Thursday, January 16, 2020

August 31 2019 - Ain't No Red-Necks Here

Redneck:  (slang, derogatory) A poor, rural, usually white and male, person from the Southern United States or parts of the Midwest and northeast, especially one who is unsophisticated and backward; sometimes with additional connotations of being rude, racist, and/or arrogant.

Well, I’m not rich; I am a white male; I've worked on a farm or two, although I’m currently a suburbanite; and I’ve often been identified as unsophisticated and backward.  Mom was an Okie.  I can be rude and arrogant, especially after a few whiskies . . .   But, I vehemently deplore racism.

But, that’s not what this Redneck is all about . . .

I drove over to the Coast this morning.  I was raised to not call it “going to the Beach”, because, unlike littoral areas elsewhere in the country, the Pacific Northwest has beaches, rocky headlands, estuaries, and tidepools.  The “beach” is often pretty boring; around here, the water’s cold enough and the wind’s usually cool enough that you may as well just find something more productive to do than just sit on the sand.

Today, what drew me to the Coast was a search for the bird reported as a Little Stint last weekend, then subsequently confirmed as a Red-Necked Stint after reviews of photos.  The bird had been seen as recently as this Tuesday, so there’s a chance that it still might be hanging with the flocks of Western Sandpipers and Sanderlings at Copalis.

As I approached the mouth of Cranberry/Connor creek, I saw people with spotting scopes who turned out to be Andy and Ellen Stepniewski, Brian Pendleton, Marcus Roening, and Heather Ballash.
This is a Least Sandpiper . . .
We scoped the shorebird flocks pretty well, but only found the ‘usual’ Western and Least sandpipers and Sanderlings in the ‘peep’ flocks.
. . . hunting for prey in the beach wrack.
A “Stint” is any one of the small shorebirds in the genus Calidris, and it takes a bit of patience to work through the flocks to identify the several species - and hopefully find the odd rarity.

The gulls and shorebirds were scattered a time or two when an immature peregrine Falcon tried to find a weak, sick, or unaware prey.  The falcon was unsuccessful while we watched several attempts.

Flocks of migrating loons offshore, and of Whimbrels along the beach, treated us with some nice views.

Other than that, it was a pleasant enough day for birding.  These gulls enjoyed their Dungeness Crab brunch

We Birders searched for quite a while, but ultimately all “dipped” on the Stint.  I returned to the parking lot at Griffiths-Priday State Park, and enjoyed a lunch at the Green Lantern before heading back to Olympia.
Griffiths-Priday State Park eBird Checklist is Here
The Peregrine Falcon

Saturday, January 11, 2020

August 30 2019 - Birding in Paradise

On Friday August 30th, I resolved to chase a nearby species that I’ve not tried for in over 30 years of living in Washington State: the White-tailed Ptarmigan.  These are the smallest grouse to be found in the State, and they pretty much reside in remote alpine meadows above about 7,000 feet.  These are not a species that a birder can just drive to; it takes a bit of effort.  I hadn’t spent much time “at elevation” for many years, and the little population that the Oregon Game Department introduced into the Wallowas had long since died out by the time I spent several weeks hiking there in the 1970s.

In the Pacific Northwest, we have a phrase:  “Live Like the Mountain is Out!”  On sunny days, one or more of the peaks in The Land of the White Volcanoes are generally visible from towns along the Cascade crest, from the Canadian border to northern California.  On days with inclement weather, however, almost every local can point to their local mountain; whether they can see it, or not.

The local Mountain for south Puget Sound is Mount Rainier.  The concept behind the phrase is that, even though there may be clouds and rain, you don’t wait:  You live like the Mountain is Out, you will miss out on a lot of the good things in Life.
I drove from Olympia to Mount Rainier National Park, where the parking lot at Paradise was nearly full at 10 a.m.  Clouds obscured the summit, and visibility was pretty limited, but the day boded well for a sojourn in the alpine heights.
Birding in a fog . . .
There were already a lot of folks at the parking lot, and more arriving.  The Park has some odd rules about parking at the Visitors' Center lots, and it took a while to find a spot - even though it wasn't all that late in the morning.

As I started on the trail, the hikers ahead of me almost walked into this Black-tailed buck, who really didn’t pay us tourists much attention.

The fog kept the scenery and the birds somewhat obscured, as well.
Not much of a vista on a foggy day
I walked into the mist along the Panorama Point trail loop, and almost missed seeing this Sooty Grouse, which was only about 30 yards away in the brume.
The mountain rodents were out, including chipmunks, golden-mantled ground squirrels, and marmots.
The "Hollister" chipmunk - Neotamias amoenus.  Chipmunks have stripes on their faces
Cascade Hoary Marmot Marmota caligata feeding on lupine
Female Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel Spermophilus saturatus
The male appears to have brighter pelage . . .
I hadn’t been to the Park for several years, and was favorably impressed with the results of the Park’s efforts to re-establish the native vegetation.
The little red sign is supposed to keep people from trampling the plants
Life in the Alpine is fragile; these plants have a very short growing period, and thoughtless hikers can quickly trample a path into the verdure from which it will take years to recover.
The signage is a bit more clear at this site
By about 1:30, the heavens began to clear and the mountain was out!
Birds, however, remained few and far between, but the meadows were ablaze with wildflowers.
Bog Gentian Gentiana calycosa

Monkeyflower Mimulus lewisii
Dotted Blue Euphilotes ancilla on a groundsel Senecio triangularis
Aster Oresostemma apligenum
Attending the flowers was a host of insects.  Butterflies seemed to be the most abundant, and as the day warmed and dried, the more came out.
I think this is Edith's Checkerspot Euphydryas editha
And, I think this one is the Mormon Fritillary Speyeria mormonia
Azure Celastrina echo

Along the loop, a pair of hikers were scanning a montane hillside.

I stopped to enquire about their view, and they pointed out a black bear across the canyon.
The black spot in the distance is a bear.  Really . . .

I observed that much of the mountainside above the treeline showed the effect of recent loss of glaciation and snowpack.  Don't believe those who say "there's no such thing as Climate Change" . . .
The glacier was down here not too many years ago . . .
My “target” of seeing the Ptarmigan was not realized today, but it was exhilarating to be back at elevation, and makes me realize that I need to spend a lot more time in the Washington Cascades.  As far as seeing this “chicken”, both Paradise and Sunrise areas at Mount Rainier should be good locales for finding ptarmigan.  The Ptarmigan Ridge near Mount Baker is said to be one of the more accessible places to spot one.  Other potential hikes would be to Crater Mountain in the Pasayten, and along the Pacific Crest Trail near Harts Pass, the highest elevation you can drive to in Washington.  I may not get back up here this year, but the Mountain has inspired me to return to the heights.

“But the darkest scriptures of the mountains are illumined with bright passages of love that never fail to make themselves felt when one is alone.”
  John Muir - 1880
  In the Heart of the California Alps 

Mount Rainier National Park eBird Checklist is Here