Weekend Trip Reports
February 2014: Great Backyard Bird Count
By Jonathan Blubaugh
The trip we took to Japanese Gulch and Powder Mill Gulch was not completely successful. We left someone behind and the person who suggested Powder Mill Gulch at that. In my announcement for the hike I wrote that we would meet at Safeway at 41st & Evergreen due to restricted parking at the trailhead. We waited around there for a while and wondered where she was, since she had suggested the trip. I was unsure what to do. One of hikers finally suggested we drive on up and park at the Japanese Gulch doggie park because there was more parking there. Rain was forecast (but stayed away ‘till the end). So I said, “OK, let’s move out. I’ll take point.”
After hiking up the hill for about half an hour I thought, boy, I should check my phone. Sure enough, she had called me, and I had missed the call in the car. I called her right back and she expressed her disappointment. A couple of weeks prior she had sent me an eMail which I had seen. She said she had told me in the eMail that she would be meeting us at Powder Mill Gulch. I must have misread the eMail. I certainly missed that crucial detail. My normal process, if I get a scheduling item like that, is to put it in my calendar (on my laptop and smartphone). So I failed. I apologize for the screw up.
The same thing happened to me a few years ago at the Auburn-Rainier Valley Christmas Bird Count. The area leader changed the meeting time, but did not inform me. After having driven down to Auburn and being left holding the bag, I was angered. So I know exactly how you feel, and I do apologize.
Otherwise, the other four hikers had a good time. A good checklist was uploaded for the Great Backyard Bird Count via eBird. Worldwide, Audubon and Cornell have reported an impressive and (maybe a record) count. Tremendous participation is reported from India, Australia, Canada, and the UK, as well as the US (over 100 countries in all). I encourage you to view the final report at http://gbbc.birdcount.org/ . Since the count has been assimilated by eBird, we will henceforth be referring to it as the Great Global Bird Count.
The hike turned out to be between 3½ and 5½ miles depending on which pedometer you believe. We hiked for just under four hours, wrapping it up for lunch nearby at Ivar’s Landing in Mukilteo where we generated another checklist.
Here’s what we recorded for the day: seven Barrow’s Goldeneyes grazing mussels off the pier, thirteen Double-Crested Cormorants – one swallowed a Starry Flounder, Great Blue Heron, 25 Glaucous-Winged Gulls, an “Olympic Gull” hybrid, a dozen feral rock pigeons, two squabbling male Anna’s Hummingbirds, a male Belted Kingfisher, two Northern Flickers, heard a Pileated Woodpecker, heard a Steller’s Jay, five crows, ten Black-Capped Chickadees, a Chestnut-Backed Chickadee, thirteen Bushtits, heard a Red-Breasted Nuthatch, three Pacific Wrens, heard a Bewick’s Wren, three spectacular Golden-Crowned Kinglets, a couple of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, 41 American Robins, 32 European Starlings, a Spotted Towhee, a Fox Sparrow, a Song Sparrow, five Golden-Crowned Sparrows, four Dark-Eyed Juncos, heard a Brown-Headed Cowbird,& heard a couple of House Sparrows.
I’ll be sharing the eBird checklists and a spreadsheet with the participants.
January 25, 2014: Samish Flats
By Terry Nightingale
On Saturday, January 25, seven weekend birders braved the cold and made our way north to Samish Flats to look for our favorite birds of prey, also known as raptors. We were excited to have Pilchuck Tuesday field trip leader Virginia Clark with us, who had graciously volunteered to show us the best raptor spots. The fresh batch of Virginia's famous home-baked cookies that she brought with her also did not go unappreciated!
After the familiar drive north on I-5, we turned left onto Washington Highway 20 and made our first stop at Big Indian Slough. The morning's fog was still thick, and it was hard to see much but we did spot a group of Northern Pintail, the males looking rather dapper in their bright white and dark brown breeding plumage. The first raptors of the day were two Red-tailed Hawks, which we had the pleasure of hearing as they called to each other.
Continuing our journey north, we stopped at the bayside portion of Bay View State Park, where the fog was not present and the plentiful waterfowl did not disappoint! Beyond the estimated 4,000 American Wigeon (with a bonus male Eurasian Wigeon thrown in just for extra fun), we saw Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye (unusual, but not unheard of for saltwater), and a Common Loon. The raptor count continued to increase, with four Bald Eagles in evidence. We also saw the first swans of the day, four Trumpeter Swans.
After this productive stop, we continued northward to the Samish Flats proper, with our first stop at Sullivan Road, a dead-end side road just off the main highway. Here on the flats, the fog had not yet burned off, so visibility was again limited. Still, there was much to see: more Wigeon and Pintails, this time with Mallards also mixed in. But the smaller birds were the true highlight of this stop. Virginia spotted a flock of American Pipits as they flushed from foraging on the ground and flew overhead. I have yet to see pipits when not with Virginia! Small flocks of familiar species, European Starlings and Dark-eyed Juncos were nearby the active farms on this road, as were our first shorebirds of the day, Killdeer and Dunlin. We couldn't see them, but true to their name, we heard the songs of the Western Meadowlark coming out of the fogged-over meadows.
Our next stop was the “crown jewel” of the Samish Flats, the West 90. This was where the variety of raptors really intensified: we found four Rough-legged Hawks, three more Red-tailed Hawks, six more Bald Eagles, and a Great Blue Heron, technically not a raptor, but while preying on frogs in the nearby fields, sure acting like one. For our best find here, credit goes to Virginia for scanning the distant dike with her scope until she found a Short-eared Owl and several of us got nice looks through the scope when he perched.
If you ever visit the West 90, it's worth driving an extra mile or so to its sister site, the East 90. When our group did, our raptor count continued to rise as we were rewarded with views of two Northern Harriers, one of them a light-colored male, a Cooper's Hawk, and my favorite bird of prey, a Northern Shrike, which Virginia again spotted by careful scanning with her scope. At one point while we were scanning, we heard the distant but still cacophonous sound of Snow Geese, and looked to see a large flock of about 4,500 taking flight and pursued by what could only have been a Bald Eagle based on size and dark color. A flock of Tundra Swans flew overhead, honking in their higher-pitched voices so we could compare their sounds with those of the numerous Trumpeter Swans we had been hearing all day.
Next on the agenda was a delicious lunch in Edison, a small town just a bit further north, after which we scanned the neighborhood, including the nearby slough where we found Green-winged Teal and the nearby trees where we saw Eurasian Collared-doves. Our northward journey done for the day, we headed back south, and on one of the power lines adjacent to the highway, we saw our last raptor of the day, and first falcon of the day, an American Kestrel. All in all, this trip was raptor-ific!
September 7-8, 2013: Puget Sound Bird Festival Trip Reports and Commentary
By Jonathan Blubaugh
The opinions expressed here are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the organizations for which I volunteer or am about to refer to.
For this year’s Edmonds Puget Bird Festival I was tapped to lead two walking trips and to be a Bird Guide for a boat trip: a new high score. The boat trip was Saturday morning, a walk in Yost Park was Saturday afternoon, and a walk in Scriber Park was Sunday morning. I can write about my experience during the Festival, but it represents only a small portion of Festival activities. For example, several other boatloads of birders went out Saturday morning. But first things first.
When I arrived at Yost Park on Saturday afternoon I learned that Sound Transit had published three alternatives for a new lightrail transit center to be built in Lynnwood. First a little background. A few years ago a statewide initiative measure was passed by voters to raise our state sales tax to pay for a wide range of transportation and transit projects. The expansion of lightrail is one of these projects. Lightrail currently runs from downtown Seattle to SeaTac Airport. Under this initiative lightrail is to be extended easterly to Redmond (along the 520 bridge corridor), northerly to Northgate and thence to Lynnwood, and southerly to Federal Way. Build out is decades away and full funding is not assured, but planning is well under way.
I apologize in advance for briefing you on the minutiae of public capital project planning. Under a body of interwoven state and federal law, large capital projects require authorities to plan a set of alternatives and present them to the public before one (or a modified alternative) is selected. Thankfully, the public along with all stakeholders are encouraged to comment on the alternatives, a legacy of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962) and the Environmental Quality Act of 1974. The authorities are required to forthrightly address public comments and take them into consideration prior to selecting the preferred alternative.
Sound Transit is the entity responsible for planning the lightrail extension to Lynnwood. The new lightrail terminal is to be located at the existing Lynnwood Transit Center beside Scriber Creek Park on the west side of I-5 at 48th Avenue. So far so good. However, I was alarmed that two of the alternatives clearly do not provide sufficient avoidance of Scriber Creek Park or its associated waterways, wetlands, and recreational lands. Along with this message I have included a pdf file with a map and table of the alternatives and a petition opposing Alternatives C1 and C2. Those of us who have signed the petition support Alternative C3 because it cuts through less of Scriber Creek Park where the park is narrower by hugging I-5 up to the transit center. It is not at all clear from the maps that I provide. However, it can be seen that C1 and C2 curve north crossing farther upstream away from the freeway. I don’t know how your computer works, but for me to view the attachment more easily, I had to right click on the document and select “rotate clockwise” a couple of times to be able to read it right side up.
Pilchuck Audubon Society past Vice President, Susie Schaefer, graciously provided the petitions. We gathered 28 signatures supporting Alternative C3. Confusingly, Lynnwood has cooked up a fourth alternative, but as of last weekend Sound Transit had not seemed to pick it up as an official alternative. Lynnwood’s fourth alternative also veers farther away from the freeway corridor and may cut through a slightly wider swath of the riparian area and wetlands. I’m guessing the petition writers hadn’t heard of Lynnwood’s fourth alternative when they created the petition. I had not heard of it when I received the petition. In my view, the light rail should as remain as close as possible to the west side of I-5 to minimize the impact on the Scriber Creek riparian zone and recreational sites it contains.
Through PAS President Kathleen Snyder and VP Terry Nightingale, I have requested that the PAS Board take a position supporting Alternative C3 for the Lynnwood Lightrail Terminal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of lightrail. I voted in favor of the initiative. However, having now given two bird walks at Scriber Lake Park and Scriber Creek Park, I see how critical it is that the project minimizes its effects on the parks.
The problem now arises that the comment period is scheduled to end on September 23rd
. If you agree with us, I would urge you to sign the petition and send it right in. It can be eMailed to LynnwoodLinkDEIS@soundtransit.org
or snail mailed to Sound Transit, Draft EIS Comments, c/o Lauren Swift, 401 S. Jackson St., Seattle, WA 98104.
For my part I will sign up for eMail notification from the Puget Sound Regional Council to hopefully not get surprised in this way again.
Boat Trip Aboard K-Pod with Captain Brian
Saturday morning’s cruise saw numerous birders arrive at Edmonds Marina for the excursions sponsored by the Edmond Yacht Club. Captain Brian and his crew welcomed us aboard the K-POD, so named after one of resident Orca pods in the Salish Sea. Altogether there were twelve of us. The boat is luxurious and beautiful to say the least. A ride aboard her is a memorable treat for any occasion. Keeping safety first Brian briefed us on the use of our floatation devices (and helped me don mine).
I suggested a tactic that we had used before: to cruise north somewhat close to the shore for about an hour and then turn out towards the center of the channel for the southward return trip. The hope is to see seabirds that may use near shore waters as well as those that prefer a more pelagic habitat. It sounds like some of the boats went closer to shore than we did because Virginia’s group saw geese that we missed. Nevertheless with the beautiful day, calm seas, and lots of pretty boats out on the water we saw plenty of birds and everyone was delighted. Some of the highlights for me were a flock of seven Red-Necked Phaleropes foraging out on the water. They were very wary and skittish. I needed substantial help identifying them, but one of our birders got a photo. Comparing it to the image in our bird book enabled us to settle on Red-Necked Phalarope. We also saw two threatened Marbled Murrelets in a transitional plumage from their speckled brown breeding plumage to their sea-grey winter camouflage. I am encouraged, because it seems rather easy to find them around Puget Sound. They have been classified as threated because their nests are restricted to old growth forest, which itself had been under tremendous assault. We also found a well-seen Red-Necked Grebe. Other interesting marine creatures we encountered included a Harbor Seal snoozing on the marina jetty, a dozen Fried Egg Jellyfish, and a couple of colorful Lion’s Mane Jellyfish.
A couple dozen people took part in Saturday afternoon’s Yost Park walk. This eclipsed by far the best attendance so far. Clearly this was because it followed directly after Lorenzo’s lecture at the Festival’s Anderson Center headquarters. At a scheduled duration of only one hour, it puts to rest my protestation that the Yost walk had been too short.
The first thing we did was hand out the petitions. Thanks to everybody who took the time to read over them.
The group then split into two with Lorenzo and me each taking half. We then took off in opposite directions around the loop trail. We were soon informed by regular visitors that the resident Pileated Woodpeckers had been spotted recently and throughout the summer. It didn’t take us long to find them. As we encountered Lorenzo’s group on the backside of the trail going the opposite way, birder watchers from both groups excitedly told their counterparts that they had seen the gigantic woodpeckers and to be on the lookout. It seems Lorenzo’s group may have seen both mates. We only found the male with his spectacular red crest. Given the late afternoon hour, most of the rest of the birds we counter were heard only. As we returned to the parking lot we also heard Woody calling from the forest. Any trip in which you can see a Pileated Woodpecker is well worth it!
Scriber Lake Park
On Sunday morning we had fifteen birders for a visit to Scriber Lake Park. Facetiously I informed the group that this may be our last walk at Scriber Lake Park because it was going to be paved over for a lightrail terminal. Obviously, I was wrong: the terminal will be farther downstream, crossing Scriber Creek and Scriber Creek Park by I-5. But most were sufficiently motivated to eagerly sign the petition supporting Alternative C3.
Being in the morning this walk had more birding highlights. When we reached the lakeshore at a short boardwalk on the south side, the large flock of Mallards flew over, “landed,” and waddled right up to us. Obviously they are thoroughly tame: just like when I was a little boy in Ft. Collins, Colorado, and my parents took me to the city park to feed the ducks. You realize I lead these bird walks to relive my childhood. One of the friendly ducks was a brownish white domestic x Mallard hybrid. I didn’t see the Wood Duck from last year, but I heard her. After a careful search I also found a Pied-Billed Grebe hiding motionless in the lily pads. We saw two immature grebes last September.
Before we circled around to the north shore, one of the local experts directed us down the Scriber Creek Trail where the creek exits the lake at the southeast corner. Soon we found a flock of Bushtits. These leaf gleaners are always on the move. Individuals stay in contact with the flock by frequently making their high pitched call. I showed the folks how to count them. They tend to fly from tree to tree in single file. Just get in front of the flock and count them one by one as they pass by.
Not far down the trail we found a tiny hummingbird. Presently he began to hover straight up high above the Salmonberry bramble. I quickly called the group together: I surmised that we were about to witness the male Anna’s Hummingbird’s renowned diving display. We were not disappointed! He swooped down in front of us at least three times. I don’t know when the last time I saw that was: maybe in California years ago. I’ve seen it on TV. I’ve never seen it so well up close. One of the ladies in the group also spotted the female has she briefly popped up to view her boyfriend’s spectacular flight display.
Naturally, astute birders asked me, “How come he’s doing his mating display so late in the season, Jonathan?”
All I could do was raise my hands and say, “I don’t know.”
Obviously, it’s territorial behavior. Anna’s Hummingbirds are year-round residents and are on the increase as numerous residents lovingly keep their feeders going throughout the year. Nevertheless, I would be surprised if they attempted to raise another clutch in Fall. Anybody want to chime in on this one?
Soon after the male hummingbird retired to enjoy his reward, my friend Doug spotted a raptor soaring in circles high above. It was an Osprey, possibly on migration to Latin America. By the time you read this they will be gone ‘till Spring.
Turning around we went back to the loop trail around the lake’s north shore. There is a nice floating boardwalk giving a panorama of the site.
All the birds Terry & I tallied were uploaded to eBird. Here’s a partial summary of the birds we tallied on my three trips for the weekend: the Wood Duck, the 34 Mallards, ten White-Winged Scoters overflew the marina, the Pied-Billed Grebe, the Red-Necked Grebe, a Western Grebe, a Double-Crested Cormorant, three Great Blue Herons, two Osprey, a Black Turnstone briefly glimpsed on the marina jetty, the seven phalaropes, 35 Bonaparte's Gulls in winter plumage, 87 Heermann’s Gulls, an Olympic (hybrid) Gull, at least fifteen Glaucous-Winged Gulls, the two Marbled Murrelets, four Rock Pigeons, a Belted Kingfisher, heard a Northern Flicker, at least one male Pileated Woodpecker, heard a Steller's Jay, three crows, three Black-Capped Chickadees, heard a Chestnut-Backed Chickadees, heard a Red-Breasted Nuthatch, heard a Pacific Wren, heard a Bewick’s Wren, ten Barn Swallows perched on boats, about four Golden-Crowned Kinglets, thee American Robins, eleven European Starlings, heard a couple of Cedar Waxwings, two Orange-Crowned Warblers, heard a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, a well-seen Townsend’s Warbler, heard a Yellow Warbler, two Spotted Towhees, a couple of Song Sparrows, three female American Goldfinches in winter plumage, band eighteen House Sparrows infesting the marina.
July 20, 2013: Woodland Park Zoo
By Jonathan Blubaugh
On July 20th birders gathered for a trip to Woodland Park Zoo.
First off, I must say I dropped the ball. Not everyone was able to participate because I was unable to respond to an eMail me asking for an alternate meeting time at the venue. Truth be told, I was out of town attending to my mother, who had taken ill. Due to circumstances surrounding her recovery, I was able to return the night before, and I actually made it to Woodland Park. Nevertheless, I owe an apology to those who did not get to take part. I feel bad that I was unable to promptly communicate with our supporters, something I’ve tried to be meticulous about in the past. Barring further events beyond my control, I intend to continue to volunteer to lead outings for the Pilchuck Audubon Society as many as ten months per year (November through February are just too inclement, but I could never skip the Christmas Bird Count nor the Great Backyard Bird Count). Many thanks to PAS Vice President, Terry Nightingale, for covering for me on this one.
Due to my lack of planning we arrived before the zoo opened. Serendipitously, we started out in the renowned Woodland Park Rose Garden just outside the zoo entrance. The highlights were the roses. In addition to the lovely plantings, we saw five species of common urban birds.
Once inside the zoo we continued our birding, but we also took the time to see many of the exhibits too. I think we viewed mostly all of the exhibits featuring birds, at least we tried. One aviary gave us an opportunity to feed some of the birds. A vending machine dispenses a popsicle stick with bird food on it. Terry couldn’t resist, and I got a couple photos of him feeding the lovey Cockatiel. We enjoyed seeing an exhibit of Hombolt Penguins from Chile who also had a boobie in their enclosure. Naturally, the zoo had a pool for them, glassed in so we could see them swimming or waddling above. It was feeding time there too, so there was quite of crowed of penguins and people. One of the most memorable for me was the Steller’s Sea Eagle from Russia. There are a male and a female in the exhibit. They have a little room to fly about and a stream run through it. The male, while we were there, called and flapped down from his perch to a wide spot in the stream. Obviously this spot on the stream had been engineered to be a bit deeper and wider: just enough for a sea eagle. He hopped in and had the biggest bird bath I’ve ever seen in my life! He really enjoyed it for it was a very warm summer day, especially by his standards I’m guessing. There was water splashing all over, let me tell you! We also got to chat with a zookeeper who had a Harris Hawk for the daily bird show. We missed the show, but she was very nice answering all the kids’ (and our) questions. She is a falconer, and he has been performing at the zoo for decades. We were mesmerized.
Here’s a list of most of the wild birds that we saw at the zoo and rose garden: eight Mallards, a Great Blue Heron, at least a couple Glaucous-Winged Gulls, three Rock Pigeons, an Anna’s Hummingbirds, a Rufous Hummingbird, heard a Northern Flicker, heard a Steller’s Jay, at least thirteen crows, six Tree Swallows, four Barn Swallows, 25 Bushtits, heard a Red-Breasted Nuthatch, heard a Black-Capped Chickadee, heard a Bewick’s Wren, heard a Golden-Crowned Kinglet, an American Robin, heard a Cedar Waxwing, at least four House Finches, heard an American Goldfinch, and three House Sparrows.