Sunday, June 27, 2010

And Now for a Word from: Seattle

June 12-19, 2010

Avie and I visited our son in Seattle. In addition to good coffee, good food, and gorgeous landscapes, we also got in a bit of good birding – even if that was a secondary (or even tertiary) activity.

Dan, our son, has been there a year. As a result, he has a feel for the different areas in and around the city. He made sure we had a good introduction to several of them, both urban and rural.

The biggest thing in our favor was how cooperative the weather was during our week there. It only sprinkled a couple of times, neither of them during critical moments in the trip.

Rather than give a blow by blow recounting of the entire trip, I’ll simply give a synopsis of the highlight places and birds.

Greenlake Park is only a couple of blocks away from my son’s house. (Yeah – he really lucked out as a poor graduate student!). We spent a couple of afternoons there, wandering around the lake. It was always busy with families, dogs, joggers, bikers, roller bladers, and the ever-present petition solicitor. In spite of its business, we were able to score a couple of good life birds: Bushtit and Glaucous-winged Gull.

The Bushtits make for the more amusing story. I heard a flock of boisterous birds in one of the conifers at the park and managed to get my binoculars on them. Avie was a bit of distance away. I got his attention and loudly whispered “Bushtits!”

He didn’t hear me. But I was reluctant to say such a potentially misinterpreted word much louder. Once again, creeping above a whisper this time, I repeated, “Bushtits!!”

Again, he failed to understand while a woman, with a young child in tow, gave me a funny look.

I finally walked over to Avie and pointed out the flock. He giggled, telling me he didn’t previously know why I wouldn’t just call out the name. His subsequent enlightenment amused us for quite a while after.

We also birded around the Mineral Springs disc golf course, which was a couple of blocks from our hotel. (My daughter’s boyfriend plays.) There were plenty of Crows around, and it didn’t take us long to hear the differences in their calls’ pitches. We concluded we were hearing two different species: American Crow and Northwestern Crow, the latter being another life bird for our list.

In addition to the Crows, one of the noisier birds in Mineral Springs Park was a beautiful Spotted Towhee sitting in the sunlight.

We also visited Golden Gardens Park a couple of times. I had been there on my last visit and thought it would be a great spot for some birding while Dan and Alana (both my adult children) took their dogs to play at the dog park there. It was, indeed, a good stop.


First of all, the trail down from the dog park area is spectacular with towering conifers (I believe they’re sequoias) all around. As far as life birds, we picked up several Chestnut-backed Chickadees.

While we were getting back into the car I saw a flash of white and red. Instinctively I knew it was a Pileated Woodpecker. But let me go to a backstory.

When the kids were younger (16 and 14) we went up to Maine for a vacation. Our purpose was to see Atlantic Puffins. The kids? Although they enjoyed the Puffins and a whale-watching tour, the rest of the time they were pretty much bored out of their skulls.

One day we were driving the small road from the rental cottage to the main road. Two Pileated Woodpeckers flew overhead. Avie swerved as we both shouted, “Pileated, pileated!!” The kids refer to this as “the time we almost died because Mom and Dad saw a stupid woodpecker.”

Well, this was their opportunity to actually see a Pileated Woodpecker in person. They were duly impressed, but still didn’t believe the bird was worth dying for!


We had decided we were going to take the Ferry out of Mukilteo to Whidbey Island (pronounced Woodbee) one day. When that day arrived it was raining and the forecast didn’t look good.

We decided to take a chance and go anyway. Even if we were forced to remain in the car for the day, we’d still see spectacular scenery. And, of course, where weather is concerned, one never knows.

We got onto the ferry and had to remain on the car deck because we brought the two dogs with us. But it was still open and we were able to scan the water during our time on board. We picked up a Pigeon Guillemot from the deck, along with a Double-crested Cormorant.

We arrived at Whidbey Island, pulled off the ferry and started driving. As we drove the rain stopped, the clouds parted, and the sun shone for the rest of the day.


We stopped at Coupville for lunch and ate outside on a patio overlooking the waters of the Puget Sound. During the right times of the year you can observe whales migrating through. We were lucky enough to see a total of 18 Bald Eagles flying over our heads and soaring over the ridge by the beach across the water.


You can see above how busy I was checking on birds!

After lunch we hiked down to the dock and crossed over to a small building. The building didn’t have much to offer. But it was amusing to watch the Gulls. they would pick up an oyster from the enormous biomass on the beach, fly high up into the air, and drop it, hoping it would split open, giving them access to the food inside.

The following photo will give you a feel for what I mean by “biomass”:


We also spent a little while wandering around Coupville, visiting a couple of the galleries before driving north to Deception Pass to do a bit of hiking.

First we walked a short ways onto the bridge overlooking the water. Unfortunately, the walkway is very narrow, so you’re not far from the traffic, whizzing by you at top speed.


Then we hiked down a trail to the small beach. The kids and their dogs made fast work of the hike down. Avie and I took a much more leisurely pace, hoping to see some birds. We heard more than we saw. There’s still one complex, long song we haven’t identified, though we surmise it was from a Wren.

From the beach we saw several Sea Lions and a new life bird, a Marbled Murrelet.

On the hike back up the kids were a bit more intrigued with life on the trail. My daughter even found a Banana Slug tucked into a piece of fallen wood.


We also found a colony of LARGE ants living inside another fallen log:


Our last full day in the city we took a late afternoon trip to the Marymoor Park (dog park, to be precise) in Redmond. The dog park is incredibly extensive and runs by water. As a result, there were plenty of birds AND mosquitoes. Probably the best bird of that particular stop were female Hooded Mergansers. But we also picked up some Cedar Waxwings and a Yellow Warbler.

For those of you who ask if we did any of the typical touristy things Seattle has to offer, may I also present the following two photos:


Avie and I are looking forward to a return visit during a better birding season. Since Dan has just finished his first year in a PhD program, I think there will be several trips in the future. But this trip was a good introduction to the incredible beauty of the Pacific Northwest and some of the birds it has to offer.

The list of birds (that I remember – sloppy documentation on this trip):


Canada Goose


Hooded Merganser

Red-tailed Hawk

Bald Eagle


Glaucous-winged gull

Pigeon Guillemot

Marbled Murrelet

Rock Pigeon

Mourning dove

Common Nighthawk

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

American Crow

Northwestern Crow

Violet-green Swallow

Tree Swallow

Barn Swallow

Black-capped Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee


House Wren

American Robin

European Starling

Cedar Waxwing

Yellow Warbler

Spotted Towhee

Savannah Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Red-winged Blackbird

House Finch

American Goldfinch

House Sparrow

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