Plan A had been to go to Victoria B.C. and get two new ABA photos and maybe improve two others. The two new photos would be of the Pink Footed Goose that had been seen there regularly for several weeks and of an Eurasian Skylark – a bird now found only near Victoria in the ABA area. The possible improvements would be of the Redwing that somehow had magically returned to the same holly bush where I had seen it last year and gotten a very poor photo and of the Purple Sandpiper which was still at Kitty Islet where I had seen and photographed it (poorly) earlier this year. My only record of the Pink Footed Goose was from Massachusetts last Thanksgiving where photo conditions were poor and my only records of the Eurasian Skylark were from Victoria in 1973 and on San Juan Island in 1976. I was not taking photographs in those days and the Eurasian Skylark is now extirpated on San Juan Island. Just before heading north to execute the plan, the Pink Footed Goose disappeared and I decided not to make the expensive trip for just the one new photo.
On to Plan B which was a three day trip to the Okanogan. Field trips with the Audubon Society and the Washington Ornithological Society were full, so I planned to go it alone the following week pending their reports. Their reports were good – for raptors – but completely devoid of the northern finches for which the Okanogan is a favorite place for birders. If the reported Snowy Owl, Great Gray Owl and Gyrfalcon were even probable, I may still have gone; but it is a long trip, and the chances were not great to refind even two of the three birds, so no go on that plan either. The trip to the Okanogan was not really for specific sightings anyhow. I just wanted to get in some birding. I had other personal matters to attend to anyhow, so I went with Plan C: revisit some local spots where some appealing birds were being seen and which I had not visited in a while. Hopefully get some photos and just enjoy the moments. Plan C was for “Quickies” – short trips here and there – save the wear and tear and expense of the longer trips and move some of those personal things off the plate as well.
The first sojourn was to Boe and Thomle Roads where a juvenile Golden Eagle was being reported. There are dozens of Bald Eagles in the area but a Golden Eagle is fairly rare. I had photos of Golden Eagles in Washington but not great ones and none showing the white wing and tail patches, so that photo was the allure. When I got to the spot where the Golden had first been reported I was welcomed by a Short Eared Owl, but no eagles were in sight. One can never complain about any owl, especially one posing to have its picture taken. When the perched owl was attacked by a Northern Harrier, I just barely got a photo – not technically very good but a fun shot. And if no Golden Eagle was found, this encounter would have made the trip worthwhile.
Short Eared Owl Buzzed by a Northern Harrier
After a lot more searching I saw the Golden Eagle fly onto a distant power pole where near a very large flock of Snow Geese and also very close to some Bald Eagles. The resulting photo was taken from great distance but does show the wing windowpanes.
Golden Eagle with Bald Eagle in the Background
Snow Geese Flock
I later learned that a Prairie Falcon had been seen in the area – but that was not on my list for the day – but no complaints – a very nice “quickie”.
A couple of days later, knowing I was going to be in Bellevue for a personal matter, I decided to stop by Marymoor Park to see if I could find the Horned Lark that had been reported there. Had I gone to the Okanogan, I probably would have seen thousands of Horned Larks in the fields in the Waterville Plateau, trying to find a Snow Bunting or Lapland Longspur among them. And I had already seen some in Washington on the way back from my Red Flanked Bluetail chase. But I had never seen one in King County. I was the only one there when I arrived at the designated area and was confronted by a very large grassy field next to a very large closed gravel parking area. A first scan revealed nothing on the field, but that is often the case with larks as they are most easily seen as they fly from one spot to another – identifying a location where you can then focus in and see them better. OR – they can often be seen “graveling” on the roads between the fields. With that in mind, before walking the entire field, I focused attention on the gravel parking area and sure enough the tiny bump I saw proved to be the Horned Lark. The sun was perfect and the photos were pretty nice.
Horned Lark at Marymoor Park
As a side note, ground birds apparently often use gravel – or grit – to help them digest the whole seeds they eat. The gravel helps them grind the seeds to better get to the nutrients. Is this using a tool? There are other examples of similar usage of foreign objects – sticks to poke and rocks dropped on clams to break the shells. Maybe that will be a future blog post. Tool or not, the Horned Lark on the gravel was another good “quickie”.
The next “quickie” was even quicker. Joe Sweeney does a weekly (daily) vigil at Richmond Beach Park and shares his observations with the community on Tweeters and Ebird. He had reported a Townsend’s Solitaire – a species common in the right habitat area east of the Cascades but quite rare west of the mountains. I had seen one at the Union Bay Natural Area some years ago, but a lovely, if subtle bird and definitely worth a “quick” trip especially since it would give me a chance to revisit a spot that was not that well known to me. I was coming back to Edmonds from another personal matter this time in Seattle and stopped by Richmond Beach in the late afternoon. I called Joe who provided some good insights on places to look and was directed to the “caretaker’s” house. There was only one house there, not designated as having any formal relation to the park, but that had to be the place. As I approached I heard the unmistakable call and then song of a Townsend’s Solitaire. It seemed to be coming from some brush very near the house. Usually I see Solitaires perched in the open, especially when they are vocal. This guy was buried and I could not get a look. I tried playback – very responsive but no movement and again no look even though it now seemed to be on the other side of the house and I had certainly not seen it fly. Finally the location seemed to change again, and now there it was on the top of an evergreen providing an opportunity for a photo even if from the rear only.
I had located the sound quickly but it had taken at least 15 minutes to finally get the photo – still definitely qualifies as a “quickie” especially since it is not more than 8 miles from my home.
The next trip requires an expanded definition of “quickie”. I was off to the Green River Natural Area to try again for the Red Shouldered Hawk that seemingly everyone that tried was finding there. Brian Pendleton and I had failed to find it on an earlier visit. It is less than 30 miles from home so not a great distance and thus at least a “quickie” compared to the Okanogan or Victoria for example. It had been reported as being seen and heard near “the grassy knoll”. I am not all that familiar with this location and certainly did not know where the grassy knoll was located. The only “grassy knoll” I knew was the infamous one in Dallas from which Lee Harvey Oswald had shot President Kennedy. (My mind cannot help but think of getting Donald Trump near some grassy knoll with a … ok never mind.) Not knowing where that was, I entered the area from the only spot I knew – on the west side. Exploring without any focus in the light rain, I came upon a beautiful American Kestrel posted and posing. The photo captured the bird and the rain drops – not a Red Shouldered Hawk but it made the day worthwhile.
American Kestrel in the Rain
A few minutes later I saw what appeared to be a small buteo flying from the northwest south and then disappearing in a stand of trees. As I was walking to the area, I saw another birder coming from the East in the same direction. It was Steve Giles who had been there some time also looking for the Red Shouldered Hawk. He too had seen the buteo. We tried in vain to relocate it. And we then spent the next hour walking the area together including to the spot where Brian and I had bushwhacked on our earlier visit and where we had at first thought we had heard the Red Shouldered Hawk but then found a Red Tailed Hawk. Our search was futile. I then followed Steve by car to the “grassy knoll” where there was no Red Shouldered Hawk nor any president or… So not really a “quickie” but definitely a nice time despite missing the target. Steve is a great birder and it was fun just to visit and to get some exercise away from the world.
After missing the Red Shouldered Hawk, I felt I needed a successful chase and why not keep it “Red”. I have never heard the explanation, but for some reason every winter Redheads – the duck kind – return en mass to the pond by what is now the former Weyerhauser Headquarters in Federal Way. It was not far from Kent, so it was an easy next stop. The ducks did not disappoint as there were at least 32 Redheads on the pond along with a Trumpeter Swan , Mallards, Wigeon, Gadwalls, Buffleheads and Ruddy Ducks. This indeed was a “quickie”.
Redheads at the Weyerhauser Pond
I had not been out birding with Ann Marie Wood or Frank Caruso for a while. When I called Ann Marie, it turned out that she had some other obligations but wanted to squeeze in a little birding that morning. So we opted to go to Magnuson Park to see if we could find the Say’s Phoebe that had been reported there. This also gave Frank and me a chance to get better familiarized with Magnuson Park since Ann Marie birded there often. I had invited Brian Pendleton to join us, but he had appointments later in the day so he could not. But he had not heard about the Phoebe, and since he lived very close to the Park, he said he would look for it early in the morning before he left for them. Being the excellent birder he is, Brian found the Phoebe and shared specific location info with us when I called upon arriving ourselves. When we got to the open area where the bird had been found, it looked promising but no Say’s Phoebe was in sight. After a couple of minutes, I thought I heard its call in the distance. Then again – now closer. The Say’s Phoebe flew into a small tree not far from us and we all got good looks. I slogged out into the wet muck and got the pretty good photo below.
Say’s Phoebe at Magnuson Park
Ann Marie then gave us a great tour of the Park pointing out her favorite spots. This included the cove at the north end where a good looking Canvasback was found. While not as showy as some of its cousins, I think the Canvasback is elegant or handsome. Always nice to see – especially with that bright red eye.
The Say’s Phoebe had definitely been another “quickie” and now there was a Canvasback bonus. A good morning indeed.
Tine for one more “quickie”? Well sure, why not. Yesterday I had some time to kill in the afternoon and decided to look for a Wood Duck. This is a species I would like to show Lynette and I had always been able to find some at the parks at the North End of Lake Washington – Log Boom Park in Lake Forest Park and Juanita Bay in Kirkland. It turned out to be easy to find them at both places with one along the Boardwalk at Juanita Bay being particularly photogenic.
A bonus was a surprise near Pier 3 at Log Boom Park. I had walked out past the piers and then as I was returning, a small dark bird flew past me up ahead. I immediately thought Green Heron but also thought it unlikely that I would find it as it appeared as if it had kept going. Nope. It landed out in the open and posed for several photos. Really nice looking bird – although not much can compete with a Wood Duck.
Green Heron at Log Boom Park Marina
So this day was a “Quickie Two-fer” so to speak. Other good birds as well and a couple of miles of walking all told. It started to rain as I got back in my car – so even the weather had been cooperative.
In addition to seeing some targeted birds, there had been many other nice birds this past week – several (like Townsend’s Warbler, Red Breasted Sapsucker and Hutton’s Vireo) being incidental to other non-birding activities. The “quickies” and the incidental bonus birds are a reminder that there are birds and bird stories all around us. Just got to get out and go look for them.