Weekend Trip Reports

August 2, 2014: Kuboda Garden
By Terry Nightingale
            Braving a forecast of thundershowers, on Saturday, August 2, seven birders journeyed south to Kubota Garden in South Seattle to get a tour of the garden and look for interesting birds. Our tour guide Rusty met us at the garden entrance and gave us a brief history of how the garden came to be. Fujitaro Kubota, an immigrant from Japan and self-taught, self-employed gardener, bought five acres of swamp land in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle. As his business grew, he purchased another fifteen acres, making a total of twenty, and dedicating his life to the beautification of this spot. In the 1980s, citizens of Seattle lobbied to keep the garden from turning into condominiums, and a few years later, the city bought the property and turned it into a park. Fujitaro's vision and the hard work of the three gardeners on staff really showed as we toured the garden's varied landscapes of thick plantings, open spaces, ponds, and forest.
The first birds to greet us were a flock of small leaf gleaners, including Black-capped Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Chestnut-backed Chickadees. Bucking the usual trend of allowing us to hear him before seeing him, we spied a Song Sparrow in a small bush just down the trail. We hadn't gone far when the clouds opened up and the promised thundershowers arrived! Since it was Seafair weekend, we compared the thunderclaps to the sound of the Blue Angels fighter jets.
Taking shelter under a tree to wait out the storm, Rusty told us a little more about the Japanese style of gardening. In contrast with Western gardening, which often features plants only, or with Chinese gardening, which prominently features buildings and uses the plants as a decoration to enhance the beauty of the buildings, Japanese gardening is about balancing the beauty of nature with a modest number of human additions. Such enhancements include bridges or strategically placed stones. In a particularly rocky part of the garden, Rusty told us, the stones had come as leftovers from a construction project that were graciously donated to the garden.
Approaching the main ponds of the garden, we caught sight of two red-eared slider turtles perched on a log. No waterfowl were present, but we knew there would be more chances to look for them later in the tour. We did find Violet Green Swallows and Tree Swallows, though, swooping through the air above the ponds, no doubt snatching up the morning's flying insects. Next we noticed that singing faintly to us from the top of a tall cedar tree was a beautiful bird—a Cedar Waxwing. This might just have been the first time I ever saw the bird perched in the tree for which it is named! Nearby were two Northern Flickers, possibly a mated pair but hard to tell from so far away.
Walking through the garden's lowland forest area, we happened upon a large tree, clearly very old, which had grown up out of the ground, and then proceeded to grow horizontally, parallel to the ground, for a good fifteen feet! I can only imagine a strong and extensive root system underground keeping it from collapsing to the ground under its own weight.
Rising up to a hillside with two different fountains, we reached a gazebo structure where a lovely panoramic view of the gardens can be had. The waterfowl we had hoped for arrived at just the right time for us to see them from the hillside—two Mallards coming in for a splashy landing.
Turning back toward the entrance, we walked through an orchard area and found a flock of twenty Bushtits giving their soft “peep peep” calls, accompanied by eight House Finches, one of whom was clearly a parent, which we deduced when we saw her feeding another finch, who must have been a juvenile.
Somehow 2.5 hours had flown by (that's a bad bird pun, for those of you keeping score at home) and it was time to thank our guide and go our separate ways. I can highly recommend checking out this beautiful garden and the birds who inhabit it. I'd like to thank our guide Rusty, who suggested May as the best time to visit when the flowers are in bloom. Even though we did get rained on for just a few minutes, we still had a great time and I at least will certainly be back!

May 31, 2014: Rotary Park
By Terry Nightingale 
On a sunny Saturday morning, May 31, four birders met at Everett's Rotary Park, just east of the Lowell Riverfront Park, for a morning bird walk. This event was co-sponsored by the Green Everett Partnership and included a forest beautification work party.

Our plan for the morning was to take in the beauty of the park, and on that point we more than succeeded. The first notable activity came from Tree Swallows who were doing their usual aerobatics above our heads. After bug snatching for a few minutes, one swallow flew straight to a small hole in a snag on the edge of the parking lot. Viewing through binoculars confirmed that young were present in the cavity. It was exciting to see these birds doing exactly what they are named for—nesting in tree cavities!

The forest along the river was filled with birdsong, reminding us that it is the wonderful spring time of year when the males are singing to defend their territory and attract mates. In the first few minutes of walking the riverside trail, we heard a Western Wood-pewee, a Swainson's Thrush, an American Robin, an Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow Warbler and Wilson's Warbler, and a Western Tanager! Just a few feet away from the parking lot, we saw a Yellow Warber adult feeding its young—something your humble correspondent has never seen before. Clearly this was going to be a good morning for birds.

Having been coming to this park every year for the Christmas Bird Count for the last few years, I was familiar with some of the resident bird species, and sure enough we found them this day as well. Black-capped Chickadees flitted among the branches of the small trees along the path, and a pair of Bushtits was also foraging nearby. Like in the winter, we were able to add Spotted Towhee, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Marsh Wren, European Starling, Rock Pigeon and American Goldfinch to our checklist. Some nice surprises different from winter were more swallow species (Barn Swallow and Cliff Swallow), a singing male Common Yellowthroat, a Mourning Dove, and Killdeer.

The highlight of our trip was a small heron or crane-like bird that kept flying back and forth up and down the river. At first we thought it might be a Black-crowned Night Heron, but then we got a better look and realized it was a Green Heron, which the first time for everyone in the group to see this species at this park! Later in the day, we saw two of them at once, and concluded that they must be nesting in the forest and going out to forage to feed their young.

Once our bird walk was done at 10:00 AM, we proceeded to our rendezvous point with Sara Noland of the Green Everett Partnership. She had brought some much appreciated water and snacks for us, and explained that for the next two hours we would be working near the riverbank to suppress invasive canary grass to make way for the planting of native species like willow trees and Oregon grape. These make for better habitat for the local animals, not least the birds. We covered the grass with burlap sacks, and then shoveled mulch on top to both kill the grass and lay the groundwork for the plantings that will come in the fall. I'm looking forward to coming back to the park for the Christmas Bird Count in December and seeing how things have changed.

May 10, 2014: Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
By Terry Nightingale
On Saturday, May 10, nine birders made the journey south to Nisqually Wildlife Refuge to celebrate International Migratory Bird Day. The weather was again beautiful—blue skies with just a few clouds in the sky. Your humble correspondent got just a little too much sun that day, but enjoyed every minute of it.
Due to a scheduling SNAFU that morning, much of the group had already arrived long before yours truly. I relayed instructions to them to choose for themselves whether to wait for me, or to take their own self-guided tour of the refuge. Five of our birders opted for this latter option.
In any case, as per our usual itinerary, we started the day by making our way to the observation deck behind the visitor center, where we were reminded that it is indeed spring by the nesting Cliff Swallows in the eaves of the observation deck. Like last year, the swallows were not afraid of people and flew within just a few feet of us, and we could again see the cliff swallow faces peering out of the nest holes. Your humble correspondent never gets tired of this type of close-up observation of bird behavior. This year's bonus was an American Robin nest, also in the eaves of the visitor center. We got to see mom and dad robin feeding the cute babies, whose heads were just visible above the edge of the nest.
After a nice look at the cliff swallows, plus Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Violet-green Swallows, and at least one Northern Rough-winged Swallow (five swallow species before we even hit the trail!), we set off on the Twin Barns trail that leads out toward the delta proper. Vaux's Swifts flew overhead, completing our retinue of airborne bug snatchers for the day. Again this year we opted for the gravel trail between the forest and the open fields with large ponds. This gave us a nice view of the waterfowl in the ponds. Notable among them were the Cinnamon Teal, showing us their brilliant copper colors in the bright sunlight, a mated pair of Wood Ducks in flight, and Blue-winged Teal showing us their colorful wing patches when the sun caught them just right.
As we made our way closer to the twin barns, we listened for but never heard the “ker-wee” Sora call from previous years. But the warblers were out, and treated us to their songs and brilliant colors: Yellow Warblers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers made their appearances.
Continuing with our viewing of the waterfowl, we spotted American Coots, both Hooded Mergansers and Common Mergansers, some lovely Gadwall, and Northern Shovelers wearing their bright breeding plumage. Once we got close to the barns, the swarms of swallows demanded our attention: Barn Swallows, Violet-green Swallows, and Tree Swallows were all making use of cavities in and around the barns, and taking the opportunity to snatch bugs on the wing by the beak-full. As in previous years, the Brown-headed Cowbirds were out on the ground strutting their stuff and singing their liquid-sounding song.
Rounding the corner and heading out on the boardwalk, we witnessed a scene of domestic bliss, with mom and dad Canada Geese and their ducklings basking in the sun. A fluffy bunny (Eastern cottontail) hopped by in the tall grass. The shorebird highlight of the day came from a passer-by on the trail: there were Red-necked Phalaropes to be seen in the distance! These are always a beautiful sight, and though distant, we still got good looks through the spotting scope.
We made quite slow progress on the path, given that we were seeing so many great birds. Next up was a Common Yellowthroat, singing and hopping from branch to branch of a small bush near the path. We got nice, long looks at his black mask and yellow belly. A more common sight, but welcome nonetheless, was the Savannah Sparrow clinging to a sapling just a mere five feet from the other side of our path. Another usual suspect is the Marsh Wren, who also chattered at us from the tall reeds along the trail.
After a quick stop at an observation platform to check out the gull species (Glaucous-winged Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls), we decided to turn back and make our way to the local cafe for lunch. We happened upon one of our guests who had been looking for our birding party, and with whom we walked along the boardwalk through the forest trail. All in all, a great day!