Weather or Not

On March 12th the weather report for the next day in Ellensburg, Washington called for clouds and rain turning to snow maybe that night.  Not perfect but Jon Houghton and I thought we would be okay to look for newly arrived birds in the area east of Ellensburg in the sage and shrub steppe habitats along Vantage Highway especially Sagebrush Sparrows which are early arrivals and are actively vocal in March.  We also considered birding in other locations nearby maybe even venturing south to Oak Creek to find some always present and always beautiful Lewis’s Woodpeckers.   Well, weather forecasts are not always accurate.

Lewis’s Woodpecker – from March 16, 2017

Lewis's Woodpecker

A light snow started to fall not long after clearing Snoqualmie Pass and while not a travel concern, we wondered about its effect on birding if it continued.  It never got real heavy, but continue it did for most of the rest of the day and it definitely impacted the birds and our birding.  Our itinerary would normally begin with birds at Bullfrog Pond east of Cle Elum and then a swing by the Railroad Ponds in South Cle Elum but since we both had seen all the birds resident and likely at these spots and it was too early for migrants, we moved on directly to Umptanum and then Durr Roads just south of Ellensburg and the first really good sage habitat.  The snow continued.

By now both Western and Mountain Bluebirds are almost assured along Umptanum Road and we found both species albeit in smaller numbers than usual and the snowy conditions made photos less than worthwhile.  Durr Road heads up into thicker sage and is often good for Brewer’s, Vesper, and Lark Sparrows and sometimes Sage Thrashers.  We had none of them and our “best birds” were three male Common Mergansers flying over – go figure.

We met up with good birding friend Deb Essman in Kittitas who joined us for the next couple of hours.  We started with the pair of Great Horned Owls that are nesting in the shed across from her home.  Unfortunately the snow and birds were no kinder to Deb than they were to us and we were unable to find some of the birds that had been seen locally in better conditions like a Prairie Falcon or Wild Turkeys which were targets.  Not going to give all the details, but essentially we struck out on almost everything along Vantage Highway, Recreation Road, Frenchman’s Coulee and Huntzinger Road.  We had no wrens and only a pair of uncooperative Say’s Phoebes at Vantage and a surprise Vesper Sparrow on Lyon’s Road in a spot where Jon had them in previous years, but that was about it.  The good news though was that we had a great visit with Deb as we always do and never thought about politics or COVID-19 the whole time.  Jon ended up with 4 FOY’s (both Bluebirds, the Phoebe and the Vesper Sparrow).  I had the same plus a Horned Lark which Jon had seen in the hundreds when he visited the Waterville Plateau earlier this year.  Since 10 or 12 First of Year birds had been possible, this was not a big success.  We aborted the trip early and returned to Edmonds driving through Seattle at what would normally be the peak of the rush hour.  There was no traffic at all – a nice consolation.

Great Horned Owl – Third Year on Nest in Shed – Photo is with Young in 2018

Great Horned Owl and Owlets

The good thing about weather is that it changes – sometimes really quickly.  After our snowy day on March 13th the wind blew heavily that night – not unusual there – and then it began to warm up – just in time for Spring.  On Thursday March 19th, Cindy and I were supposed to fly to Fort Lauderdale, FL for four days of birding and tourism before joining Naturalist Journeys on a long awaited trip to Cuba.  The following month we were planning a trip to see friends and then some birds in Southeast Arizona.   My daughter and grandson were going to come visit in April and then in May Cindy was scheduled to visit England and I was going to join Bruce LaBar birding in Texas.  But COVID-19 vetoed all of that and all of those trips were cancelled.

Knowing that the 19th would be a real downer day and anticipating that travel in Washington might be shut down at any time, when I noted that the weather in Kittitas County was going to be beautiful on March 18th, I opted for the antidote of a return to birding and to try again for birds missed the previous week.  No surprise, weather really does matter and I had fabulous birding.  I skipped Umptanum and Durr Roads and headed straight to areas near Kittitas that Jon and I had birded with Deb Essman the previous Friday.  I could not relocate the Vesper Sparrow but did find a FOY Prairie Falcon nearby on Venture Road.  I was then surprised to have a male Ring Necked Pheasant scurry out from a farmyard and got a great look and a photo.  Then about a mile away as I turned around a curve, I saw another Ring Necked Pheasant on a fence not more than 10 feet away.  It remained motionless as I got probably the best picture I will ever get of one.

Ring Necked Pheasant

Ring Necked Pheasant1 (2)

From there it was on to Vantage Highway with the first spot being a personal hotspot where Deb Essman had shown me a Sage Thrasher several years ago.  No Thrasher but I had my First of Year Sagebrush Sparrows, both Western and Mountain Bluebirds and a surprise pair of relatively early Brewer’s Sparrows.  I was particularly pleased with the finds of both sparrows as I first identified them by song, something that is not my strength and then tracked them down.

Sagebrush Sparrow

Sagebrush Sparrow

Sagebrush Sparrow2-sharpen-focus

Brewer’s Sparrow

Brewer's Sparrow-sharpen-focus

Retracing Friday’s route, I next stopped at the Whiskey Dick/Quilomene Corrals and this time had much better luck with visuals of Mountain and Western Bluebirds, Say’s Phoebes, Sage Thrashers, Vesper Sparrows and a distant Sagebrush Sparrow.

Mountain Bluebirds

Mountain Bluebird on Sage-sharpen-focus-sharpen-focus

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird Female-sharpen-sharpen

Say’s Phoebe

Say's Phoebe

Sage Thrasher

Sage Thrasher1

Distant Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow Quilomene

Continuing to retrace Friday’s route, I turned onto Recreation Road and pulled off to walk into the Canyon and look/listen for wrens.  A bird was singing and I thought it might be a Cassin’s Finch – a little odd for this habitat, but sure enough it was in a tree right by the parking area.  Very pink including onto its streaked back.  I could not get a clear shot and it flew off across the road.  I started my hike and as soon as I got onto the trail, two Chukar flushed and flew into the rocks across Recreation Road and gave their familiar “chuck” and “chuckar” calls as they climbed out of sight.  No wrens in the Canyon but it was a beautiful walk and I had already added two new year birds.

I found singing Rock and Canyon Wrens near the boat launch at the end of Recreation Road.  This is a regular spot for them and I have had both species there many times.  I just wish they had cooperated for Jon the previous week.  Weather clearly continued to matter.  Having added the Canyon Wren to my year list I now could skip a second try at Huntzinger Road – perhaps my most reliable spot for them.  I decided to return to Ellensburg and head south on Umptanum Road and onto Wenas Road to try for White Headed Woodpeckers.  I stopped the car near an area of pines and firs near Kindle Lane, a private road, where I have had these woodpeckers before.  As soon as I got out of the car I heard the unmistakable chattering of some Pygmy Nuthatches.  There were at least six in the trees above me.  I also heard at least two drumming woodpeckers.  One was a Northern Flicker behind me and far off but identified by the calls that would follow the drumming.  Another was a White Headed Woodpecker that was in the trees on the private property on Kindle Lane.  I got a quick response from playback and saw the woodpecker uphill but I could not get it to come down for a good look and a photo.  This would not be my only woodpecker frustration of the day.  Stay tuned – and yes I am talking about you Williamson’s Sapsucker.

A little further up the road, I again heard some tapping and had a Hairy Woodpecker right overhead.  It may have been the most active Hairy Woodpecker I had ever seen, flitting from one tree to another, drumming and then flying off again.  One picture was all I got.  I also heard another sound.  At first I could not recall what it was but knew it was something good and distinctive.  Then I remembered the call I had heard and the bird I had seen while waiting for the Ivory Gull at Flathead Lake – a Townsend’s Solitaire.  It was perched high on a distant conifer.  It would not sing in response to playback – only continue to call and to remain far uphill indifferent to my pleas.  I also had two more Cassin’s Finches (in more appropriate habitat), some Mountain Chickadees, a Cooper’s Hawk and a Kestrel at this location – quite a worthwhile stop.

Hairy Woodpecker – (No offense, but I would Have Preferred the White Headed Woodpecker)

Hairy Woodpecker Wenas

I was happy to get back on to pavement as Wenas Road ended and then I turned onto Maloy Road, again unpaved.  I have had multiple White Headed Woodpeckers in perfect habitat near BBQ Flats and really wanted a photo.  But it was quiet and birdless.  However, as I retraced steps I saw two raptors circling above and one was decidedly larger than the other.  The smaller one was a Red Tailed Hawk and the second was an eagle.  I assumed it was a juvenile Bald Eagle.  My assumption was wrong as proved by a close look and my photo.  It was a juvenile Golden Eagle – always a welcomed find.

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle Juvenile

It was only about 1:15 p.m. and Oak Creek and its Lewis’s Woodpeckers were only 30 minutes away.  The sun was shining; there was no wind; plenty of gas…I was off.  I had forgotten how beautiful the drive along the Naches River on Highway 12 was. Truly gorgeous.  I arrived at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area and found the gate closed.  Instead of driving up Oak Creek Road as I usually do, I would have to walk.  As long as I found the woodpeckers, I didn’t care and in fact looked forward to a quiet visit and some good exercise.  Finding woodpeckers was no problem and the hike was exactly what the doctor ordered to forget politics and plagues.  Lewis’s Woodpeckers are often very close to the road perching on the many snags along the creek.  This time, the woodpeckers seemed to favor the trees across the creek but they were plentiful and a few were sufficiently close for good photos.  This is a wonderful place.

Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker-sharpen-focus (2)

Oak Creek Canyon is also perfect habitat for Canyon Wren with steep rock cliffs in abundance.  At what I expected to be a perfect spot I played its beautiful mellifluous descending song and almost immediately got a response from high above on top of one of the cliffs.  I could see the white throat and long decurved bill with my binoculars but too far for a photo.  My experience has been that these wrens are very territorial and very responsive.  This is particularly so in response to their “jeet” call.  And so it was this day as the Canyon Wren moved closer and closer and closer probably travelling at least 125 yards.  In good light I got my photo.

Canyon Wren

Canyon Wren Best-sharpen-focus

There were at least 15 Lewis’s Woodpeckers in the lower half mile or so of the Canyon and another half dozen along the river back on Highway 12.  Fort Simcoe is the only other place I know of in the state with so many individuals of this truly beautiful species.  It had already been a good woodpecker day but I wanted one more so I made one more stop – at Bethel Ridge – further down Highway 12.  I believe it is the best place in Washington for the biggest variety of Woodpeckers and it is also good for Flammulated Owls and Poorwills in the late Spring.  I have had every species of Washington woodpecker there except Acorn Woodpecker – all on the same day.  That feat requires going to the top of the Ridge – a challenging road and can only be done later in the year.  My quest today would be a Williamson’s Sapsucker.  And as I hinted earlier, it would be a very frustrating experience.

I have heard and/or seen Williamson’s Sapsuckers at the “corrals” on Bethel Ridge Road – maybe two miles in at most from Highway 12 and that is where I planned to start my search.  White Headed Woodpeckers have been found on the way up so I stopped a few times to try playback for them.  No success.  As soon as I got out of my car at the corrals, I heard the distinctive “chyaah” call of a Williamson’s Sapsucker and then some drumming.  Then I heard a second call from the other side and further up the road.  I tried playback to draw one in but only got intermittent responses and no visuals.  For the next 20+ minutes this continued and I heard calls and drumming from numerous different spots, back and forth and up and down along the road.  There were certainly at least two and possibly more.  I ran back and forth thinking I would find one for a photo, but all I got was a single visual of one flying over a hill and into more trees.  There was no question that I had found my target, but I was disappointed and frustrated not to get the photo.  As the photo below from the same place a couple of years ago shows, they are really spectacular.

Williamson’s Sapsucker

Williamson's Sapsucker

I finally gave up and headed home – 176 miles away.  It was around 3:45 and with the light post Covid-19 traffic, I actually made back to Edmonds at 6:30 in time to join Cindy for dinner.

So yes weather does matter.  The Williamson’s Sapsucker made it 11 FOY’s for the day and 16 FOY’s adding in the birds seen with Jon Houghton.  I hope there will be a chance to return to this favored area as migration continues and more birds arrive.  They will not be affected by the Covid-19 virus, but we will.  Will travel be allowed?  Don’t know.  With that in mind Cindy and I squeezed in one more trip – not focused on birds but they were included as we visited the Washington Coast – a respite from the depressing news, a day in the sun and a chance for Chica to run loose on the beach.  We visited Tokeland, Grayland and Westport.

The Willet flock cooperated at Tokeland but we did not see any Marbled Godwits.  A treat, though, was a dozen or so Greater White Fronted Geese mixed in with Canada Geese just as we came to the marina.  There were several Western Grebes in the marina and I checked each as I have had Clark’s Grebes there before.


Two Willets

Greater White Fronted Geese

Greater White Fronted Geese Duo

Western Grebe

Western Grebe with Fish1

We found only a single Snowy Plover on the open beach and it flew off with Sanderlings and Dunlin which were plentiful.  At the end of our drive on the open beach, I found two FOY Semipalmated Plovers but there were no other shorebirds.  Chica did have a chance to chase a ball on the beach and we all enjoyed those carefree moments.

Cindy had never been to Westport before.  We drove through and looked for rockpipers at the “groins” but found none.  Charters are not going out of Westport and that includes the pelagic birding trips.  Restaurants are closed.  A pretty grim place at best of times, it was moreso now.  Cindy might be willing to return if pelagic trips are available again, but not interested otherwise.  We headed home and there would be one more notable bird for the trip as we found a First of Year Turkey Vulture soaring above us about 10 miles west of Olympia.

Now we will practice our social distancing and try to ride out this difficult time.  It is going to be a long ride and probably a rocky one.  At least we had some wonderful weather for a few days.  Next week the rains are due.  Sigh…


Smile for the Camera Please

For the first 30+ years of my birding life, I took no pictures.  It was not until I traveled to Australia in 2003 that I finally got a camera to take pictures of scenery as much as of the birds.  That first camera was a Canon Powershot.  It was a digital point and shoot zoom camera with maybe 20x magnification.  I didn’t know much about photography and frankly didn’t care.  Mostly I was trying to get pictures to catalog my experiences and to have images to help remember them.  The pictures in Australia were limited and not too great, but the photography seed had been planted.  It would grow.

Saltwater Crocodile –  Australia – September 2003


For the next 10 years until 2012 my birding continued to be mostly international as I visited Brazil in 2005, Kenya in 2007 and India in 2011.  Canon introduced new cameras in their Powershot series and I upgraded to more powerful Powershots – finally a SX50 – each providing more and more magnification.  And each provided better pictures and more importantly provided more enjoyment as the photos became more important adding to my birding experiences.

Hyacinth Macaws – Pantanal, Brazil – September 2005

Hyacinth macaws 3r

Secretarybird – Kenya – November 2007


The continuing increased role of photography reached a high point in 2015.  I had done a a State Big Year in Washington in 2013, 364 species seen with pictures of many.  In 2015 I decided to do another Big Year in the state but trying to get photos of as many of the species as possible.  In support of that adventure I bought my first Digital Single Lens Reflex camera (a “DSLR”) a Canon 7D Mark II with a zoom lens.  The year ended with pictures of 358 of the 361 species seen.  (Photos missed were Boreal Owl, Flammulated Owl and Common Poorwill.)  That was the camera and lens combination that I have used for the last 5 years.  I had some problems with the camera body which failed in Arizona and with the lens that failed in Louisiana in 2018 – big disappointments but that set-up served me well for hundreds of field trips and many thousand photos.

Spotted Owl – June 7, 2015 – Lewis County, WA

Spotted Owl 2

Then on February 17th I put my name on the list for a new Olympus mirrorless camera that was going to be released to the market the following week.  Over many preceding months birding friends who are terrific photographers had made the switch to mirrorless Micro Four Thirds cameras which are very much smaller and lighter than the DSLR combos they and I have been using.  They appreciated the lighter weight in the field and the smaller size in their travels, but they would not have made the switch without confidence that the quality was top notch.  Many had chosen various models offered by Olympus finding the quality of cameras and lenses to be excellent with two additional advantages.  These cameras were almost waterproof and their image stabilization features were far superior to models that had preceded them.  AND…Olympus was about to bring out a new model – the OM-D EM-1 Mark III promising even higher quality.

mark iii camera

Olympus has a fantastic “loaner program” through which I was first able to get a OM-D EM-1 Mark II camera body with a 300 mm lens to try for three days for free.  I really liked the camera.  I had some trouble finding my targets with the lens but the pictures were very good.  A major plus for this camera is incredible image stabilization and with the Micro Four Thirds processor, it essentially doubles the effective magnification.  Thus with a 300 mm lens it is equivalent to 600 mm.

Bewick’s Wren with the Mark II and 300 mm Lens

Bewicks Wren1-sharpen-focus

I had been working with Joanne Dailey at Kenmore Camera and she arranged for me to be able to get an advance model of the OM-D EM-1 Mark III and I coupled that with the 300 mm lens.  I gave the combo a real workout and was sold – at least for the camera.  The lens was terrific but I was used to my zoom lens and found that I had difficulty getting on the birds in the high magnification of the 300 mm lens especially with a 1.4 extender.  Still some very nice photos including of a very cooperative Northern Waterthrush and a finely plumaged Gadwall at Wylie Slough in Skagit County.

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush4



I returned the loaned equipment and picked up my own OM-D EM-1 Mark III and 300 mm lens with a 1.4 extender and gave them another try.  I continued to have trouble finding the birds in the viewfinder without the zoom and went back to the drawing board.  Olympus has a 50 mm/150 mm zoom lens but that does not have sufficient magnification for my purposes.  It is due to release a compatible zoom lens later this year maybe even two – one a 100-400 mm zoom and the other a 150-600 zoom possibly with a built in 1.4 extender.  With upcoming trips to Florida, Cuba, Arizona and Texas, I did not want to wait.  I remembered that Joanne had told me that Lumix/Panasonic lenses made by Leica were compatible with the Olympus body and there was a 100-400 mm Lumix that got great reviews.  I tried it out in the camera store and was very pleased so I traded in the 300 mm Olympus for that zoom lens and returned my 1.4 extender which is not compatible with the Lumix lens.  The original combination with the extender was equivalent to 420 mm and the zoom was 400 mm at maximum power so there was not significant loss, and the reduction in cost saved me almost $1,000 – a real bonus.

Except for the phone pix taken at the Oyster Bar Restaurant, all photos below were taken with the Olympus/Lumix combination and I am very pleased with the quality and with the much smaller size and decreased weight.

Golden Crowned Sparrow Feather Detail


On March 10, I birded in Whatcom County with the specific goal of adding three species to my County Life List bringing it to 200.  The weather was overcast and a bit rainy and I definitely have not mastered the new equipment but it was a very fun time and I did find the three new species: American Dipper, Evening Grosbeak and Purple Finch.  Decent photos of the first two but the gems were a displaying Long Tailed Duck with a VERY long tail, a Varied Thrush and a Red Breasted Sapsucker with a VERY red breast.

Long Tailed Duck – Blaine Marina – Whatcom County – March 10th

Long Tailed Duck4A

Long Tailed Duck2A

Red Breasted Sapsucker – Glacier – Whatcom County – March 10th

Red Breasted Sapsucker on Pole1A

Varied Thrush – South Lake Whatcom SP – Whatcom County – March 10th

Varied Thrush1

American Dipper – South Lake Whatcom SP – Whatcom County – March 10th

American Dipper 1A

Evening Grosbeak – Glacier – Whatcom County – March 10th

Evening Grosbeak1-sharpen-focus

Today, March 12th, I squeezed in a couple of hours of birding after taking Cindy to the Paine Field Airport as she left for a memorial service in California for a dear friend that died unexpectedly and suddenly recently – a tragic loss.  I returned to Skagit County and picked up a couple of FOY’s and then had some nice photos at Wylie Slough as I continue to gain experience with the new camera and also continue to be very pleased.

Drake and Hen Shovelers


Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

House Finch

House Finch

Tomorrow I head out with Jon Houghton to Eastern Washington with hopes that the Shrub/Steppe/Sage species will be in and that I will have photos to prove we saw them.   [Note:  we made that trip and added some new species but we were in falling snow and or very gray skies all day – no photos.]

The photos below are out of sequence – earlier than the ones above.  The first two were surprises at the off leash dog park in Edmonds and were not long after getting the new equipment and were confidence building.  The last set are the most important – a very nice bird and a very lovely dinner marking an important date.

Brant – Edmonds, WA — March 4th


Black Scoter – Edmonds, WA – March 4th

Black Scoter

These photos of a Short Eared Owl – one of 3 seen – was very special not just because the photos are nice, but because it was an appetizer of sorts to a superb meal at the Oyster Bar Restaurant on Chuckanut Drive on March 6, where Cindy and I celebrated our one year anniversary of knowing each other.

Short Eared Owl – Samish Flats – East 90’s – Skagit County

King Salmon at the Oyster Bar

King Salmon

Sturgeon at the Oyster Bar


Cindy and Blair at the Oyster Bar

Oyster Bar

Stay tuned…


Fotos, Friends and Fabulous Weather

Western Washington is well known for gray, cloudy and rainy weather in February.  It’s a good time to head south for some sun.  This week girlfriend Cindy did that flying off for a week with friends in Southern California leaving me to get in trouble on my own – i.e. getting in some birding.  I had contemplated a variation on a southern escape myself with a trip to South Texas to try to add some ABA Lifers.  One potential target, a Hook Billed Kite, is continuing to be seen but the other bird of interest, a Fork Tailed Flycatcher, finally disappeared.  I could not justify the expense and time for a single new bird, tempting as it was.

Birding with Friends – Day 1 – West to Clallam County

Still, I did want to do some fun birding and it could not have turned out better.  Jon Houghton is going FOY crazy right now – seeking First Of Year species for Washington.  Several opportunities were beckoning from Clallam County.  He beckoned me and I was definitely game for a trip on Monday, February 17th.  Our main target would be a Glaucous Gull being seen near the Coast Guard Station at the end of Ediz Hook in Port Angeles.  Rare but regular in Washington, a Glaucous Gull is a good addition to any Year List in the State.  It would be a FOY for each and of especial interest to me to add to the great birds with a Northern affinity that I had seen in recent chases:  Ross’s and Ivory Gulls, Barnacle Goose, Gyrfalcon, Dovekie and Siberian Accentor.

Jon and I caught the 7:55 a.m. Edmonds ferry heading west across Puget Sound to Kingston.  It was a gorgeous sunny day.  The Olympic Mountains glistened in the distance with new snow – as fine a scene as there is anywhere.

Looking West to the Olympics from Hometown Edmonds

The Olympics

Jon got his first FOY as soon as we were on the ferry as several Bonaparte’s Gulls flew nearby with the white leading edges of their wings and their delicate flight making for an easy ID.  We watched for alcids on the crossing and found only Pigeon Guillemots – mostly in breeding plumage.  I had no FOY’s but was pleased to get a photo of a Brandt’s Cormorant already showing the plumes of breeding plumage as we docked in Kingston.

Pigeon Guillemot

Pigeon Guillemot

Brandt’s Cormorant

Brandt's Cormorant2

Although there were several good birds in the Sequim area that were on Jon’s hit list, we decided to first try for the Glaucous Gull and headed directly to Port Angeles and Ediz Hook, a reinforced and improved natural spit extending out into the Straits of San Juan de Fuca.  It has produced many good birds over the years including Yellow Billed Loon and Thick Billed Murre and can have Snow Buntings or Lapland Longspurs in addition to being a great spot for gulls.

Ediz Hook

Ediz Hook

Maybe half-way out onto the spit we saw a birder with a scope clearly fixed on something on the shore.  It was Lonnie Somer, a very good Washington birder, and he was looking at a Plover.  In the brilliant sunshine it had a bit of a golden cast, but unfortunately it was not a Golden Plover – just a Black Bellied Plover in non-breeding plumage.  Still a nice picture.

Black Bellied Plover

Black Bellied Plover

Lonnie was also interested in the Glaucous Gull and he joined us as we went to the end of the Spit to search for a large pale gull with a dark tip on its bill.  There were 30+ gulls resting, flying, moving, foraging.  The light was perfect – not a cloud in the sky.  It did not take long to find the Glaucous Gull.  It perched, walked, flew into the water and then perched again.  Photo ops were everywhere.  We were struck by its apparent size and especially the length of its wings compared to the Glaucous Winged or Glaucous Winged x Western hybrids (“Olympic Gulls“) which the field guides say are only an inch or two smaller.

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull1r

Glaucous Gull Takeoff

Glaucous Gull in Water

Mission accomplished, we headed east back to Sequim looking for new year birds.  There were hits and misses.  The tide was still too high for the Pacific Golden Plover and Willet that had been seen at the 3 Crabs hotspot and we dipped on the American Dipper at the Railroad Bridge.  I added Long Tailed Duck to my year list.  Too far for a photo but gorgeous in the sunshine.  I got a good photo of one of the many Great Blue Herons we saw and it reminded me that sometimes we get so caught up in looking for target species that we forget about some of the everyday ones that are very special indeed.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron3

Dipping on a Dipper is not the end of the world, but they are fun species and I wish it had appeared for us.  There would be Dippers later, but Jon really wanted one on this day.  I had seen one at another location on the Dungeness River a couple of years ago off Woodcock Road.  It was worth a try.  Success – for Jon, but not for me.  He walked on one side of the bridge as I scouted on the other.  He called out that he had one.  I climbed over one barrier, crossed the road, climbed over another barrier and looked where Jon pointed.  There was “Dipper Poop” on the rock but no Dipper.  Especially this year, such a miss just doesn’t matter so much.  I was glad my friend had seen it and I settled for another scenery shot, happy just to be out this spectacular sunny day.

Dungeness River

Dungeness River

There would be one more fun stop as we pulled into the Sea-watch spot at Diamond Point.  Somewhat surprisingly we had seen very few loons and alcids despite being in good territory.  We had a single loon at this spot – a Pacific Loon and not the hoped for Yellow Billed, but we had a very nice 5 alcid list:  both Ancient and Marbled Murrelets, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot and Rhinoceros Auklet.  A nice end to very nice day and we even made it onto the 4:40 Ferry despite it being a holiday and signs indicating there was an hour wait.  Jon ended up with 4 FOY’s and I had 2, most importantly for both of us including the Glaucous Gull.  Much more importantly two good friends enjoyed the super weather and great company.  And I knew that I had scheduled another birding day with friends the next day as well.

Birding with Friends – Day 2 – South to Pierce County

County listing is a big time part of many birder’s lives.  I have many friends and met many folks on my 50/50/50 journey for whom it is the most important part of how they organize their birding activities.  Fortunately it has never been that important to me.  And I say fortunately because I have enough obsessions already.  That said I do like listing, do like round numbers and do occasionally note the county lists that Ebird automatically keeps for me.  So I had often noted that my life list for Pierce County was both pretty poor given how close it is to where I live in Southern Snohomish County, how often I pass through it on the way to other areas and how many good birding friends I have there – including some of the the very best birders in the State.  I also noted that my life list was getting fairly close to one of those noticeable round numbers.  It stood at 187 species and was missing many “easy ones”.  Why not go for 200?

On our chase of the Siberian Accentor, Bruce LaBar – one of those outstanding birders in Tacoma and Pierce County – and I had discussed a trip to Texas in May.  It was time to work on some details.  And Ed Pullen, another outstanding birder in Tacoma was recently back from a month of birding in Texas and wanted to talk about some ideas for his terrific Bird Banter Podcast (   The weather was again outstanding.  Here was an opportunity to see friends, cover some topics of interest and work on that County List.  Bruce and Ed were game.  I actually think they are always game to go birding in Pierce County.  I could not have better guides or better company.  Let’s go.

When heading south out of Edmonds, planning always has to consider traffic.  It used to be that being on the road by 6:00 a.m. meant that you could pretty much keep at the speed limit on the I-5 Freeway.  Now even leaving at 5 or 5:30, there is no guarantee.  Leave after 7 and the guarantee is that it will be a slow go.  It is 52 miles from my house to the Starbucks in Old Town in Tacoma where we were to meet at 8:00 a.m.  Without traffic my trip would be about an hour.  Bad traffic could easily double that time.  So I headed south at 5:40 a.m. and made relatively good time with only a few bottlenecks.  If I had continued on I would have gotten there an hour early.  I could go to Starbucks and just sit reading Facebook or playing online games or … I could bird.

Of course I chose the latter stopping at the “go to spot” for Redheads (ducks not people) at the pond in front of the former Weyerhauser Headquarters in Federal Way.  It was almost completely dark when I arrived but I could see a hundred or more ducks on the water.  The whistled calls meant that many if not most were Wigeons but it was too dark to really see.  In another 15 minutes, there was sufficient light to find a few Redheads scattered around the pond along with the Wigeons, Gadwalls, Ring Necked Ducks and Mallards.  These were the first Redheads I had seen this year.  It is not going to be a big list this year, but I still pay attention.

Then it was off to Tacoma with plenty of time even if there was some additional traffic.  Traffic was light so there was time to make another stop along the way.  I had prepared a “needs” list for Pierce County.  It was only of birds that had been reported as seen in the County over the past two weeks.  One was a Brant – a goose that is plentiful in the salt water near my home in Edmonds but pretty rare in Pierce County.  It was being reported at Thea’s Park which was on the way to my rendezvous spot.  I pulled over and parked, grabbed my camera and thought about getting my spotting scope, expecting the goose to be out in Commencement Bay somewhere.  I looked up before hauling out the scope and not more than 100 feet from me was a single Brant sitting alone on the grass.  So within 2 seconds, I had added a new County bird.  And got some really nice photos.  An omen for a great day.  And did I mention that the weather was again spectacular?

Brant – Pierce County Lifer #188


I was at the meeting spot a bit early, but Bruce called with a small change in plans and he and Ed would be by shortly.  It turned out Ed lived very near the Starbucks so we met on the street where I could park.  Bruce had my “needs list” and places to go for many of the birds on it.  Ed had a new car, a Subaru Outback, and this would be its first birding trip.  It was if I had signed on for a guided tour.  I just sat back and got the royal treatment with two of the County’s best.  I never knew where we were going but it did not matter.  I was in good hands.

Our first stop was to Puget Park and our first target was a Barred Owl.  It is perfect habitat – wooded slopes with a good trail.  A pair of raccoons crossed the trail maybe 150 yards ahead of us.  One stopped to give us the eye and I grabbed a quick photo.

Raccoon at Puget Park


We played the Barred Owl’s familiar “Who cooks for you – all” call at a couple of spots not far into the park.  No response for maybe five minutes and then I spied one flying above us down the trail and then it landed on an open branch in a nearby tree.  A FOY and a County Lifer and a nice photo.  It began to call and got a response from another owl on the other side of the trail.  We watched it for maybe ten minutes and then it took off – probably to join its mate.

Barred Owl – Pierce County Life Bird #189

Barred Owl1

Our next stop was Point Defiance Park – Dune Peninsula.  What a fabulous spot – newly developed into a beautiful park with lots of viewing opportunities into Puget Sound and the Bay, open areas, grassy lawns and of special interest to us – Western Meadowlarks.  It is not where I would have expected them, but they were there in good numbers and beautiful in the brilliant sunshine.  Note:  when I looked at this picture, I could not understand the pattern in the background.  The Meadowlark had obviously just flown off a fence.  It is a fence in the background as well – just as black as the one in the foreground but lightened to a fading light as the camera’s depth of field almost made it disappear entirely.

Western Meadowlark – Pierce County Life Bird #190

Western Meadowlark

This was a well orchestrated trip.  When our next stop produced over 100 American Wigeons but without a Eurasian Wigeon among them, Bruce and Ed had a Plan B that took us to Titlow Park where a smaller flock of Wigeons included at least 3 Eurasians – two males and a female and also what appeared to be a hybrid American/Eurasian.  With the sun behind me and directly on the ducks, photos were easy.  I was particularly happy to get one photo where both male and female Eurasians were joined by an American and all were in pretty good focus.

Eurasian Wigeon – Pierce County Life Bird #191

Eurasian Wigeon Male

Male and Female Eurasian Wigeon and Male American Wigeon

Three Wigeons

Around the corner from the ducks we again viewed the salt water and had all three species of Cormorant including Brandt’s Cormorant, another Pierce County Lifer, number 192.

Brandt’s Cormorant – Pierce County Lifer #192

Brandt's Cormorants

We then moved south to Purdy Spit where somewhat continuing the surprising absence of loons in Clallam County the previous day, we (actually Ed) found only a single Red Throated Loon.  Purdy was not as birdy as it often is but Bruce managed to pull a couple of Black Scoters – our target – out of a flock of Surf Scoters.  Pretty awful views, but sufficient for an ID and Pierce County Lifer #193.  No photo of the Black Scoter but a gorgeous male Barrow’s Goldeneye was very cooperative.  There were Common Goldeneye as well, a common species throughout the morning.  Too bad there was no Common Eider here as there had been in January 2017.

Barrow’s Goldeneye

Barrow's Goldeneye

It was time to move away from the water and we headed to the University of Puget Sound Campus to look for a Townsend’s Warbler.  Nothing at first but then I saw a flash of yellow on a cedar tree and we had our bird, and then another.  It was another new Pierce County bird and the first I had seen in Washington this year.

Townsend’s Warbler – FOY and Pierce County Lifer #194

Townsend's Warbler

We continued to “the Gog” aka the Gog-Le-Hi-Te Mitigated Wetlands where we would scan the gulls on the nearby warehouse roofs looking for an Iceland Gull.  I had probably seen one there before bit had not paid any attention.  This time we found several.  I really do not like gull identification and the longer I look at them, many of the species begin to look alike to me.

Iceland Gull – Pierce County Lifer #195

Iceland Gull

And then it was further east and to new territory for me as we went to the fields in West Orting looking for the flock of Swans wintering there.  Against the green background of the field, the large white birds were hard to miss and I quickly had Pierce County Lifer #196 – a Trumpeter Swan.  Would there be another?  Bruce had seen a Tundra Swan in with the Trumpeters earlier but we could not find it now.  We did find two Trumpeters with rusty chests and necks – a result of having iron in their diet somewhere.

Trumpeter Swan – Pierce County Lifer #196

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter swans with “Stained Plumage”

Stained Swans

We also found a single Greater White Fronted Goose – not a County lifer but new for me in 2020.  Better yet, Bruce kept on looking at every bird and finally found one with the tell-tale yellow on the bill below the eye.  A Tundra Swan was to be Lifer #197 on my Pierce County List after all.

Greater White Fronted Goose – FOY

Greater White Fronted Goose

Tundra Swan – Pierce County Lifer #197

Tundra Swan Head

We tried for one more County Lifer – a Lesser Goldfinch.  We looked at several spots but were unsuccessful.  They are in the area – just not cooperating this day.  It was time to head back to Tacoma and then for me to head home.  We had missed three possibilities: Common Murre, Peregrine Falcon and the Lesser Goldfinch, but I was thrilled to add 10 new County life birds, bringing me oh so close to the magic 200 species for the County.  So definitely a great day of birds and great photos, but far and away what was best was birding with two great friends.  That big yellow thing in the sky was a nice bonus.

Two super days of sunshine, friends and birds.  Photos were a welcomed part of the adventure.  I do love birding.




A Siberian Accentor in Washington – Thank You Russ Koppendreyer

I often find typos or errors in previous blog posts and go back an make the change – no big deal.  Another change is in order and this one is a big deal.  A very nice big deal.

In an earlier post (See, I wrote:  “The Siberian Accentor is a small passerine bird, much like a sparrow, which breeds in northern Siberia on both sides of the Urals. It is migratory, wintering in southeast Asia. It is a rare vagrant in western Europe, and a very rare vagrant on the West Coast of the United States. Another “mega” in the ABA area.  I don’t know if it has ever been seen in Washington State – certainly not by me…”  Nothing has changed about the description of the bird or its normal range, but thanks to Russ Koppendreyer, I have to change that part about if it had ever been seen in Washington and that part about “not by me”.

That earlier blog post followed a trip to British Columbia successfully chasing a bird found there by George Clulow on January 3, 2016.  It was a mob scene but I was able to observe and get a distant photo of a Siberian Accentor – an ABA Life Bird.  That Accentor stayed until at least January 18th and was seen by many observers from Canada and the U.S.

Siberian Accentor – B.C. – January 4, 2016

Siberian Accentor1

On Thursday, February 6th, Russ Koppendreyer, an excellent birder, posted the following on Tweeters, the major listserv for Washington birders:  “I just found what I believe to be a Siberian Accentor at the west end of Stenerson Rd in the Woodland Bottoms. Photo sent to expert, but confident enough to get the word out. In leafless tree on north side of road with Juncoes, then flew behind the west most house on north side of the road.”

And then the madness began…

I contacted Russ for more details and the photo he sent absolutely confirmed the ID.  Knowing all too well my Rule 1 for a chase to “go now”,  I debated leaving immediately.  Without major traffic issues (never guaranteed), I calculated I could get to the location by maybe 3:45 p.m.  The days are getting longer, but that still did not leave a whole lot of good light.  If I made the 3 hour drive and did not find the bird, then what?  Stay the night and try the next day? Return home with an even longer drive since the traffic for sure would be bad?  I had seen the B.C. bird but it would be really nice to have it on my Washington List.  I decided to wait and try the next day.  When reports came in that it had been seen again after 3:45 pm, I chided myself for not leaving earlier.  Maybe it would stay.

Russ’s Siberian Accentor Photo (Enhanced)

Russ Accentor

I called several friends to see if they were up for an early morning departure and quickly found 3 who were up for the adventure, including Bruce LaBar from Tacoma.  The fact that this would be a state life bird for Bruce attests to its rarity as Bruce had seen 453 species in the state, significantly atop the Ebird all-time list.  Jon Houghton, Mark Tomboulian and I left Edmonds at 5:30 a.m.  on Friday the 7th and picked up Bruce an hour later.  Our next stop would be Stenerson Road.  We wagered how many birders would already be there, but the important question was whether any of them would be looking at “THE BIRD”.

We arrived about 8:10 a.m.  The answer to the first question was somewhere between 15 and 20 and the answer to the second was “No” but it had been seen earlier.  More birders arrived in short order and by 8:40 we heard someone say “I’ve got it!”  It was seen in a distant willow tree across a field maybe 200 yards away.  The Accentor is a small bird, less than 5.5 inches long.  It could barely be seen even with our scopes, but the brief looks mostly buried in foliage were sufficient to see the buffy orange breast, supercilium and throat and black mask.  Not great looks but they were looks of a great bird.  The best picture I could get was the tree in which the Accentor was buried.  A tiny spot in the tree was the bird, so I technically had a photo of a Siberian Accentor in Washington, but certainly not ID quality and not good enough to honestly include on my State Photo list.

The Accentor Tree – It Really Is in There – to the Right of the Arrow

Acc Tree

The bird flew to the adjoining tree and continued to play hide and seek.  Barely decent scope looks and no photos at all.  Then it disappeared.  After another hour plus we said goodbye to the now more than 50 birders who had assembled and headed off for some Clark County birding.  Of particular interest was Lower River Road where a Snowy Egret continues.  Extremely rare in Washington, this Snowy Egret with one or two Great Egrets has been found at this spot for three years now – the only one in the State.  We found the two Egrets and lots of waterfowl including large flocks of Tundra Swans, Cackling Geese, Snow Geese and many ducks.  There were also many Sandhill Cranes.  We had seen some earlier at the Accentor stakeout spot.  There were also many California Scrub Jays.  Within the past 10 years this species has significantly expanded its range and in now quite common in Clark and Cowlitz counties.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

Great Egret

Great Egret

California Scrub Jay

California Scrub Jay

We failed to find the Lesser Goldfinches that have often been seen at a small park in Vancouver, WA and then were disappointed to find that the River S Unit of Ridgefield NWR was closed on weekdays.  We had hoped for a Red Shouldered Hawk there.  We looked for one at the Carty Unity of the Refuge and were unsuccessful.

We returned to the Accentor Stakeout hoping for better looks.  There were many birders there – some remaining from the morning but mostly new arrivals.  There had been sporadic observations for a short while after we left but nothing for a couple of hours.  We waited 30 minutes and then headed home.  It had been a very fun day and we had seen the main target and added some species for the year.  If only I had gotten the photo, I would have been completely satisfied.  Even an almost traffic free return trip during what should have been rush hour did not quite make for the failure to get that picture.  Guess I can still get greedy sometimes.

My best estimate is that at least 70 people had tried for and/or seen the Siberian Accentor on Friday.  There were many more than that who gave it a go on Saturday and unlike our experience, there were several times on Saturday when the Siberian Accentor flew into the close-in apple tree where Russ had first seen it or in to some cedars about halfway between the apple tree and the distant willows.  There were some ok photos and some that were quite good.  Ouch…rub it in.  I gave a quick thought to a return trip to get a photo.  We were going to an Oscars Party Sunday evening so I decided to just be happy with seeing this mega rarity again – and now in my home state.  BUT…even more reports and more photos came in from Sunday.  How about Monday?

On many occasions (birding and otherwise) I have recognized my good luck in having Cindy Bailey enter my life.  Not long into our relationship, she took a big chance and joined me on a couple of my 50/50/50 Adventures in Ohio and Michigan and then again later in Wyoming and Montana.  She got a taste of a chase when she joined Jon Houghton and me going for the Emperor Goose in Sequim in December, but she had enough sense not to come along on my Ivory Gull marathon (see an-ivory-gull-at-flathead-lake-whats-behind-a-complicated-chase/).  I had bemoaned my lack of a photo of the Accentor off and on Saturday and Sunday.  She encouraged me to try again.  We had nothing scheduled for Monday and Cindy was interested in a firsthand view of the craziness I had described with the throngs at the stakeout.  She was game for a road trip.  The weather was great on Monday morning and when I saw an early report that the Accentor had been seen again, the decision was made.  So we loaded Chica (our Black Labrador) into her crate and headed south, leaving at 10:00 a.m.

Helped a bit by being a car pool (even without Chica), we breezed through first Seattle and then Tacoma and made it to Stenerson Road around 1:00 pm.  I grabbed my camera and checked the settings – or tried to – but I had really blown it.  Unknowingly I had left the camera on from the Friday trip and even though I had a double battery pack in – it was dead!!!  I will not repeat the language I used to express my anger – at myself.  I have learned some lessons though and had brought a back up camera – a Canon 70SX.  I am still not used to it and it does not focus as fast or well or reload as fast as my DSLR, but it was all I had.

There were maybe 15 birders already there.  We got the word that the Accentor had been seen intermittently.  We joined the group – and waited.  Nothing for maybe 20 minutes and then it flew out from the trees behind the road where the birders were gathered and where it could not be seen, and made a 3 second stop in the apple tree and then headed off to the cedars with a bunch of Juncoes and disappeared.  We had seen it in flight and got just enough of a glance to know it was the Accentor but no chance at a photo.  Cindy took Chica for a walk and I continued the vigil as more birders arrived.  Perhaps 15 minutes later a flock flew from the cedars to the trees behind the road.  We had a one second view of the Accentor as part of the group and that was it.  Another 10 minutes passed and I had walked a little distance away from the group and was close to the apple tree.  I saw a single bird fly in and it was again the Accentor.   I yelled out – “it’s our bird”.  I should have concentrated on getting my photo.  By the time I could try, it flew off again.

I went to the car and checked on Chica and Cindy – quite frustrated as I probably could have gotten a photo if I had the other camera.  They were fine.  We nibbled on fruit and crackers we had brought along.  I regained composure and returned for one more try.  Now there were maybe 25 people there – anxious and eager.  Once more the Accentor flew into the apple tree.  This time it perched in the open and stayed in the open for a moment or two.  That was just enough time to finally get a few pictures.  I have trouble focusing this camera in general and much moreso when there are branches to deal with and end even moreso when I am stressing about it.  So, not the best photos ever, but I now had an OK photo of a Siberian Accentor in Washington.  It was state photo #410.  Hurray!!

Siberian Accentor

Siberian Accentor

Feeling very much better when I returned to the car this time, I felt I owed both Cindy and Chica some compensating time and experience.  Listing a Snowy Egret in Washington is not important to Cindy, but she had enjoyed seeing one in California in December.  More importantly I knew she and especially Chica would enjoy the walking at Lower River Road and it really was a gorgeous day, so that would be our next stop.  The sunshine was spectacular, both Mt. St. Helens and Mt Hood were brilliant against the blue sky, and there were waterfowl in the hundreds with great looks at Canvasbacks, Hooded Mergansers, American Wigeon, Ring Necked Ducks, Cackling Geese, Tundra Swans, Mallards, Pintails and Gadwalls.  We also saw what to me was an unbelievable 15 Great Egrets and then the Snowy Egret.

Much more importantly we had a great walk with Chica getting a chance to romp along and then go into retriever mode to chase and bring back “the stick”, time after time after time.  It truly was gorgeous and as relaxing a time as we could hope for, a great capper for a great day.

Mt. Hood


My Two “Girls” – Cindy and Chica

Cindy and Chica

I had promised a good dinner if we found the Accentor and we thought about trying something new in Olympia.  I had passed by the “Rib Eye” Restaurant in Napavine many times on birding trips but had never stopped.  The timing was right and when the sign caught our eye about 6 pm heading north we decided to go for some beef.  They did not have prime rib on weekdays, so we settled for some rib eye steaks.  A bit of gristle but done just right and there was enough to give Chica a treat as well.

Rib Eye Steak


A few more words on the Siberian Accentor.  When Russ posted his marvelous find on Tweeters, it set in motion a wonderful reaction in the birding world.  The location was less than an hour from Portland and its airport and about 2.5 hours from Seattle.  Birders from all over Oregon and Washington flocked to see the bird beginning on the afternoon of the 6th and the crowd grew on Friday and then Saturday and then again on Sunday.  Birders from many other states came in as well.  Birding friends of mine visited from Boston and Ohio and I am sure there were  birders from other states as well.  The rush has continued in smaller numbers Monday when I returned for a second visit and the observations have continued this morning.  Birds that over wintered in Idaho and Montana stayed for two months.  The B.C. Accentor remained for 2 weeks.  Who knows how long this will one will remain.

You get a good sense of the rarity and appeal of the bird since it is the one pictured on the cover of “Rare Birds of North America” (Howell, Lewington and Russell).  After seeing Russ’s Tweeters post on Thursday, I posted the find (by him and with his photo) on the ABA Rare Bird Alert page on Facebook.  There were 100 “likes” within 10 minutes and they continue today – now being over 800.  I posted it because it was a similar post about the Ivory Gull in Montana that got me motivated to chase it.  I do not know how many people have now seen the Siberian Accentor, but I know we all owe Russ Koppendreyer a great big THANK YOU!!

Rare Birds of North America Cover

Accentor Book

I have to say this in my blogs that include rarities – I would greatly prefer that male Smew – but a Siberian Accentor is a great add to my state life list and photo lists and continues a run of successful chases and great birds lately.  Maybe this will be the Year of the Smew.


An Ivory Gull at Flathead Lake – What’s Behind a Complicated Chase

On January 31st, the following was posted on the Montana Rare Bird Alert:  “WOW!! This immature Ivory Gull, a state first, was photographed by Craig Barfoot yesterday (January 30th) at Blue Bay, Flathead Lake.”  It was reposted on the Facebook ABA Rare Bird Alert where I saw it.  The gull had originally been found on the 29th.  It was found again on the 31st so maybe it would stay.

On Cornell’s All About Birds website the Ivory Gull is described as “A small white gull of the high Arctic, the Ivory Gull only rarely comes south of the Bering Sea or the Maritime Provinces. In fact, it rarely is found away from pack ice, spending the winter on the ice north of Newfoundland.”  There have been a number of sightings in New England and very rarely in the Midwest and even as far South as Alabama BUT it is a VERY rare bird and is very much sought after by birders.  It had never been seen before in Montana.  There are two singular observations in Washington; none in Idaho or Oregon and only a couple in California.  I wanted to see it.

Here it is again, Rule 1 for a chase – GO NOW!!  It was already two days after the first observation.  Flathead Lake is 520 miles from Edmonds.  When I checked on the 31st, I found an “almost affordable” flight from Everett, WA to Kalispell, MT.  It is another 55 miles from there to the hotspot.  Not a great departure or return schedule so an overnight and two days were probably necessary. Not ideal…BUT IT WAS AN IVORY GULL!!


And oh yeah, there was that Super Bowl Party thing.  Cindy and I had committed to attending it on Sunday February 2nd.  Rule 1 was NOT going to be followed.  I contacted some Edmonds birders with a plan.  If the Gull was seen again on Saturday the 1st and Sunday the 2nd, I would fly out on Monday hopefully see it then and then fly back on the morning of the 4th or if not seen on Monday, then try again on Tuesday.  They all had conflicts and could not go.

The fundamental basis for Rule 1 is that things change.  And change they did.  The area was hit by a big wind storm with winds exceeding 60 mph on Saturday February 1st.  Many disappointed observers failed to find the Ivory Gull.  Ken Trease from Edmonds had made the long drive and was one of them.  OK, so as of Saturday night – I was not going to go.   On to Super Bowl Sunday, still keeping an eye on Ebird reports.  And there it was…the Ivory Gull was seen again Sunday morning.  In fact Ken had stayed over on Saturday and fortunately was able to see the Ivory Gull Sunday morning.  As I said things change.  Another one.  The price for what had been a sort of affordable flight had doubled.  I really wanted to see the Ivory Gull BUT not at that price.

All day Sunday, I watched the bird reports on Ebird and related sites – continuing to do so as the Super Bowl started.  The Ivory Gull was seen in the morning and again in the afternoon.  Time for Plan B:  Make the drive and keep fingers crossed that it would return again on Monday.  If I left around 2:00 a.m. after a few hours of sleep, maybe I could get there by 11:00 a.m. Monday…but uh-oh that would actually be 12 p.m. as the time zone changed.  The bird’s pattern seemed to be to show in the morning with the afternoons being more questionable.  I adopted Plan B-2, paying somewhat delayed homage to the Go Now directive of Rule 1.  I would leave before the Super Bowl was over and drive as far as I could, sleep a few hours in the car and get to Flathead Lake as early as I could on Monday morning.   There were several mountain passes on the route and reports for all were good.  That too could change – I went now!!

I was on the road before 8:00 pm.  According to my GPS, allowing for gas stops etc. a non-stop drive would get me to the Lake before 6:00 a.m. Mountain Time.  Possible, but I knew that some sleep would be beneficial AND I expected I could make better time than that without getting a ticket along the way.  I drove through to Coeur d’Alene, ID making good time and found a Rest Area to try for a bit of sleep in the car.  Not super comfortable and it was very cold (in the teens) but I got a couple of hours of rest/sleep and was back on the road.  It had been dark the whole trip and dark in Idaho and Montana is very dark.  The roads were clear but there was snow everywhere and it was hard to ignore the warning signs to look for ice.  Either there was none or my Jeep handled it easily.  Not a single slip or slide.  It was also very cold.  Going over Lookout Pass between Idaho and Montana, it dipped down to 5 degrees.  I stayed in the car; the heater worked.

It helped that there was almost no traffic.  At one point I had traveled over 100 miles without passing a vehicle going in my direction or overtaking one either.  Gas stations in Idaho were “open” but only for gas – no food or services – after 11:00 p.m. on Sunday – no 24 hour availability.  Leaving the rest stop early on Monday morning around 2:00 a.m. a warning light came on my dashboard – low tire pressure.  Maybe just a result of sitting in the cold air, but I would have liked to get some air.  I checked at 6 gas stations in Idaho and then later in Montana.  Not a single one had air available.  Oh well what was the worst that could happen…on slippery roads, in the cold, in the dark, alone…  I left that thought and carried on.

Adrenaline is a wonderful thing.  The drive to get to Blue Bay and a chance for this amazing life bird was more than enough to get by on less than 2 hours of sleep.  I found some coffee at a truck stop in Montana.  Later there was a bathroom run at an open early McDonald’s with a “something McMuffin” and before 6:30 a.m. Mountain time, I was at the Blue Bay Campground at Flathead Lake.  There was a tiny hint of light and no one else was there, and it was windless and cold and clear.   I was surprised that no other birders were present.  Had I missed a post somewhere that the Ivory Gull had died?  There are terrible moments on a chase – especially a long one, and especially for a very special bird, when the doubt seeps in.  There is so much investment.  Was I at the wrong area even at the right place.  The bird had been reported “on the dock” but there were several docks including some much further down the lake.  There were NO birds.  Well there was one.  I heard the distinctive call note of a Townsend’s Solitaire.  It was atop a light post.  Barely visible as it was almost completely dark still.   It flew off.  Then I saw movement on the shore next to the boat launch.  Had the Solitaire just landed in the water?  No it was a second bird – an American Dipper.  Don’t know where it came from but I was interested in much bigger prey.  A few minutes later there was something the right size, but definitely the wrong color – a black Raven not a white Gull.

Dock at Blue Bay – Flathead Lake. Montana

Blue Bay2

I waited alone as the light improved but no birds were seen.  An hour passed – nada.  I walked out onto two of the docks – maybe it was there but hidden from my view from the shore.  Nope.  I returned to the car to turn on the heat and warm up a couple of times.  I texted Ken Trease around 7 a.m. Edmonds time and got a kind call back and Ken confirmed I was in the right place.  About 8:20 a.m. Mountain time, I emailed friend Melissa Hafting in Vancouver, B.C.  We had not been able to work out a combined trip – disappointing to both of us but moreso to her as she had missed an Ivory Gull in Nome by moments and very much wanted to see this bird.  I told her that so far it was a no-show.  The light was good and I was more than ready and getting a bit anxious.  I was beginning to think that I would have to abide by Rule 2 for a chase:  “If you do not follow Rule 1 and go now, you are not allowed to whine about it.”  I thought about whining but determined to just wait.

Seemingly out of nowhere 10 minutes after I had emailed Melissa, a gull was flying towards me from out on the Lake.  It passed by the large dock at the Marina and flew towards the smaller dock near the entrance to the campground.  It seemed too big for an Ivory Gull – more like the somewhat larger Ring Billed Gull which would not be surprising at this location.  I did not see dark wing tips – maybe, maybe, maybe – please, please, please.  I got a quick photo as it flew by.  It did not land on the dock.  It turned and flew towards me – right at me – and landed not more than 100 feet away on the shore.  It was without doubt the Ivory Gull and without doubt I was ecstatic!!

Ivory Gull – First View in Flight

Ivory Gull Flight2

Like the Ross’s Gull, Ivory Gulls in their native habitats rarely see any people and are not at all concerned about us.  It truly was as if I was not there as the Ivory Gull paid me no mind whatsoever.  About 5 minutes after first spotting the gull, another birder arrived parking on the boat launch ramp which was between the two sets of docks.  I later learned that this was Eric Rasmussen, an excellent birder/ornithologist from Missoula.  He had been scanning the area from outside the park and now he had his scope on it in front of me.  I made sure not to startle the bird, but approached for better photos walking onto one of the docks to get closer as the gull remained on the shore and this would give me a great angle.  I need not have worried.  The Ivory Gull kept foraging and kept coming towards me – getting to within less than 25 feet.  My camera could just barely focus it was so close.


The water close to the shore and next to the dock was partially frozen and my favorite photos were of the Ivory Gull standing on the ice – almost as if it was on its usual frozen habitat in the far north.

Gull on ICe

After many shots, I left my post and went to see who this other birder was.  Eric had driven in from Missoula and it was from him that I learned of the big windstorm on Saturday that explained the absence of observations that day.   Eric is a Field Ornithologist/Naturalist at MPG Wildlife which is a very interesting organization that stewards and manages a 15,000 acre ranch for wildlife preservation and study.  As with almost all other birding adventures, there is a likelihood of finding great people and places along with the great birds.  We shared many stories including about having partners who are not birders but are interested in birds – well at least the charismatic ones.

We stood on the boat ramp and watched the Ivory Gull continue to forage and then it flew off for a second – and then returned and landed 20 feet away from us – completely ignoring our existence.  The photo below is not high quality – but it was taken with my phone.  I never expected to see an Ivory Gull and certainly would never have expected to get a photo of one with a cell phone – unless I was on some inflatable on a high arctic adventure which was not going to happen.

Cell Phone Photo

Phone Picture

The Gull foraged on the shoreline to the left and right of the ramp.  We took hundreds of photos in the hour or so that we enjoyed this incredible opportunity.  Finally I had to leave as I wanted to get back to Edmonds.  As I returned to my car another car pulled in and they could immediately see the Ivory Gull on the rocky shore and they sped off on foot for better looks.  It did not seem like they had paid their proper dues with the instant gratification, but I have been in that spot myself so I was just happy they were able to see the gull.


The return trip was much different than the journey to start the chase.  For one thing it was bright sun and all of that unseen territory in the darkness of the night was now visible – and gorgeous.  Snow on the beautiful mountains and incredible lakes and rivers which made me think of flyfishing and trout.  I was able to stop at a Les Schwab Tire Center and get air into my tires and I had a nice chat with the guy there who actually appreciated hearing about my trek and the rare bird nearby.




As I was reveling in my good fortune and the marvelous Ivory Gull, a sign caught my eye with the promise of coffee and a bakery.  I felt a celebratory reward was in order so in I went.  This was not some urban and urbane frou frou bakery.  The cinnamon rolls were large enough for a hard working cowboy’s appetite – too big for me even for a grand celebration.  I found a nice looking confection with sliced almonds on top that looked manageable (and yummy).  It was only after my first bite that I found the cream filling which I am sure doubled the calories.  Nevertheless I did finish the whole thing.

Coffee and a Dessert


So sustained, I drove all the way back with a brief stop for a 20 minute cat nap outside Post Falls, ID and then a little bit of birding at a favorite spot near Suncadia in Washington.  To avoid traffic into Seattle, I stopped for dinner in Issaquah – a good decision as afterwards it was clear sailing home.

It was quite a trip.  Over 1000 miles in less than 24 hours and an incredible encounter with a rare and beautiful bird that I never expected to see.  When I set off, I figured the trek would give me a story to tell one way or the other.  The story is oh so much better having seen the Ivory Gull but just making the effort and pushing on with almost no sleep was yet another confirmation of participating in the adventures that life – and birding – have to offer.   The photo was the 710th ABA species photographed.  More ahead I hope, but I have been very fortunate to have had many great adventures lately – mostly involving more birds of the North.  In just the last two months, I have seen a Ross’s Gull, a Glaucous Gull, a Dovekie, a Barnacle Goose, a Gyrfalcon and now an Ivory Gull.  I think I would still decide to trade them all for a single Male Smew but adding the Ivory Gull makes it a tougher decision.


Familiar Targets in Familiar Territory

The cold and accompanying cough and congestion had been with me for 32 days.  Maybe it was a second one as I thought I was over the one acquired on the San Francisco trip as I left for Boston two weeks ago.  Grandson Griffin had a cold and he is a sharing kind of guy.  And I am sure birding in the New England cold with temps in the 20’s and single digits with wind chill did not help.   In any even I had been almost entirely indoors for a week and needed to get out.  I had hoped for company but did not want to share germs so I headed off alone on Tuesday, January 28th to look for birds on familiar turf in Snohomish and Skagit counties.  Not going to be doing a big Washington list this year, but there will still be a list to keep.

My first stop was at Tulalip Bay to see if Maxine Reid’s pet Ruddy Turnstone was still around.  Not really her pet of course, but she discovered it a year or two ago and reports it frequently – sharing with us all.  It was not at my first stop – the spit, but I found it with Dunlin and Black Turnstones on the logs at the marina – another of its hangouts.  Seeing one in Washington always reminds me of how birding is so different on the two coasts.  Ruddies are abundant in the East and regular but uncommon here where Black Turnstones are abundant.  If a Black Turnstone ever showed up on the East Coast it would be a mega event.

Ruddy Turnstone (from the spit – too distant for photos this day)

Ruddy Turnstone

Next was a visit to Stanwood.  Yellow Headed Blackbirds had been seen near the same area on 98th Avenue where the Vermilion Flycatcher had been seen in 2018.  The area had tons of casual water in the fields and there were many ducks including my FOY Eurasian Wigeon.  There were also many blackbirds and Starlings.  As is soften the case, the flocks would form, fly off and reform within minutes.  I was able to see a single male Yellow Headed Blackbird on the ground in shallow water on a flagged off area for a second before a tractor came by and sent them all off to the trees.  I settled for that brief glance.

Target number 3 was a Wild Turkey on Hanstad Road on Camano Island.  There is a small flock that is regular there but I have missed them as often as I have seen them.  This was another miss.  I had not been to Eide Road since its major “remodel”, so I stopped on my way back.  Complete redo and not very birder friendly.  LOTS of water and very few birds.  Since it was raining I did not walk out along the dike, but was mostly sad to not find the old familiar place that I loved.  So much for Snohomish County.  I continued north.

No matter what else is going on, at this time of year on the Skagit and Samish flats, it is always fun to look for the big flocks of Swans and Snow Geese in addition to other waterfowl and raptors.  I decided not to make the usual stop at Wylie Slough and went straight to Hayton Preserve on Fir Island.  The main hope was for a Northern Shrike but there were other possibilities and one never knows what might be there.  No Shrike, buts lots of ducks and shorebirds.  Many hundred Mallards and American Wigeon, thousands of Dunlin and a dozen plus Black Bellied Plovers and Killdeer.  The shorebirds and many of the ducks took flight suddenly and I watched for a falcon, expecting Peregrine but hoping for a Gyrfalcon.  It was the former and I saw it grab a shorebird – probably a Dunlin.  Just before that I was able to get a distant photo (from the car as it was raining) of another Eurasian Wigeon – one of at least two or three that I saw in the mixed foraging flock.  There had also been small flocks of both Canada and Cackling Geese.

Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian Wigeon1 Eurasian Wigeon Getaway

I continued my visit driving around familiar areas on Maupin, Rawlins, Moore and Fir Island roads.  Swans were everywhere in numbers and I stopped at one small group that I had heard whistling instead of trumpeting and the yellow at the base of the bill confirmed that they were Tundra Swans.  If I had to guess I would estimate that I saw at least 1500 swans for the day with the very large majority being Trumpeter Swans.  When I first started birding in Washington in the mid 1970’s, swans were rare indeed in Western Washington and seeing a Trumpeter was a treasured moment.  Good riddance to lead shot!!

Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan1

Also seen in big numbers were Bald Eagles.  There seemed to be an even split between juveniles and adults.  I stopped counting at 175 for the day – with 10 at a time being the biggest concentration.  Far less common than I think is more often the case were Red Tailed Hawks.  I did not keep a running count but do not believe I saw more than 8.  There were a half dozen or so Northern Harriers and only a single Rough Legged Hawk.  But there were other raptors and these proved to be the highlights of the trip.

Bald Eagle

Immature Bald Eagle

In the past few days, there had been reports of a Prairie Falcon, a Golden Eagle and a Gyrfalcon.   They would all be first of year birds for me.  The Golden Eagle favored a particular group of trees at the intersection of Josh Wilson and Avon Allen Roads, a bit further north.   I did not have specific info for either of the others.  Still on Maupin Road I saw a smallish raptor on a distant tree.  It was an accipiter.  My first guess was a Cooper’s Hawk as it seemed too big for a Sharp Shinned Hawk especially at that distance.  This is where photography really helps.  It was a distant photo from the car – again in the rain, but the small head seen in the picture was proof positive that I was wrong and it was a Sharp Shinned Hawk.

Sharp Shinned Hawk

Sharp Shinned Hawk

A short while later in the same general area I saw another raptor perched alone in a distant tree.  This one seemed much larger but determining size at distance is tricky.  Again the camera saved the day.  My first thought had again been a Cooper’s Hawk female, much larger than the male.  But something was not right.  The photo proved it to be the Gyrfalcon seen in the area earlier in the week.  In the poor light through the rain, I thought it was too brown for that ID, but lots of input from others and photo comparisons on the internet support the conclusion.  A very nice new bird for the year!



Jon Houghton, who I ran into later in the day, had shown me a favorite brushy area just off of Moore and Best Roads that was good for sparrows and we had birded there with mixed results in the past.  I saw some movement in the brush and was able to call in a Lincoln’s Sparrow.  Being protective of my camera, I had left it in the car to avoid getting wet.  But I love the subtlety of this sparrow so I retrieved it and returned to the spot.  It had moved deeper into the woods and would not make another appearance.  I thought I might come back later in the day if I retraced steps.  It was my first one of the year.  I am including an older photo wishing that I had a new one.  The pose in the briers is exactly the same as this day.

Lincoln’s Sparrow

lincoln's sparrow

It had already been a great day despite no Northern Shrike as the Turnstone, Eurasian Wigeon, Yellow Headed Blackbird, Cackling Goose, Sharp Shinned Hawk, Gyrfalcon and Lincoln’s Sparrow were all new for the year.  Time to look for the Golden Eagle.  The small grove of evergreens at the Southeast corner of Josh Wilson and Avon Allen Roads was impossible to miss.  So, too, was the eagle perched atop one of the conifers.  It was also impossible for it to be a Golden Eagle as it had a fully white head and tail.  An adult Bald Eagle.  But wait, there was a second eagle in an adjoining tree visible from my parking spot on Josh Wilson Road.  No golden nape and too large a head and beak.  This was an immature Bald Eagle.  Maybe the Golden Eagle was off hunting and would return.  When I walked around to Avon Allen Road, I saw a third eagle, somewhat buried in the branches.  This was the Golden Eagle indeed.  Even in the dim gray light, the smaller beak and flatter head and a golden cast to the head and nape were readily seen.  Juvenile Bald Eagles without white heads and tails are often misidentified as Golden Eagles and on the Samish and Skagit flats, Goldens are very unlikely.  Nobody knows why this one is here or why it returns consistently to this perch, but we are all glad it does.

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

I still wanted to find a Northern Shrike and figured the East and West 90’s on the Samish Flats would be as good a spot as any and there was always the chance of finding Short Eared Owls.  The latter put on a good show at the East 90’s with at least three there.  Two were interacting and I do not know if it was a breeding display, hunting competition or what.  My photos just show two owls in flight.  There was a third Short Eared Owl there as well and it landed on the ground not too far away giving me a chance for a decent photo.  And then another as it flew away.

Short Eared Owls

Short Eared Owls

Short Eared Owl


A smaller bird landed on a wire and at first I thought it was my Shrike.  Nope – an American Kestrel – often seen here.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

It was then on to the West 90’s where I ran into Jon Houghton and Bev Bowe who were scouting for the field trip Jon would be leading the following day.  They had seen a Northern Shrike at the dike on Fir Island.  I had forgotten to look there and thought I might return.  We watched a single Short Eared Owl and over 30 Western Meadowlarks, the most I had ever seen there.  They took off and I hiked out into the fields hoping for more Owl shots.  Nothing close, but as I returned to the parking area, a Northern Shrike perched briefly.  It was the 9th FOY for the trip.

Northern Shrike

Northern Shrike

Time to go.  I was still coughing a bit and congested, but how much better to be out birding doing that than staying home.  I am closing with two Snow Geese photos as they are quite the show in the area.  One a close up and one a distant shot of thousands of them off Fir Island.  Wish I had seen the Prairie Falcon but no complaints…

Snow Geese

Snow Geese

Snow Geese1



A Dovekie after the Goose and a Great Cormorant after the Dovekie

It has been a great trip to Massachusetts indeed.  In early planning I thought there was at best a 50% chance for a Dovekie and a 50% chance on top of that for a decent photo.  Then that Barnacle Goose showed up and became the priority.  Per my last blog post, the second time was the charm for that.  ABA Lifer and ABA photo #709.  It was cold today – mid-teens and wind chill in single digits, but the sun was out and I rented a car and headed to Gloucester hoping for that Dovekie.

Fisherman’s Memorial Monument


First stop was the Fisherman’s Memorial Monument.  Dovekies had been seen from there.  There were lots of Common Eiders.  Wait what is that?  A small black and white alcid.  Could it be?  A quick photo and it disappeared in a deep and very long dive.  And I never saw it again.  My first look at the photo almost had me believing.  But almost is not good enough.  I had a Razorbill.  Nice but NOT a Dovekie.



Several more stops including the breakwater at the Eastern Point Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary/Lighthouse.  Lots more Common Eiders, some Harlequin Ducks, Common Goldeneyes, Scoters, Scaup, Buffleheads and Mergansers.  I hiked out the length of the breakwater and flushed a Purple Sandpiper but no alcids.  The light was great for some Eider photos though.

Common Eiders – Male and Female

Common Eider Male

Common Eider Female

It was cold in the wind and I needed every layer – and I had brought many.  The breakwater was an easy walk but it was very exposed.  If the wind had been high, it would have been impossible.  It was manageable.

Gloucester Breakwater

About half way back, it happened.  Another black and white form was in front of me and it was not one of the many male Buffleheads.  In excellent light and not more than 50 feet away a Dovekie swam and dove and allowed me to get my life view and my life photo.  They are incredibly small.  It was a very nice moment.




At best I had expected a distant view and without a scope that might have been impossible even if some were present.  This was as good as it gets.  I forgot the cold for at least a while.

It was just after noon.  I wanted to miss the traffic returning to Newton, but there was time for one more quest.  Not quite at the top of my worst bird photos, but right behind Winter Wren, Sinaloa Wren and American Woodcock is a terrible photo of a Great Cormorant.  I spent the next hour plus looking for them in the harbor, on rocks, on islands – in Rockport and back in Gloucester.  Nada.  One more try – Bass Rocks in Gloucester.  As I headed north on the beautiful road with beautiful houses with beautiful views, just before Bass Rocks, numerous dark forms were on a relatively flat rock about 200 yards out.  Up until this day I had seen a total of 4 Great Cormorants in the ABA area and had that one awful photo.  I had also seen them in Africa, and Asia.  On this one rock were 13.  Too far out for great photos but not too bad and an enormous improvement.  A great end to a great day and great trip.

Great Cormorants

Great Cormorants Best

Great Cormorants on Rock

Two life birds and two life photos and the third one may as well have been one as well.  Sign me up for this anytime.

Wild Goose Chases – Second Times a Charm

It is January 20th and I have just returned to my daughter’s home in Newton, MA after a second attempt to find a pair of Barnacle Geese that have been seen in Bristol and Plymouth counties over the past week.  Since this was my second attempt, you can probably guess that the first attempt was not successful.  Thankfully the second was and I now have Barnacle Goose on my ABA Life list.  The experience is reminiscent of other “wild goose chases” where the targeted rarity was not seen until the second attempt.  It is also a reminder yet again to follow Rule #1 on a chase – Go now!!

The main purpose of my visit to Boston was to see my daughter and son-in-law and my grandson who will soon be 2 years old and whom I have not seen nearly as often as I would like.  The visit was long enough to include some birding time and the plan was to get to the coast and try for a Dovekie, which would be a life bird as well.  Two days before I departed Seattle, however, I saw that a Barnacle Goose had been seen in Plymouth County and I figured if it was seen again the next day and again when I was flying out then if weather permitted, I would try for it.  It was seen both days in the same general vicinity so I gave it a go the day after I arrived.

I got to the field on Vaughn Hill Road where it had been reported and there were no geese whatsoever but there were other fields and at one I saw a large flock of geese, and more importantly, several birders with scopes were parked nearby.  It was only 15 degrees so I figured if they were not in their cars this was a good sign.  Unfortunately though, as I parked I got the thumbs down signal.  They had been there for 2+ hours and there were only Canada Geese – hundreds of them.  Disappointing to all of us and somewhat moreso for them as the earlier observations had included two other rarities for the area – a Snow Goose and a Greater White Fronted GooseSnow Geese are abundant in my home state of Washington and Greater White Fronted Geese are common as well.

I hung around for another couple of hours and tried some other fields and ponds nearby, but found no rare geese.  Several new birds for the year since this was a very different habitat than Washington.  My favorite was probably the Mute Swans but I also very much enjoyed a Red Bellied Woodpecker, found not in a tree but seemingly pecking on a cornstalk.

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red Bellied Woodpecker

There were some other consolation prizes as well including nice chats with local birders including some who knew Edmonds birding friend Frank Caruso from his earlier days on Cape Cod and one who was the brother in law of a well known Seattle birder – small world.  I also learned of a great birding site – – which displays Ebird checklists in pretty close to real time.  Two hours after I got back to Newton, I learned that the Barnacle Geese had been found in a different location – several miles from where we had searched.  Too late to return.  Maybe another chance would come – but a snowstorm was predicted that night.  I had some other species as well including my first Eastern Bluebirds for Massachusetts and several White Throated Sparrows.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird2

White Throated Sparrow

White Throated Sparrow

The snow came but they definitely know how to deal with snow here.  Sunday was a day with the family including a visit to the Boston Children’s Museum – a terrific place and some local dining including a lobster roll – yummy.  As an aside, with the promise of a Kouign Amann, we also stopped at a Nero Cafe.  These are a favorite pastry (as I have written) at the Breadfarm in Edison, WA, so this was a not to be missed comparison opportunity.   It was tasty, but the Breadfarm’s is WAAAAY better!!  Meanwhile I kept my eye peeled on Ebird reports and saw that the Barnacle Geese and the other rarities had been seen by many at several times on Sunday.  I planned another attempt on Monday.

Grandson Griffin and Bubbles at the Boston Children’s Museum


The original plan was to leave around 1 p.m. and get to the new location a bit after 2 p.m. but my obsession with the Go Now Rule 1 changed that to a planned departure at 11:00 and then a great conversation delayed that until 11:15 a.m. – which became an almost disastrous delay.  I got to the new location on Golfview Road in Acushnet, MA around 12:15 p.m. and saw two birders there with scopes.  One was a gentleman I had met two days earlier when the Barnacle Geese were missed.  There were hundreds of geese on a pond in front of them.  Just as I pulled up, a portion of the geese took flight, circled and landed behind some reeds at the back of the pond – now invisible.  Uh-oh.  Yep, that group included the Barnacle Geese which had been in the open moments before.  The Snow Goose was still visible as was the Greater White Fronted Goose but no Barnacle Geese – the only ones I cared about.

Maybe 5 minutes later, a group of geese from behind the pond took flight and headed north.  I saw the Barnacle Geese clearly in my binoculars.  I did not have my regular camera with me – only my back up Canon SX70.  It is much harder to focus and does not reload quickly for a series of shots.  I aimed and took two photos.  Would I get lucky?  Not a great photo but lucky enough.  One of the Barnacle Geese was captured in flight.  Had I gotten there 5 minutes earlier, I would have had a nice photo.  Had I gotten there 5 minutes later – no observation at all.

Barnacle Goose in Flight

Barnacle Goose in Flight (2)

Snow Goose (Blue Form)

Snow Goose

Not a great photo but the smaller size, white face and black breast confirm the ID.  I was then a happy birder.  Later I explored the area and found a field with many geese behind a house that had some bird feeders around it.  I knocked on the door and got permission to walk out into the field for a look.  There were hundreds of Canada Geese and when I got relatively close I found the Snow Goose and got a quick look at one of the Barnacle Geese before it disappeared over small hill.  I pressed on a bit and all of the geese took off.  I saw both Barnacle Geese in flight but there was no chance for a photo.  All of the geese returned to the original pond on the golf course.  I returned as well but could not view the Barnacle Geese which I believe were behind the reeds and hill again.

Bottom line is that it was another successful wild goose chase.  In November 2016, I had a somewhat similar experience.  Mike Resch and I tried in vain to find a Pink Footed Goose that had been seen off and on near Artichoke Reservoir near Newburyport, MA.  It took a second try the next day for me to find that lifer as well.   A few months later I had two – with photos – with Melissa Hafting near Victoria, B.C.

Pink Footed Geese (Victoria, B.C.) – March 2017

Pink Footed Geese

In November 2018, I dipped on a Tundra Bean Goose in at the William R. Finley NWR in Oregon.  Again it took a second try as I found it the next week.  Another lifer and another successful wild goose chase.

Tundra Bean Goose – Finley NWR, Oregon – December 2018

Tundra Bean Goose Flight1

In December 2019, Jon Houghton and I chased an Emperor Goose that had been seen in Sequim, WA.  Again it took two tries – although both on the same day.  We missed it at the Dungeness Landing site but found it later at the base of Dungeness Spit.

Emperor Goose – Dungeness Spit – December 2019

Emperor Goose2

And to complete the Wild Goose chases which needed two attempts, there was the Ross’s Goose (uncommon in Washington) at the Ocean Shores Golf Course in January 2018.  Again it was on the same day, but the initial attempt at the wrong spot on the golf course failed.  As it is said, “the second time is the charm” I guess.

Ross’s Goose

Ross's Goose

I have written that I now so enjoy the chasing that it is not so disappointing when the target bird is not found.  Truth in birding though, I was really disappointed in not finding the the Barnacle Geese on the first attempt.  Not nearly as disappointed as I would have been if I had missed them by 5 minutes today.  I guess Go Now includes not waiting even another 5 minutes.


Birds and Birding Month to Month – 2019

It’s January 2020 – the start of a new year and the start of a new decade.  Lots of plans and no way to tell what really lies ahead, but I know 2020 will be quite different from last year and from many of the ones preceding it.  Birds and birding will remain a big part of my life, but there is no birding “project” ahead.  No 50 states to visit.   No Big Year in Washington or anywhere else.  Right now, I am feeling a bit of withdrawal and although I had a chance to write up a wonderful trip to San Francisco which had a little birding, in the following week I was in recovery mode from a bad cold and so did not really get out much.  There was nothing current for any blog post.  I like to write, though, and wanted to get back to it.  This is a start – a retrospective on 2019 with just a little commentary and a photo or two for each month.

For most months I was birding somewhere outside of Washington – working on my 50/50/50 Adventure and/or chasing rarities in British Columbia.  For at least a day or two I was also able to bird in familiar places in Washington.  It was an excellent year in all respects.  What follows is a month by month catalog of favorite photos – one from Washington and one from elsewhere when I birded in and out of state.   A little background is added.  It was often very hard to select only one photo to include – a nice dilemma to have.



Short Eared Owl  Eide Road/Snohomish County January 15th

short eared owl eyes closed

I had a great birding start to the month on January 1st with some birding in my home town of Edmonds, WA followed by time in Skagit County about 40 miles north.  76 species that first day highlighted by a Merlin, a Peregrine Falcon and 5 Short Eared Owls in Skagit County.  I had good photos of the latter from that day but I have chosen an even better photo from Eide Road in Snohomish County – about 20 miles to the south from later that month.

End of Month total for Washington – 160 Species


Black Rosy Finch – Sandia Crest Scenic Highway, Cedar Crest, New Mexico – January 19th

Black Rosy Finch 2

I only birded out of state once in January 2019 – a great visit to New Mexico as part of the 50 state project.  It was a fun 3 day whirlwind visit with 82 species seen highlighted by time at Bosque del Apache NWR and a visit to Sandia Crest in heavy snow looking for Rosy Finches.  I had only seen a single Black Rosy Finch before – in Colorado in 2016 and had an awful photo.  This time there were at least 75 Black Rosy Finches and the photos were much better.

End of Month total for ABA Area- 187 Species



Northern Mockingbird – Anacortes, WA – February 28th

Northern Mockingbird1

Northern Mockingbirds are uncommon in Washington with maybe a handful of records each year.  When one is reported, listers like me chase after them for year and county lists.  This one was around for several days in Anacortes, WA and posed nicely for Ann Marie Wood and me on a sunny day.  There were many other nice Washington birds from trips to the Coast and to the Okanogan area but nothing really rare and I like this photo.  It was also the last bird seen that month.

End of Month total for Washington- 183 Species


Red Billed Leiothorix – Waimea, HI – February 8th

Red Billed Leiothorix

Hawaii always seemed like it would be the toughest state in which to find 50 species in a single day.  I was able to join my daughter, son-in-law and grandson there on Maui in February and tacked on a couple of days on the Big Island to try for the targeted 50.  With the help of excellent guide Lance Tanino, I just barely made it with 51 species on February 7th.  The next morning I found the Red Billed Leiothorix that we missed on the Big Day and include the photo as it is a favorite although like most others in Hawaii it is an introduced species.  All told, I had 60 species in Hawaii.  It was the only state visited outside of Washington in February.

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 250 Species



Harlequin Duck – Semiahmoo Spit, WA – March 17th

Harlequin Duck

March was a very special month as it was the month I met Cindy Bailey who has become a most important part of my life.  I hope and expect I will be able to acknowledge that in every year end retrospective I do in future years – a very good feeling.  Not even two weeks after we met we went on our first birding trip – a visit to the Semiahmoo Spit in Whatcom County, Washington – a few miles from the Canadian Border.   The first bird that turned Cindy’s head was a Black Oystercatcher, but it was this Harlequin Duck that hooked her.  She may never be a hard core birder, and that is just fine, but her participation and support sure are appreciated.  Not a lot of birding that month as much time was devoted to getting to know each other, but we did a first trip to Eastern Washington and there were no trips outside of Washington at all.

End of Month total for Washington- 206 Species

Elsewhere – (No Out of State Birding in March)

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 268 Species



Laysan Albatross – Westport – Offshore Waters, April 20th

Laysan Albatross2

There are many diverse habitats in Washington with Puget Sound, big forests, high mountains, sagebrush and agricultural areas, and of course the Pacific Ocean.  I usually try to go on at least two pelagic trips out of Westport, WA each year – once in the Spring and again in the Fall.  In addition to great “regular” birds, there is always the chance for something special.  Not too long ago sighting a Laysan Albatross was that something special.  With the establishment of a breeding colony off the coast of Mexico, they are now fairly common on our trips – but still a spectacular experience.  In April, I had an excellent pelagic trip combined with some “list building” at the coast and then I closed the month with another good trip to Eastern Washington catching some of the early migration.

End of Month total for Washington- 252 Species


Tufted Titmouse – Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, MA – April 30th

Tufted Titmouse

My only birding outside of Washington in April was during a walk with my daughter in Massachusetts where the focus was on family and then getting ready for a multi-state birding adventure in May for my 50/50/50 project.  Only a handful of species and I include the Tufted Titmouse because it was with her the previous year that I got my first ABA photo of this species.  I would see many more in the months ahead.

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 317 Species



Black Backed Woodpecker – Kittitas County – May 29th

Black Backed WP at Nest1

With Spring migration in full force, May is generally the best month to bird in most states – including Washington.  But in 2019, it was almost an afterthought in Washington as I was elsewhere through May 28th and only birded a single day in my home state.  But it was a great day – again in Eastern Washington catching birds that had arrived while I was gone – and looking for a Black Backed Woodpecker in a burn area and then doing some owling at night.  I had 84 species that day, somewhat making up for time lost.

End of Month total for Washington- 275 Species


Connecticut Warbler – Magee Marsh – May 15th

Connecticut Warbler3

There is no good way to summarize the month of May “elsewhere – outside of Washington” or to select only a single photo to include.  This was the month of the BIG TRIP for my 50/50/50 Adventure and I birded in 16 different states, saw incredible places and birds with incredible people.  I have chosen my photo of a Connecticut Warbler to represent this amazing month in my birding life.  I never expected to see let alone photograph one.  Additionally it was at Magee Marsh, a famous birding location on Lake Erie in Ohio that I had never visited before.  As I related in my blog posts on the visit there, I intersected with some extraordinary birders – new and old friends and was also joined by Cindy for part of a day.  So that clinched the choice.  It could just as well have been the Kirtland’s Warbler from Michigan, the Prothonotary Warbler from West Virginia, the Piping Plover from Connecticut, the Black Billed Cuckoo from Pennsylvania or any of many other great birds.

Altogether I saw 298 species in May one of my top 5 best months ever,

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 443 Species



Marbled Murrelet, Edmonds WA – June 23rd

Marbled Murrelet with Fish2

June was a fun combination of some more birding in Washington – a couple of chases but mostly in Eastern Washington on the way to and back from some 50/50/50 birding in the Mountain States.  Hometown Edmonds, WA is situated on Puget Sound and has a public fishing pier that gives great access to some saltwater species that can often be seen close up.  My Washington photo for June is of a Marbled Murrelet with a fish that it caught right off the Edmonds Pier.  The Murrelet is one of 4 alcid species, adding Rhinoceros Auklet, Pigeon Guillemot, and Common Murre that are regularly seen off the pier, about a mile from my home.  On rare occasions two other alcids have been seen here – Ancient Murrelet and Tufted Puffin and there have also been extremely rare sightings of a Horned Puffin and a Cassin’s Auklet.

End of Month total for Washington – 297 Species


Flammulated Owl – East Canyon – Big Mountain Pass, UT – June 12th

Flammulated Owl

June brought me to Idaho where I added Cassia Crossbill to my life list and got 50 species in a day.  Next up was Utah.  I got 50 species in a day on my own and then joined Tim Avery to do it again, but far more importantly with his expert help, I finally got a lifer photo of a Flammulated Owl.  I had heard dozens but this was my first good visual and photo.  Cindy flew in to Salt Lake City and then we birded and played in Wyoming and Montana with visits to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone and some fishing on the Bitterroot River.  An excellent month.

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 443 Species



Rose Breasted Grosbeak – Seattle, WA – July 8th

Rose Breasted Grosbeak1r

The Rose Breasted Grosbeak was the last species I saw in Washington that was not on the Review Committee list.  That first one was a female in Neah Bay in October 2016.  Then a young male showed up in Seattle in December 2017 and remained for additional views in 2018.  But the best of the lot was the bright male shown here that came to a feeder in Seattle in July 2019.  In July, Cindy and I visited Sun Mountain Lodge and easily found numerous Dusky Grouse – a regular there.

End of Month total for Washington- 307 Species


Common Ringed Plover – Boundary Bay, B.C. Canada – July 15, 2019

Common Ringed Plover2

Good friend Melissa Hafting from Vancouver, B.C. called me on July 14th and told me there was a Common Ringed Plover at Boundary Bay and that she and others would be searching for it the next day.  A mega-rarity, I could not resist and joined her and others the following day for the search.  It took some doing as it staked out an area that could not be seen from our first viewing spot.  Eventually we hiked out to the other side of a little spit and found it in great light and very cooperative – an ABA Lifer for almost all of us.

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 465 Species



Hudsonian Godwit – Crockett Lake, Whidbey Island, WA – August 5th

Hudsonian Godwit Crockett3

August is generally the beginning of good fall migration – especially for rare shorebirds in Washington.  I was able to relocate the Hudsonian Godwit that had been reported from Crockett Lake on Whidbey Island.  It had moved to a different spot that took some walking through the salucornia but fortunately remained there for several days and many others followed my footsteps out for the bird.  Other good first of year shorebirds in the month included Solitary, Baird’s and Stilt Sandpiper.  Frank Caruso and I also had some Gray Crowned Rosy Finches at Mt. Rainier – but no Ptarmigan.

End of Month total for Washington- 313 Species

Elsewhere (No Out of State Birding in August)

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 467 Species



Flesh Footed Shearwater – Westport Pelagic – September 7th

Flesh Footed Shearwater Gaping

Since much of September was spent in the Midwest, there was not much birding in Washington, but I was able to bird the Coast and then join Westport Seabirds for another pelagic trip.  Among the FOY’s seen were South Polar Skua, Long Tailed Jaeger, Arctic Tern and Buller’s, Short Tailed and Flesh Footed Shearwaters.   I also ended the month with a birding trip trying once again for a visual and photo of a Boreal Owl at Mt. Rainier – and yet again one heard but not seen – sigh!!

End of Month total for Washington- 323 Species

Krider’s Red Tailed Hawk – North Dakota – September 15th

Krider's Takeoff

My 50/50/50 birding took me to Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska.  Many good times with new and old friends and many fun birds.  I have chosen a photo of a beautiful very white Krider’s Red Tailed Hawk.  It was a tough choice though as there were great birds and I got my best photo ever of a favorite – Red Headed Woodpecker.

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 477 Species



Eurasian Tree Sparrow – Neah Bay, WA – October 26th


October was somewhat of a recovery month.  I had only one more trip ahead to close out the 50/50/50 project and I had a lot of catching up to do with “normal life” matters left unattended from the previous months.  I had a chance to go to Neah Bay the last week of the month.  I missed a few specialties/rarities but did find the Orchard Oriole.  I also found something else that was rare but I blew it big time.  A flock of “sparrows” were feeding in brush at Butler’s Motel and then flew across the street to more brush.  They were seemingly all House Sparrows. As I scanned the flock, one looked “different” specifically with a dark spot on the cheek.  I told myself that it looked “kinda like” an Eurasian Tree Sparrow which is abundant in Europe but in the U.S. is found only around St. Louis, MO where I saw my first one in 2018.  I also told myself that it was impossible for one to be here and then thought nothing of it, and as the flock flew off I moved on.  Later that day I told the story to the person in Missouri who had shown me the Eurasian Tree Sparrow there.  And that was that until the next day when someone reported seeing a Eurasian Tree Sparrow at Butler’s AND had a confirming photo.  I had really blown it big time – pretty embarrassing.  The photo above is of the Sparrow in Missouri.  Sigh (again).

End of Month total for Washington- 326 Species


Yellow Browed Warbler – Panama Flats, Victoria, B.C., Canada – October 19th

Yellow Browed Warbler Flight

In a replay of the Common Ringed Plover in July, I got a message from Melissa Hafting.  Incredibly a Yellow Browed Warbler had been seen at Panama Flats, near Victoria, B.C.  So off I went the next day and with dozens of others, including Melissa, was able to get a glimpse and pretty poor photo of this incredible mega-rarity.  Fewer than a handful have ever been seen in the Western Hemisphere.

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 480 Species



Mountain Plover – Griffiths Priday SP – WA – November 30th

Mountain Plover

I had finished my 50/50/50 Adventure in Arkansas on November 9th.  I was not burned out but not real motivated.  There had already been MANY birding days in Washington when I had seen 50 or more species, but I felt a need to have one more in the same month that the 50/50/50 Adventure had ended.  A trip to the Coast on November 21st added a couple of species for the year and with a couple of stops elsewhere enabled me to have 70 species for the day.  I didn’t know that I would be returning to the coast about a week later chasing a State Lifer.  Carl Haynie had found a Mountain Plover at Griffiths Priday State Park just north of Ocean Shores.  Jon Houghton and I went the next day, November 30th and  found birding friend Scott Downs who was already on the Plover. Yay!!  Jon and I added Rock Sandpiper (regular but uncommon) at the Point Brown jetty and then the Lesser Black Backed Gull (even more uncommon) at the mouth of the Cedar River – a great way to end the month.

End of Month total for Washington- 329 Species


LeConte’s Sparrow – Woolsey Wet Prairie – Arkansas – November 9th

LeConte's SparrowR

Kansas was the last of the 50 states I had not ever visited.  It is where I started my last 50/50/50 Adventure trek – a week-long trip to Kansas, then Oklahoma and then finally Arkansas.  November is not the birdiest of months but with excellent help from some really super birders and very fun folks, I was able to find the targeted 50 species on single days in each state.  The project was completed!!!!!  There were many great birds and I have chosen a photo of a LeConte’s Sparrow.  It’s orange tones are striking and beautiful.  It can be a difficult bird to see let alone photograph as it skulks in heavy high grass.  We had several without photos in Oklahoma and then a much more cooperative one in Arkansas.

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 487 Species



Ross’s Gull – Union Bay, Seattle, WA – December 1st

Ross's Gull1

What a way to start a month.  Around 1:40 p.m. on Monday December 1st, Dennis Paulson posted on Tweeters  that there was a Ross’s Gull in Union Bay in Seattle.  Even though I was in the shower and 12 miles away when the post appeared, I was there by 2:30 p.m and joined another 10 birders drawn by the chance to see this mega-rarity.  Birders continued to arrive and the Ross’s Gull cooperated until at about 3:15, it flew off its platform perch and within another 2 minutes it had been caught by a Bald Eagle and … was consumed.  What a story!!  After that hardly anything else would matter.  I again had the Lesser Black Backed Gull and this time with a Glaucous Gull at the mouth of the Cedar River and then successfully chased a very rare Emperor Goose on Dungeness Spit in Clallam County before ending the year with a few days of birding in the Okanogan where birds were relatively scarce.  A great month to end a very great year!!

With all the time spent out of state in 2019, I was pleased to end the year with 335 species  in Washington even though that tied my lowest number of species in Washington for the last 8 years.  I don’t expect to be anywhere near that number in years ahead.

End of Month and 2019 Year End total for Washington- 335 Species

Elsewhere (No Out of State Birding in December)

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 494 Species

There is no way 2020 will compare favorably with 2019, but in birding you never know.  It seems like there will be no irruption of northern species this winter and no Snowy Owls have been reported yet.  I am still hoping that this will be the year that a Smew shows up — someday.

Yesterday (January 10th), Frank Caruso relocated a Northern Saw Whet Owl in Lynndale Park.  It remained long enough for me to get there and see it and to take Cindy later – her third owl species as we had Short Eared Owls in Skagit County earlier in the week.  How nice if a Snowy would be #4…

Northern Saw Whet Owl – Lynnwood, WA – January 10, 2020




Back to the Bay – San Francisco Bay – Christmas 2019

As written in the headers for all of my blog posts, I conceived of this site as a place to “share pictures, stories, and reflections of my birding adventures – past and present…”  There have been a couple of exceptions but otherwise all of the posts, and this one will be post number 233, have had birds and birding as the main focus.  To be sure there has been much more with some history, psychology, politics, geography and what-not thrown in.  And of course many of the best times have been with wonderful people that I have tried to include.

Although there is an important connection to my birding past, indeed the very beginning of that history, this post will be very different.  It relates and reflects on a relatively short trip to San Francisco over Christmas 2019 with Cindy Bailey, the special lady that came into my life earlier this year and who has made my life immeasurably happier and better with her support and company.  We covered a lot of ground in just 4 days ending at Baylands Nature Preserve in Palo Alto, California, the largest tract of undisturbed marsh land in the San Francisco Bay and the place where I started my birding life.  The experience was so full and so fun that I wanted to memorialize it in one place – why not here?

The Flight


Alaska Airlines flight flight 1794 was scheduled to leave SeaTac Airport at 8:00 a.m. on Monday December 23rd.  Travelers were warned that due to heavy traffic at the airport, being there two hours early was advised.  So given the distance from Edmonds, the need to park the car and then shuttle to the terminal, we planned to leave Edmonds not later than 5:15 a.m.  Maybe it is from all the early morning risings for my birding adventures or maybe because I have no hair on my head to wash, dry and attend to, but I can be ready to go within 15 minutes of waking up.  It helped that we had packed everything except incidentals the night before.  Cindy has many fine qualities, but she does have that hair thing to deal with and is generally not quick to get going in the mornings in any event.  So the alarms were set for 4:00 a.m.  I was showered, dressed and had eaten breakfast and was ready to go at maybe 4:20.  Cindy skipped any breakfast and really made good time, so we were out the door not much after 5:00.  We needn’t have hurried.

The security lines at the airport were long but for some reason, the TSA line was as short as I could remember it.  We were through in just moments and were at the gate well before 7:00 a.m.  The plane was a little late to load but about 8:20 a.m. we were all onboard and ready to go.   Alas, there was no go as we sat there waiting to taxi off for at least 25 minutes.  Finally we backed away from the gate and got in line.  Sometime around 9:00 a.m. we were on the runway apron ready to get into the queue.  The attendants announced there were a lot of planes in line ahead of us and it would take awhile.  But even though we could see the line of planes, we never moved to take our place.  We sat…and sat…and sat.  Maybe thirty minutes passed – no movement and little information other than that there were problems in San Francisco to the extent that “they were not letting any planes land”.  Huh??

We were told we would head back to the terminal to … well it was not sure what.  We got to the terminal and were at first told we could get off and then moments later were told to stay onboard and wait to see what might happen.  Well, you could get off – but then would not be able to reboard.  At least they allowed access to the bathrooms on the plane.  As you can imagine there was not much happiness among the holiday travelers on board.  This certainly included Cindy and me as we had non-refundable tickets for the musical Hamilton that night – not a cheap date.  If this flight was canceled we would not be able to find another (assuming any planes would be landing at SFO) to get there that day.   The odds were not good on finding a flight the next day either.  We agreed that a 2.5 day trip without the theater was not worth the airfare, hotels, car etc.  We would cut our losses and celebrate – somehow – in Seattle. (There was much cursing under our breaths.)

Then news came that the SFO airport was open again and we would be leaving soon – not sure what soon meant.  Out to the apron again to get in line.  It seemed to take a long time but finally we moved into the queue and around 10:30 a.m. we headed off.  This was significantly later than we were originally scheduled to arrive in San Francisco.  Now that landing would be 3 hours late…BUT our theater tickets were still good and it was going to be a great holiday after all.  The SFO airport was a zoo as hundreds of flights had been canceled or delayed.  We heard many reasons for the delays – internet problems, a runway reconstruction project, mechanical failures and weather problems including fog and wind, but the weather was fine when we got there – sunny skies and 52 degrees.  No longer our problem in any event.  We took BART to Union Square and then walked over to the Staypineapple Hotel – yes that really is the name.  We had wondered about an early check in but with the flight delay, there was no need to worry as it was after 2:00 p.m when we got there.

San Francisco

Located at the corner of Geary and Jones, the Staypineapple Hotel is self described as an “elegant hotel”.  We agree.  It is fairly small and every detail is thought out and designed around the “Pineapple” theme.  We are probably too old to understand the full hipness of the name, but we loved the look.



Staypineapple Hotel (Exterior)


Staypineapple Hotel (Interior) – Over the Top Design

Staypineapple Interior


The cookies awaiting us in the lobby – pineapple shaped and flavored, of course – were a bonus.  Our room was fairly small but very attractive and the bed – with pineapple pillow was appealing.  And he tree in the lobby was a must for a photo.



Staypineapple Tree

Although there were few specific details, our original plan had been to be in downtown before noon and then check out some touristy spots before heading off to dinner and then the show.  There had been a fair amount of stress with the flight situation and we had been up early so we just took it easy and had a short cat nap in the room.  We expected to do a lot of walking during this visit in part because we knew there would be a lot of food consumed (even without those pineapple cookies).  Hamilton started at 7:00 and the Orpheum Theater was maybe 15 minutes from the hotel.  We had found an appealing restaurant that was somewhat in the same direction as the theater and it was also about 15 minutes from the hotel and then there would be another 10 minutes or so to the theater.  We had a dinner reservation for 5:15 and got there a few minutes early.  There was a long line and staff was not real helpful in explaining the check-in process, but they found us a table and we were set.

Max’s at the Opera Restaurant on Van Ness Avenue


Our restaurant, Max’s at the Opera, was like a glorified deli with many theater goers in attendance.  Not haute cuisine, but that was not the goal this night in any event.  Service was excellent and our waiter affirmed that their featured Reuben Sandwich really was excellent.  Why not? We were on vacation.  It really was excellent and we dismissed any caloric calculations for it or our drinks that preceded the meal.


At Max

The Reuben


My son Alex was visiting Seattle and we had a chance to have lunch with him before leaving for this trip.  It was the first time he and Cindy had met.  Much of our talk had been about his life in the world of specialty coffee and a potential change in employment, but we also talked about San Francisco as he had been there recently.  He is very urban and urbane and loves the city but called it a dystopia with the overwhelming homeless situation on many streets.  We had not seen that walking to the hotel, but it was very apparent walking to the restaurant (through the edge of the Tenderloin district) and then to the theater.  Very depressing indeed.

We were now off to see Hamilton.  It is always exciting to be in a theater crowd before a performance especially so with the anticipation for this much loved production at a very nice theater.  Our seats were excellent (at the price we paid they should have been) – about 20 rows up in the orchestra.  I won’t go into details about the show.  Incredible performances and an amazing conception and production.  As much as the main characters were terrific, it was the excellence of the many smaller players in the highly complicated choreography that stood out most to me.  I had mixed feelings on how the story was related and the music.  Rap is not my favorite and we often could not hear/understand the words, but there was no missing the incredible force and energy of the production – especially in the first half.  Not so much in the second half and especially the ending.  Production and casting (deliberate I am sure) definitely made it easy to not like Jefferson and Madison.  We were glad we went but are not members of the Hamilton as Best Musical Ever fan club.


Hamilton Close

It was nice to have the hotel well located to get to Union Square, restaurants and the theater, but that central in the heart of the city location also meant lots of noise at night with traffic, sirens etc. – a reminder that I am not an urban type especially as a light sleeper.  The (only) other less than appealing part of our hotel stay was a very limited breakfast menu at the “Bistro+Bar”.  The only fruits available were apples and bananas.  A few pastries (good) and some limited other options.  Not a big problem but especially with local markets and delis closed on the day before Christmas and Christmas day – not great.  Of course there was a Starbucks and a Burger King (or was it a Jack in The Box and aren’t they the same?) within a couple of blocks – so much for trendy San Francisco.   We survived and began a very full day of exploring the city as tourists.

We started at Union Square – with yet another Christmas Tree photo op.  The weather was perfect, cool, dry and windless with bright blue skies, and the crowds were not yet out in force – except for the lines for the the Cable Car which we had hoped to take to Fisherman’s Wharf.  We waited for 20 minutes just north of Union Square as two cars came by too full for us to board.  So we hiked down to where the cable car starts but found hundreds of people already in line – looking like an hour plus wait.  Not keen on lines anywhere so we started off relying on “shank’s mare” – as in walking (I have always wanted to use that term).  We casually walked through the shopping areas around Union Square.  Fashions, jewelry, art, more fashions and more fashions – many high end Italian and French designers as well as Bloomingdale’s and Saks.  Our shopping was all of the window kind, keeping our wallets tightly closed, but it was fun.  Cindy liked one dress or coat but not the other and so on and we usually agreed.

U Sq

Next was a walk through Chinatown with lunch an objective at some point.  The ethnic diversity of San Francisco was hard to miss and almost everywhere we went, Asians were by far the most visible – of course much moreso in Chinatown itself.  But there as well as everywhere else we heard many languages – Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Russian, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali and Hebrew as well as many other Eastern and Northern European and Southeast Asian ones that we could not identify.   As much as Seattle at least sees itself as a big and cosmopolitan city and I have seen it become moreso in my now almost 50 years there, there is simply no comparison with San Francisco.

Chinatown Gate

Chinatown Gate

There were LOTS of people and lots of small stores offering goods cheap and expensive and food and groceries to feed visitors and residents alike.  Many were familiar and others were not.  Lots of fish, poultry, pork and vegetables as well as herbs, spices and sauces.  We were not sure if some of what we saw was to be eaten or… We had recently joined friends Randy and Janice Leitzke for dim sum at a small restaurant in Edmonds.  Pretty good, but we figured we could do better here.  Hawkers handed out pamphlets for competing restaurants and we chose one on a side street that looked just right – the Grant Place Restaurant.  A little bigger than a hole in the wall and definitely not design conscious, but the food in the window looked good and there were many Asian couples and families and groups inside enjoying their fare.

Grant Place Restaurant

Grant Place

The food and service were both great and the only problem was that we ate too much.  Back onto the street we continued north up Grant Street towards North Beach.  Now there were even more people and we were amazed how every little shop seemed to be selling the same foods and all were jammed.

North Beach is famous for Italian restaurants, cafes and bakeries.  We were already way over our theoretical calorie counts for the day but we figured we were doing a lot of walking so maybe a dessert would be okay.  First however, we were enticed by Goorin’s  Bros. Hat Shop on Stockton Street.  An awesome collection of hats that were really fun to try on.  There were definite temptations but I just could not see myself wearing the top hat that I liked best or the blue fedora that Cindy preferred.  One of the best parts of this day was that nothing was really planned and we could just react to whatever appealed to us.  The hat shop was fun, but the next stop was even more appealing.

Goorin’s  Bros. Hat Shop

Hat (2)

Molinari Delicatessen was established in 1896 and is one of the oldest delicatessens in the U.S.  It was mobbed and everybody seemed to be buying something.  If we had not already had our lunch, we would have been happy with any of a number of things offered.  We moved on – reluctantly.  But then we found Mara’s Italian Pastries and Gelato and this time we could not resist.

Molinari Delicatessen



Mara’s Italian Pastries



We got a wonderful poppy seed confection and a chocolate mousse to be eaten later.  Both were excellent and not terribly expensive.  I would be in serious trouble if I lived anywhere near either Molinari or Mara’s.  Happy but in serious trouble…

We headed back to the Staypineapple returning again through Chinatown.  There were easily a thousand or more people shopping.  Root vegetables seemed to be particularly popular.  Unlike the pastries or the deli, for these there was no appeal.  We took a little different route to check out the garage where we would be picking up our rental car the next morning on Bush Street.  We got back to our room while it was still light.  Being much further south and finally getting past the winter solstice, it was not dark as early in San Francisco as it had been when we left Seattle.  The skies were turning gray, however, a portent of things to come.

Recognizing that we had eaten a lot this day and the previous night, but had not had much of a breakfast, we had omelettes at a delicatessen a block from the hotel.  It was Christmas Eve and a lot of places were closed.  Not fancy, but not bad and we were back to the hotel and turned in early.  We had walked over 5 miles that day and were feeling pretty virtuous.  It was not as noisy as the previous night — until a major storm hit the area.  The rain pounded on the windows of the hotel.  Somehow Cindy slept through it but not me.  I was getting into serious sleep deprivation mode but could hardly feel sorry for myself thinking about what it must have been like for the homeless people on the streets.  Sigh…

Christmas Day was to be our day out of the City.  Cindy’s cousin Lisa and family were celebrating at their second home in Inverness, California in Marin County on Tomales Bay and near Point Reyes National Seashore.   About 50 miles away, it would be about a 90 minute ride without stops.  Our plan was to pick up the car early and drive to Inverness with some stops at Point Reyes, have lunch with the family and then return to San Francisco for a 7:00 dinner returning the car that evening.  That’s what the online rental arrangement said, but we were thrown a major curve ball when I was informed – only at the time that I picked up the car at 7:30 a.m. – that the car office would be closing at 3:00 p.m. and there was no way to drop the car off until the next morning – unless we wanted to take it to the airport. WTF!!!  There was no way we could be back by 3:00 p.m. and no way to go the airport – and then have to get back to our hotel – a two hour ordeal.  So our option was to keep the car overnight – pay (exorbitantly) for parking at the hotel and then to return the car the next morning.  To say we were unhappy would be a major understatement.  There being no other option, we carried on.

Inverness and Point Reyes – about 50 Miles Northwest


Another curve was that instead of the small SUV that I expected, we were “upgraded” to a very racy Chevy Camaro.  It was a fun car but with very low clearance and there were a couple of spots where this might have been an issue – especially with the somewhat flooded roads we would encounter in Marin County.  I can only imagine what the traffic would have been like if it were not Christmas day, but we had very little traffic getting out of San Francisco, and our only issues were that every intersection seemed to have a stoplight and each one of them was red for us – timed terribly.  But it was lovely.  The storm from the night before was nowhere to be seen and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is a spectacular ride.  And Marin county is like a world apart compared to San Francisco – beautiful with its big trees, cypress, eucalyptus and others.  The roads were winding which thrilled me and frightened Cindy a bit.  It was a fun trek as we got more and more remote covering territory I could barely remember from early birding days in California almost 50 years ago.

We stopped at a really funky little coffee shop in Olema and felt like we were back in the Hippie days of the 1960’s.  Not a whole lot has changed since then probably.  Then we went to Point Reyes National Seashore stopping for a few birds on the way.  One was a very close in Red Shouldered Hawk, a new bird for Cindy.  It was close enough for an ID quality picture with my phone.  Birding friend Ann Marie Wood in Washington has been trying to see one there for months without success.  I could not resist sending her the picture.  I wish I could have brought it back for her.  We would see several Red Shouldered Hawks and more Red Tailed Hawks but the most common raptor were American Kestrels.  We probably saw two dozen.

Red Shouldered Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk

We saw some of these and some of those species but mostly we were there to enjoy the spectacular scenery along the coast.  Mark Tomboulian later advised me that the ice plants that were everywhere are invasive, but they were nonetheless beautiful in many shades of red, gold and green and even purple.

View from North Beach at Point Reyes


We left the beach and joined cousins Jimmy and Lisa, her husband John and their kids Alec, Alana, and Sean, and their kids Arden and Coral and spouses Craig and Clare, for a relaxed visit at Lisa and John’s Inverness home.  More food and good company.  I had met Lisa in Edmonds but everyone else was new.  It was a good way to spend Christmas.

Around 3:00 p.m. we left to get back to the City.  We had dinner reservations at 7:00 at Tuba, a Turkish restaurant, but since it was a ways from our hotel and we could not return the car until the next morning anyhow, we drove to the restaurant and found nearby on street parking.  Although they were quite busy the restaurant was able to take us early and we had a good meal with some wine.  I had salmon and Cindy had lamb.  The ambiance was good and the service was excellent.

Tuba Restaurant

Tuba Outside

Cindy Toasting the Holiday

Tuba Cindy

My Salmon


Back to the hotel parking at the “reduced” overnight rate for hotel guests of only $30 for the night.  It was convenient, though.

Before the surprise on the rental car return, our plan had been more sightseeing in San Francisco all day on Thursday and then flying home on a 7:25 flight.  Since we still had the car, I called Alamo to see what it would cost to keep it and drop it off at the airport instead.  Here was the second disappointment with Alamo.  We were told it would only be another $6.95.  When we actually did drop it off, we were charged a lot more.  I will not go into details because I want to keep my blood pressure low.  Oh well, we had the car and changed our plans to drive around in San Francisco to see where Cindy had lived in the Marina District and then to see some of the beautiful homes and scenery at Sea Cliff and then the Presidio ending at Cliff House.  It was all beautiful.

I had never gone through the Presidio or gone to Seal Rock or Cliff House.  The Presidio was incredible and the view of the sea breaking in waves over Seal Rock was spectacular.  And I had no idea that there was so much sandy beach on San Francisco’s ocean side.  Cindy said that the wind and fog could be pretty awful and that cars were sand blasted by the wind blowing the sand from the beach which significantly depressed its desirability for permanent residence, but none of that was evident on this lovely day.

Seal Rock from Cliff House


Cindy with Our Camaro Parked at the Cliff House


We continued south along the Junipero Serra Freeway down the Peninsula heading to Stanford University.  Cindy had never been there and I am not sure if I have been back since Law School in 1973.  Rolling along on Highway 280 it was hard to believe that dense population was so close by.  Very light traffic on the day after Christmas certainly helped.  Stanford was as I remembered it – times 10.  There were many new buildings and the campus is truly awesome with magnificent palms, eucalyptus and open space.  We parked at the main quad and found ourselves with maybe several hundred other visitors.  No students as school was in recess for the Holidays.  It seemed that at least 90% of the people there were Asian, many families with children maybe with hopes to be accepted and enrolled someday.  It was really gorgeous.

Memorial Church at Stanford


We walked over to the Law School – its location changed from long ago when I attended.  A placard on the building showed donors whose contributions had made it possible.  I don’t know when the donations were made, but my name’s absence was evidence of how detached I am from those days.  It has been almost 40 years since I practiced law at all.  We had a nice lunch at a pizza place at Town and Country Village and then searched for the place I lived when I first arrived for law school – an apartment over the garage behind a modest home in Menlo Park.  I could not recall the street address and despite a diligent search, we could not find the place although I am sure we were close.

There would be one more stop before returning to the airport.  This was Baylands Nature Preserve, the place where I first became interested in birding back in those law school days.  That interest was sparked by seeing – yes actually seeing a Black Rail – an extremely secretive species I have not seen or heard since.  The marsh land is awesome, a great place for shorebirds, ducks, waders and many others.  Cindy is not a birder (yet) but has joined me on some of my trips.  I wanted her to see this special place.  It was not overflowing with birds but we had good looks at a bird we had seen the previous day on our visit to Marin County – a Long Billed Curlew – and also saw a few other shorebirds including Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, Black Necked Stilts, Greater Yellowlegs, Willets and Dunlin.

Long Billed Curlew

Long Billed Curlew 2 Bottle Beach

There were many duck species, some American Coots and numerous gulls, but by far the species of most appeal to Cindy were the Egrets, a couple of Great Egrets and several Snowy Egrets including one that came quite close and splayed its beautiful feathers and plumes for us.  At one spot both egrets stood together giving Cindy a great comparison and an appreciation of the very significant difference in size.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

I had to have a picture of me there to memorialize the return visit.  Many hours were spent there back in the old days.


We said goodbye and went to the airport.  Returning the car with the surprise additional charges was no fun but we did not let it ruin our wonderful trip.  We were a couple hours early for our flight and tried to get on an earlier one, but prior delays and cancellations made that impossible, so we waited…and waited…and waited some more as the congestion caused our flight to depart an hour later than scheduled.  I have flown Alaska Airlines many times in the past few years and have never had problems.  I am chalking the ones this time up to San Francisco Airport problems compounded by travel during the Holidays.  It was almost midnight by the time we were back in Edmonds.  Unfortunately we both picked up colds the last day we were there – maybe on the flight, maybe in any of the crowded venues we visited.  Not how you want to end a trip, but we were fine while we there and had a great time.  It was especially nice to be able to share all of the experiences together.