Weekend Birdwalk to Woodland Park Zoo
By Jonathan Blubaugh
On March 25th we made a return trip to Woodland Park Zoo for a Weekend Birdwalk. We had nine participants despite a dismal forecast. A handful of people cancelled at the last minute on Meetup. One said the cancellation was due to a floating bridge being closed. In the end the weather cooperated, at least by our standards.
While the Meetup internet application overall is bringing in more people, it is not perfect. First time guests use it very cautiously. They are going to err on the side of caution on the possibility that we are Craig’s List killers. A significant percentage of first time guests would rather miss finding the group at the venue rather than disclose their phone number. And they won’t call me either. My phone number is widely publicized here and on Meetup. People know that we have caller ID on our cell phones. We would have had a tenth participant if another guest had not been afraid to call me upon arrival at the park. I hope she enjoyed the zoo.
I got what I wanted. I wanted to see my friends. I wanted to go outdoors. And I didn’t want to get rained on. As I am writing this, it is still a very long, wet, cold, and gloomy season. At least we got a brief enough reprieve from the storms to enjoy a nice day at the zoo.
Here’s what I noticed. Last year I took two trips to San Diego, most recently to attend the Holiday Bowl with my elderly mother. We had a great time and visited the two major zoos in San Diego. Woodland Park is obviously not as big as the two in San Diego. Nevertheless, Woodland Park is a very nice zoo. The big difference to me is the flowers. San Diego is in a much milder climate. We were there in November and December. San Diego residents have planted TONS of colorful flowers that bloom year-round. TONS of tropical trees thrive in the San Diego zoos. Woodland Park is green year-round. It has TONS of tropical trees cast or sculpted from concrete.
A highlight for many of us was feeding time for a family of Asian otters. We were swooning over the adorable kits. On our previous visit a Russian Steller’s Sea Eagle took the world’s biggest bird bath in his stream in his enclosure. Now it appears he is about to become a father. He and his mate have constructed a huge nest. We could see her sitting on the nest. The docent told us she appeared to have laid an egg, but nobody had seen it yet. Very nearby a pair of wild Bald Eagles were also busily working on their nest. The docent told us that last year while the Steller’s Sea Eagles were raising their chicks, the Bald Eagle would perch nearby outside the enclosure and scream at them. It was amazing to see two eagle nests in close proximity with overlapping territories. The Sea Eagles have no choice.
Here’s a list of most of the wild birds we saw: fifteen American Wigeons, seven Mallards (one drake swimming in the Polar Bear enclosure behind the glass wondering why the people wouldn’t feed him), a Cooper’s Hawk, the two Bald Eagles, three cross-breed “Olympic” gulls, four feral pigeons, an Anna’s Hummingbird, a Northern (red-shafted) Flicker, 39 crows, two Black-Capped Chickadees, two Red-Breasted Nuthatches, two Bewick’s Wrens, a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, an American Robin, a male House Finch, five American Goldfinches, and three House Sparrows. We also heard the following: a Chestnut-Backed Chickadee, a Bushtit, a Pacific Wren, & a Cedar Waxwing.
Finally, I want to mention a special thanks to members of our core birdwatching and Birdathon group, Team Counting Crows. Recently all have volunteered to step into import leadership positions. We cannot underestimate the value your experience and activism will bring to Pilchuck Audubon Society and our shared vision. Thank you.
Lynndale Park Birdwatchers
July 24, 2016: Lynndale Park
By Terry Nightingale
On Sunday, July 24, we held a family picnic and bird walk at Lynndale park in suburban Lynnwood. A total of eighteen birders came out, having a median age of eleven years old! After enjoying a lovely picnic in a shady spot near the softball fields, we set off to explore the park. While perhaps best known for the sports fields, this park also includes several picnic areas, a small amphitheater, and extensive trails through the wooded areas of the park.
Our first stop was the interpretive display at the edge of the forest. There are small plaques that describe the native tree and plant species found in the park. The youngsters in our group learned about Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and our state tree, Western Hemlock. Moving on through the interpretive area, my co-trip-leader Jonathan Blubaugh helped them learn to recognize shrubs like Oregon Grape, Mountain Ash, and Kinnikinnick, also known as Bearberry.
Next we started following the main trail through the woods, while stopping to hear the forest birds: Golden-crowned Kinglet, Black-capped Chickadee, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, and Red-breasted Nuthatch. This last bird some of the kids had fun imitating: honk honk! Also along the trail, one keen observer found a bird nest hidden in the blackberry brambles. Not being all that great at identifying nests, we made a rough guess that it would most likely be a Song Sparrow or American Robin nest.
Toward the end of our trail walk, we experienced what was definitely the highlight of the day: we heard sharp knocking sounds, and found that a Pileated Woodpecker was pecking at a tree only 30-40 feet away from us! All of the adults and most of the kids in our group got nice, long looks at this colorful forest resident. Jonathan and I explained how they can knock their heads into the tree and not get a headache—they have a specially adapted skull just for this purpose!
Altogether we had a fun and productive outing! I highly recommend this local park tucked into a residential neighborhood of Lynnwood. After only a five-minute hike, I got the refreshing feeling I was deep in the forest, far from city life. For children and teens, there is also an orienteering course where they can practice their skills with a map and compass—helpful skills if they ever find themselves out in the wild with no cell phone coverage!
June 4, 2016: Guillemot Cove Nature Preserve
By Jonathan Blubaugh
A while back one of our members asked if I knew where Seabeck is. I said, well sure, we've done a bird walk there before. It turns out Audubon had published a photo of a Bald Eagle swooping dramatically over a Great Blue Heron near Seabeck. Naturally, people wanted to know where that was, but we didn't know the exact location where the picture was shot. So, since we take requests, we took a bird walk to Seabeck's Kitsap County Guillemot Cove Nature Preserve June 4th.
We are now posting announcements for Weekend Bird Walks on the Meetup website. This announcement brought in couple of new people. Some asked if they could meet us there. I said, why not? The problem was we couldn't predict whether we would be able to catch a specific ferry. So one of the participants went ahead of us on a different ferry. He told me he got some terrific photos, and he went on home before we even got there! Another lady wanted to meet us at Seabeck, but the only means to contact her was on the Meetup app. So when we arrived in Seabeck, I posted a note on Meetup that we had arrived, but we missed her too. I also received a very helpful suggestion: for people coming from different directions it might be most useful to meet at the ferry terminal prior to sailing rather than trying to meet at separate locations. I'll have to remember that. In the end we had eight in our group plus the two others.
Onboard the ferry we got a good little checklist. The best sightings might have been a couple of Rhinoceros Auklets with their breeding "plumage" horn ornaments on their upper bills.
The guest who went ahead called to advise me that there were lots of photographers and bird watchers at a bridge over a river on the way to Seabeck. He told us that was where he got his good photos. I said, "OK we'll keep an eye out." As were we were driving from the Kingston Ferry Terminal to Seabeck we crossed a bridge where a steam was flowing into Hood Canal. It had tons of cars stopped on both sides of the road.
I realized, "This is it. We need to turn the car around." So we found a good place to make a u-turn and sure enough—it was the site of the famous heron and eagle photo. Not much of secret: we were the last ones to know. Turns out it's already an eBird hotspot: Big Beef Harbor. The reason so many people were there was because the tide was extra low bringing in predatory herons and eagles to fish. Residents at the mouth of the stream hung up a series of gourds, and appreciative Purple Martins were nesting in them. We could hear the babies cheeping as their parents kept up a bucket brigade of fresh bugs for them. Photographer Joanne Iskierka in our group got some great shots as well. I attached her precious photos of the martins and a swallow to the eBird reports.
Female Purple Martin by Joanne Iskierka
Barn Swallow in flight by Joanne Iskierka
By that time we had gotten hungry so we stopped in the village of Seabeck for pizza. On the pier there the Martins' gourds had been set out so close to the railing that we could see the lovely purple plumage without our binos and clearly hear the mellow calls. Thank God, we'd be up to our eyeballs in mosquitoes otherwise. Joanne shot the amazing photo of the rainbow miles above in the cirrus.
Rainbow in cirrus cloud by Joanne Iskierka
After lunch we found our way to the Preserve. The trail has been moved to accommodate industrious beavers who had dammed the creek. So we didn't need to tiptoe through the marsh this time. The view of the Olympics did not disappoint and we had the park practically to ourselves. We detected over thirty species-many only by ear. We were surprised that the only seabirds we saw were some gulls way out over the water. We heard lots of migratory warblers and others by they kept to cover. We were also surprised that we missed a turn on the hike back out. We had to backtrack a ways, but it just gave more time to bird watch.
Here's a list of most of the birds we saw or heard: 31 Canada Geese, three Surf Scoters, a Pelagic Cormorant, ten Great Blue Herons, three Turkey Vultures, eleven Bald Eagles, heard a couple of Killdeer, seven Pigeon Guillemots, three Rhinoceros Auklets, 55 Glaucous-winged Gulls, three Feral Pigeons, a Band-Tailed Pigeon, a Red-Breasted Sapsucker, an Olive-Sided Flycatcher (I missed), heard a Pacific Slope Flycatcher, heard a Warbling Vireo, 28 American Crows, a Common Raven, four Northern Rough-Winged Swallows, a Tree Swallow, a Violet-Green Swallow, 37 Purple Martins, six Barn Swallows, heard a Chestnut-Backed Chickadee, heard a Brown Creeper, heard a Pacific Wren, heard a Bewick's Wren, heard a Swainson's Thrush, an American Robin, a Varied Thrush (I missed), a European Starling, three Cedar Waxwings, heard a couple of Common Yellowthroats, heard a Wilson's Warbler, heard a Yellow Warbler, heard a Yellow-rumped Warbler, heard a Black-throated Gray Warbler, heard a couple of Song Sparrows, two White-Crowned Sparrows, three Dark-Eyed Juncos, heard a Spotted Towhee, heard a Western Tanager, heard a Black-Headed Grosbeak, six Red-Winged Blackbirds, heard a couple of Red Crossbills, heard a Purple Finch, & an Evening Grosbeak (I missed).
Spring 2016: Meadowdale Park, Everett Forest Park, and Edmonds Demonstration Garden
By Terry Nightingale
It has been a while since my last report, so I will be covering the highlights of three recent field trips. Please check out our upcoming weekend field trip schedule. We would love to have you join us in the field!
On Sunday, March 20, we had another amazing turnout (especially considering the pouring rain!) of twenty-two birders for a family picnic and birding event in the Meadowdale area of Lynnwood. We started with a picnic at Meadowdale Fields Park. Despite the driving rain, our intrepid participants set up a tarp over a picnic table, donned ponchos, and made the best of things. Next we traveled a short distance to Meadowdale Beach Park and commenced our bird walk. Meadowdale Beach is a beautiful park adjacent to Puget Sound, with a variety of habitats including temperate forest, picnic lawns, and of course the beach itself. Unfortunately the beach access is closed for the foreseeable future while the pedestrian tunnel under the railroad is repaired. The current estimate is sometime in 2017 for access to be restored. Another aspect of Meadowdale that we took as a learning experience is that the forest trail is quite steep in places, and not ideal for young children, especially in strollers. Still, we managed to have a successful walk and observe some interesting birds, including: a Red-tailed Hawk perched in a cedar tree, Pacific Wrens singing their rapid, bubbly songs, Golden-crowned Kinglets foraging and calling to each other above our heads, and the distant, unmistakable call of the Pileated Woodpecker.
Sunday birders at Forest Park in Everett.
Our next family birding event took place at Forest Park in Everett on Sunday, April 17. Once again Rosamaría Graziani, our ambassador to the Latino community of Snohomish County, came through with more than twenty participants. This time the weather was absolutely beautiful, and after a satisfying picnic meal, we wandered along one of Forest Park's wooded trails. Here we found similar birds to those at Meadowdale, including the Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Song Sparrow, and Northern Flicker. Jonathan also taught the group about the conifer trees and the native shrubs we encountered. Though the birds may be less active in the afternoon, the benefit of holding these family outings is undeniable—an entirely new group of interested participants can be out in nature, learning about and enjoying its splendor.
Finally, on Saturday, April 23, a group of six unflappable birders braved the morning downpour and convened in Edmonds to experience its birding highlights, rain or shine. Though we may have been unlucky with the morning's weather, we had the good fortune that Paula, a local expert and resident of Edmonds, joined our trip and was kind enough to give us the "insider tour." Our first stop was the Edmonds Demonstration Garden, a beautiful patch of native plantings that serves as an example of how backyards can be cared for so as to attract birds. We observed many bird species taking advantage of this habitat, including: Steller's Jays, Song Sparrows, Bewick's Wrens, Black-capped Chickadees and Chestnut-backed Chickadees. The highlight has to be the Black-throated Gray Warbler we heard singing from the conifer trees above us. We decided next to walk through the adjacent neighborhood, and were richly rewarded with a close view of nesting Red-winged Blackbirds, and a Gadwall pair, including the hen sitting on eggs. The highlight here was a rare glimpse of a Virginia Rail, who snuck quickly across the footpath.
By now the rain had stopped and we actually observed sunshine! We made a quick stop at the nearby Edmonds Marsh, where Green-winged Teal were foraging in abundance, and we saw our first shorebirds of the day: a Killdeer and three Western Sandpipers. After a delicious lunch at the local wood-fired pizza restaurant, we wandered the Edmonds waterfront, finding Rhinoceros Auklets in breeding plumage (spectacular!), Harlequin Ducks, and a large flock of Brant geese.
In large part thanks to Paula sharing her knowledge of where to find the birds and where to find a good lunch, our group had an excellent time.
April 9, 2016: North Kitsap Heritage Park
By Jonathan Blubaugh
On April 9th we had a weekend bird walk to North Kitsap Heritage Park. I just picked it out because it shows up as a green spot on the map. Looking it up on Kitsap County's website showed a short loop trail, which is really what I'm looking for to lead weekend bird walks.
We had five people for the trip. We met at Everett Mall and carpooled to the Edmonds Ferry. The biggest surprise of the day for me was at our meeting point at the Everett Mall mitigation ponds. There was a Western Meadowlark at the south edge of the parking lot beside the pond.
One participant asked, "What does the term mitigation pond mean?" I am not an expert on the topic by any means, but I explained my understanding is that any new development that involves paving or new construction has to take into account storm water runoff. The mitigation ponds are intended to let street or building-related contaminants settle before they can enter the surface streams. Maybe I should call them settling ponds. Interestingly, one of the ponds at the mall now has a newly installed zip line hanging from towers at the ends of the pond to thrill shoppers and movie goers. These little settling ponds at the mall attract not only zip line enthusiasts, but also numerous birds, especially Bufflehead and Ring-Neck Ducks in winter and breeding Mallards and Canada Geese in spring.
At the ferry terminal our group got split up. Our new friend, Scott, had "carpooled" on his motorcycle. When we pulled into the ferry parking lot he was able to cruise right on by, boarded the ferry and, unbeknownst to us, sailed away. We were stuck with all the four-wheelers waiting for the next boat. When we finally boarded, I found no trace of Scott or his cycle. I wasn't too worried. After arriving in Kingston we pulled off the road to do a little birding at a lovely cove just south of Kingston. On my smart phone I found an eMail from Scott. He was already at Heritage Park waiting patiently for us. So we jumped back in and caught up with him there. We used the brief stop at the cove, Arness Park, to introduce new PAS Treasurer Judy Hall to the joys and frustrations of citizen science on the eBird smart phone application. It took me a while to get the hang of it myself, but in the long run I have found it to be the best method for getting a good record of what we saw.
The loop trail at North Kitsap Heritage Park was about three miles though woodland with a little elevation gain. We took it slowly, stopping occasionally to listen for the birds and admire the blooming berry bushes. We found seventeen species on the trail and about 35 total including the birds we saw from the ferry rides.
As usual we stopped for lunch on the way back, finding a small café on the Kingston waterfront specializing in gourmet crepes.
All our sightings were uploaded to eBird. Here's a list of most of the birds we saw for the day: a couple of Canada Geese, a Mallard, a Surf Scoter, four Bufflehead, a couple of Red-Necked Grebes, three Pelagic Cormorants, a couple of Pigeon Guillemots, a couple of Great Blue Herons, a couple of adult Bald Eagles, fifty Glaucous-Winged Gulls, heard a Northern Flicker, a raucous Steller's Jay, nine Crows, eight Tree Swallows, a Violet-Green Swallow, three Black-Capped Chickadees, a couple of Chestnut-Backed Chickadees, heard a Pacific Wren, heard a Golden-Crowned Kinglet, heard a Swainson's Thrush (unchallenged by the screeners), a couple of American Robins, a couple of European Starlings, a couple of Orange-Crowned Warblers, a Common Yellowthroat, a couple of Yellow-Rumped Warblers, a Savanah Sparrow, heard a couple of Song Sparrows, three White-Crowned Sparrows, heard a Dark-Eyed Junco, a Spotted Towhee, the Meadowlark, heard a Red-Winged Blackbird, and heard a Purple Finch (matched the playback).
February 27, 2016: Port Susan Snow Goose & Birding Festival, The Nature Conservancy Port Susan Preserve Birdwalk
Trip Report, Analysis, and Commentary by Jonathan Blubaugh
The views expressed in this article are mine alone. By way of disclosure I am a member of the Pilchuck Audubon Society and am given to volunteering to lead bird walks for them.
After having been on a year's sabbatical from leading bird walks due to my unpredictable weekend schedule at Boeing, I have decided to come back. So I decided to join Pilchuck Trip Leader, Virginia Clark, on an outing for the Snow Goose and Birding Festival. I believe it was at least the sixth time I have led this outing. It has given me a bit of a historical perspective.
First, we must thank the Nature Conservancy for allowing visitors to their Port Susan Preserve. It is private property and year after year they have thrown open the doors for us. The secret is out. I counted thirty people at the Preserve with us.
As we approached the Preserve near the end of Boe Road we encountered a traffic jam. Seemed a bit unusual on such a bucolic country road. The reason was obvious. Thousands of snow geese had waddled up to the edge of the road, grazing. We stopped the car, mesmerized by the sight and sound of the huge flock-and so very close. There were about half a dozen vehicles and the bus had not even arrived yet. It got us off to a great start. We saw over thirty species including an estimated 10,000 Snow Geese, three spectacular “blue geese,” ninety Trumpeter Swans, five Tundra Swans overflew and were identified by Virginia by voice, three Gadwalls, ten American Widgeons, ten Mallards, nine Northern Pintails, ten Green-Winged Teal, four Great Blue Herons, a Northern Harrier, four Bald Eagles, heard a Red-Tailed Hawk, a Rough-Legged Hawk, heard a Virginia Rail respond to Virginia’s recording, a Killdeer, a Greater Yellowlegs, about 5000 Dunlin engaged in “Over Ocean Flocking” during high tide, five Glaucous-Winged Gulls, a couple of Short-Eared Owls, an American Kestrel, a Peregrine Falcon, a Northern Shrike, seven Tree Swallows, heard a couple of Marsh Wrens, a couple of Golden-Crowned Sparrows, heard a Savannah Sparrow, a couple of Song Sparrows, heard a Lincoln’s Sparrow, six Red-Winged Blackbirds, a couple of Brewer's Blackbirds, and two Harbor Seals.
What a lot a changes we have seen! In the last ten years, momentous changes have taken place at the Nature Conservancy's Port Susan Preserve. As early as the winter of 2008-2009, storms had damaged, if not breached, the former perimeter levy. Flooding had knocked out the de-watering pumps. Afterwards we could only walk partway around the site, whilst before it was possible to walk the levy all the way around a three mile loop. Later the Conservancy built a sturdy inner dike and new flood gates. Most recently, the Conservancy has had a major portion of the old, damaged outer levy removed. The former farmland is no more. But the site is still in transition. It currently seems to me to retain some qualities of an impoundment varying with the tide and, possibly, intermittent high discharge from the southern distributary of the Stillaguamish River known as Hat Slough.
During the research for this article I realized that a couple of my hypotheses about areas where these levies have been removed are disproven. I thought it was possible that the area protected by the former levies was used by shorebirds more so than after the breaches. My own data from a handful of outings to the Port Susan Preserve prior to the breaching of the levy fails to support my hypothesis because on those outings very few shorebirds were recorded. At several other sites where the levies came down, especially Nisqually, freshwater vegetation from grass to bushes to huge cottonwoods has quickly died off. My other disproven hypothesis was that saltwater marsh vegetation might become established where the freshwater plants had thrived. In fact, the land is reverting to unvegetated tidal flats.
Up and down Puget Sound levies have been removed with the stated goal of helping salmon. Snohomish and Skagit Counties are at the heart of this huge experiment with removal of levies in the Snohomish, Skagit, and Stillaguamish estuaries completed, underway, or planned. Upcoming is the partial removal of the levies around the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Leque Island site. PAS volunteers have been asked to help enumerate the birdlife on the island prior to levy removal to compare to bird populations that may use the site afterwards.
Federal funding of near-shore salmon restoration efforts is provided through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This federal grant money is administered by state agencies. The WDFW created the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program to do so. It works with a host of state agencies including the Department of Natural Resources, the Puget Sound Partnership, and the Recreation and Conservation Office. State and local funds for levy removal are used to leverage FEDERAL SALMON RECOVERY funds.
The Nature Conservancy and the state appear to be working to benefit salmon by engineering the safe removal of the obsolete levy whilst protecting neighboring property with their new inner levy and flood gate.
Unfortunately, the same federal agencies that provide the funding for removal of levies and estuary restoration to protect salmon in the Salish Sea are slaughtering thousands, if not tens of thousands, of native Caspian Terns and Double-Crested Cormorants in the Columbia estuary. They claim native bird predation on the salmon is threatening their survival, ignoring their own scientists who refute it. The problem is not native birds. It is dams, levies, inadequate fish ladders and overfishing. I don't care if we're talking about recreational, Indian, or commercial fishing. The answer to helping endangered salmon is to reduce fishing, and remove dams and levies, not annihilate native birds. the Audubon Society of Portland is fighting them tooth and nail in the courts. So far the feds have overwhelmed the Audubon Society in court. Another court confrontation is scheduled this month.
Thus, I recommend that the Pilchuck Audubon Society and Audubon Washington join the Audubon Society of Portland in their legal struggle against the slaughter of native Washington and Oregon birds by the federal government in the Columbia River estuary.
February 13, 2016: Everett Marina and Kruckeberg Botanic Gardens
By Terry Nightingale
On Saturday, February 13, we had an amazing turnout of eighteen birders in support of the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). For anyone who is not familiar, this is an annual citizen science project aimed at counting birds in your back yard, or anywhere else you would like. It's very easy (and free) to sign up, and you don't need to be an expert to participate.
Photo by Donna Dewhurst, USFWS
Our first stop was at the Marine Park in Everett. This is the "mainland" park where, in the summer months, you can catch the ferry to Jetty Island. We set up our scopes and started scanning the water for birds. Some of the usual suspects were there, like a handful of Mallards and American Wigeon, along with eight Double-crested Cormorants, who we knew like to go fishing in this area. Hauled out on the wooden dock was a harbor seal, one of the 250,000 of these seals who live in Puget Sound. Nearby in the calm waters created by the jetty, a pair of Barrow's Goldeneye ducks swam so close, we could see the "swoosh" on the male's face without binoculars. Looking over toward Jetty Island, we spotted a group of Common Mergansers feeding near the shore, and three adult Bald Eagles perched in the trees on the island. They were soon joined by another adult and another eagle of full size but sporting the mottled brown plumage of an immature (teenager?) eagle who has not gained his white head and tail just yet. A survey of the parking lot on the mainland side turned up a large flock of gulls, including a few Mew Gulls and a large group of the more-common and bigger Glaucous-winged Gulls.
Immature Bald Eagle
Photo by Bill Buchanan, USFWS
Next we carpooled down to the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden in Shoreline. Our original plan had been to visit Everett's botanical garden at American Legion Park, but it is closed for soil clean-up. Kruckeberg is owned by the Shoreline parks department, and was founded in 1958 by Dr. Arthur Kruckeberg and his wife Mareen. The park represents the results of their 50-year plant collecting endeavors, and is managed by a non-profit foundation supported by donations and sales of outdoor plants available on the grounds of the garden. While the park is not large (4 acres in total), we found an abundance of birds taking advantage of its habitat. Most conspicuous were the flock of American Crows, who at one point were mobbing a Sharp-shinned Hawk near the tops of the trees that shelter the garden. If this hawk managed a meal this day, we did not see it, thanks to the harassment of the crows. Also nearby were a Spotted Towhee calling at us from a bush just off the path, and an Anna's Hummingbird who we could only guess must be over-wintering in the area.
Most significantly, we encountered what my co-trip-leader Jonathan calls a "chick-let" flock. This is a mixed-species flock of small birds who feed primarily by way of gleaning small grubs from the leaves of trees. Because there is safety in numbers, and this flock had reason to be wary with a Sharp-shinned Hawk nearby, they flock together in winter to forage as a group. This flock included a Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, and a Song Sparrow. Not to be outdone, the wrens were also well represented.
Photo by Mark Musselman,
National Audubon Society, USFWS
We heard the singing of a Pacific Wren (formerly known as the Winter Wren), and the scratchy scolding call of a Bewick's Wren. We stayed extra long to get good views of this last bird, not least because one of our participants who was from out of town had never seen one before. Luckily we managed to get her a good look at the bird before it flew for cover out of sight.
Feeling quite fortunate that the forecasted rain had not yet dumped down upon our group, several of us celebrated over lunch at the Pancake Haus in Edmonds. Only after lunch did the rains begin!
October 18, 2015: Scriber Lake Park
By Terry Nightingale
On October 18, I led a bird walk in Scriber Lake Park with Rosamaria Graziani and the students of her non-profit English school, who are of various ages and come from Snohomish County’s Hispanic community. Rosamaria acted as interpreter, translating the student’s questions and my answers. They were very curious, sometimes asking questions beyond my ability to answer, such as, “What type of bushes are these next to the trail?” We had a close encounter with a Spotted Towhee eating berries, got to hear the song of the Pacific wren, and watched a mixed flock of kinglets, bushtits, and chickadees pass by us foraging for small insects and grubs. The participants’ response was overwhelmingly positive and as a follow-up I am working on ideas for a winter waterfowl outing after the holidays.
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!