Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pacific Northwest Day 1 - Bethel Ridge And The Road

Moving along with my ongoing goal to see many of North America's birds and visit all 50 states, it was only a matter of time before I had to get to the Pacific Northwest.  Washington.  Oregon.  Idaho.  All states on my “need to get to” list.

What does the Pacific Northwest have to offer me?  Birds.  Beer.  Rebecca, my sister, lives there.  Birds. Beers.  National Parks.  Birds.  Beer.  Mountains.  Birds.  Beer.  The ocean.  Birds.  Beer.  Lewis and Clark history.  Birds.  Beer.  Photography opportunity. Birds.  Beer.  You get the point.

So Rebecca, with enough frequent flyer miles to go to the moon and back, gave me a round-trip ticket for a Christmas gift.  “Come visit me!” was basically the plan.  Beer and national parks visits can happen at any time.  Given bird migration time tables, early August seemed like a great time to go.  With Becka somewhat busy at work, the plan was pretty simple.  Visit.  Go play.  Come back. Go play. Come back.  I even got to play the role of a professional photographer.  More on that later…..

Birding destinations for northwest Washington were influenced by Jerry Cooper’s book. A great reference if you do not have it.  The single most powerful reference for the trip was the ABA Birdfinding Guide to Washington by Hal Opperman.  I strongly recommend it.

Two notes before I continue.  I did not go to Vancouver. Many birders have been there.  The Crested Mynas are all apparently dead.  Sky Larks are declining. It is my understanding that the birds will be removed from any and all lists when they have been confirmed as dead.  I did not see a point in going after birds only to have them removed from my lists in 15 years. That time could be spent do other things….

Sunday, July 31/ Monday, August 1st, 2011

Sadly, the trip started off on a bad note.  Flight delays leaving Detroit Metro were piling up.  While the move to the exit row worked out well, I am not sure what to make of the sawdust bagel with bathtub caulk cream cheese I bought at the airport waiting for my flight.  I like cinnamon-raisin bagels better.  With the time change and late departure, I slept as best as I could on the plane (that means maybe an hour) before landing in Seattle at 2:00am local time. 

My body said 5am so I was really ready to hit the road. Becka encouraged me to sleep at least a bit, so I did.  Two hours later, off I went.

My first bird for Washington was American Crow.  I might as well tell you now that Crows in Washington give people fits. While range maps suggest Northwestern Crows are found in the extreme northwest corner of the state, the reality is quite different. Despite being noticeably smaller and having a very nasal “caw”, some people suggest that the American and Northwestern Crows can't be separated easily.  Even though they sound different and look different, many Washington birders don't accept the idea that ANY of them are Northwestern Crows. So, playing it conservatively and knowing I am on someone else's playground, I opted to call all crows on the entire trip American.

My first stop was Bethel Ridge. Located more or less in the south central part of Washington, I had to cross the Cascades. The contrast between a green, lush landscape and the dry, yellow/brown landscape was striking.  Apples and Oranges you might say.  Hard to believe I was simply crossing to a different part of the state and not to new planet.

Looking for a quick drink in the earlier morning, a pitstop for a McDonald's Tea yielded my Vaux's Swift over the parking lot.  Brewers Blackbirds, too.

Ascending a few thousand of feet over a few miles of road,  Bethel Ridge can be a treasure trove.  My main target bird was the White-headed Woodpecker.  A burn site had been suggested.  I was told to keep my eyes peeled, too, for Black-backed Woodpeckers and other goodies. One hour. Two hours. Three hours.  By the end of the fourth hour, I was done.  No Woodpeckers. 

I don't have a clue what the hummingbirds were.  Small and fast, they could have been a new species for all I knew. That possible Cassin's Vireo was really tickin’ me off.  A new bird that would not show itself? Dammit.

But seeing the birds with a western flavor made the day great.  Mountain Chickadee, WesternTanager, Stellar's Jay, Western Wood-Pewee were all nice. I don't see many of those in Michigan.

Plus, at 14,400 feet, Mount Rainier can be seen from the top of the ridge!

So, admitting defeat, and placing the blame solely on bad karma associated with a bad bagels less than a day before, I parked the car on the side of the road to develop my plan for the next phase.

Windows down, I heard a woodpecker.  Probably a Hairy, I thought. I had one up the ridge. But, it doesn't sound quite right....  I got out of my car. There, not 100 feet away, was the White-headed Woodpecker. LIFE BIRD #643.

Whew. Maybe this is not such a bad start after all. 

With new vigor, I plotted a course to Idaho. Not 5 miles down the road, the dark, flycatching non-flycatcher seemed worthy of a second look. Yup. Lewis's Woodpecker!

With a now near-flat tire on my rental car, I had to do swap.  While it seemed to hold air after I filled it again, there was no way I was going to drive hundreds of miles on a possible bum tire.  Detouring to the Tri-Cities region, I swapped it out.  The Swainson's Hawk in the arid plains of eastern Washington seemed very appropriate. 

All the hops growing along the side of the road made me thirsty.  But the beer would have to wait. By the time I had arrived in Moscow, Idaho (more or less sundown), I was completely beat.  I had slept maybe 3 hours in the last 48.  


Cathy Carroll said...

Great trip so far! I can't wait to read more. What I really want to comment on - I am so envious of your Lewis's Woodpecker! This was a bird I missed on my June, 2009 trip to Idaho - despite some significant searching.

Paul said...

Trust me - I blundered into it. I only saw it because it flew from the tree. If it had stayed still, I would have driven right past it.