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Home again, home again…

Well, it was a distant look at the snowy owls, but we got it!

Also I’m home, etc, nothing caught fire, the beagle is fine, Ben began head-butting me so intensely that he nearly gave me a nosebleed. On to more important things!

The ice was pretty dire, but our hosts were Canadian, so we set out on the road in search of bookstores to sign at and birds to track down. Tina, our hostess, is a fabulous birder and managed to snag me no less than 25 life birds, despite weather that would drive lesser mortals to huddle by the fire with a hot toddy and a travel guide to the Bahamas. (This puts me at a whopping 277 birds. I have high hopes that a trip to Texas in April may put me over 300.)

The snow drove varied thrushes down from the mountains, so for a brief period they were as common as robins everywhere we went. A snowy walk when we couldn’t get very far out of the house got me a hyperactive Townsend’s warbler, and there were wigeons, cackling geese, buffleheads and a ring-necked duck all hunkered down on a nearby pond.

The next day we made it out of the city (which was good, because it got us away from the majority of panicky motorists) to a ferry, which yielded such delights as pelagic and Brandt’s cormorants, a Barrow’s Goldeneye, rhino auklets, and surf and white-wing scoters, as well as a look at a Common Goldeneye that finally got it off my BVD list.* (Most of this was from-the-car birding, because it was pretty wretched out—we’d spot from the car, then get out with scopes if there was something worth scoping.)

We were driving down a road that cut through large fields and saw such an amazing show that Tina quickly pulled over on the shoulder. A crow was dogfighting a peregrine falcon—serious, flip-over-in-the-air-with-claws-out kind of stuff—and the crow was winning. Into the middle of this lumbers an adult bald eagle. The peregrine decides that it will take that crap from a crow, but not from an eagle, and goes after the eagle. The crow decides that the peregrine is now sufficiently distracted from whatever the crow was grumpy about and quits the field, while the falcon harassed the eagle away into the trees on the edge of the field.

Well, it was pretty awesome. We agreed that even with common birds, it was worth watching. Tina started the car up again and that’s when we discovered that the shoulder was not actually a shoulder, but a lot of snow piled up to look like a shoulder to motorists. All-wheel drive will save you if there’s a tire actually on asphalt, but we were well and truly boned. The car slid and wiggled into the ditch. I got out and pushed. Two passing motorists got out and pushed. The car wallowed deeper into the snow.

At this point we spotted that extremely rare bird, The Kindness of Strangers, because not one but THREE cars stopped for us. Two of them were large trucks. One of the drivers lived just up the block and had a tow rope at home, so he leaped back in the truck (accompanied by two interested German shepherds) got the tow rope, and came back. The owner of an even larger truck pulled up in the interim, and with these two gentlemen working under the car, they managed to get the rope attached, the car hauled out, and restore my faith in humanity for at least a month.

Our time in the ditch was actually put to good use. It was late enough in the day that the light was starting to fail and the owls got up and hunting. I got both a short-eared owl and a PAIR of snowys cruising over the fields hunting for dinner, interrupted by occasional trumpeter swans.

The final trek was to Ocean Shores, home to an emperor goose, a king eider, and more snowys. We got none of them, because the storm was so massive that it drove the waves over the jetties in huge gouts of spray and washed out the walkways, driving the eider and the goose to more sheltered homes. But we did manage a few interesting birds, and we got more checking various spots like sewage ponds (always a great location) which turned up various peeps and a harrier taking a dunlin right out of the air. A final drive down the coast turned up more grebes and loons, a marbled godwit, and somewhat unusually for the time and place, a pair of Western bluebirds. (They would normally be on the other side of the mountains, and while they’re spotted occasionally out by the coast, January’s an odd season for it.)

Kevin came out with us on the last trek to experience Guerrilla Birding first hand. I believe the high point of his day was a nap in the back seat. Otherwise it was a lot of jargon, driving in the car, getting out of the car, standing in winds so cold your tears froze on your cheeks, getting back in the car, listening to more jargon, etc. Having made the absolute effort to comprehend my freakish hobby, I hereby publicly absolve him of all birding duties that do not involve accompanying me to places to keep away serial killers.

And then we came home. I devoutly hope that my next trek out there will not be so hedged about with business and bad weather that I can actually do another meet and greet and see some friends, but for deathly weather, we didn’t do bad at all.


*Better View Desired—i.e, you’ve seen the bird, it’s an ID all right, but it was so far off that you don’t feel like you’ve really experienced the bird. I have a fair number of these.

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

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Yay for birds and getting home safe!
(Boo for a headache making all my words go away.)

Congratulations on the successful birding trip! Your dedication to your hobby is... I don't want to say close to obsessive, so let's just go with "commendable", shall we? Speaking of birds, have you seen this?


It's a bunch of crazy good videos from the BBC documentary "Birdflight". I saw it and thought of you, because I don't know anybody else who is interested in birdwatching offhand. But really, I thought the videos were fascinating and I know nothing about birds.

Oh my god, thank you for linking this. David Tennant narrates birds filmed under new techniques which help show off exactly how extraordinary they are? It's like someone's been reading my dream journal. ;)

I have high hopes that a trip to Texas in April may put me over 300.

Hopefully, you're heading to Galveston - that should make it easy.

High Island! One of the High Holy Grounds of birding, according to Tina.

Yay! My birder friends attest to the glory of High Island. For me, the best part is hand-feeding Cheetos to gulls on the ferry. I'm sure that makes me a terrible person in any number of ways.

In Texas it's handy to have an experienced guide. I actually went there on a birding tour -- the kind you pay for -- and the guys who led it truly knew what they were doing.

One of the amusing bits was when we went to the Brownsville dump on the chance of a Mexican Crow. [It wasn't there; it was really too late in the year.] Many of the people on the tour were not diehard birders and being told we were going to the Brownsville dump did not register with them as going up on top of a gigantic landfill and looking for birds. Several were unwilling to get out of the car. Of course, if you've chased gulls much, you've been to landfills for them. Sort of like sewage ponds.

Incidentally, Snowy Owls are daytime hunters when they can be. If you think about it, they spend more time in daylight than dark.

Is this a specific ferry that results in rhino auklets? Those are high on my 'need to see in wild' list, and taking a ferry next time I'm visiting the Seattle area to see them seems like a fine idea.

Ah...poop. It was to the north, we needed a detour because the freeway was shut down, and it went to an island with a big artist's community. (That's real helpful, I know...) If Tina reads the blog post, hopefully she can comment--I don't know the area at all, and wasn't paying attention to the signs. There were the rhino auklets and pigeon guillemots off the left side of the ferry, and we got a couple of good looks from inside the ferry--they aren't in breeding plumage, but one of the rhinos had a little bit of white striping left. (Possibly marbled murrelets as well, but the look wasn't good enough for a conclusive call.)

The name Deception Pass Bridge is yammering at me. I think that was the bridge off the island? Helluva view.

Whidbey Island. And I am massively impressed that you made it clear out to Ocean Shores.

BTW, it's bright sunshiny and upper 40s today [eg].

Glad you are home safe with many birds added to your list.

Did you find any bookstores?

A couple, yeah! They didn't have the displays out there, but they all had a dozen or so books, so it was a good set of signings.

Birding requires someone to keep the serial killers away? I never knew it was so... exciting.

"...interrupted by occasional trumpeter swans."

Damn, woman. I'm green with envy.

I wish to nominate Kevin for sainthood. Just without all that pesky celibacy and everything.

damn it! come with me to hawai'i!

Any time! Name the date! I want to fall into a bird-infested volcano!

heh... there are no bird-infested volcanos. the most you'll see up there is possibly a papaya bird. but oh, the hawaiian crows and hawks are up above that area. :D

i do need to sneak you over.

of course, we'd never see you again if you get lost in the rain forest. might have to get a leash :D

Ursula, did you change your LJ settings to dark gray background with white text, or is it just my computer acting up on me?

I had to change it--I was trying to fix my comment settings and accidentally upgraded to the new LJ.

I wonder who decided this was going to be the preferred setting? A blind person?

Do you want help changing it back to the non-customized comment page? (And actually, you cannot have opted in or out of the new LJ (unless you're talking about S1/S2 styles, in which case you can go back)).

"Grebes and loons, and a marbled godwit" sounds remarkably like a description of the Republican primary candidates.

I am reminded of John Cleese, in his documentary on Lemurs:

"Was it worth it? Was it worth flying eleven hours to the southern tip of Africa, and then another flight and then three or four hours on the worst roads I've ever seen and then four and half hours hike to get here just to get a glimpse of one of the lemurs for maybe a second and half at 150 yards?


Well of course it WASN'T worth it. I mean, are you mad?! Would you do it?!! The whole thing's a total wash out!!

(turns to the ostensibly lemur-filled trees behind him)


That particular show also has an excellent line about "travelling to a remote portion of the world, 'remote' being defined as 'any place Michael Palin hasn't been to yet.'".

Edited at 2012-01-24 08:20 am (UTC)

A blurb on the news over the weekend revealed that one of the bird sanctuaries here in Kansas has rescued an injured snowy owl and is currently rehabilitating it.

It's sort of startling how many birds cut through Kansas. I've seen a Western Grebe at our local reservoir; we get pelicans that actually winter there, along with what seems like thousands of ducks in many species; a few years ago we had several nests of orioles in the summer, and we are starting to see bluebirds on a regular basis once again.

Thank you for answering my son's letter about Attack of the Ninja Frogs :)

[Brer] One of these springs (mid-May) we need to meet up with you out in Massachusetts for 4-5 days so I can drag you around my old birding grounds there.

Mt. Auburn Cemetery is an amazing experience of birds, beautiful grounds, and ancient burial sites of famous rich people.

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