Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pacific Northwest Day 6 - Casual Day With A Mission

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Saturday morning started slow again.  A casual breakfast at the house was nice.  More Chestnut-sided Chickadees in the yard? Cool.  Those way-distant birds on the water gave me fits.  Still not sure what they were.  That RufousHummingbird did a much better job cooperating for me. 

By late morning, Becka and I did a nice hike at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.  Established in 1974, it is conveniently parked on the Nisqually River Delta where it meets Puget Sound.  We simply started walking trails and spied a huuuuuge boardwalk that took us out to a very distant gazebo-like thing.  We figure we easily covered over 2.5 miles that afternoon.  Given the time of day, the birding was not really hot, but I certainly scored some new birds, including Wilson’s Warbler, Wood Duck, and Willow Flycatcher.  What a super place.  I’m sure migration seasons would be a bonanza.  I would certainly spend time there if I lived in the region.

Late lunch (early dinner?) was at Jake’s Bar and Bistro in the quaint little town of Steilacoom.  The Heavy Hefe (#1,052) from Southern Tier Brewing Company was far more “clove-ee” than I expected. Bananas certainly took a backseat on this one. I expected better.  The Dunkelweizen (#1,054) from the Leavenworth BrewingCompany (now apparently merged with the Fish Brewing Company) was much more to my liking.  

During the second round of beers, Becka and I were joined by her friends, Kristin and her husband, Brad.  He was in his military dress uniform as they had just come back from their neighbor’s funeral. John was his name.  That would be 4-star General John Malchase David Shalikashvili.  He was their neighbor?!  How cool would that be? 

My old neighbor (he moved (or fled – you decide)) was hardly General material. While introducing himself to me a few months back, he made it a point to tell me how important it was for him to be a good dad to his daughter. He even checked the online checklist for sex offenders because he didn’t want any trouble in the neighborhood.  Imagine my surprise when I awoke one morning here a few weeks back to see police basically surrounding his house.  There was NO way he was getting out of there without them knowing it.  Turns out they were sent by a judge to find him because he skipped court. 

So think that through for a moment.  Kristen and Brad’s neighbor was a 38-year United States Army Veteran and the first foreign-born Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  My neighbor was a court-dodger.  I got the short end of that stick, eh?

By the time we got back to Becka’s place, it was early evening.  There was absolutely NO WAY I was going to sit around.  I had to do something, right?  The GPS had me at Belfair State Park in 45 minutes.  While I am not a military veteran, I had a mission and less than three hours to pull it off.  The chances of success were pretty small, but I gave it a go for God, Country, and honor. 

Cassin’s Vireo didn’t really exist up until 1997.  Prior to that year, Cassin’s, Plumbeous and Blue-headed Vireos were all considered the same species – Solitary Vireo.  When it was decided to split one species into three, birders rejoiced as it gave us a chance to see more birds! 

Blue-headed and Plumbeous were knocked off years ago.  Cassin’s was missed in Montana during a 2003 vacation.  This bird was a KEY bird for this trip.  I was never able to secure the Cassin’s Vireo during my Bethel Ridge episode despite being confident I had one.  It sang once or twice but I never saw it or even pinned down the location.  Dammit, right?

An internet post to the Washington bird list serv met with success.  Knowing I did not want to travel up and over the Cascades again, I hoped someone could give me a location for Cassin’s Vireo near Gig Harbor.  Most responses said “Forget it”. 

Two stood out.  One said to check a mountain in the rainshadow of the Olympic Mountains.  They breed there, apparently but he suggested it was a longshot.   Another fellow suggested Belfair State Park.  Two birds had been seen there in mid-July. I went for the Park.

With about 2 hours of daylight left, I arrived.  65 acres in size, I had NO idea where to start.  The woman in the pay booth (a non-birder) suggested the trail along the parking lot that eventually went down to the Hood Canal.  I could also cover the campground. Hmmm.

Despite the calendar saying August, it was getting a bit chilly.  Standing for just moment at a crossroads trying to decide “trail” or “campground”, a bearded man appeared out of nowhere in a brown cloak.  

“Paaaauuuuul, you will go to the Dagobah System. There you will meet……  Wait. That’s wrong. Paaaaaauuuuuul, you will just start walkin’, man.  You are not going to find the bird by just standing there looking like a dork…… Try over here…….”

With that helpful piece of advice, I started down the trail.  Black-capped Chickadee. Black-capped Chickadee.  Brown  Creeper.  Black-capped Chickedee. Cassin’s Vireo.


The total time from entrance to bird location did not exceed 10 minutes. Believe it not, I was not happy at first.  I was stunned.  Stunned disbelief, in fact.  I fully expected to fail only to have to return again at sunrise and try again.  But there it was, standing on a tree branch, not 10 feet over my head, smashing the absolute snot out of a caterpillar the size of macaroni noodle.  Vireo bill.  Spectacles. White belly with yellow flanks.  Gray-brown head.  CASSIN’S VIREO.  Life bird #646.

Sleep came easy.  

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