An Amateur Birdwatcher's tally
Of course it was hot in the middle of July, even in Washington state. If he had been human, he would have been sweating like crazy. If he had been human, he would have been wringing his hands as he paced back and forth.
The wife had put him out of the nest. Perhaps he had paced around it for a while, until, like any good spouse, she found him a job. “Honey, make sure that the area is safe and quiet.” She might have hissed. Now that was something he could do!
The nest was surrounded by brush, which was flanked by two footpaths. One was a boardwalk. It was about 5 feet away. He judged it should be okay for folks to use it. The bushes and trees protected his lady while she hatched their babies.
The other path was wide, much closer, and could get busy. He trotted over quite anxiously. A pair of women walked by, chatting. They didn’t even notice his dance of angst. A man with a tripod came along. He was startled by the goose’s actions, and took heed of them. He turned around. The goose was proud of himself. But there was no time to be pleased. More people approached. He stretched as high as he could, shuffled around, and hissed violently.
A middle aged woman limped along. That was me, with my bad knee. I was quite taken back by this angry bird who almost reached my waist. “What are you going on about?” I demanded. He clearly indicated I could not continue down my path. After a few tries I gave up and turned back. Had to go almost 500 steps on my Fitbit to go down the other path. I was most annoyed until I got back to the beginning of the path and read the sign.
The rangers had posted the explanation after I had left on my trek. But I was touched when I read it. A new daddy! Good for him.
I’ve said this before: Canada Geese are among my favorite birds. They are responsible family creatures. This tale, to the best of my knowledge, is true. I love it, since it proves my point!
Nisqually September 2018.
After 8 months of almost routine birdwatching we went to Nisqually Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s less than an hour away from our home but it seems a long distance to full time employees so it’s a special occasion when we go.
Dogs aren’t allowed. Katie and Maggie had to stay home with the cats. So the event did have its downside. Still, we stuck to the plan and headed down to the refuge. Our trip took us through Tacoma but traffic was light early in the morning on a weekend. After passing Fort Lewis we knew we were nearing the park. Our excitement rose.
The entry is bordered by swampy meadows and brush. But the meadows were dry. That didn’t bode well. We parked and I headed for the station to pay our fare of $3 per day. The little water way in front was full of algae. But on the back deck I saw a big bird facing my way, stepping slowly. I didn’t recognize it. But a passerby told me it was a blue heron! After getting more of a side view I realized his assessment was correct. There was also a single mallard. This would be the only duck I would see in a place that is usually well stocked with them. The place to too dry to hold any more. I was sad as I headed for the boardwalk trail.
No deer. Next to no water. The trees and bushes were drying up. In the rapine forest there was no pond or marshy areas. I got a picture of a wren. One single bird picture in almost 2 miles of walking.
The Nisqually river was low and still. No eagles perched high in the trees. No hawks watched from above. There were no woodpeckers. I did hear a kingfisher, though I didn’t see him.
So I went to the outlook, where songbirds often flutter. I saw a sparrow but didn’t get a picture. So I took a photo of the twin barns instead. Often times robins and crows graze in front of the barns. Sometimes an eagle perches on a tall tree nearby. But there was only one quick squirrel, two little garter snakes, and a little creepy crawly that I got a photo of.
After an hour and 15 minutes and a little over 6200 steps on my Fitbit, I reached the parking lot again. As we drove away we saw a second blue heron. Bird wise we did not do very well at Nisqually. But it is a pleasant place I could come back to often. Especially after the rains come. Even without my poor little doggies, who went to the dog park later and had a blast.
Most of the grass is brown and dead. Some of the trees are too. The air quality is terrible, and causing alerts. It rained part of one day and night, but the water evaporated all too quickly. This isn’t what one expects of the emerald city or the evergreen state, even in August. No wonder the birds are not out and about as normal.
But fall is coming. Night comes quicker. Morning starts later. The temperatures did dip a bit. My bird watching has stalled a bit, but they are out there. The news in the birding world is exciting.
For about a month or two no kingfishers have graced the wires and bridges over the rivers. Last week I saw two of them. In my area belted kingfishers are somewhat common. A set of them seem to live at Flaming Geyser Park. "Ack, ack, ack" They call to each other. They whistle as they skim over the waters from snag to snag. I also look for them anytime I go over a bridge with water underneath. I love their punk rock look. I also like being able to identify male from female – males are brighter and females have the red stripe on their stomachs. It’s delightful that they’re back for the fall season.
Last week a pair of mallards floated in the marsh at Flaming Geyser park. This week I saw a flock of Canada geese after almost a month of none. Some of the birds are returning, slowly, in small groups. I hope this smoke goes away soon. It can’t be good for the birds and it’s not good for people, either.
Also, the starlings and swallows gathered in large forces last week. This week we saw very few swallows and no starlings. Their migrations are beginning. Yes, fall is coming. The birds know, even though I can’t tell.
Katie, the Birder’s Dog.
Wriggle, wriggle, wriggle. “We’re going to the park.” Sings Pamela. At least one day a week she does this. When she croons this to me, I always wriggle in delight. Then I tap dance. “We’re going to walk, and talk, and watch birds.” She warbles. Her voice is not the best, but the words sound like music to me. I yip, being a little yippy dog. I yap. I bark and run in circles. Maggie barks and fusses at me for making a fuss. But really, she is excited, too.
We (Maggie and I) dress in our jackets and leashes and load into the car. We dress, we spill out into the driveway. Usually I race over to the side yard to work on my hole to Australia. On this occasion I know I’ll be getting picked up and put into the car. Sometimes the process is delayed while the feeder birds catch the human’s attentions. Scrub jays are regulars. We don’t see too many chickadees in the mid-summer. Or juncos. They must migrate some. Pamela doesn’t put out as much food, and no suet. “It melts” she says in disgust. Soon we pile into the car and settle down. We might get a treat but we’re usually too excited to enjoy it.
Mom won’t lower the windows until we get off the highway. Pamela is the younger sister and the rider, so she defers to Mama. That’s the way it should be. I adore Mama. I love Pamela some, too. But Mama is tops. They ride in the front of the car and Maggie and I ride in the back, fastened in with seatbelts. They give me enough room to lean out the window without falling out. That’s good enough for me. The ride begins.
“Doves. Mourning doves on the wire!” Pamela points. Mom slows Sylvie, the name of our car, to view better. “Yep. Number 2 today.” They make a habit of counting the species they see. I don’t get it, but that’s okay. Humans are incomprehensible.
Finally, we get off the highway. Mom rolls down the windows and Maggie and I each stick out our heads. The wind flutters my ears. I strain to be more out the window, but the safety harness won’t let me dangle completely. Darn thing.
In the front Pamela and Mom are admiring some starlings on a wire. “Oh, look, swallows. That’s a barn swallow. Look at the forked tail!” Pamela says brightly. We are driving at about 15 miles an hour, with Sylvie doing most of the work. When speedsters fly by, Mom shakes her head. “I hope there aren’t any bikers along the way.” She says. Maggie loves to bark at bikers – the spinning wheels delight her. I don’t care too much for them.
The farms are a blur but I recognize some of the dogs because we take this route often. “Woof.” I call out the window. Car’s speed by. “Arf! Slow down!” I say with full power. “Katie. Calm down. The humans can be so annoying sometimes. I don’t want to calm down!
When we reach the park my excitement rockets out of my control. I whine and wriggle pathetically. But the humans slowly proceed past the trees, the bridge, the meadows, more trees, and into the main park. Who cares if there are ducks in the marsh? Not me!
It is Pamela’s turn to come get me and walk me. Mom takes Maggie. They don’t like us to twine up our leashes so we go separate ways. Pamela and I head for the little natural bridge. She likes the ducks. I like the smells and the opportunity to roll. Oh! To roll freely on the grass is like going to heaven. Pamela tries to snap a few pictures as I stretch and sniff. Then I’m ready to go on. “Be still.” She hisses. Like I have to listen to her! She’s not my mama! I keep pulling. “Katie.” She wails. “You messed up the shot!”
A group of four girls parade behind us, laughing and giggling. One admires me. Obviously the most sensible of the group. Pamela sighs and mutters about the noise. The bird flew away. “It was shore bird. Not a duck or a loon. Maybe I can identify it later.” My human says darkly. I throw myself down for another roll in the grass. Some humans believe that parks are for outdoor voices. Seems reasonable to me. Pamela acknowledges this opinion. Personally she likes to be quiet, not to startle the wild animals or invade the quiet beauty of the outside. But her mind realizes that isn’t always the goal of park goers. She really tries to be fair. Right now she doesn’t want to be though.
After a minute I get up. She turns and leads me to the meadows where I like to trot and sniff at the ferns. Her mood is heavy. She missed a bird. What a nutty lady. I have fun meeting up with a corgi named Bella. Maggie rushes up to meet her, too. Mama is badly out of breath. The people talk while we dance around and chat amongst ourselves. Then we separate again.
A robin catches my eye. He is hopping along and I’m sure I could keep up with him if I wasn’t attached to a slowpoke. “Wanna race?” I call. But the robin ignores me. Oh well. Birdbrains aren’t as sophisticated as dog brains. Still, Pamela snaps a shot of the bird. Maybe to make up for the one she didn’t get?
After some random trotting and exploring we get back in the car to head home. The trips are never long enough. But we have fun while we can. Mama and Pamela count 15 bird species, which is pretty good on a hot day like today. Maggie and I get some more window time as they slowly head home. Another birding experience for us all.
Summertime in the Pacific Northwest can be a bummer for bird watching. Most of the songbirds and water birds have migrated. It is hot and dry – next to no swamps or ponds, lots of vegetation for birds to hide in. I saw an eagle land on this adventure – in the mid level of a tree at Flaming Geyser park. Then I couldn’t find it with my binoculars or camera, even with the zoom! I saw the Leucistic Robin again. He was hopping around in a meadow with his mate. I didn't get a good picture because someone kept pulling their leash. Did I say Maggie? It was that pup that prevented my shot! It's hard to be a paparazzi when attached to an animal on the trail of a scent. She didn't think there was much to see yet!
But swallows are there in the summer, and they, with the red winged blackbirds, make the trip worthwhile.
There are five somewhat common swallows here in King County – barn swallows, tree swallows, violet green swallows, bank swallows, and cliff swallows. But wait - this was news to me – the purple martin in in this family! This year I have seen more violet green and bank swallows than in the past. Barn swallows tend to like the farmland – they swoop swiftly over the fields and all you can see is the flash of red on their stomachs and their deeply forked tails. I have yet to get a good picture of a barn swallow! Tree swallows hang out with them, with green and white flashing in the sunlight. Their tails don’t have the deep forks. They also like the water.
It’s not too hard to distinguish the tree swallows from the violet green swallows – there’s more violet coloring and more white in the face. There is no white around the eyes of the tree swallow.
Bank swallows have brown backs and white chins separated by a necklace of brown from white underparts. A group of bank swallows are referred to as a foreclosure of swallows. Wonder if that is because they can destroy a farm crop fairly quickly? Not just bank swallows – all of that family is capable of swooping in on the lovely produce and practically levelling it? I might not like swallows so much if they made me lose my home or my living!
Cliff swallows do not have the white neck so they are easily separated from the bank swallows. But purple martins! I haven’t seen one in a while, but I’ll be looking for them to get a picture now that I have found their family connections!
Swallows may be common at this time of year. But I enjoy watching them – their tiny bodies swooping and diving so fast they’re a challenge to keep up with. They give me a good fix on my birding when so few fowl can be found!
Every time I look at a crow I remember an interesting experience. It was early one Saturday morning. Maggie and I had gone out for a walk, too early for Katie, the late sleeper. Maggie and I trotted down a block and turned the corner. I slowed immediately. We had been watching for a neighbor dog, whom the girls like. But he wasn’t out. Now my eyes were trying to sort out what I was seeing up ahead.
Something black was scooting along the sidewalk. It was too big to be a mouse. Too black to be a rabbit. Too small for a dog or even a cat. Maggie noticed it with excitement. Unfortunately, her interest was predatory. It was moving! We stepped ahead, with Maggie’s leash tight in my hand. Now I could tell the creature was a crow. He was injured. I stopped.
There were a few cats on this block, and some of them were outside, in the distance. I swallowed. It was a crow – some would say just a crow. But it wanted to live! It was looking for safety. Maggie turned reluctantly with me and we raced home.
I had no idea how to find help. Animal control was closed for the weekend. A veterinarian’s office suggested an animal sanctuary. There was one in the phone book. I had never heard of it before. But I called the Puget Sound Wildcare with cautious hope.
“We can’t come get him. But if you bring him to us we will do what we can,” I was told. “Get a towel and toss it lightly over him to pick him up.” This made me nervous. He may already be dead, I thought. But my conscience wouldn’t let it go. I got a towel and walked reluctantly back to the spot.
A cat was on a fence by the sidewalk where Mr. Crow huddled. The bird was alive but not able to fly. I tossed the cover over him and picked him up. “Scat.” I told the cat. The cat would have frowned if he could have. He hopped disappointedly into his yard. I carried the bird to my car, where I had my sister waiting to drive us. We had a cat carrier, which I placed him in, towel and all. He was still alive. We drove quickly to the sanctuary which was only about 15 miles away. We had to carry him to the back door, down an incline. He didn’t protest once.
I paid a contribution for his care - $25 was more than they requested. The receptionist wasn’t a veterinarian but she though he’d hurt his ankle. There was no guarantee he would survive. If they couldn’t repair the leg he would be put down. I could accept that. What crow would want to live if he couldn’t fly? This death would be kinder than in the paws of a cat. I left him in good care.
Now I look for him in every group of crows. Don’t know if I’d know him or not. I never checked back. My heart couldn’t take bad news. But there are a lot of crows out there. Here’s a cute one dancing on a bush outside a fast food restaurant. She got a French fry for her photogenic behavior. This paparazzi tries to be a good lady with her targets.
Babies and daisies in June
Daisies and babies
The daisies are back! It’s a day of rejoicing when I go to Flaming Geysers and the meadows are alive with daisies. Black eyes and yellow eyes are awash in white faces mixed with buttercups. Stunning. The birds seem to like it, too. Trails wander through meadows of flowers, which hide the occupants in some places.
This is the time of year of babies. Calf babies, Canada geese babies, babies all over the place. It’s a fun, exhilarating period of joy and interest.
For baby pictures I will get out of the car, which is pulled over to the side of the road, and cross the street. That is what I did for Canada Geese baby pictures. Not a big adventure, fraught with danger, but I could get hit by a car so I guess I can classify this activity as an interesting activity. It's more than the drive by driving we usually do.
As I stood snapping pictures a truck stopped. The driver was curious about what we were so excited about. He looked and said “They’re very tender, aren’t they? I used to be a hunter. But now I’m vegetarian. That batch might make me want to go get a gun and hunt again.” I hid my chagrin and horror. “We’re bird watchers, not hunters.” Was my only response.
I am not a vegetarian – I was raised a meat and taters girl. But all my meat comes from the grocery store, where I expect the creature that provided it to have been raised kindly and killed quickly. I don’t like hunting. Yet I know some hunters. So I swallowed hard and tried to think polite thoughts about the man who drove off. Those thoughts included strong hope that he didn’t plan to come back with a gun and was truly a vegetarian. Also, the birds vanished down the bend and I didn’t think he could find them again. I hope. Back in the car, Maggie whimpered in concern. But I came back safely.
Then we went on to the park, full of daisies and birds which were protected from hunters. Fishing is allowed, but no hunting. I’m glad.
What did I see, beside Canada Geese? An eagle, a hawk, robins, pigeons, starlings, brewer blackbirds, 3 types of swallows (barn, tree, and violet green), mallards, crows, my scrub jays, sparrows, and juncos. Also, Two baby calves with their mama. Not too bad for a quick drive!
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.
I love birdwatching. It's relaxing and fun. Even though I've been birding for over 10 years I classify myself as an amateur birder. I plan to write a blog a week about my experiences. Hope you enjoy them!