An Amateur Birdwatcher's tally
Buttercups in the meadows are sure signals of the beginning of summer. Daisies will be next week. We’re in the week of May 13, 2018, driving through Flaming Geyser park again. Katie whimpers in excitement and Maggie stirs and looks at me expectantly from the back seat. She would love to ride in the front with me, but we prefer to keep her safely harnessed in the back seat.
We do not see our white robin. A leucistic robin,it’s called, according to a web site I was pointed to by a fellow birder. The web site is https://www.birdnote.org/show/why-my-robin-half-white and it was perfect timing for my needs last week!
However, a few mallards swam along in the marsh, a blue heron rose majestically from it’s perch in a tree and fluttered away, an eagle soared above us, swallows and red-wing blackbirds and sparrows flitted and chattered. Robins sang in the fields near the river. It was idyllic as usual.
One of the kingfishers showed off happily on a snag in the marsh. So I took some pictures. But the trip this time was short and to the point – Katie ambled along without a single thought of letting me use my camera. Still, the buttercups were cheerful and the robin songs were happy. Short and sweet.
All total, we saw pigeons, robins, tree swallows, kingfishers, blue herons, Canada geese, starlings, red wing blackbirds, brewers blackbirds (they hang out with the starlings in farm country), mallards, wood ducks, sparrows (not specified – we didn’t get that far in the identification pursuit), an eagle, and a hawk. Fifteen birds in about an hour, while walking a dog part of the time!
“What was that?” I cried excitedly. Katie barked. Maggie woofed. Sarah hit the brakes. Luckily we were only going about 8 miles an hour through Flaming Geyser Park. We had just passed the entrance and turned onto the road. Trees blocked the view of the river on one side and a large meadow lay to the right. A bird had flown across the road from the trees to the meadow.
White, the size of a robin, with a flash of red? My mind could not find a name for this creature. What was he? Sarah had her binoculars out. I pulled out the camera and hit the zoom. The bird was in the field to my right. A robin landed near him. Neither bird seemed alarmed by the other. Very curious,.
The red was in the breast. The beak was yellowish. The head was darker, a pale gray. The rest of the bird was white. Another robin joined them as I gathered facts like a detective. Description of the perp: interesting.
We sat idling in the road. No one came along to complain. Katie continued to bark. She wanted to go walk. This was her favorite place. What were we doing? Maggie settled down, bored. She looked up through the window and watched the clouds and birds above.
We had a mystery on our hands. Now the paparazzi is perplexed. My zoom isn’t zooming enough to suit me. I can get the bird, but not as well as I wish. My pictures are not telling me what it is.
Every profession has its questions. For journalist it is who, what, where, when, and why? My bird is definitely a bird, possibly looking for bugs or worms, on a sunny morning, in a field, so the only question I can’t answer is why. But the answers don’t lead to a resolution of my inquiry. “what is that?” So I turn to birding questions.
What size is it? Robin size. What color is it? White and red with some gray. What type of beak does it have? Strong, seed and bug eating type. Any patterns, spots, stripes or other markings? No. I flip through my Sibley’s vaguely. Then I go to the section on robins. None of the pictures show my bird.
After about 5 minutes the bird flies off with the robins, back to the trees. We wait for them to come back, but they don’t. Our mystery remains. Sadly, we move on. Our mystery remains. Who is the unrobin?
The scene unfolding was just too terrifying for me. I threw both of my hands before my face and squeezed my eyes shut. Good thing I wasn’t driving. After one very long moment I reopened my eyes and removed my hands. I breathed raggedly. My knees were weak even sitting down. They were alive, and beautiful as they loped across the field. Two cars passed. I sighed in relief.
As you can tell, our birding experiences tend to be mild and not exciting. But they are different every time. I can tell you now there are three deer who are very lucky to be alive. Later, I’ll tell their tale.
I started in the middle of my birdwatching tales today. Now I’ll go back to the beginning. There were no birds at the feeders today. No gulls on the way through the neighborhood. It was a little spooky. Finally, we spotted a pigeon on a light post. Bird number 1. Then we went birdless for the strip of highway off the exit, onto Green River Road.
Wow. For the first time this year no blue herons were in the Browns project. But then a red winged blackbird on a wire became number two in the day’s count. This was an odd lineup. A few robins took number three spot. Starlings lined up on telephone wires. Canada geese were in a field, with a pair of mallards. The count was rising.
“Kestrel” It was a little bit of an odd spot but the red breast made us sure of the identification. We tried to get pictures without much success. We pulled to the side of the road and I got out. I got a decent picture and suddenly had doubts. When I got in the car my sister looked confused. “It just flew down onto the field to meet that robin. Not to eat him, to meet him.” Our assessment changed. We had misidentified a robin. We drove on in quiet embarrassment for a while.
There was an eagle near the park, but only I saw it. He was a big, handsome guy. Or a very pretty lady. One can’t usually tell with eagles.
Katie and I walked this morning. She enjoys going down the road, but only for the ferns around the turn around circle. Then we went off path, across the meadow, toward the river. A blue heron flew up, perched in a tree. The paparazzi began clicking furiously.
I heard ducks quacking in the quiet section of the river, just around the bend coming from the bridge. But Katie wanted to go the other way, and it was her walk. So we headed in the direction that appealed to her. Robins dotted the field. I got several decent pictures of them. Katie was not amused by this activity.
All too soon it was time to go home. We drove across the bridge a little sadly. The eagle was gone, some cows and sheep were out. Much of the anticipation of bird watching was slowly fading. Then a barn swallow swooped across the road.
The swallows are back! This is a huge prediction of spring. New excitement brightened the whole car. The dogs didn’t know why their people were so, but they liked it. We almost missed the deer. Two deer had crossed the road and stood in a pathway. Then my sister saw another one coming! The first deer of the season. We rejoice, and then panicked.
A car came around the curve in the opposite direction, going at a faster pace than they should have. Another car was just behind them. The last deer hesitated crossing, but the two on our side of the road decided to go back. There was trouble brewing. A collision seemed inevitable. My hands flew up to my face…
When I peeked between my fingers both cars had stopped and the deer, all three, were loping across the field, back to the river. I breathed, realizing that my lungs were empty. The passersby looked oddly at us, two ladies with their dogs who got upset over deer crossing the road. My hands were shaking so badly that I could not raise my camera for a picture.
The remainder of the drive was quiet. A stellar jay showed himself and flew by before I could flip the camera on. Then a small burst of fresh excitement. “Swallows!” Swallows are back. Spring is coming right behind them. My first sighting this year were tree swallows. They made our bird watching an experience of new delight. We headed home with happy visions of warm sunshine and spring birds.
After 2 weeks of not blogging I’m determined to complete an article this week. So I’m completing week 7 before going back to weeks 5 and 6. Well, I’ve never been mathematically inclined.
Week 7, Sunday birding started out chilly, in the 40s. No snow, like previous weeks. Also no fog. It was a gray day, though, with bits of sunshine peeking through the clouds. At my feeder Mr. Scrub Jay snacked sloppily. He goes for the seeds and tosses the filler out for ground feeders. A pair of juncos uneasily shared the space with him. He really isn’t mean – just big enough to take precedence at the feeding stations. He’s also very handsome. A trio of sparrows came along, and a starling but Scrubbers ruled!
We got the dogs loaded up and ready to go. They wore pretty dresses today. Katie's was lacy and a little too big. Maggie’s was a little too small, but still fit.
On our way to Green River Road and Flaming Geyser we saw gulls and crows. Starting our “real” journey we found 3 blue herons! They are solitary birds so this was a cool sight. Traveling down one of our favorite roads in the area, we caught starlings, a kestrel, brewers blackbirds, more gulls, mallards, and robins. Katie hung out the window in excitement, wishing her whole body would dangle outside in the wind that blew her ears about. “No, dear, you can’t do that.” Katie didn’t understand why not. But she’s a good girl.
At the park a stellar jay stayed far away from my camera sights. I’m not a pushy paparazzi so I didn’t manage to get him on film. One day, though… I certainly had fun stalking him in the park, as much as Katie would cooperate with me. She was more interested in grass, posts, anything but the birds hanging out.
We walked along the running water, shaded by tall pines. Meadows were too the right, with picnicking facilities which were empty on an early Sunday. One of my favorite times to go to a public park for birding. The Green River flowed fast this morning. The beaches were small. Robins fluttered about and I heard a single “weider” of the red winged blackbird in the marsh. He wasn’t in sight but I sure heard him.
On the way back we passed 3 blue herons with some ducks. Mergansers and mallards swam in groups around the herons. Pigeons were on one exit light pole, opposite a red tail hawk on the other side. All told, it was a successful day birding.
“Ooh.” The excitement in my voice was clear. I tugged at my seatbelt and almost turned completely in my seat.” Katie was already hanging out the window, but she wasn’t looking at what I saw. My sister was driving and she was definitely distracted. “You need to turn around.” My tone was demanding. “If you don’t turn around you will be sorry.” This was not a threat but a promise. I had seen some wild birds amongst a flock of gulls. But these were different.
They were trumpeter swans. We had seen a pair on Green Valley road the week after Christmas. We didn’t expect to see them again this year. Now we passed a meadow full of gulls and these swans. What a coup in our bird watching adventure! I got a few pictures and we turned back toward Flaming Geyser Park.
We had already seen scrub jay in our yard, gulls, crows, pigeons, 2 blue herons, starlings, and a kestrel. Now we had a rare, at least to us, species. Farm country was pretty on the way to the park. The temperatures were in the 50s and there was no fog. We saw a hawk but only could guess it was a red tail.
At the park a pair of stellar jays played love songs to each other. A red wing black bird sang cheerily. And a flock of varied thrush flew away before I could get their picture. All in all, a good birding day.
The water was running hard and loud, and Maggie lunged happily along in the company of her cousin Sammy dog, who was visiting for the weekend. Take a look at my birding gallery for some pictures of pretty birds…
I didn’t get to go birdwatching this past weekend. But I made up for by parking lot birding over lunch. What, pray tell, is parking lot birding? Just like it sounds, I walked around my job’s parking lot and looked for birds. No dogs joined me since my dogs stay at home on work days. So I gave the hobby my full attention.
Parking lot birding astonishes me. Here is a whole parallel society living with humans, right amongst us. But where we are rushing around, with jobs and classes and all the tasks people set for themselves, birds just exist naturally. Their lives are focused on food, fun, flying, and communing amongst themselves. No worries, man. Birds are amazing.
Of course crows are everywhere in my birding world. They are intelligent and have individual personalities. Some are shy, some are friendly. Some are pleasant, others are raucous. They seem to get along with most other birds. I can’t help but like crows.
One particular crow caught my attention. He walked along a sidewalk with a purpose, then stopped in front of a big black pickup truck. He backed up and scanned the front of the vehicle, then moved around to the driver’s side. He looked that over, too. Then he bowed his head and carefully viewed under the vehicle. It was clear this bird was on a mission. Unfortunately, his prey was not underneath the truck. So he moved on.
Seagulls are big guys trying to fit in with the little folks. They are often useful in opening bags of chips so the crows let them hang out with them. Gulls are gorgeous in flight, or sleeping on top of light poles. There are several families in the northwest, including glaucous, ring billed, and California. In my research for this blog article I found a fabulous website that I plan to use quite often to build my expertise on gulls.
Checkout https:// www.pugetsound.edu/academics/academic-resources/slater-museum/biodiversity-resources/birds/identification-of-pacific-nort/ . I’d love to make up a cool chart like this for songbirds, focusing on sparrows.
Brewers blackbirds are sweet little guys. I love watching them, but they maintain their distance with people despite being amongst us. I found them, along with the gulls and crows, in my parking lot bird experience. Sometimes I hear Killdeer but no luck in this brief half hour. A chickadee sang in a birch tree and junco’s flirted with each other. Pigeons perched on wires over the railroad tracks nearby.
So I saw 7 species in less than 30 minutes, just by eating lunch in my car. It’s great birdwatching in the Northwest. You can see birds almost anywhere.
Sunday again. It had stormed hard in King County, Washington overnight. The weather was in the chilly 50s but some sun peeked out in the morning. We decided to return to Flaming Geyser park for our dog walking and bird watching.
I threw out some old bread before getting the car prepped for the dogs. A few seagulls and a murder of crows came along for breakfast. I love that term – murder of crows. It sounds so serious. But my visitors were cheerful to find food. The seagulls rushed away – maybe they had other plans. While I watched my guests a huge murmuration of starlings flew by. They were murmuring amongst themselves and ignored the suet I had just put out. But two types of sparrows – house sparrows and black throated sparrows appeared at the feeder. One of our scrub jays did, too. It’s odd to think that he is related to the crows but there is no doubting the intelligence and wit in both groups.
With such joyous guests it was a little sad to leave our pretty but messy yard. The windstorm had sprayed trash all over the place. But the birds didn’t care. We loaded up the dogs and headed out. Out near highway 18 we saw a hawk, waiting for his own breakfast. Soon we were on Green River road and Katie could stick her head out the window to get the full effect of the wind in her ears. Maggie laid quietly and looked up out of the window sedately. I don’t think she loves the car like Katie does.
Two blue herons hung out in the Green River. A kestrel swung on a telephone wire looking for a catch. Starlings gathered near barns. Cows dotted some fields. Mallards waded through massive puddles on farmland. We were at the park all too soon. This is Katie’s favorite place to go. How long it takes to get to parking! All of five minutes sometimes!
My turn to walk Katie. We started at the restrooms, which is surrounded by meadows. Katie loves doing off road trotting. I don’t enjoy it as much, with a gimpy knee and a fear of falling. But a person will do lots of things for their dog. We took off across the turf.
A wren pranced on a bush nearby. Bewicks or winter? Hm. I checked my guide. I didn’t see an eyestripe but I’m going with the winter wren. Sometimes all a birder can do it guess.
Then Katie pulled my – I mean her – leash. Time to move on. I heard the cry and looked around for a baby. No humans were in sight. What was wailing? A flash of red on a distant tree clued me in. I steered Katie in that direction. Luckily she thought it was a good place to go.
I started taking pictures from about 40 feet away. Was it a woodpecker? No. It was a red breasted sapsucker. Yea. That isn’t a common bird for me. Katie tugged her leash again. Wasn’t she the focus of this expedition? I snapped her picture.
She sure is cute. We kept going. She didn’t know that I kept photographing. Luckily I didn’t step in any holes or slip on any leaves! Falling is a fear of mine. But I made it. We walked across the street toward the river.
There were robins in the meadow, a welcome sight. I heard a kingfisher but never saw him. Then we headed back to the car to meet up with Maggie and my sister, who is also a bird lover.
Our treks in Flaming Geyser rarely take more than an hour and sometimes less. But we roll out of the park sadly. It’s a fun place to go for dogs and for people. Another short but full birding experience. On the way home we saw a Northern flicker, another blue heron, and pigeons. Only 15 bird species this morning. But we still enjoyed it.
ItA lot of my birdwatching is done by car. Also, I do a lot of birdwatching while dog walking. On weekends I can combine the two past times at a park or rural area..
One of my favorite spots to look for avian and give my girls exercise is Flaming Geyser Park. Lot's of dogs walk there on the weekends so my girls have buddies to meet up with. Meanwhile, I can steal some glimpses for birds.
Of course the fun begins before we leave the driveway. I fill the feeders, put out suet, get the dogs in the car and rest while watching the breakfast queue at the feeder. It was in the 40s and chilly but not freezing in January. Clouds rolled around a bit but not too much at the time.
A family of scrub jays reside in our area and really like our yard. This guy is a bossy one but we like him. He saw us off and we headed for highway 18. We saw crows, seagulls, and sparrows before we got on the highway. A hawk was watching for dinner along the way.
When we took the black diamond exit and travelled down Green River Road the excitement rose. This is farm country. We saw 2 blue herons, a kestrel, two more hawks (red tails), Canada geese, and mallards along the way. I also saw a dove.
At the park I took Maggie and Katie went with her other person. We saw a kingfisher on a snag over the swamp, also red-winged blackbirds and widgeons in the swamp. Over this year I plan to fully explore the park for the purpose of this blog. It's one of my favorite go-to places. We only walked about a mile all total, much of it though the meadow near the swamp. Maggie checked out Facebook pages on poles and boulders and I checked out trees and watched the sky.
On the way home we saw our only robin - an odd circumstance here in King County. It's also notable that we saw no starlings - very rare. But we saw a total of 5 hawks (beside the kestrel) and 5 blue herons. This is a good time of year for them. On Green Valley road some fog rolled in and covered some of the low places.
It was a short list, and fairly common birds this week. But I put together a slide show of a star this week - a good looking red- wing blackbird. Check out the birding gallery as I build it up.
I didn't land in any mud or puddles, didn't trip over any branches, didn't drop my camera in the swamp. It was, all in all a good birding week.
An Introduction to this page
He knows I'm stalking him. It makes him nervous. I try to back off, but this is so important to me! Will he ever show himself?
He sings cheerfully. I see movement here and there. But his cover is concealing him. I'm not even sure the singer is the one I am looking for. I have been waiting for five minutes. It feels like an hour.
The Lazuli Bunting pops up out of the bushes, finally. I lift my camera, point it, and click. Nothing happens. I have waited so long the camera turned itself off. “Drat!” I growl and fiddle to turn it back on. I raise the camera to my eye again. The Bunting is gone.
I am an amateur birder and photographer. Even after several years of birding I still can identify only about ten or fifteen species without a bird book. Over half of my photos reflect blurs. But I am enthusiastic.
I take a lot of pictures. I take multiple pictures to ensure getting a decent one. So I call myself a birding paparazzi, though I don't take advantage of anyone for profit.
My stars are beautiful. There are blue herons, rosy finches, house sparrows and more. I have a long wish list of birds I want to see and photograph, called a life list.
I'm planning on a weekend of excitement, glamor and fun. Okay, so I'm going bird watching. I may slip in some mud, miss my target and come home insect bitten. But I'm going to take my camera and try to find some birds. That spells fun to me, the bird paparazzi.