, anxiety. I don't think of myself as an anxious person but as death encroaches more and more on my body and life, perhaps that is changing. Maybe I am developing an anxiety disorder. Perhaps it is the residue of my anxiety yesterday afternoon as I waited in the car on a remote road in southwestern Washington watching the light fade out of the sky while Darchelle bushwacked through dense and brushy Douglas fir forest behind me, searching for chanterelles. What if she hurt herself somewhere down in that woods and couldn't make her way back to the car? I would have to call 911 to get search and rescue to find her. I might pee in my pants before they arrived. That would be embarrassing. She of course returned to the car shortly before dark and we drove home but the anxiety lingers.
Then I remembered - it is election day. Despite Biden's lead in the polls, Trump might somehow pull off a win and inflict his bullying hateful self on us all for another four years while he corrupts the American system of government, substitutes conspiracy theories for truth and redefines white supremacist terrorism as patriotism. Of course I'm anxious. But so is everyone else. The other side, nourished by a diet of Fox News and Trump's lies, fears that a Biden win will usher in a socialist dystopia where Christmas will be canceled, hamburgers will be banned and we all must wear masks while we're eating. And our taxes will go up.
6PM: NY Times predicts Trump will take Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. Once again Trump is doing better than the polls predicted. That's not helping my anxiety at all.
11PM: Nothing is settled yet of course. Trump won Florida, a bad sign, but Biden looks likely to get Arizona, Minnesota and Nevada. We were feeling pretty pessimistic until word came that Biden might also get Georgia which would mean that he could win after all, though Trump will still try to steal the victory from him. I'm feeling more hopeful, but at the same time incredulous that such a high proportion of Americans voted for Trump. What do they like about such an ignorant and offensive man? Perhaps they believe with him that America should remain a white and Christian country. Perhaps he channels their resentment of people who are smart and who think through the issues rather than embracing lies and conspiracy theories. Perhaps they like him because he's famous, or because he's an authoritarian jerk rather than a competent leader. Perhaps they don't care if a bunch of useless old people and Blacks and Hispanics get killed by the pandemic as long as the government lets their businesses stay open and doesn't tell them to wear a mask in public. Whatever. If he wins there's a good chance he will destroy America's democracy, and unfortunately that outcome will hurt his opponents more than his supporters.
3PM the day after: I have a postelection hangover even though the election is not over. Biden has narrowly won Michigan and Wisconsin and is leading in Arizona and Nevada, which together would give him the presidency. The thought of Biden winning has several times today brought me almost to tears with relief, but with the Republicans still in control of the Senate, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. But who knows, maybe Americans are capable of realizing that a government based on decency and truth will serve them better than an administration based on greed and lies. I probably won't live long enough to find out, and maybe I'm okay with that. I don't want to watch the Republican Senate destroy Biden's presidency so they can plant another pile of Trumpian shit in the White House four years from now.
11AM 3 days later: Georgia turned blue at 4:30AM this morning and Pennsylvania followed at 8:30AM. Biden's leads in both states are slim but growing and it appears to be only a matter of time before he is declared victorious. Updates in all four of the increasingly blue but still undecided states are frustratingly slow... We hung out all afternoon periodically checking the results, took a break to watch "Idiocracy" then checked the results some more.
11AM 4 days later: We were still in bed at 8:30AM PST when the Associated Press pronounced the Biden/Harris ticket as the winner of the 2020 presidential election. When I heard the news on NPR at 11AM I started to cry. Relief maybe, but also the rightness of it, that good was victorious and evil set back - a happy ending and also a joyful beginning. Around the country people spontaneously celebrated, dancing and singing in the streets (mostly in the cities of course). Republicans otherwise more than held their own but Trump is done, even if he doesn't realize it yet. The Loser in Chief. Kicked in the ballots. Fired.
11/08/2020   Dream of catching a plate  
I dreamt a few nights ago about catching a plate which suddenly sailed in through my window like a Frisbee. After I woke up I reviewed the dream several times to fix it in my mind since I have almost remembered several dreams over the last couple of weeks but haven't been able to recall enough about them to understand what they might be about. Here is the dream.
11/26/2020   Thanksgiving  
Tim and Mary with appetizers
Tim and Mary with leftovers
Tim and Mary came over for Thanksgiving appetizers on the front porch. The day had been sunny and though we sat in the shade we were warm enough, bundled up as we were. Tim had asked in advance what kind of beer I might like and I'd suggested a stout, it being the season. They brought a selection of nine from which I chose the Mephistopheles by Avery Brewing. We split the 12-ounce bottle three ways and it was enough, at least for 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The stout was delicious, creamy and sweet, initially tasting strongly of molasses but becoming more balanced as it sat in the glass. Darchelle served Radechio salad and several appetizers featuring spreads from PCC on slices of Macrina's seeded baguette. We sent them home with a few leftovers and they left the beers with me.
Thanksgiving, part 1
Thanksgiving, part 2
Thanksgiving, part 3
Not long afterwards Darchelle and I were sitting down to our Thanksgiving dinner, mine consisting of three blender soups and hers a pasta dish, when Monica knocked on the door to deliver a plate full of food including turkey with chipotle gravy, cubes of duck paté, mashed potatoes and roasted potatoes with carrots. Z from across the street gave us some of her roasted Brussels sprouts with persimmons. Darchelle had pecan pie from PCC for dessert.
11/30/2020   Swamp Sparrow #304  
For about a week now a Swamp Sparrow has been reported by numerous birdwatchers along the Snoqualmie Valley Trail at the Stillwater unit. Deterred by the 1 mile walk (round trip, as it turned out) and by the likelihood that we would fail to find the sparrow (Swamp Sparrows in winter are notoriously furtive), I have not been inclined to chase it, until today. Today the sun was shining and more importantly, I felt relatively strong physically, so we went, we walked, and we at least heard the bird. It was a very satisfying outing.
12/05/2020   Snowy Owl  
In part to celebrate Monica's birthday we drove over to Queen Anne with them to see the Snowy Owl, an expedition we've been planning for several weeks but have repeatedly had to cancel due to various conflicts, including simply not getting out of bed in time. When we arrived at the appointed spot specified in eBird as well as in the Seattle Times, we found birdwatchers but no owl. It had not been seen all day as far as anyone knew. I figured it had to be in the area somewhere so we walked around a few blocks at my pace, which is very slow, peering up at roofs where the owl wasn't. Just as we were returning to our cars someone shouted "It's at 24th and McGraw!" or something like that. Marco and Marc and Monica followed the crowd but I was tired so we drove, and lost everyone. We called Monica and she had Marco explain where it was that they were standing, looking at the owl. It turns out that it was 2409 Queen Anne, in plain sight from the arterial through the commercial district though most people were watching from the alley. Darchelle got photos and set up the scope. According to a friendly neighbor the owl had been there since 7:30 that morning. We lingered until it stretched and pooped and left for work about 4:45 that afternoon.
We also celebrated Monica's birthday with a midday breakfast on the front porch. Darchelle bought a fancy cake from Metropolitan Market. They accidentally gave her the wrong one but it worked out.
12/11/2020   Year Birds  
Soggy Siskins in the pond
#305 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Harris's Sparrow feeder
We returned to Everett with Ed and Delia today and scored two year birds. That pretty well makes up for last week when we went zero for three in the same neighborhood. The Harris's Sparrow was present last week at the same feeder at which we saw it, but were not able to get a photo, today. The male Painted Bunting and the Blue Jay which we sought last week both proved to be one day wonders. The Sapsucker was discovered this past week, making four rare species within three blocks of each other. Pretty remarkable!
Also remarkable is the large number of Pine Siskins frequenting our pond and feeders for the past several weeks. Despite continually fighting with each other they seem to do everything together, including bathing. We have had as many as 40 in the yard at once and have counted 17 at one time in the pond.

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