Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Big Year Ends

When I started writing this blog I had no idea what 2012 would have in store for us. I think it really is good we aren't fortune tellers because we might not be able to face the next day if we knew what was to happen. In the case of 2012 there might have been parts I would have preferred to pass over and not experience. But with bad comes much more good and all in all I look back on so many memories that warm my heart. Rudy and I had so much fun birding. We had always done it as a bit of a sideline but 2012 we jumped in with both feet, spending so much of our "free" time in pursuit of expanding our bird count. Along the way we enjoyed countless hours outdoors-good weather or bad (mainly bad-that REI gear really does work). We explored parts of Washington state we had never been and we'd thought we'd seen most of it. We learned so much about birds and their habitats, manners, likes and dislikes, their many quirks and motions and sounds. I have to say that birding is not for the faint of heart. You are always out in the coldest or hottest weather. Your fingers so cold you can't even spin the focus wheel on your binocs or so hot your glasses keep fogging from the steam/sweat coming from your face. You go on paths, roads, bogs, cliffs, tide flats, sewage ponds, mountainsides, sage lands and anywhere normal humans don't go, just to find one more for the list. The anticipation is the best. It's just like hunting for treasure. Some days the bounty is overflowing and some days you think perhaps the world has ended and you are the last breathing creature left on the planet. One thing though, I don't ever think we had a bad day birding. Maybe we didn't add any to the list but we were always outside, seeing wonderful things and pushing the edge of our personal envelopes. If you can say that at the end of the day, or end of the year, it's all good.

I have often been asked which is my favorite bird or which bird would I most like to see. In retrospect I really have to say the same answer for both. "The next bird I see."

Final count that Rudy and I saw together from January 1 - December 31, 2012 = 179

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012 at home

Just stayed home today. Rudy was spending some time working with the new camera looking out our front window. We had lots of the normal birds like junco, chickadees, northern flickers and he even saw a number of eagles flying around over the house. Then he called me to the window saying I needed to hurry before he flew away. It was a hawk in one of the alders. He took some photos and got the scope on it and it was a sharp-shinned hawk (#179) hanging out up there. Thanks for coming to call Mr. Hawk.

Friday, December 21, 2012 Anniversary

It's our 38th wedding anniversary today. What better way to celebrate than to go birding? First stop was Gog-le-hi-te Wetlands to try to see the slaty-backed gull again. It was cold but and there was broken ice on the trail, but it wasn't raining. We scouted the tops of the buildings and the gulls were nicely lined up but not a dark one in the bunch. We walked over to the pond area and there were some mallards, green-winged teals and some gulls. Still none that looked different. We walked around to the west side so we'd have views of both the pond and the river as there were more gulls in the river. This was actually prime viewing time for finding him as the gulls were down in the water for baths and feedings. They kept landing so we were hoping he might come by. Another couple showed up and just as we were talking the lady noticed our bird on the pond. Definitely darker than the others. Could it be? He kept moving to areas behind the brush that was next to the pond so we'd only get on and off views of him. All pointers were looking good but the final kicker is the lighter eye. We needed to get a good scope view on him to verify. Rudy got him in his sights and confirmed. After keeping an eye on him for a while we all felt confident in saying we had finally seen the rare bird sighting of a slaty-backed gull (#177)!

From the tide flats we tried to go to Brown't Point park but the gate was closed so we couldn't get in. That was a bugger as it's always a good location. We proceeded down the road to Dash point and the pier. There we saw some horned grebes and surf scoters. They were both very cute and we were able to get some nice video of them. There were squid fishermen there and the pier held their Christmas tree and the sun was starting to come out.

surf scoter
horned grebe

We continued down the road to Dash Point State Park but nothing there so we proceeded to Salt Water State Park. This was nostagic as this was where our wedding had taken place 38 years before-to the day. Actually, today the weather was better. It was cold but the sun was starting to break through every now and then. On our wedding day the blizzard of the decade was just arriving and though the snow held off until after the wedding and reception it was still cold and windy. Our wedding was outside on the bluff above the beach so there was no protection from the weather. I hadn't wanted a normal wedding and I certainly go that in fact I believe it was a wedding no one forgot. Enought reflection, what birds would we find. There were gulls and crows all around. In the water were some Barrow's goldeneyes and surf scoters. We moved on to our last stop at the Des Moines marina. We got some nice views of western grebes (#178) from the pier. There were also horned and red -necked grebes, double-crested cormorants and many gulls. By this time I was getting warn out and hungry so we had a nice lunch at Red Robin in Des Moines. It was a nice way to finish birding for the day and our anniversary. 
western grebe

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday, December 15, 2012 Flaming Geyser

Miserable day today, wet and cold, and I don't feel very well. Nice way to spend your day off from work. We had bought a new point and shoot camera that arrived on Friday and we wanted to try it out so I pulled myself together and we took a short trip down to Flaming Geyser State Park to try out  the camera. The weather was so bad we knew there wouldn't be much activity but it's usually good for a few ducks on the ponds. There were a few people down there, a number of kayakers on the river and a few fishermen. Other than that we only saw some park rangers. Not much of a day for a picnic. We pulled up to our regular spot by the pond and I spotted what I thought was a bufflehead but Rudy got his binocs on it and it was a male hooded merganser. He scooted away quickly when he spotted us so I didn't get a good look at him but we had seen a female with babies there earlier in the year so this must be a home for them. We walked over to the elevated trail that travels between two ponds and noticed some mallards lazily floating around in the falling rain. Rudy spotted something else further away. It was a very nondescript bird but as soon as I got my binocs on it I was sure it was an American dipper (#175). The antics of those birds are very hard to miss. They love, love, love the water and this bird was having the time of his life. As if he wouldn't have been getting wet enough in the pouring rain, he was flipping up the water over his back with his wings and then playing around like a kid in a puddle. We got closer and got a much better view to verify our sighting. Rudy tried to take a picture with our new camera but he couldn't get it to focus on the bird. We just have some blurred views. It was raining even harder and only 37 degrees so we called it quits. Driving out of the park we stopped at another spot where we could see the pond from the road. There were some mallards and then we saw 3 more hooded mergansers. They looked young, just the brown color like a female. These may have been the babies we had seen earlier in the year. We tried the camera out again but had the same problem. So, we have some work to do on learning the camera but we did add one more to our list. I had so wanted to see an American dipper this year and so happy it happened.

Saturday, December 1, 2012 Nisqually NWR

One more week under my belt. Feeling stronger and I'm going back to work on Monday so I thought I'd see how well I do with real birding-away from the car and walking about 4 miles. I'd been looking at the posts for Nisqually NWR and saw a few birds we hadn't seen yet so we decided to head there. We woke up and the day didn't look too bad, it was supposed to rain quite a bit, and it was cloudy but not foggy, no rain and not too cold. First thing first, we needed to go into the visitors center to buy Rudy's new senior pass. He plopped down his $10 and now is the proud owner of a lifetime senior pass to all national parks, monuments and refuges. This is the best part of getting older. Only 1 1/2 years for me. Now lets look for birds. Viewing at the pond area produced a bufflehead, pie-billed grebe some mallards and such. We headed out to the west side of the Twin Barns loop and spied a merlin sitting atop a tree. Lots of geese in the fields to the east. It was so windy that they would all face the wind and hover like copters and then gradually lower to the ground and set down. It was quite a sight. There were a few more ducks; mallard, coot and ring necked, in the pond but nothing much else. Down by the barns we started looking for a new bird for our list that had been reported there. Sure enough we saw it right off, a northern shrike (#174). He was beautiful and we got some nice views of him.

Walking further were more mallards, American wigeons, northern pintails, coots and quite a few great blue herons in the fresh water side of the wetlands. There were lots of eagles flying about too. On the salt water side were some gulls and we could see small flocks of shore birds coming and going, probably sandpipers or such. It was quite windy out on the boardwalk but we were dressed for it and no rain yet so we headed out. The tide was just going out and we thought we might get some nice action. We saw what looked like a couple of loons in the estuary but couldn't tell for sure, more gulls and shorebirds. We walked to the end--well almost to the end as the last bit was closed for hunting season. We put the scope up and tried looking for snowy owls. There had been many reports of them out at the end of the reserve but we never saw any. I was looking at a nice flock of American wigeons when I noticed one with a brown head in the midst. The last report I had read said they had seen one Eurasion wigeon in the midst of a lot of American wigeons. I always wondered how anyone could spot one different kind amidst a bunch of other birds but there he was, the lone Eurasion wigeon (#175)!

The weather looked like it was going to turn ugly so we headed back and sure enough it started to rain-big drops. We were prepared so it wasn't too bad, it's just a long walk back in the strong wind and rain. At the dike it let up a bit so we spent the last part of our walk going on the east side of the Twin Barn loop through the woods. We were really hoping for a trifecta with the great-horned owl but no luck. We did see red bellied sapsuckers and some chickadees but no owls. There were a couple of black-tailed deers that were kind of cute. We were out about 5 hours and I was ready for the car by the time we were done but I felt good I had been able to be out that long and we added two new birds. We followed it by dinner at Azteca in Tacoma and headed home.

Saturday, November 24, 2012 Valley Birding

I'm still getting my strength back from my surgery but I wanted to get out a bit so we decided to try some local birding in the Auburn/Kent Valley. We started out spying some wood ducks in the creek that runs right beside Auburn-Black Diamond Road. We drive on this road everyday and have never seen wood ducks out here before. It's crazy how many times we're seeing wood ducks now. I'll never tire-they are so gorgeous. Then we went down to the fields between Hwy 167 and Emerald Downs. We saw quite a few birds of prey like red-tailed hawk and a peregrine falcon along with 2 trumpeter swans flying over. Then plenty of waterfowl like northern pintails, American wigeon, green-winged teals and mallards along with a great blue heron. Also caught sight of a towhee and song sparrow. Our last stop was the Green River Natural Resources Area where we saw some coots, cormorants, wigeons and ring-necked ducks. Also flying around was a northern harrier and a beautiful pair of bald eagles in the power tower and a kestrel in a tree. We didn't see anything new but it was a big day for me to get out after taking it easy for a month.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012 Gog-le-hi-tee

We had to make another run to the doctors in Tacoma again today. This time for Rudy. He had taken the morning off for the early appointment so we thought after seeing the doctor we'd take a quick detour over to gog-le-hi-tee wetlands in the Tacoma tide flats before he dropped me off home and he continued on to work. Why go-le-hi-tee? There's been a rare bird alert there. We get so few in Washington that we can't pass up trying to see one so close to us. We keep reading about a lone slaty-backed seagull being seen in the area, hanging around with other seagulls. We'd stopped by before but couldn't get a definite ID as we didn't have the scope. We came prepared today with scope and binocs. We started looking right off as he'd been seen on the top of some of the warehouses. There were seagulls there alright. The slaty-backed is supposed to be a bit darker, pink legs a yellow eye. Well there were plenty of pink-legs gulls but we never did see any with a yellow eye so for now no rare bird. But I did get a good ID on a thayer's gull (#173). Maybe not a rare bird but one more for the list.