WORDS ON BIRDS
Memorable Quest for the Elusive #700
December 10, 2016
By Steve Grinley
wake up! The alarm didn’t go off!!” That was the ominous start to
our trip. There was only a half hour to gather our wits, shower,
dress, and finish packing before the arrival of our scheduled ride
to the airport. Somehow we made it out the door just as the taxi
We were heading to Seattle
to see my grandchildren, to attend a Brian Wilson concert, and to do
some birding on the Olympic peninsula, an area that Margo and I had
never visited before. We planned to spend the first few days birding
in Olympic National Park and the surrounding area before heading
into Seattle proper to see family. While on the peninsula, we hoped
to find one more life bird for Margo, reaching number 700 species of
birds seen in North America!
rode to the airport, we checked our cell phones for Seattle weather.
It showed rain forecasted for the next four days. Unfortunately
“wet” is the norm for the Northwest much of the year.
Once we arrived in Seattle, we rented a car and headed toward the
peninsula. We drove along the Hood Canal and, despite off and on
rain, we stopped at a few areas scanning the canal for ducks, geese,
and gulls. We had close views of glaucous-winged and Heerman’s gull,
two species of gulls that we don’t see on the east coast. We also
saw a number of Steller’s jays, another western bird, as well as the
more familiar bald eagles and ravens.
We arrived at our lodge in Port Angeles and made a plan to head up
into Olympic National Park in search of our target birds the next
morning. We were hoping to see Margo’s nemesis bird, the
red-breasted sapsucker, which had eluded her on previous trips to
the northwest. She also hoped to see an ancient murrelet, but knew
that was unlikely as they usually arrive a month later. The sooty
grouse would also be a life bird, but they are elusive and we knew
that there was a good chance that we would not see one. Dave Larson
and Dave Weaver led a Mass Audubon trip there a month earlier and
they gave us some good tips to help us find the birds we were
looking for. The told us where they found the sapsucker, and a few
places to look for the grouse.
next morning, we awakened to cloudy skies and drizzle – not
encouraging for the task ahead. We stopped at the park headquarters
to check conditions on Hurricane Ridge where we would need to look
for the grouse. The remote cameras showed that at least it wasn’t
fogged in, which it often is, and it still could be by the time it
will take up to drive up to that mile high elevation.
We decided to stop first at the Heart o’ the Hills campground, a
short distance from the entrance gate. It was there that the Mass
Audubon trip found a sapsucker just weeks before. We had off and on
showers, as predicted, still we walked around the nearly empty
campground in search of birds. We found pockets of small birds,
twittering high in the trees, but they were hard to get the
binoculars on as they moved quickly among the branches.
We started down one trail that was mostly quiet, the soft earth and
moss dampened any sound we made. Then we started to hear noise ahead
of us - it was human noise. We finally saw some young park personnel
moving logs and rocks and maintaining the trail. One of them had
music blaring which , I guess, kept them from being distracted by
the peace and tranquility of the forest.
We decided to turn around, but as we headed back, we heard a soft
tapping of a woodpecker! Could it be the sapsucker? It took much
patience, as the sound seemed to move about in front of us without
detection, but finally we caught a glimpse of a woodpecker. It was
the all-too familiar hairy woodpecker. Our hearts sank a bit, but we
enjoyed watching him, a much darker version than we see in the
Back in the
campground, we again heard the twittering of small birds high in the
trees. The dark, dreary weather made it hard for us to make out
colors and patterns, but we finally saw some birds low enough, and
open enough, to identify. Golden-crowned kinglets were the majority
of the birds we were seeing, but travelling with them were
chestnut-backed chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches. We also came
across a couple of brown creepers spiraling up the tall trees.
As we continued to search the area, I
saw a larger bird with white in the wing, fly behind the trunk of a
tree and disappear. Then, I heard tapping. Another woodpecker? As I
stood watching, the bird moved around to where I could see it.
I called to
Margo and in the time she walked over to me, the bird had
disappeared around the tree again. Its soft tapping let us know that
it was still there, only to add to our frustration. It seemed to
stay hidden for a long time, but suddenly we saw a flash of movement
to another tree. How can one bird be so difficult?
Finally, the sapsucker circled to the side of a large tree trunk and
Margo had excellent views of her life bird. We watched it for a long
time as it worked the area in search of food. We could see the deep
red color about its head and breast – it was a beautiful male. This
was, indeed, a bird to remember for number 700!
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