Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Washington State

We headed west in late April to visit family; Holly's sister and my brother and the respective (and respected) "out-laws" both live less than 30 minutes from each other in beautiful state of Washington.  Holly had assisted with a medical emergency on the flight for our recent Costa Rica trip so we received a discount voucher to fly again with Delta.  Combining that with an amazing ticket sale, we eagerly snapped up the tickets and arranged the visit.  Our youngest is under two and could fly free, so we took her along too.

The morning after arriving, everyone else had plans so I took the morning to morning to walk up into a hill behind where we were staying.  Along the way, a marshy area was full of Red-winged Blackbirds wooing mates.

female Red-winged Blackbird

male Red-winged Blackbird

As I walked towards the base of the hill, there were a few black birds in the newly leafed trees.  I almost overlooked them assuming by their size and squeaky call that they were just starlings, but good thing I checked closer. With bright yellow eyes and a slight blue and green iridescence, they were a new find and became life bird #195: Brewer's Blackbirds.

Brewer's Blackbird

As I climbed the steep road (I'm sure the grade was about 12 percent or more) a Red-tailed hawk broke the silence with it's falling, piercing call.  It circled all around the area and I got quite a few shots.  Unfortunately, I had mistakenly kept the shutter speed too low and I forgot to check.  I only got a couple salvageable shots.

soaring Red-tailed Hawk

It later perched in a dead snag and watched me for a short while.  The cliff between us was too steep and I couldn't find out how much closer it would have allowed me.

Red-tailed Hawk

Soon, a much larger form glided in from the distance and guaranteed that I'd see at least one example of the States' national bird - an adult Bald Eagle.  This was soon after my hawk shots and I still hadn't adjusted my camera settings, so I settle for a rather unclear picture of the majestic bird!

Bald Eagle

Near the top of the hill there are a number of beautiful homes and an Anna's Humming bird was zipping around between feeders and flowering bushes.  It was way up on a cliff with really bad lighting, but the cropped picture is clear enough to show it's bright purple throat. Another lifer.

Anna's Hummingbird

I wandered around on the uninhabited side of the hill a bit, not seeing much in the uncharacteristically warm 27 deg C (80 deg F) high temp of the day.  I sure was enjoying the warm weather, knowing that back home it was a cold, raining week.  Here was the view from the hillside.... great!

A typical Washington view.

At the top of the hill, I varied from the recommended route my sister-in-law had given me and found an old dirt lane which seemed to head in the general direction of "home".  It wasn't labelled with any signs of any sort so I thought with large camera lens in hand, I could plead the innocence of being a bird nerd if anyone complained about trespassing. The mix of large mature deciduous and coniferous trees shaded and soon I was hearing lots of bird songs I didn't recognize.  Unfortunately I saw none of them close enough to find out what they were.  Further down the lane, a number of trees were full of Yellow-rumped Warblers.  They were very busy feeding on also bugs enjoying the warm weather. Unfortunately, the thick trees meant low light and I couldn't get any good pictures. Even if the birds would perch in a sunlit spot, it would only be for a few seconds, too short to get a picture.

As I made my way down the trail, a vehicle came down the lane and stopped, asking for my reason of being down where I was.  The camera proved its worth and seemed to set the two slightly rough looking guys at rest.  Actually, the one guy seemed to take an interest, and offered that he knew of a large nest down in the bush, wondering if I'd like to see it.  I took him up on the offer and followed them around the bend to where a large, rambling but quite neglected house sat on the hillside completely isolated from everything else.  I was told it was about eight apartments, likely housing some less than wealthy folks who called it home.  After waiting for my guide to return from the house, he returned with a large machete in hand, casually noting to me that he could understand that I might find it a bit unnerving to have someone, in the middle of "nowhere", offer to take me for a walk into the bush while wielding a machete.  But I wasn't too worry, he assured me.  And I didn't.

The machete was to cut back the blackberry bushes which smother the hillside.  It wasn't really needed though as I followed him along a trail he obviously had traveled lately a number of times.  He mentioned that that morning they had been setting up a trail cam in an area on the opposite side of the hill where they had found what they think was Bob Cat scat.  That would be amazing to see in the wild!

Sure enough, soon we approached the edge of cliff which was part of an already steep section of the hillside and the objecting cries of two Red-tailed Hawks let us know we were not welcome.  In a tree reaching from below the cliff's edge was a large nest.  Inside I could see at least one egg, and what I believe were two fluffy white chicks.

Red-tailed Hawk nest with chicks and egg.

We sat in the midst of the brambles and hoped to hide ourselves enough with the hopes that the adults would return to the nest, but we were only fooling ourselves given their amazing eye sight.  We enjoyed the sight for a few minutes, and then left them in peace.  I'd have loved to stay longer, but the parents were obviously agitated (though we weren't terribly close) and it made me wish I had an instant pop up blind in my pocket to use.  Such an amazing viewing angle, and a blind would have been so easy to set up there to allow the adults to return un-alarmed.  But I was glad to enjoy the experience!

I thanked my willing friend and continued down the hill, only to be startled by an equally startled mule deer that had been resting in the underbrush right side the lane.  However, it didn't take off far, and let me approach quite closely.

Mule Deer

Once I got too close, it moved just into the brush and then stared at me from there.  Either it felt safer behind the leaves or had some illusion that I couldn't see it anymore, but I was able to get close enough to get the next picture zoomed all the way back (granted, still at 150mm).

Mule Deer - close.

Soon we both tired of the stare down and we both calmly went separate ways.  That was one of my more enjoyable hikes I had.

But I had run out of time as we were supposed to be heading out for a outing with the family.  We went to a great lookout where you could see great views of Mount Baker and it was even clear enough to see Mount Rainier in the distance.

Mount Baker

Mount Rainier way in the distance (blue through the afternoon haze)

My beautiful travel-mate!

Bald Eagle

The following days were filled with lots of family visiting and touristy outings - great times!  Thanks a lot to both our brother and sister's families for all the things they did with and for us!

One outing was to Deception Pass where we walked along shore of the very calm Pacific Ocean.  One of the first sights was of Surf Scoters, albeit at a distance from water's edge. Another bird to add to the list with a not so great picture but still good enough for evidence.

Surf Scoters

As we walked along the stoney beach, a group of younger Thayer's Gulls were preening on a rocky outcrop. Yet another new bird.

Thayer's Gulls

Further along we passed some sandy cliffs and a humming bird was busy meandering through the dangling grasses, roots and leaves from the cliff edge.  I'm not sure what it was doing or looking for there.  I'm pretty sure it was a female Rufous Hummingbird.

female Rufous Hummingbird

There were lots of Pigeon Guillemots swimming in the fast waters approaching the two big Deception Pass bridges.  Again, none were venturing close for a great picture, but you can see clearly enough in the photo below its distinct bright red legs and white eye ring.  This bird is from the Puffin family and lives only in the Pacific Ocean.

Pigeon Guillemot

A little further along a female Harlequin Duck was diving and searching for food a lot closer to shore than the other birds.  I was able to sneak up between dives for a few pictures before it got uncomfortable with the closeness and moved on.

female Harlequin Duck

On the way back to the car, we were met by a White-crowned Sparrow perched on a piece of driftwood, singing its heart out.  It was quite tolerant of me and I could get some nice closeups.

White-crowned Sparrow

It was a great trip out to Washington. We had lots of visiting time with our brother and sister and their families, had a great get-together with all my cousins living in that area, and enjoyed the great hospitality of everyone out there.  My only regret is not being able to do an outing with my Uncle Gord who had planned to take me out exploring at a couple great sites.  He has a very bad back, and the night before had to cancel because his back had suddenly gone out again.  He had hoped to take me to a site where there are approximately 600 heron nests.  That would have been a sight to see.  Next visit hopefully I can fit that in.

The trip did have a rather sad moment.  We visited the Seattle zoo with my brother and sister-in-law and their cute daughter.  Holly was taking pictures of their raptor show and handed the camera to me for a turn, with an off hand comment that she wasn't sure, but it didn't seem to be taking pictures any more.... much to my chagrin I confirmed it was so.  The shutter was stuck.  It had done that a few months back, and at that time a careful but firm bump had reset it. Not to be repeated and we were sans-camera for the rest of the trip.  More to come on that in a future post... 

Well, I added eight life birds to my list that trip, letting me crack the 200 mark at 202.  But more fun was enjoying the visits with the family and seeing their stomping grounds. Who knows when the next visit that way will be, but next time hopefully it will be with all the kids along... I'm know my brother will be pleased with that thought!

Until next time...
Keep enjoying HIS handiwork!

1 comment:

  1. Great pics Bri! I really enjoyed looking at them....though it took me awhile to get around to doing it! We had a great time with you guys here....we miss you! ~Christy


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