Saturday, January 12, 2013

Some Time in Seattle, Skagit/Samish Flats

In spite of doom and gloom weather predictions on the part of my son, I decided to pay him a visit between xmas and the week after New Year's, splitting my time among him, coffee in the great Seattle coffee shops and him, and some quality winter birding with him.

As you can see from the photo below, rather than doom and gloom, the weather, for the most part, was sunny and clear, albeit rather cold.

Mt. Ranier from the air, as I flew into Seattle
Our first stop, literally, was in Ballard (an area in Seattle proper). I had been reading ongoing reports of Snowy Owls there.

Dan asked, "How are we going to find them?"

"We're looking for a large group of people with binoculars, looking up," I answered.

Sure enough, within a couple of minutes, we found the group and one of the two reported Snowy Owls.

After a day to get situated, we drove out to Skagit and Samish Flats, an area recommended to me by Bob Doe, a San Antonio birder. The flats are about a 40 minute drive from Seattle and consist of mostly farmland. We were on the hunt for Swans, Geese, and Raptors.

Along the way I snapped a photo of a scene Dan (my son) refers to as "the curtain". I'm sure you can see why.

Our guide was the Birder's Guide to Washington, by Opperman. We'd used this guide before with great success.

Our first stop was an area by the water. It was hunting season and I think we were the only people parking there without camouflage and hunting gear. Shots were being fired nearby, so we remained fairly close to the parking lot, not wearing any flame orange.

Our first birds of the day were a Bald Eagle and some lovely Oregon race Dark-eyed Juncos. As the day went on and we drove around the farmland, we ticked both Tundra and Trumpeter Swans (the latter being a life bird for me), Brant, Snow Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, and Great Blue Heron.

Our first raptor of the day was a Peregrine Falcon, posing nicely in a tree.

In between birds, we enjoyed the changing scenery and picturesque scenes around us.

We also enjoyed the variety and frequency of raptors in the area, including the usual Bald Eagle and the not-so-usual for me Rough-legged Hawk. What on earth would we birders do without overhead electric and telephone lines?

Probably the highlight of my day were the Short-eared Owls flying around in two different areas. We were even able to watch a pair in bonding flight, flying together, touching talons, and wheeling apart. I was able to get an accidentally wonderful shot of one of the owls taking flight after eating some prey.

The birding on the Flats was superb. The only problem was the brevity of Seattle's winter days. By 3:30 p.m. it was already beginning to get a bit dark. I fully intend to return to Seattle next winter to get out to this spot again. I need a Gyrfalcon and a Northern Goshawk. Perhaps next time I'll get lucky and add one or both of them to my life list.

Before giving you the day list, I leave you with my favorite photo of the day.

The list:

Trumpeter Swan
Tundra Swan
Greater White-fronted Goose
Lesser Scaup
Surf Scoter
Common Merganser
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
Bald Eagle
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Short-eared Owl
Snowy Owl
Northern Flicker
Hutton's Vireo
Red-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
Lincoln's Sparrow
Brewer's Blackbird

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