An Amateur Birdwatcher's tally
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!
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 each month about my experiences. Hope you enjoy them!