Brian's Journal - 2021

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03/24/2021   The year to date  
I'm not dead yet. I've come to realize that I'm not even dying yet. I'm just diminishing. My field-of-view is shrinking as my shriveling neck muscles restrict my ability to turn my head from side to side. The list of places I can go is shrinking as my leg and back muscles lose the last remnants of their strength. My interest in my own activities is shrinking as they become increasingly constrained by my disability. But I'm not dying yet. When friends and family see me they often comment on how healthy I look. I don't feel sick either; I just can't walk very well or swallow very well or breathe very well. Or birdwatch very well.
Despite my diminishing ability to watch birds we have not reduced the amount of time and effort we've been devoting to birding since the beginning of the year. At the end of last year, feeling frustrated by my inability to engage in birding the way I used to, I thought perhaps I would give it up. I can't turn my head to look at a bird overhead or out the window beside me, can't use a spotting scope to scan for distant birds, can't use a camera to capture their beauty or preserve the memory of seeing them. Missing birds that I once would have seen, even my checklists feel incomplete. But Darchelle wasn't ready to quit. As my enthusiasm has waned she has become even more eager to get out and chase birds to add to our year list, which at 207 actually exceeds my previous personal best for number of species seen in the state as of this date.
Lots of birdwatching, not much journaling. Actually that's not entirely true because I've completed two major journal-related projects in the past three months. I created a journal for the last half of 2006 based on an album of photos I put together some years ago. Once that was done I revisited the journal of our 2018 African trip and added photos and some supplemental text to complete it. For a couple of weeks after immersing myself in the birds of Africa during that project I would look out the window and expect to see Sunbirds and Hornbills in the backyard instead of Hummingbirds and Flickers. No such luck, unfortunately.
01/01/2021   Happy New Year  
Our get together with Monica and Marco on the front porch was intended to be a New Year's Eve party but we ran late and made it out just in time to hear the neighborhood erupt in cheers and fireworks. We joined in the cheers, rejoicing with our neighbors at the passing of a difficult year - and it wasn't even that difficult for us. Certainly getting together with friends became more uncomfortable as the weather grew colder this fall but we still managed. We FaceTimed with Mom and John and Zoomed with Darchelle's family including an epic festival of present-opening for Christmas. Darchelle worked from home which worked for us as well because it allowed her to check up on me periodically. We spent almost all of our time together and that worked too because we generally prefer each other's company to anyone else's. Nonetheless we celebrated the demise of 2020 in anticipation of hanging out with family and friends indoors again in 2021.
Snowy Owl on Queen Anne rooftop
Snowy Owl
Blue Jay
After a leisurely morning on the first day of the year, we went birding. We opted for quality instead of quantity aand found two out of three of our target species. The Snowy Owl which has been hanging out on rooftops in Queen Anne was holding court for a half dozen birders in an alley about a block from where we viewed it last month. The Blue Jay along Highway 512 near Tacoma which I did not summon up the courage to look for last month showed up within a half hour after our arrival. The Glaucous Gull at Gene Coulon Park in Renton did not, or maybe it did but we were unable to identify it in the dim late afternoon light. Disappointing, but we felt pretty good about getting two out of three.
01/04/2021   Long Beach  
Hooded Oriole in Bay Center
Fully depreciated asset
Belted Kingfisher
In our first birding trip of the year we drove down to Bay Center along Willapa Bay to see a recently reported Hooded Oriole - a new state bird for both of us. We had good views but weren't able to get good photos. The rain didn't help. We had booked a motel, the Pitchwood Alehouse, in Raymond but of course with the pandemic, the alehouse itself was closed. We arrived after dark to find the parking lot flooded with about 8 inches of water. When we checked with the owner he suggested rubber boots then seemed surprised that we had not thought to bring any. At least the room was dry.
Fence line with Merlin
Carruthers Slough
In the morning we returned to Bay Center to try for better photos of the oriole but although we waited with other birders for about a half hour, it did not reappear. We did get a nice view of a Merlin along the road into town. Meanwhile the Bar-tailed Godwit, our next target, was reported again around noon less than an hour away along the Long Beach Peninsula. Unfortunately that was the last sighting of that bird.
It had been hanging out with a flock of Marbled Godwits, which we found not on the bay side of the peninsula but rather out on the open beach. That was a bit of a magical moment. I stayed in the car while Darchelle walked down the beach a bit to try for photos. The surf was up and periodically a tongue of water trimmed with white foam would surge up the beach, flushing the roosting godwits and dunlin. Suddenly as I watched, a Peregrine Falcon strafed the beach, flying in very fast and only a foot or two above the sand. The shorebirds erupted and instantly coalesced into half a dozen tight balls of birds swirling over the surf. The Peregrine arced up into the sky above them then dove two or three times on the dense knots of birds before departing, empty-footed as far as I could tell. We also departed without our intended prey.
Shakti Cove Cottage
Shakti Cove Cottage
Shakti Cove Cottage
Marbled Godwits and Dunlin
Size variation in Marbled Godwits
Marbled Godwits
We spent the night nearby at a place Andy and Ellen recommended, Shakti Cove Cottages. Beautiful wood trim in our cabin, not too many steps to get into the front door. In the morning we returned to Nahcotta on the bay side of the peninsula and found the godwit flock but though Darchelle was able to photograph them at close range, we could not find the Bar-tailed. Among the other birds she photographed was a Semipalmated Plover which I identified from her photo but did not see for myself so since then she has been one bird ahead of me in the eBird state list rankings.
Puget Island near Cathlamet
White-tailed Kite with vole
Female Canvasback in the river
We had one more rare bird to chase on our way home, a White-tailed Kite out on an island in the Columbia River near Cathlamet. "Shouldn't be too difficult" we thought until we arrived and realized that the bird could be anywhere in several square miles of pastures and hayfields. We pulled off the road a few hundred yards beyond where the kite was last reported to consider how to search for it and while we were checking satellite-view maps on our phones, it flew over the field next to us, hovered briefly in a couple of spots then dropped to the ground and took off again with a vole in its talons. "That was easy!" we and the kite thought together as we watched it perch on a fence post and eat its prey.
Including a couple of species which I spotted in the backyard while Darchelle was working, we wrapped up the first week of the year with 72 species, almost halfway to our goal of 151 for the month.
01/10/2021   Projects  
Page from the photo album
Meyer lemon from our bush
Looking for the Rusty Blackbird
We've got projects to work on - big projects like the bathroom remodel which should start soon, shared projects like beating my old record of 150 species by the end of January and personal projects like finally adding photos to my Journal of our 2018 Africa trip. Susan brought over another project for me last month - a 2006 photo album to annotate. She invited herself inside to review the album together and I allowed her to do so in violation of our practice to not socialize with anyone indoors. I'll be more careful next time. Darchelle photographed the album for me and I will arrange the images into an online album from which Susan can copy captions for the physical album some day. Not a project, but last week we harvested one stunning lemon from our Meyer lemon bush; Darchelle used it to make dressing for Greek salad soup, my favorite.
01/13/2021   Green Lake  
Golden-crowned Kinglet
The Green Lake Sora
Searching for the Sora
This afternoon we drove over to Green Lake to try to see the Sora which has returned to the southwest corner of the lake for the second winter in a row. The closest parking is more than a quarter mile away so I wasn't sure I could make it but it went okay. Quite a few people were out walking around the lake and a handful of them, aware of reports of the little rail, stopped to look for it. Most of us wore masks and we tried to stay 6 feet apart. Collectively we found the Sora after several minutes of searching. Once again I was surprised at how small it is, not that much bigger than a sparrow and very cute as it paced deliberately through the cattails, apparently oblivious to the attention it was receiving.
01/14/2021   Rare birds  
First Washington Winter Wren
Brewer's Blackbirds
Associates of the Harris's Sparrow
We chased four rare birds south of Seattle today and saw two of them, in the process passing the 100 species mark for the month and year. That's a reasonably successful day but I found my limitations frustrating nonetheless.
The Winter Wren near Orting was the rarest of the four. It was a beautiful sunny morning down there, the pastures already very green. The bird was hanging out in a farmyard cluttered with old equipment and scrap metal. I thought I was on it when a big white pickup truck pulled up and asked what we were looking at. We told them we were birdwatching and after the customary discussion about Bald Eagles I offered to point out the bird. They were interested so I described its location under a horse trailer and the man was able to pick it out. Only after he drove off did I realize that I had showed him a Song Sparrow. The Winter Wren had been under the manure cart behind the trailer.
Missing the Common Grackle was disappointing because had I been able, I could have photographed it right when we pulled in but by the time I was able to explain to Darchelle where it was, it had flown away and we did not see it again. It would have been my 400th bird for Washington state but without a photo I wasn't positive about the identification so we did not count it. We photographed the flock of Brewer's Blackbirds with which the grackle had been associating instead.
Just down the street a Harris's Sparrow had been regularly reported in the blackberry thickets around a vegetable farm. Sparrows are difficult for me because I cannot usually get close enough to identify them without optics. Today was our second visit to the vegetable farm; our first visit was on a rainy evening recently. As I waddled after Darchelle down a grassy track along a field full of rotting beets, a sparrow popped up onto a clump of blackberries next to me and just as quickly popped down again but in the split-second that it was visible, I snapped a mental impression of an unmarked face and bold black streaking on white underparts. Darchelle did not see it. Pretty sure it was the Harris's but not quite sure enough to count it. Today I had a nice clear view but Darchelle saw it only in flight so we did not get a photo.
On the way home we scoped the gulls on the log boom at Gene Coulon Park. I can't look through the scope for very long before I run out of breath but during my brief scan I thought I spotted the juvenile Glaucous Gull. We were not able to relocate it.
01/17/2021   Vancouver trip  
White-faced Ibis
Snowy Egret
Tufted Duck
Not a Red-shouldered Hawk
Sandhill Cranes
Acorn Woodpecker
Chasing rare birds again we made an overnight trip south to Vancouver and spotted most of our target species, missing only a Red-shouldered Hawk and a Swamp Sparrow. The first three birds pictured above are quite rare so it was great to pick them up so early in the season. Not much of a tuft on that Tufted Duck but the shape of the bill and the color of the sides confirm the identification despite the poor light.
That Tufted Duck cost us a night sleep though. It was a bit of a walk, for me anyhow, out to the vantage point from which we scanned the flock of Scaup with the spotting scope to pick out the Tufted Duck. To enable me to use the scope Darchelle returned to the car to get the ventilator. As it turned out, she brought the power cord and the spare battery as well and set everything on the bench in front of me. I scoped and found the duck. She took photos through the scope as well as with the camera from the beach. She escorted me and the ventilator back to the car in one trip and made a separate trip to retrieve the scope. We stopped by Fort Vancouver Park to find an Acorn Woodpecker before heading home. On the way home we detoured out to the hills around Meskill to try and pick up the Northern Pygmy Owls we heard out there last fall when we were hunting chanterelles. We got a Northern Saw-whet instead but delayed by owling, didn't get home until 10PM. The ventilator was sounding its low battery alarm by that point so after Darchelle got me inside she went to plug it in and couldn't find the cord. Or the spare battery. Without the power cord the ventilator would shut down before I could even get into bed. Without the ventilator I can't sleep.
We spent the night driving back to Vancouver to retrieve the battery and power cord from the bench where we were pretty sure we had left it. It was still there waiting for us. We actually got a few hours sleep the next morning before Darchelle had to start work.
BTW, here is a photo of the front view of the Red-tailed Hawk. It looked quite small both in flight and when perched and the plumage was not all that different from some juvenile Red-shouldered Hawks, but the fine barring on the tail indicates a Red-tail.
01/22/2021   The coast  
Sanderlings and Dunlin
Bald Eagles
Snowy Plovers
The highlight of our first day trip to the coast was a drive on the beach at Westport. The tide was low and the driving was excellent. Although bird diversity was somewhat limited, we did manage to spot a group of Snowy Plovers hiding in tire tracks in the dry sand above the wrack line.
Gulls on whale carcass
Western Gulls
Not a Slaty-backed Gull
We also came across a group of gulls feeding on a whale carcass. They were a mix of Western and Glaucous-winged but one with a particularly dark mantle did a convincing imitation of a rare Slaty-backed Gull until it spread its wings. The absence of white spots on the tips of the primaries is a distinguishing characteristic of a third-year Western Gull.
01/25/2021   Swamp Sparrow  
Swamp Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Ring-necked Pheasant
The Swamp Sparrow at Stillwater out in the Snoqualmie Valley is still being reported so we went to see it. I wasn't sure I could make it out there but it turned out to be only a half mile round-trip - no problem. We might not have found it had not a couple of other birders pointed out to us. We had been looking in the area where we saw it last fall but this time it was 50 yards back towards the trailhead. Last fall we only heard it but today it offered good views (at least to those with binoculars) and Darchelle got photos. She also got photos of a pheasant which flew in while we were looking for the sparrow.
It might've been after this outing or perhaps after another one in the previous week or so that I stumbled at the top step while Darchelle was helping me up to the front porch. My knee buckled but I was able to turn and sit down on the step without falling. While Darchelle struggled to get me back on my feet again I ran out of air. After a few moments of panic I was able to gasp that I needed the ventilator. Darchelle got me onto the bench by the front door and ran to get it. I recovered quickly but the incident was frightening and left me with lingering anxiety about getting back into the house after future outings.
01/28/2021   The Peninsula  
Northern Shrike
Anna's Hummingbird
Sharp-shinned Hawk
The birds we photographed were neither the ones that we particularly sought nor that we were particularly pleased to find, though both the shrike and the hawk were new for the year. A highlight of the trip for me was a clear scope view of a line of Ancient Murrelets on flat water off Marlyn Nelson County Park. We stayed overnight in a comfortable cabin on the bluff overlooking Dungeness Bay and returned home with 155 species for the year, five more than my previous record for January.
FWIW, The eBird reviewer disagreed with my identification of the hawk as a Sharp-shinned, stating that based on the location, it was a Cooper's. I updated my description in the checklist as follows:
Adult, probably a female Sharp-shinned based on its size (smaller than a crow), its relatively square-tipped tail, its dark cap, and the coarse barring on the underparts.
and included this photo of the front view but left the identification as uncertain.
On another note, as David would say, we saw a Black-billed Magpie on Beacon Hill yesterday, my first in King County since the one Daniel raised and released back in 1998.
01/30/2021   Snow Bunting  
We stopped by Eide Road in Stanwood in the morning but a brisk southwest breeze freighted with drizzle deterred us from making the half-mile pilgrimage out to the end of the dike to see the continuing Snow Bunting. We drove up to Rosario instead hoping to see a Surfbird but I was too tired to even get out of the car. Back at Eide Road again an hour before sunset the weather had moderated a bit so we decided to tackle the walk. I made it out there okay and we found the bird. It was very tame. The walk back was tough. Even with frequent rest stops I barely made it. At one point with about 50 yards to go both legs gave out but Darchelle was able to hold me up. My teeth were chattering uncontrollably by the time I collapsed into the car. I think Monica helped Darchelle to get me up the front steps.
Not only my legs but also my lower back and abdominal muscles were exhausted, and they did not recover overnight. The next morning I stood up suddenly and went right over backwards, or maybe my right leg gave out when I turned on it. I'm not sure which because I don't remember falling, or much of anything else from the next hour or so. Darchelle heard me cry out "Oh shit" and turned just in time to see my head bounce on the old growth fir floorboards. The impact knocked me out. For a moment Darchelle was terrified that I might be dead. She called Marco and Monica, who came up immediately, and then called 911.
When the medics arrived a few minutes later they asked me if I knew my wife's name and my address. I answered both questions correctly. I don't remember that. They put me on a stretcher, carried me down the front steps and packed me into an ambulance. I have a vague memory of being in the ambulance and then of being transported down a hospital hallway. Even my memory of our several hours in the hospital room is fuzzy. People were very nice to me. Darchelle hung out with me in the room and we talked. After a couple of tests which I don't really recall, they sent us home with a wheelchair. Marco and Monica had followed the ambulance to the hospital in case Darchelle needed a ride home. They helped Darchelle get me into the car. I had a slight headache for several days afterwards but have not since then walked more than a couple hundred steps at once, and then only with Darchelle holding onto one arm. My days of walking without assistance are over.
01/31/2021   Our Cooper's Hawk  
January 27
January 31
February 13
We call her ours but we have no claim on her, though she does wear a numbered collar on one leg. She showed up one day in late January, perched on top of the wrought iron stand from which our bird feeders hang, and scanned the ground underneath her with fierce interest. Somehow our little welfare flock of siskins and juncos had sensed her impending arrival and discreetly vanished, at least most of them had. One Pine Siskin had remained behind, frozen on its perch on the feeder immediately below the big Accipiter. For a long moment the siskin lingered before bolting for the hole in the fence 10 feet away. The Cooper's Hawk shot after it but soon returned to its perch. Apparently the siskin had made it. They didn't all make it. The fat and listless sick ones, the ones we heartlessly call "Sammy Siskins" for the salmonella which apparently afflicts only the Pine Siskins, must fall prey to the hawk often enough that she has been returning regularly to patrol our yard.
02/04/2021   More rare birds  
Northern Mockingbird
Iceland Gull (with wings spread)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (top left)
02/19/2021   Local pursuits  
Tulalip Bay
Matthews Beach Band-tailed Pigeons
Discovery Park Townsend's Solitaire
02/21/2021   Rusty at last  
Neal Road Blackbird flock
White-throated Sparrow
Rusty Blackbird
04/04/2021   Less social distance, more Tricolored Blackbirds  
Red-winged (left), Tricolored and Yellow-headed Blackbirds
Female and juvenile Tricolored Blackbirds
Blackbirds taking off
04/09/2021   A Ruff Outing  
Greater Yellowlegs and Ruff
The Ruff
Greater Yellowlegs
Had conditions not been so rough at Wylie Slough, we probably would have missed the Ruff which of course everyone else has been seeing there. The weather was cloudy with a steady breeze and temperature in the mid-40s. Darchelle kept somewhat warm because she was pushing me in the wheelbarrow, I mean wheelchair, but despite wearing my insulated pants and down parka I chilled quickly. We started at the restrooms by the boat launch (where I pooped - yay!) and walked the trail around the salt marsh to the concrete bridge at the east end of the East-West dike. There Ed and Delia walked west on the dike, taking our scope with them, while we continued on the main dike.
The fine gravel trail surface suitable for wheelchairs ends at the concrete bridge so Darchelle and I found a grassy track rough going beyond that point. In addition, I was getting very cold so we made the decision to turn around. We paused at the cement bridge to scan the marsh to the west and radioed Ed and Delia to let them know that we were at the bridge and would soon be heading back to the car. I was more intent on keeping my jaw clenched so that I wouldn't bite my tongue with my chattering teeth than I was on finding the Ruff, so we gave up the search.
As we were passing a birder peering through the scope out into the marsh across from the old duck blind, Darchelle asked if he was finding anything. "It's a good day", the man replied. "Have you seen the Ruff?" Darchelle persisted. "I'm looking at it!", he announced casually. He might have offered at that point to let us have a look, or perhaps we asked, but he immediately began shortening the legs of the scope when he saw that it was too tall for us. The bird kept moving so he kept having to relocate it. It took me a couple of tries before I was able to get a glimpse, no more than half a second, of the Ruff. Brown with white marks above, white below, stockier than a yellowlegs - that is about all I was able to see, but that was enough. Darchelle had better views, noting the orange legs and pale feather edges on the back giving it a scaly look. Though it kept mostly hidden, she was able to get a few identifiable photos too.
We immediately radioed Ed and Delia but in our excitement, forgot to tell them where we were. In their excitement, they forgot to ask. As a result when they reached the cement bridge they turned right and headed away from the parking lot and away from where we were watching the bird. When they did not show up we radioed them again and they were on their way finally but before they arrived a Bald Eagle flew over and flushed all the shorebirds. Despite trying for over an hour we were never able to relocate the Ruff.
It was our second attempt. Four days earlier we'd spent all afternoon with Ed and Delia looking for it in weather that was sunny and almost warm. We'd stood (I sat) on the dike near the cement bridge watching the yellowlegs squabble while we'd waited for the Ruff to show up. It hadn't.
We invited Ed and Delia back to our house for dinner and picked up takeout from The Maple - stuffed poblano peppers, fried oysters, parsnip mash and shishito peppers. The peppers were the best version of Pimientos de Pardron we've had since we traveled in Spain and Portugal two years ago. The fried oysters were just the best, once again.
04/10/2021   Cooper's Redux  

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