Seeing Red – and a Little Rusty Too

This is my second blog post in two days and certainly was not planned.  It just popped into my head after a very fun day chasing (and finding) the Rusty Blackbird that was being super-cooperative at the Fred Meyer parking lot in Bellingham, followed by a close encounter with grebes and loons at the Blaine Marina.  After so much rain, it was finally sunny today, making for better photos and particularly highlighting the bright red eyes of those grebes and loons and thus the blog topic.  I have to, and will, include a sidebar about the Rusty Blackbird, but those red eyes got to me and I started thinking of all the birds with those sparkling eyes.  More birds probably have black or yellow or orange eyes, but why do so many have red ones.  I will do some research or maybe some reader of this blog knows the answer, but for now, this post will recount some Redeye experiences from today and then catalog some of my photos of other birds with red eyes that are very cool birds.

But first the Rusty Blackbird.  It was discovered by Noah Sanday at the Fred Meyer parking lot in Bellingham on Thursday. Rusty Blackbirds are seen in Washington every year but are uncommon and usually uncooperative.  They are generally loners in large flocks of other birds that are black – European Starlings, Brewer’s Blackbirds and/or Red Winged Blackbirds.  Hard to pick out at all, they are even harder to photograph because they disappear into the flocks and the flocks themselves are always reordering themselves and often skitterish.  Just when you get on the Rusty Blackbird, the whole flocks takes off and even if they return to the same spot, the Rusty is in a totally different spot and you have to start the search all over again.  The Whatcom County bird was special not only because the location was so accessible but because it was associating with very few other birds – often with just two more – and it was very confiding – remaining unfazed even when surrounded by very interested birders.  It moved back and forth between the Fred Meyer’s lot and the Costco lot across Bakerview Drive but it had been seen consistently for three days.  My only good photo of a Rusty Blackbird in Washington was at Crescent Lake in early February 2015 and I was looking forward to another.

Rusty Blackbird – Crescent Lake – February 4, 2015

Rusty Blackbird2

Ann Marie Wood and I arrived at the area around 8:00 a.m. and drove both lots and saw only a couple of Starlings and a single Brewer’s Blackbird.  At first we also saw no other birders, but then we saw Paul Baerny with a cup of coffee.  He had arrived 15 minutes before us and had also driven both properties without success.  We split up with promises to call if any of us found the blackbird.  About 10 minutes later, Paul called and he had the bird.  It was on the parking lot ground near Fred Meyers and we raced over to join him.  It was feeding on some salt with two Brewer’s Blackbirds, easy to find, easy to approach and easy to photograph.  Hurray!!  We watched it for 20 minutes and within that time more birders arrived and all they had to do was to find us – an easy way to find the bird.  As repeated often in my blog posts, it is not always this easy, but it sure feels good when it does.  Many more people saw the bird throughout the day.

Rusty Blackbird – Bellingham – March 19, 2017

Rusty Blackbird

It was only 9:30 and the weather was great.  My friends Melissa Hafting and Ilya Polyaev had great views of Eared Grebes in the Blaine Marina on Saturday and were heading back there today.  We decided to join them there and look for the grebe – not rare but not common and if close by, unusual and a good photo op.  This begins the transition to birds with red eyes.  We found two Eared Grebes among the far more numerous Horned Grebes and the red eyes of each species were striking indeed.

Eared Grebe – Blaine Marina – March 19, 2017

Eared Grebe1 Eared Grebe5

Horned Grebe – Blaine Marina – March 19, 2017

Horned Grebe

Continuing the Redeye journey, there was also a very cooperative Common Loon in breeding plumage – very photo friendly – red eyes blazing.

Common Loon

Common Loon Common Loon4

There were also Pied Billed and Red Necked Grebes in the Marina but they have dark eyes.  We did not see the other Washington Grebes – Western and Clark’s and guess what – they do have red eyes.

Clark’s and Western Grebes (Lind Coulee)

Western and Clark's Grebes

We also visited nearby Semiahmoo Spit where we had more Horned Grebes and Common Loons.  We did not see them there today, but it is a good place for both Red Throated and Pacific Loons – and yes you got it – they, too have red eyes.

Red Throated Loon

Red Throated Loon Breeding

Pacific Loon

Pacific Loon

Never seen there but another loon with red eyes is the Yellow Billed Loon – included in an earlier blog post this – the one up close at Rosario Head.

Yellow Billed Loon


With today’s loons and grebes in mind and with those red eyes so prominent, I wondered about other birds with red eyes.  Not going to include stories for each one (at least not now), but a quick search of my photos came up with lots of other birds – including many, but not just water birds, that have those bright eyes.  Here are photos of ones I came up with.

Wood Duck




Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee



Bronzed Cowbird

Bronzed Cowbird

White Winged Dove

White Winged Dove

Red Breasted Merganser

Red Breasted Merganser (2)

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal (2)



Sora 1

Virginia Rail


White Tailed Kite

White Tailed Kite2

Eurasian Collared Dove

Eurasian Collared Dove

Rock Pigeon

Rock Pigeon

White Faced Ibis

White Faced Ibis 2

American Coot

American Coot3

Black Crowned Night Heron

Black Crowned Night Heron

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Red Eyed Vireo

Red Eyed Vireo1

I have not looked at my photos from outside the U.S. and I am sure I have missed some birds in the U.S. that have red eyes, but I was surprised to find this many.  Maybe it is a stretch to go from Rusty Blackbirds to red-eyed birds but I think it does take some red to make rusty and in any event it is my blog and I get to do what I want.  Mostly I wanted to include the Common Loon and Eared Grebe photos from today.  I could have stopped there but it was fun to broaden the scope.

Most importantly, it was an excellent day with great birds and – finally – some great weather.

Birding in Dibs and Dabs over Miles and Miles

After what has seemed like months, there was to be a break in the weather – at least for one day – and NO rain (or snow) was predicted for Thursday March 16.  I had nothing on the calendar for a few days and I have always enjoyed finding the Shrub/Steppe birds as they return to the sagebrush, so I set out early for a trip to central Washington with the possibility of extending the trip for another day depending on how it went.  While there were certainly some target birds, mostly this was going to be revisiting familiar places and just enjoying the time out.  Oh yeah…I also had hopes of seeing some Sandhill Cranes.

Even at 5:15 a.m. there is too much traffic, but the trip down I-405 was not too bad and there seemed to be nobody else on the road once I hit I-90 going East.  Snowing or not, getting over Snoqualmie Pass has been a big problem of late, with many closures and delays for avalanche control.  No problems today and I was at my first stop – Bullfrog Pond – just as there was enough light to see.  But there was tons of the snow on the ground so not much in the way of bird life or of access.  There was no snow there at this time last year.  I had hopes (dreams) of a very early Red Naped Sapsucker, which I have had there in April but I settled for three other woodpeckers, Northern Flicker, Hairy Woodpecker and Pileated – none close enough for a decent photo.

On these trips, I head next for the Northern Pacific Railroad Ponds in South Cle Elum.  Not as much snow as when I visited last month and the ponds were not frozen.  And no surprise, much better birding.  The “target” here is the aptly named little Pygmy Nuthatch which nests in the area.  When I got to the right spot I immediately heard their high pitched piping call and located several birds including one going into and out of its cavity nest.  When two came in pretty close I was able to get a nice photo.

Pygmy Nuthatch

Pygmy Nuthatch1

On the road to the fish hatchery, I coaxed in a beautiful Mountain Chickadee (also reliable here) but despite its fervent singing I could not get a White Breasted Nuthatch to come in for a photo.  I was happy to capture the sparkling red eye of a Spotted Towhee though.

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee1

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

There was still too much snow to access a favorite feeder spot in South Cle Elum where I usually find Cassin’s Finches and often Evening Grosbeaks, but I did find a few Cassin’s Finches high up in a tree near the old railway station, directly into the sun so a photo will have to wait.  Trying to lose some extra pounds, I did not stop at the Cle Elum Bakery and settled for some coffee before heading off to Ellensburg to look for a California Scrubjay that has been hanging around near Second Street.  About this same time last year, we visited the campus of Central Washington University (a short distance away) where we had a Townsend’s Solitaire, Red Crossbills and a single White Winged Crossbill.  Those birds were not back, but finding the Scrubjay was a nice substitute.

California Scrubjay

California Scrubjay

Now it was time to visit the sagebrush or shrub steppe area.  I was expecting to find Western and Mountain Bluebirds, Say’s Phoebes and Sagebrush Sparrow and hoping to see Loggerhead Shrike, Sage Thrasher, Vesper Sparrow and maybe even a Brewer’s Sparrow all of which I have seen in the area by this time.  I first went south on Umptanum Road out of Ellensburg where the Bluebirds were almost guaranteed and where up on Durr Road I had seen most of the other birds.  There was still some snow around (not on the road which was pretty muddy and wet) but the wind was picking up, and that never helps.  I easily found numerous bluebirds where the efforts of many in putting up and maintaining nesting boxes has been very successful.  I also had several Say’s Phoebes but no other birds of note. The only birds on Durr Road were Dark Eyed Juncos and another Mountain Bluebird.  There were lots of House Sparrows on the beginning of Umptanum Road with a couple seemingly very interested in one of the nest boxes.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

House Sparrow at Nest Box

House Sparrow

Not finding any sparrows was disappointing, but they were more likely along Old Vantage Highway, so I was still optimistic heading off to favorite spots there.  However, the wind picked up and either that or my poor birding resulted in finding almost no birds anywhere in the area.  One Mountain Bluebird and again some juncos and that was it.  I met two other birders at the ranger house stop and they had a similar experience – nada. I missed Canyon Wren and Rock Wren at the Rocky Coulee site, so a complete bust.  Undaunted (mostly) I continued on to my favorite Canyon Wren spot about 8 miles down Huntzinger Road.  The wind continued pretty strong and the best I could do was a singing Rock Wren deep in the Canyon that would not come in to playback – unusual.

Now what?  Although it was possibly a bit early, I thought I would try for Sandhill Cranes in the Othello area.  Maybe I went to the wrong spots (many of them) or maybe it was early, but I found no cranes and spent a lot of time looking.  It was decision time – head home with meager success for the day or commit to a second day and concentrate on points south.  I chose the latter and began the long drive to Fort Simcoe where I knew I would find Lewis’s Woodpeckers, and then after staying somewhere in the area head off to Lyle and then over to the Clark County refuges where I figured I would find the cranes and have a reasonable chance for Wilson’s Snipe and Red Shouldered Hawk.

Fort Simcoe State Park is a wonderful spot – especially when there is nobody else there.  This was the case when I arrived -probably because the Park was closed.  Fortunately it was ok to walk in past the gate and I had a couple of Lewis’s Woodpeckers almost immediately.  My favorite spot for them is Oak Creek Canyon where they are often perched on snags at eye level.  Here they are usually high up in the oak trees, so the challenge is to get one lower, unblocked by branches and with the sun in the right place.  It took some doing, but there are so many woodpeckers (I saw at least 15 and probably several times that many throughout the park), that eventually I got some good photos – really a beautiful bird.

Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker1

Overnight accommodations are limited in the area and I eventually found an ok place in Goldendale.  I awoke to a heavy frost on the car and a nice sunrise.  If only that weather had continued.

Sunrise Scenery and a Silhouetted Windmill

Sunrise Sky  Windmill at Sunrise

Usually when I head off on a bird trip there is a set itinerary and a tight schedule (luck dependent).  It was pretty obvious from the preceding day’s experience that there was a lot of freelancing, and since I had no commitments and am not trying for a giant list this year, I thought I would try some new territory before heading to Lyle.  Russ Koppendreyer had reported seeing some Bonaparte’s Gulls at a park off Roosevelt Ferry Road in eastern Klickitat County.  I keep track but am not a driven/dedicated County Lister, so seeing one in Klickitat County was no big deal, but why not try something new. So I headed off east on Highway 14.  It is pretty country – but also BIG country and I had not realized how far east I was to travel.  When I got to the place, there were no Bonaparte’s Gulls, but there were some other birds I had not seen in Klickitat County before, and as I was leaving I heard a staccato call and then a chorus that I thought might be a Lesser Goldfinch.  My hunch proved right as there was one on a distant wire across an uncross-able field.  So that was a big bonus.  I added a lot of new birds for the county (mostly waterfowl) and enjoyed the journey – although I was again a bit off on timing.

I headed back west along Highway 24 to Lyle and then went to the Balch Lake area hoping to find an Acorn Woodpecker.  With varying amounts of effort, I have always found this species there.  It took a lot of doing but I again found one near where I had three last year on Tuthill Road.  I did have at least three Lewis’s Woodpeckers in the area and several Flickers and I wonder if maybe these species are out-competing the Acorns.  Now I was off to Ridgefield Refuge – back to Highway 24 and the beautiful Columbia Gorge.  Sometime I hope to spend many days there exploring – really a beautiful area.  Along the way, passing a rock face near the Crawford Oaks Trailhead, I saw some swallows that I thought might be Cliff Swallows, my first of the year.  I pulled over and discovered they were just more Violet Green Swallows – which I saw in the many hundreds over the two days.  The habitat looked good for Canyon Wren and I got one to respond from way up on the cliff face.  Truly a favorite song.

Now the rain really started in earnest, and the remainder of the day was going to be wet and even wetter.  I decided to forego Steigerwald NWR and headed to Ridgefield.  It was pouring the whole trip including my time there along the Auto Tour of the River S Unit.  The refuge is engulfed in water, higher than I remember in the past.  Great for waterfowl, not so much for the birders.  A pleasant surprise was a pair of close by Cinnamon Teal near the start of the route.  There were hundreds (thousands?) of ducks and geese with Cackling Geese and American Coots most obvious.  Also Violet Green and to a lesser degree Tree Swallows everywhere.  A real shortage of raptors but I did have a close beautiful view of a Northern Harrier and a very distant and rainy view of a Red Shouldered Hawk.  There were no visible Snipe or Cranes and the only good passerine was a single Savannah Sparrow.  The rain made viewing difficult at best but the at least 6 Nutria seemed unfazed.

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal

Cackling Geese

Cackling Goose  Cackling Geese

Violet Green Swallow

Violet Green Swallow

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

I had seen Sandhill Cranes at the River S Unit many times in the past so that miss was a disappointment – maybe just too much water.  I remembered posts about flocks in the Woodland Bottoms – an unfamiliar area but since it was not far away, I gave it a try.  As I was speeding to a site reported on Ebird, I glimpsed a large group of “Great Blue Herons” in a field along the road – of course they were the targeted Sandhill Cranes and were close and photogenic.  Interestingly when I returned to the spot after searching elsewhere, maybe 15 minutes later, they had all disappeared into some newly planted vines/bushes.  Had they been there originally I would have missed them.  Altogether I found 4 flocks with a total of at least 300 birds.  Very cool.

Sandhill Crane (in the rain)

SAndhill Crane2

Time to head north but it was clear that I was going to hit rush hour.  No other options in the rain, so I headed off.  The rain was horrible and the spray from autos and especially trucks was blinding.  Around Olympia the traffic got very bad and came to a crawl.  Rain or not, I decided to detour to Nisqually NWR still hoping for a Wilson’s Snipe and maybe an American Bittern.  There was but a single car in the parking lot when I arrived and I saw nobody else while I was there.  Again very wet conditions (flooded fields and raining hard) so almost no passerine activity.  Hundreds of Violet Green and some Tree Swallows, but the big surprise was a single Northern Rough Winged Swallow (very poor photo) – the earliest ever for me by 9 days.  Definitely no Bitterns or Snipe and nothing else of note.

Northern Rough Winged Swallow

Northern Rough Winged Swallow

It was now about 5:30 p.m. and the traffic was backed up so far from the northbound on ramp for I-5 that I decided to wait and get a bite at one of the road side “restaurants”.  It being St. Patrick’s Day, the preferred Bar and Grill was so busy, I could not even find a parking space so I settled for the other.  Too many calories of not too good food, but finally I saw that the traffic was at least moving.  It took 30 minutes to go the first 6 miles but then it mostly cleared (until Tacoma) and I was actually home before I thought I would be – even though pretty late.

This was a disjointed trip that often deviated – in approach and results – from whatever little planning there had been.  I ended up seeing a lot of new birds for the year (and for both Klickitat and Skamania Counties).  I had seen some of the expected birds and missed others and had some surprises.  Basically there were dibs and dabs of this and that and even with the rain, a very fun time.  It is nice not “needing” to see any particular species but still nice when some that are enjoyed are seen according to plan or otherwise.  A recurring thought during the trip was just how much open space there is in our state and in our birding areas.  The area along Highway 97 for example is vast and I imagine infrequently birded – at least compared to areas closer to population centers or birding hotspots.  When I was at Russ’s Roosevelt Ferry Road spot, I looked across the Columbia, and Oregon seemed very close.  Maybe not there but at some other such spot on the Columbia and further west, just maybe someday a Wrentit will finally show up in Washington.  Maybe one already has and we have just not been there at that remote unbirded spot at the right time.

A Gull and A Goose but Not Another Gull

To go or not to go that had been the question.  Melissa Hafting, my good friend and birding resource extraordinaire had been campaigning for me to come up to British Columbia yet again to see some new rarities that were being seen near Victoria on Vancouver Island.  As chronicled in my earlier blog “Chasing…Chasing…Chasing” on January 12th this year, Steve Pink and I had ventured to Victoria and were successful (and fortunate) to see the Purple Sandpiper there on Kitty Islet.  Also as detailed in that post, we had not been successful in finding any Skylarks nor the Red Throated Pipit that had been there a few days earlier.  Just like on that trip, I wanted the possibility of at least two new life birds or life photos to justify the time and expense.

The Skylarks still beckoned but even though I also just wanted to see Melissa and bird with her, I needed a second target to justify the trip to Vancouver Island.  That opportunity arose when two Pink Fronted Geese had appeared and were being seen regularly.  Although I had seen these very rare geese last year in Boston over Thanksgiving Holiday, I did not have a photo so I was now happy to make the trip.  Frank Caruso was also interested – not for the geese, but for the Eurasian Skylarks which would be a new ABA bird for him and was missed by the two of us last year when we made a successful visit to find the visiting Redwing – an extreme rarity – a life bird for both of us and a new photo for me as well.  Jon Houghton was also interested in these same birds and was up for the trip.  BUT – there were complications.  One was that the geese were seen regularly – and then disappeared.  A second was that the weather continued to be miserable – decreasing the chance for finding and certainly for photographing the birds and also decreasing our enjoyment.  When the geese were refound – this time an hour north of Victoria, and the weather looked good for Friday – we made tentative plans.  BUT – another complication – the geese disappeared from their new location in Duncan.  With just the single opportunity, I was not willing to make the trip and Jon and Frank agreed.

Step back a moment – as the plans for a trip to B.C. were riding that roller coaster, a good bird showed up much closer to home.  At about 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8, I got a call from Steve Pink who was looking at an adult Glaucous Gull at the Everett Marina.  I had seen and photographed Glaucous Gulls in Washington before, and I had even seen one already in 2017 on my return from the Red Flanked Bluetail trip to Lewiston, ID.  But I did not have a photo this year and this was an adult which I had not seen before, so I raced up there and arrived in time to get a photo – and then five minutes later, the gull flew off – heading north.

Glaucous Gull at Everett Marine Park March 8, 2017

Glaucous Gull

All of the Glaucous Gulls I had seen before were first cycle birds – appearing much different – almost entirely white and with a dark tip on their pink bills.  My first photo of one was at Swallows Park in Asotin County on March 14, 2015 and I had made that long drive primarily to get that first ever photo.  That sighting seemed to open the door for more sightings and photos as I discovered one near Monroe two weeks later and then found yet another on April 2nd. In fact when I had seen an earlier photo of the Everett bird, I thought there had been a mistake because the adult looked so different.

Glaucous Gull – Monroe – March 2015

Resting  Landing

The rest of the story and the reason for the digression is that the next morning, Frank and Jon searched for the Glaucous Gull for several hours and never found it – perhaps a portent of things to come.  While they were searching I got a message from Melissa that not only had the Pink Footed Geese been relocated but now there was an Iceland Gull that was being seen regularly and easily in Parksville – another hour north of where the geese had been refound.  And to add to the appeal of a trip, the Redwing that Frank and I had seen the previous year was now being seen regularly and more easily than in the previous year.  So in addition to the ever possible Skylarks, there were three additional draws.  The weather looked good for the next day and it was not hard to recruit Jon and Frank.

Iceland Gull in Parksville

Iceland Gull

The plan was to leave Edmonds at 4:00 a.m., pick up Melissa near the ferry terminal in Tsawwassen at 6:40 and be in line by 6:45 – an hour ahead of the 7:45 departure for Nanaimo.  All worked smoothly – actually too smoothly.  We had no traffic, clear weather, and no wait at the border (where yet again the Canadian border guard was friendly and efficient) so we arrived 45 minutes ahead of schedule.  And the ferry was not even half full, so we could have arrived even a half hour later and been fine.  A 5:15 a.m. departure would have been a lot easier on us, but adrenalin is a good substitute for rest, no problem.

It takes almost two hours to get to Nanaimo.  It was mostly a boring, but easy trip across smooth open water with very few birds seen.  Guy Monty, a gull expert, who had discovered the Iceland Gull met us at “the spot” but there were NO gulls on the field at all. Uh-oh.  But Guy said he had seen it yesterday in the gull flocks in the Bay so we would search there.  There were a zillion gulls in the bay – maybe two zillion.  They gather for the herring roe which were being deposited by unseen herring on the sea grass in the shallow water.  I will not go through all the details, but we really did see thousands of gulls – of many species (Thayer’s, Glaucous Winged, Herring, California, Mew and even a single Bonaparte’s) – in front of us at the first spot and then at 4 more spots nearby.  There were gulls everywhere – but no Iceland Gull.   Iceland Gulls are quite rare in the Northwest.  Frank had seen several in New England and I had seen a single one before, but no picture.  Jon had hopes of seeing them in Iceland when he visits later this year, but he might be too late for them there, so this was a major disappointment AND instead of the 30 minutes originally planned, we had spent two hours and were now behind schedule.

Gulls Were Everywhere in Parksville

Mass of Gulls

The good news was that Melissa had gotten word that the Pink Footed Geese had been seen that morning – not in Duncan – but back in the Victoria area.  So we set off for the two hour trip.  Each traffic light (and there seemed to be an endless supply) was a frustration, but with Melissa’s expert guidance, we arrived at a parking spot at Blenkinsop–Lohbrunner Road East and headed off on the trail to the bridge from which we hoped to see the geese.  After a short while we could see other birders down at the bridge with cameras and scopes focused on what surely had to be our quarry.  Indeed they were looking at the Pink Footed Geese but the view was through a very thick bramble of shrubs – good enough for identification but hardly for the good photo that I had hoped to get. If necessity is not the mother of invention, then certainly passionate desire is.  The geese were grazing on a grassy field that was blocked by the vegetation but there was a gate (locked, high and not passable) that was adjacent to the trees.  Some other birders had tried for a view from that spot and could not see the geese.  I think this was because the geese were grazing on the other side of a rise and the rise hid them from the perspective of the gate – BUT – the gate was attached to a high wooden fence – maybe 6 feet tall.  I climbed the fence and then sat atop of it and had an unobstructed view and got the desired quality photos.

Pink Footed Geese – Blenkinsop–Lohbrunner Road East – March 10, 2017

Pink Footed Geese


Before the trip had begun, I had expected the Iceland Gull to be the most likely and easiest of the birds to find and the Pink Footed Geese to be the hardest.  What do I know…  Now we were off to try for the Redwing.  Melissa had said it was much more cooperative this year, and a birder we met at the goose site said he had this morning and that it was singing.  But alas birds have minds of their own.  Already running late, we ran into heavier than expected traffic to go the short distance to the Redwing stakeout.  And when we arrived at its favorite holly tree, another birder was already there.  He had failed to see it for the previous 20 minutes.  We waited – and waited – and waited – no luck.  A very photo friendly Chestnut Backed Chickadee and a Ruby Crowned Kinglet were the only birds that cooperated for us.

Chestnut Backed Chickadee

Chestnut Backed Chickadee

Ruby Crowned Kinglet

Ruby Crowned Kinglet (2)

I was admittedly getting very concerned about having sufficient time to find the Skylarks even though Melissa thought they were a sure thing.  Finally, just as we started to leave, Melissa saw a thrush-like bird fly over head and disappear into nearby trees.  So back we went and spent another 20 minutes hoping for an appearance.  But it did not appear for us and we headed off to try for a Skylark.  This was especially disappointing for Jon since Frank and I had seen it the previous year and it would have been a life bird for him.  Unfortunately the time spent without success looking for the Iceland Gull and the long drive and the traffic compromised our efforts.

Redwing (from 2016)


We first tried for the Skylarks at the Airport – where Melissa “always” had them and where some had been seen and heard that morning.  Nothing.  We tried another area near the airport – again nothing.  It was getting darker and colder and we only had time for one more spot – the Saanichton fields.  Steve Pink and I had tried those on our visit without success.  Our group walked the road along the fields without success.  At one point, a Western Meadowlark flushed up from in front of us.  We had no clue it had been there as it was hunkered down in the grass.  Shortly thereafter many more birds flushed and then more again.  The light was now pretty bad and it was hard to get a look.  All or maybe all but one had the distinctive broad white tail corners of Meadowlarks.  I thought I saw one without that field mark and Melissa thought she had a pretty good look and that one of the birds was probably a — Skylark.  But we could not get the birds to be still, nor to get a good look – so no Skylarks yet again.

Of course we were disappointed not to see the Iceland Gull or the Redwing or a Eurasian Skylark.  We had only seen one of four targets.  At first blush that sounds like a poor trip, but such was not the case.  Originally we were ready to go if there was only a chance to see the Pink Footed Goose and a Skylark.  My calculation was that with two possibilities, there was at least a reasonable chance at getting one – and if I could only get one, then I would have chosen the Pink Footed Goose.  The Iceland Gull became a major plus but our trip planning to try for that probably not only added a lot of wear and tear but also cost us precious time that if spent differently might have resulted in seeing both the Redwing and the Eurasian Skylarks.  BUT it was definitely worth a shot.  That is the nature of birding for targets – no guarantees and things change.  We visited a lot of good places and had great conversations about birding trips of the past and in the future.  I got far better looks and photos of the Pink Footed Geese than I ever expected.  Some day I will photograph a Skylark and someday Frank will see one.  I may never photograph an Iceland Gull, but I bet Guy Monty will find one next year, so who knows.  It was great to meet him and it was as always great to spend time with Melissa.  I hope that she is by my side when that Skylark is finally captured by my camera.  And I know that there will be many times in the future when we will see rarities – in B.C. or in Washington again.  I look forward to those days.

Mockingbirds, Duck Breasts and Fine Dining -a World with Room for Hunters, Birders and Birds

I know this is a different kind of blog post, but particularly at a time when so much of the country is divided into “us” and “them”, maybe it is in order.  In an earlier post, I shared some moments from a trip by Brian Pendleton and me to look for a Northern Mockingbird that had been reported frequently from a residential area in Kirkland essentially as follows:  When we arrived at the designated address in Kirkland, I parked in the driveway behind one of the cars, with the intent to knock on the door (the owners had been described in many reports as very friendly) and ask if they had seen the Mockingbird and if we could take a look.  (However) As soon as he got out of the car, however, Brian exclaimed “There it is!”  Our Northern Mockingbird was perched in the open on a small tree at the adjoining home. It took off to the south.  We followed and found it in a tree three homes away.  It then flew back to the north and as we started to retrace our steps, we saw another fellow walking towards us.  I wondered if maybe my car was parked behind his and was either blocking his way or at least needed an explanation.  This turned into one of those fun intersections on a birding trip.  Brad was the owner of the house next to where the holly bush was located.  He led us to the house with the holly and into the back yard where the Northern Mockingbird was conveniently perched completely in the open on a wire directly above us and next to said holly tree. We also had a great talk with Brad about hunting, ducks, construction (he is a contractor) and birds and birders. Really a good guy – a perfect host for visiting birders.

The Kirkland Northern Mockingbird


What I did not add at the time was that Brad not only was good company and an expert guide in this case, but when we talked about hunting and conservation, he reached into his well stocked freezer and gave each of us some Mallard breasts.  How cool was that!!  Well last night I got to find out just how cool it really was.  Lynette and I had a chance to cook up the wild duck breasts.  It was an amazing dinner.  Part of the fun was to research all of the recipes for wild game and duck breasts in particular.  I am not a hunter and as best I know, I have never had any wild game and am unfamiliar with a very extensive library of recipes – simple and complex – for duck and many other meats.  We found some that were closer to the complex side but manageable.  I will not go into the details, but we chose three dishes:  young asparagus – steamed and then flavored with sesame oil and sesame seeds, Shiitake mushrooms sauteed in butter, shallots and garlic and the main fare of duck breasts with a sauce that was a reduction of home made black raspberry jelly and some other little touches.

Simmering Wild Duck Breasts


Young Asparagus in Sesame Oil (Sesame Seed Garnish Later)


Shiitake Mushrooms


The Finished Meal


We had read that wild duck tasted a lot like steak and while cooking it certainly looked like that.  The taste was very similar as well – tender and flavorful and the reduction was a great compliment.  It was a great meal – appearance and taste.  Not that I will probably repeat culinary posts very often (ever?) but the meal frankly is worth such mention and wild duck is highly recommended.  But the purpose of this writing is to get back to a theme of many of my posts and of my birding life.  My birding inserts me in situations where there is always the chance for great birds, great places and great people.  Rarely does a trip not include at least one of those, and at the best of times, I get all three.  The Kirkland Mockingbird was a great bird in not such a great place but with the real highlight being the great intersection with Brad – a hunter not a birder.  As I said at the start, our vision is too often of two worlds – ours and theirs.  But the inescapable truth is that it is ONE WORLD – and that world and each of us would be better if we all spent more time finding common ground and value in each other’s perspectives and passions.  Sure, there is the need for all to follow our passions responsibly and respectfully but we are not alone.

There are many wonderful birders AND wonderful hunters out there, just as there are some of each that are not so great.  The early birders like Audubon were collectors who killed the birds to get specimens for identification and study.  Digital cameras have changed that it many ways and in that sense I hunt birds daily but shoot them with the camera only – adding to that kind of collection.  Hunters often are a major source of funds for preservation of habitat where I find my birds and there is a clear benefit to hunters and birders alike.  Hunters are often active in important conservation efforts shoulder to shoulder with birders.  Ethical hunters gather their spent shell casings and have moved away from lead shot.  Maybe they will someday move to copper bullets instead of the lead ones that do much harm to scavengers including the California Condor.  They will do so much more readily if we can come together rather than battle one another.

Meeting Brad and sharing the Mockingbird and then stories together was a highlight of that day.  I will fondly remember that and last night’s wild duck meal for a long while and it will always remind me to find room for others as I pursue my own passionate course.  Really leaves a good taste to do so…   Thanks Brad.