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!
April 12, 2014: Monroe--Crescent Lake Wildlife Management Area
By Jonathan Blubaugh
We had a very good turnout for our bird walk on April 12th. The weather cooperated, which is a minor miracle this spring. This trip brought the first significant numbers of Neotropical migrants that I have seen this year. Specifically, I felt like the swallows were a few weeks late. But that has to be filtered through my nineteen years in California. Perhaps the swallows arrive here a couple of weeks later.
Often we have been reminded that we find a lot of our initial birds at the parking lot. This held true this day. We were seeing lots of birds even as we were entering the parking lot at the Wildlife Management Area. Even beforehand the parking lot at our meeting point at the Everett Mall was again productive. There are two storm water retention or mitigation ponds at the southwest corner of the mall parking lot. There were plenty of ducks, geese, and songbirds there as well. So as we have commonly done in the past, we made our meeting point the first stop and first checklist. The mall ponds and surrounding area harbored a pair of Canada Geese, six Mallards, two Ring-Necked Duck drakes, a Double-Crested Cormorant flyby, a Great Blue Heron flyby, three Glaucous-Winged Gulls, four feral pigeons, and six songbird species. After a while there we raced off to Monroe.
Waiting for us there were four more birders who had gone ahead to meet us, bringing our party up to twelve observers, a better-than-average turnout. The WMA is administered by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, known by its moniker, WDFW. It is used for hunting waterfowl and upland game birds in season. There is also fishing along the Skykomish River. In the offseason the habitat proves a haven for innumerable species. Crescent Lake itself is a former oxbow of the river. It is one of many such named lakes I know of, including a famous one in the north of Olympic National Park.
The path we took had been recently rehabilitated with wood chips. We were anticipating a muddy walk, so this was a welcome relief. The path circles west from the north parking lot through open, park-like, riparian forest, clearly part of the floodplain. I think we can predict the wood chips to be temporary. The forest seemed to be dominated by water-loving Red Alder, huge Big Leaf (Oregon) Maple hung with abundant ferns, moss, and other epiphytes, and a scattering of cottonwood. Wikipedia suggests our cottonwoods may be native only to the southwest and east. Some of the species have been lumped with some folks considering them conspecific. They look the same to me, so let’s call them Eastern Cottonwood.
Among numerous waterfowl were a couple of Trumpeter Swans, one immature and one adult. One astute birder asked me about the grey plumage of one of the individuals. Our BirdLog app suggested that they are rare this time of year hereabouts. The bills were all black leading us to be comfortable with our ID. The Tundra Swan has yellow on their bills. We assume they were shortly to depart for their polar breeding grounds. BirdLog gets its filters directly from eBird. Either the filter on the app needs to be adjusted or our swans are late departing. This is one reason eBird data can really help. We had not seen the last of the swans.
Our last stop was a place Terry and I had been to before without realizing it. We were out birding the day after New Year’s Day a few years ago and stopped at a sizable pond on 203rd Avenue in rural Monroe. It has subsequently become a named eBird hotspot to our surprise: the Monroe Prison Farm Pond. So we merged our old private hotspot with the new public hotspot in eBird. This pond is also used for hunting in season. There are signage and established blinds so by all means sign up.
Here we witnessed the unquestioned highlight of the day. Three more Trumpeter Swans were present. At first I didn’t take much notice because we had been seeing them since arriving at the previous stop. Big mistake. After watching and counting the birds for a while one of the adult swans flew across the lake to its mate. They began to put on a wing-flapping pair greeting display that immediately caught our attention. It was graceful and synchronized. It culminated in them bowing to each other and tenderly touching bills, their necks forming a perfect heart shape. It is a tender and heartwarming display of a pair of creatures who obviously love each other with a strong and lasting bond. And they don’t care who knows! I had certainly not seen the behavior, but I instantly recognized it. You see, in my past life I was a stamp collector. The heart-shaped necks with the bills touching (kissing?) is depicted on the 1997 US Postal Service’s Valentine’s Day postage stamps, one for 32¢ and one for 55¢. Since I was already a bird watcher I had set
them aside with some other bird stamps I had obtained over the years. I didn’t know the year or denomination, but I quickly pulled them out. I never once considered the heart shaped necks to be realistic, just some artist’s pretty rendition. As matter of fact, it turns out the artist knew good and well what he was drawing. That’s what we saw! Just the swans we saw lacked yellow on the bills, leading me to wonder how many swan species put on this same display.
Our last stop was suggested by Jeff, who unfortunately could not attend due to schedule conflict. He suggested we visit the Sky River Bakery in Monroe, so we did. It’s just down a few blocks from Frank Wagoner School, home of the Swifts! In the event we discovered that the establishment has maybe only four tiny tables, so we went to a nearby Mexican restaurant for lunch and returned afterwards to pick out goodies on the way home.
Thanks also to Joe for sharing his spotting scope. We hope to see all of you and Jeff on many more Pilchuck Audubon Society Weekend Bird Walks.
Here’s a list of most of the birds we saw for the day. All were uploaded to eBird: two Cackling Geese, eighteen Canada Geese, the five Trumpeter Swans, a Wood Duck (I missed.), fifteen Mallards, a couple of Cinnamon Teal (I missed), five Ring-Neck Ducks, three Double-Crested Cormorants, the heron, a Bald Eagle (I missed), the three gulls, the four pigeons, a Rufus Hummingbird, two Downey Woodpeckers, heard a Northern Flicker, two Pileated Woodpeckers, a Steller’s Jay, three crows, a couple of Common Ravens, ten Tree Swallows, a couple of Violet-Green Swallows, heard a Black-Capped Chickadee, heard a Pacific Wren, heard a few Marsh Wrens, a Bewick’s Wren (I missed), five American Robins, 21 European Starlings, a Common Yellowthroat (I missed), a couple of Audubon’s Yellow-Rumped Warblers, heard a Spotted Towhee, heard several Song Sparrows, four White-Crowned Sparrows, two Golden-Crowned Sparrows, 31 Red-Winged Blackbirds, & three Pine Siskins.