Weekend Trip Reports
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.
June 22, 2013: Centennial Trail
By Jonathan Blubaugh
On June 22nd we went on our Weekend Bird Hike to the Discovery Trail in the vicinity of Lake Stevens. This trip was suggested by one of our other participants, but unfortunately for us, she was out of town for the trip. I probably should have checked with her as to whether she could be there that weekend. But the show must go on. Four of us did meet at the Everett Mall and went on to meet three others on the trail for a lovely hike in warm, sunny weather. Before we left the mall we checked the mitigation ponds where we saw a few Mallards and a couple of immature Hooded Mergansers along with the typical urban birds. A tree swallow was visiting a likely nest site by homes south of the mall.
I was warned that finding the trailhead and parking would be difficult. And it would have been if the folks we were to meet hadn’t called me. I was grateful for the call that came just as we were arriving, guiding me to parking a half mile back down the trail.
The trail is former railbed. The portion from Snohomish to well north of Arlington was converted to a trail, which is now a county park. We picked up the trail near Lake Cassidy, as was suggested to me. The nice thing about railbed trails is that they are not steep. This one has been paved so there are lots of bikes. As with other railbed trail conversions, this one faced roadblocks from a few neighboring residents, who don’t want strangers near their homes. The area we traversed is rural-residential. The trail parallels some long driveways to a few houses. It’s got to be quieter having bikers and birders than trains, but the Not-in-my Neighborhood holdouts delay linking up sections of trail. I’m fairly certain paving of the trail was from funding approved by the Puget Sound Regional Council as a regional bike trail. It’s important to the PSRC to get as many single-passenger vehicles off the highways as possible, though I expect this trail’s bike commuter traffic to be statistically insignificant. Nevertheless, it seems worthy of funding just for the recreational, habitat protaction, and health benefits.
We saw 27 species in just over 3½ hours while walking about 6K total up and back. Everyone’s favorite birds were a couple of spectacular Red-Breasted Sapsuckers, which everyone seems to have gotten a good look at. We saw one of them at a nice fishing dock on Lake Cassidy. There and later in the day the sapsuckers were very active and unwary, traits I have observed before in Red-Breasted Sapsucker (at Narbeck Preserve in Everett, for example).
In addition to a couple of Garter Snakes, here’s a summary of most of the birds we saw at the mitigation ponds and along the trail: seven Mallards, three Hooded Mergansers, an adult Bald Eagle at Lake Cassidy, six Rock Pigeons at the mall, a Rufus Hummingbird, the two sapsuckers, a Northern (red-shafted) Flicker whose red under-tail feathers we could see, heard a couple of Willow Flycatchers (“Fitzbew!), heard a couple of Steller’s Jays, a crow, three tree swallows, five Barn Swallows, and three Black-Capped Chickadees. There was a family of Chestnut-Backed Chickadees. I was excited to have identified the juvenile Chestnut-Backed Chickadees by their voice before we saw the family.
We also saw just one Bushtit. This could be a sign that they were raising their young because other times of the year they are found in large flocks. For example, by July 20th we counted a flock of 25 at Woodland Park. Assumedly they had finished fledging their young by then.
We heard a Red-Breasted Nuthatch and at least three Swainson’s Thrushes.
We were astonished as we watched a Brown Creeper creeping along the trunk of a massive Bigleaf (Oregon) Maple. As it searched through thick moss on the bark, it caught a big orange butterfly! Continuing taxonomically we tallied two American Robins, and four European Starlings, one of which removed a fecal pellet from its nest cavity in a Black Cottonwood.
There were two Cedar Waxwings, a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, a Spotted Towhee, a Song Sparrow, two White-Crowned Sparrows, and two Dark-Eyed Juncos.
I love to watch other critters eating things. Of three Western Tanagers, an adult male was flycatching (the other two were a female and an immature male) and a female Black-Headed Grosbeak was eating Indian Plums.
Additionally we found a Brown-Headed Cowbird, heard a Purple Finch, and saw three House Sparrows.
June 1, 2013: Wolf Haven
By Terry Nightingale
On Saturday, June 1, fifteen weekend birders made another epic journey south, this time to Wolf Haven near Olympia. Once again the weather gods smiled upon us and granted beautiful blue skies and plenty of sun for our outing.
We started the day with a quick scan of the Wolf Haven parking lot, and we were richly rewarded with the sounds and sights of three Common Ravens. This was no coincidence, as we would later learn from Wolf Haven's Executive Director Diane Gallegos, our gracious host and guide for the day. She taught us that wherever there are wolves, there are ravens. These two species have been co-evolving for thousands of years, with ravens taking advantage of the food made available by wolf kills. Next another corvid—one we did not expect to see—made itself known by its “chuck chuck” calls and its flashy blue and white plumage: a Western Scrub Jay was hanging out on a fence nearby. Also present were Yellow-rumped Warblers, the common Chickadees (Black-capped and Chestnut-backed) and another unusual bird: a Chipping Sparrow! This last one was a lifer for at least one member of our group.
After giving our group a brief introduction to the mission of Wolf Haven and cautioning us to stay with the group and keep our voices down to avoid disturbing the wolves, Diane proceeded to show us around. The wolves are kept in pairs in large enclosures with high fences to keep them safely contained but to give them a companion since they are such social animals. We learned that wolves and wolf-dog hybrids make extraordinarily poor pets, not least because they are genetically different from domestic dogs and can't be trained like domestic dogs can. As a wolf gets to be about 2-3 years of age, it will start acting more like an adult wolf than like a baby wolf. In addition to ripping up furniture, keeping a wolf in your house can be quite dangerous. The wolves at Wolf Haven were rescued from pet-hood, and in some cases neglectful owners. Now they get daily food, mental stimulation, and a companion wolf to live with. Some of the pens include trees under which the wolves have dug deep dens (up to eight feet deep) for shelter. When a storm passes through, they hide out underground until things blow over. In addition to the familiar gray wolves, Wolf Haven also has red wolves, coyotes, and a few individuals of the highly endangered sub-species the Mexican gray wolf.
While we were learning a ton of new information about wolves and wolf behavior, we continued spotting new bird species for the day: a Turkey Vulture, two Bald Eagles, two Red-tailed Hawks, a Rufous Hummingbird, and a Red-breasted Sapsucker who came within a few yards of us and was clearly used to people being around.
After visiting the wolves, we also toured the mounded prairie habitat (like the Mima mounds) behind the pens, where Savannah Sparrows were singing, nesting Tree Swallows zoomed through the air vacuuming up flying insects, and a Western Wood-pewee called from the adjacent forest. In the humble opinion of your correspondent, Wolf Haven is a place well worth a visit.
After thanking Diane and bidding goodbye to some of our birding group, those remaining headed to our next stop, Ken and Bonnie Miller's family tree farm. These are the parents of our own Sue Miller, a regular weekend birder. After a delicious lunch, the Millers gave us a tour of the tree farm, illustrating the benefits of small tree farms as a balance between the needs of agriculture and providing habitat for wildlife. During the tour we found several large ant hills, saw another Red-breasted Sapsucker, and observed many of the usual suspects of the conifer forest: the aforementioned chickadee species, Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Brown Creeper, Black-headed Grosbeak, a Swainson's Thrush, and Dark-eyed Juncos. Overall an educational day with plenty of great birds!