Weekend Trip Reports


January 24, 2015: Seward Park
By Terry Nightingale
On Saturday, January 24, twelve birders converged on southeast Seattle for a relaxing walk around the Bailey peninsula, better known these days as Seward Park. This gem of a park covers 300 acres on an undeveloped peninsula that juts out into Lake Washington, and includes a 2.5-mile flat, paved walking and biking trail around the peninsula's outside edge. For a future trip we'll plan to explore the forested interior of the peninsula, but for this trip we followed the outer trail that kept us close to the water.
Arriving at the parking lot, we immediately noticed the abundant waterfowl visible on the lake. Gadwall and Mallards were swimming close by the shore, and just a little farther out were four beautiful Common Goldeneye drakes, and a total of six Barrow's Goldeneye. It was a real treat to see them so close to one another and compare their similar plumage, including the white “swoosh” on the faces of the male Barrow's, in contrast with the white dot on the common goldeneye males. From a distant dock a group of Canada Geese began honking loudly, which was when we noticed the Bald Eagle flying away from our direction and toward the geese. In this case the eagle just kept on flying past them, but it was easy to understand why the geese might have been concerned.
Scanning a bit further out on the water with our scope, we found three Hooded Merganser females, and a handsome Common Merganser drake hanging out with two hens of his species. Double-crested Cormorants, one of them perched on a buoy in typical cormorant fashion, were also enjoying the lake's bounty, as were the five Horned Grebes we found first with the scope before one of them swam close enough to give us very nice views.
This first leg of the trail was also a nice place to observe the gulls. In addition to the most common gull in our area, the Glaucous-winged Gull, we found a group of fifteen Ring-billed Gulls, and two Mew Gulls, these last two species noticeably smaller than their glaucous-winged cousins.
About this time was when we realized we had wandered into what my colleague Jonathan calls a “chicklet flock”--that is, a flock of small, leaf-gleaner birds like kinglets and chickadees. Our first clue was the Downy Woodpecker, whom we first heard pecking on a tall tree by the lake and then spotted as she made her way up the tree. Walking down the trail a bit further, we heard and then saw Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Black-capped Chickadees, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos and a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Many of these common forest birds did something uncommon, which was to pass by us in the low bushes near the water, giving us close looks in our binoculars.
As we rounded the north end of the peninsula, we were able to look toward I-90, and noticed there were Buffleheads diving to feed and popping back up to the lake surface. Nearby them were beautiful Ring-necked Ducks. Again we spotted distant grebes and scoped them out, this time finding Red-necked Grebes. The waterfowl junkies among our group (your correspondent included), were delighted to see these additional and quite lovely species.
A few more forest birds awaited us as we made the final leg of our journey, among them a Brown Creeper, a Pacific Wren, and a Bewick's Wren. Soon after a flock of Red Crossbills flew overhead, we noticed a large raft of American Coots near the lake shore at a scope-worthy distance. Closer to us, in a protected cove, a Pied-billed Grebe was doing his best to hold still while perched on a log, doing his impression of a red-eared slider turtle like the one about three feet away from him on the log.
After a quick scan of the bird feeders at the Audubon Center, and a quick visit inside to chat with Gail Gatton, the director of Audubon Washington, and Joey Manson, the director of the Seward Park Audubon center, about half our group descended upon Seattle's International District for some Chinese cuisine.
All in all, a pleasant day with only a few sprinkles from the sky! 

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.