PacNW 2016: Episode IV: Parks and Recreation

Where were we?

Ah, yes. Thursday afternoon. Columbia City. We were sitting in our Air BnB room, waiting. Kel, Q, and Jaspher were preparing to take an Uber to their con hotel for the next few days, while I waited for the arrival of Tina (a/k/a "Masterbirder,"), whom Friend of the Blog Ursula Vernon had recommended as a Seattle-area companion and bird guide. Right about 5:00, there was a knock on the door, and there she was, complete with the obligatory birder's vehicle: a Subaru. In this case it was a 2006 Forester, and as I have owned a Forester since 2003, two impressions immediately formed: first, that this was a person whose mindset I could understand, and second, that I would have no problem contributing to the driving when it became necessary.

Both those impressions were accurate, but as I would soon learn, only one was applicable.

With little fanfare, I bid a fond adieu to Kel and the Qsphers and loaded my pack and binoculars into the passenger seat of Tina's car. For some reason I had been expecting her to be much younger than I, but we were roughly contemporaries. As she was a decidedly open and talkative person, I rapidly learned that she and her husband Bruce, who worked for Microsoft, were Canadians, that she was trained as a biologist and as a dental hygienist, and that "Masterbirder" was a deliberately ironic choice of name, though her volunteer work with Seattle Audubon had certainly given her a certain mastery of the subject.

Despite occasional patches of traffic, she smoothly took us up over the ridge and down into the I-5 corridor, heading for the north end of town and a place called Discovery Park, which sits on a high headland. We made a brief stop at the north end of the peninsula, looking down at Shilsole Bay and getting distant glimpses of a few birds I'd seen over the last few days--Red-necked Grebe, for example--as well as the familiar blackless wingtips of the bird I'd been thinking was Thayer's Gull. Having heard me say that, Tina gently but firmly informed me that those grey-and-white wings belonged not to the Thayer's, but the much more common Glaucous-winged Gull (whose eyes are often dark, especially in young birds.) I faced this error without much emotion, as all it ultimately meant was that I'd traded one life bird for another. Still, I worried that I had not made the best first impression on a fellow birder.

Not that Tina mentioned the matter further. Instead, she drove us around to the southern side of the park so that we could follow the Loop Trail out to the point. This involved walking through woods and meadow, dodging the occasional bicycle, but mostly free to stop and look at anything that interested us. We spotted a few kinglets in the evergreens and soon located a few Savannah and White-crowned Sparrows out in the grass patches. In all honesty, however, I found it a bit hard to concentrate on the birding, what with the path's running close to the edge of a bluff standing several hundred feet above Elliot Bay.

DSC03137.JPGFrom the top, we could peer through Tina's scope and see just enough of distant birds to take reasonable guesses at their species. The Bald Eagle and Great Blue Herons were fairly easy IDs, but the flock of dark waterfowl gave us a long stretch of irritation, mostly due to their habit of paddling along in the light reflecting from the still-high sun. We were eventually confident enough to call them Brants, but I can't say it was a great look at them; more frustrating still, the only other time I'd seen a Brant was on my Cornell SFO trip to Cape May in 2011--and that look had been equally distant and unsatisfying.

Within a few yards, however, we reached the top of the trail leading down to the point, one which descended steeply through woodland and passed by occasional viewing platforms. The latter we used for periodic rest stops and searches for warblers; with a bit of pishing, we lured in several members of the extremely yellowy northwestern race of the Orange-crowned Warbler, and high in the canopy I spotted the telltale inverted black U on the chest of the Yellow-rumped Warbler--in this case the western "Audubon's" variant, with a yellow throat. Technically neither was a life bird, as I'd logged both species, but the varieties were new to me. 

After perhaps fifteen minutes of downward progress, Tina informed me that she was feeling a bit tuckered, what with having had an operation only a few weeks ago. I responded to the news with a) surprise, because even post-surgery she had been demonstrating an energy level decidedly higher than my own, and b) a suggestion that we didn't need to descend any lower, what with two more days of birding still ahead of us. She agreed, and we clambered back to the top of the bluff, where I was once again assaulted by scenery.

DSC03141.JPGWe were now nearly ten miles away from the BnB, but Mount Rainier had become no less imposing or any less spectacular than it had been from Columbia City.

Back at the car, Tina decided that wasting daylight simply wouldn't do, and she promptly took route 99 down through town so that we could cross the bridge into West Seattle. Rounding Duwamish Head, we then cut down to the shore south of Alki Point in hopes of logging some Black Turnstones. We didn't find any, but amongst all the beachcombers walking along the shore, we were given a look at one familiar species in unusual plumage:

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The late-afternoon birding wasn't amounting to much, but the sightseeing was excellent, and I was treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever gotten to watch. 

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At one point a Great Blue Heron flew in to make the sight almost ridiculous.

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And over it all Rainier still loomed, glowing rosily in the western light.

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As darkness fell, Tina loaded me back into the car, seeming perhaps just a it frustrated that I hadn't seen a life bird with her yet. By contrast, I was feeling more than satisfied by the afternoon's results, and after she took me to her house, where she and Bruce stuffed me full of lamb stew and beer and wine, I was even more content. Besides, we'd be out in the wilds of Washington in just a few hours. There was still plenty to see.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on May 14, 2016 11:30 AM.

PacNW 2016: Episode III: Q and Jaspher was the previous entry in this blog.

PacNW 2016: Episode V: High and Dry is the next entry in this blog.

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