Seattle Part II: That time I almost saw a Gyrfalcon

The weekend after the Seattle trip with Jen, my boyfriend, Tomas, suggested going to Seattle to visit friends and try out his new fancy camera.

Bananas Foster French Toast courtesy of Portage Bay Cafe

I heard, “Blah, blah, blah…..another chance at redpolls?” Yes. Yes, I would like to go to Seattle. We drove up late Friday night and stayed a hotel way less creepy than the last one in Kennewick.

Haunted by ghost couches

Haunted by ghost couches

We got up early, stuffed ourselves with bananas foster french toast, then headed over to Green Lake.

Green Lake

It was just like before, lots of people, lots of dogs. And unfortunately, this time, it was overcast and cloudy. But we could overlook the weather for the moment, because we found the Common Redpolls! Right where they were supposed to be, in the birch trees by the lake. So reliable I could set my watch to them.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

It was going to be that easy, huh? We took pictures and watched them pick at the catkins for hours. They were very fast, moving from branch to branch picking seeds. The catkin petals fell from the trees like snow. Here’s a video of one bird.

Feeling rich in redpolls, I decided to use my new eBird superpowers that Jen taught me to look for other rarities in the area. There’s this thing under “Explore Data” called “Alerts.”

Needs

This is where you can sign up for alerts and read accounts of rare birds by state or county. It’s funny, I’ve entered rare birds into the eBird app that were included in the list (that Northern Mockingbird at Hollebeke), but I never knew there was a central place to read the descriptions and see uploaded user photos. That data is super helpful. Especially if you want to chase a Gyrfalcon reported an hour away from Seattle at Mahler Park in Enumclaw. And we did. So we went.

Mahler State Park

We arrived at the park, and quickly made friends with the handful of birders on site, who were also looking for the falcon. A nearby resident came out and told us he had seen the bird that morning perched on the “known snag.” He showed us a superb picture on his phone and mentioned they named the bird Henry, after a neighborhood kid. Alrighty, then.

Henry, the Gyrfalcon, was not home that afternoon. We figured he was probably out hunting, so we drove around the area with our eyes glued to the sky. I noticed a couple of silhouettes at once.

Common Raven

Diamond-shaped tail, large bird, with “feather fingers” = Common Raven Juvenile Bald Eagle.

I also saw a large bird soaring with dark wings and light flight feathers, a “headless” bird I recognized as a Turkey Vulture!

Turkey Vulture

Year bird! I made the eBird entry and turns out it’s an uncommon bird for this area at this time of year and it showed up on the alert list. It does seem early, I think it wasn’t until summer that I first saw one last year. We continued on, and about a block away from the park I saw a falcon silhouette. Streamlined shape, and moving fast.

Falcon

Flying fast and farther away from us. I was confident it was a falcon, and it looked light below, but with the overcast skies it was difficult to tell for sure. I thought, what are the odds there’s another falcon so close? It had to be Henry. Celebrations commenced. Champagne corks were basically popped. Until I got home and was able to study the pictures more closely.

Falcon

Turns out the odds are pretty high that there’s a Peregrine Falcon near where a Gyrfalcon was spotted. The dark “mustache” is a clear giveaway.

Who knew? I wish we could have spent more time chasing the bird. We were so close! Nevertheless, those few hours we thought we saw a Gyrfalcon were some of the most fun yet. And it’s going to make the next sighting that much sweeter.

We made it back in time to watch the sunset, have dinner with friends, and to check on the Redpolls. They were not there. So unreliable!

Seattle sunset

What a fun trip!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Seattle Part I: Reliable Redpolls

A couple of weeks ago, Jen invited me on a birding day trip to Seattle with her and her pups. How could I resist those faces?!

Jake and Ralph

To sweeten the deal, there were life-birds up for grabs. A flock of Common Redpolls was reportedly (reliably) camped out in the birch trees near Green Lake.  Redpolls typically winter in the northeastern portion of United States, so this rarity would be a treat.

Along the way, we checked in on an unusually large group of Redheads at Weyerhauser Pond, just north of Tacoma. My first new bird of the day!

Mostly Redhead

Redhead

We got closer looks of a couple of “brunettes” too.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

The morning temperatures started out chilly, but the forecast promised blue skies, warmth, and sunshine to come. Seattle graciously delivered.

Statues

The Olympics

Why can’t every day be like this?

A quick stop at Green Lake turned up empty for redpolls, so we drove farther north to Edmonds, Washington, with the intent on returning to the lake later in the day.

Edmonds has stellar views of the Olympic Mountains. And some pretty good looks of birds from the shore and from the pier too. Like another life bird for me, the Red-necked Grebe.

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Some day I’d like to see grebes in their breeding plumage so they can really wow me. Speaking of wows, while walking along the pier we got the best looks ever of this Belted Kingfisher.

Belted Kingfisher

We inched closer.

Belted Kingfisher

I was in shock. I’m pretty sure my jaw was hanging open. Kingfishers usually spook easily, but this one paid us no mind. We watched as she darted in the water, grabbed a fish, and flew to a perch, where she then proceeded to furiously whack the fish repeatedly on a pole.

Belted fish-basher

Belted “Fish-basher”

Here’s a video of nature’s awesome brutality.

The clang of the fish on the pole was oddly disturbing…and funny at the same time. One of the most hilarious birding encounters I’ve had, and I’m happy it was a shared experience.

Jen and the mutts

From the pier, we saw Surf Scoters scooting along in the waters below. What a great look at that bizarre bill.

Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter

There were other tame birds in the pier waters, like this Horned Grebe.

Horned Grebe

And at one point, we watched a Common Goldeneye fight a crustacean that was no match for this diving diva, and she devoured it no problem.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

What a great spot! Offshore, we caught sight of a bird in the same family as Puffins (Alcidae), the Pigeon Guillemot.

Pigeon Guillemot

Also present were Pelagic Cormorants, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Western Gulls, and the cuddliest harbor seal.

Jen spotted a group of Brant flying by that I barely saw, but luckily got better looks of later at a viewpoint along Sunset Ave. This dignified goose earned the title of third life bird of the day for me.

Brant

Brant

Quality time was spent at Edmonds, but target birds remained on the list. On route back to Green Lake, we made a quick detour to Discovery Park, to find a Hutton’s Vireo, another lifer for me! No pictures of the vireo (that looks like a Ruby-crowned Kinglet), but I did get a recording of its distinctive song, “zu-wee, zu-wee, zu-wee“, before it dive-bombed us and hid back in the shrubbery. Pretty cool.

By this time we were losing daylight and quickly made our way back to Green Lake for another try at redpolls.

Reliable coots

Reliable coots

Share the path for wigeon

Share the path for wigeon crossing

We found plenty of ducks, geese, people, dogs, and even people who had *seen* the redpolls, “they were right there on those birch, yesterday!” Unfortunately though, after two visits and trekking the entire 2.8 miles around the lake, we lost the bet and “dipped” on the redpolls. Redpolls 1; Us 0.

Birding is humbling, challenging, and rewarding all wrapped up in one fun-feathered package. Despite the redpolls, I had a blast and would do it all over again.

“What is life if not a gamble? – F. E. Higgins

Tweets and chirps,
Audrey