Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Port Townsend, etc.

Last weekend Jacob and I went up to the Olympic Peninsula with the main goal of seeing orcas and puffins from boats out of Port Townsend.  We got a rocky start when our Airbnb host mentioned the day before we were leaving that her German Shepherd was free-roaming on the property we planned to stay at with our dogs.  Um.  No.  Thankfully I was able to find a place at the last minute farther away in Bremerton, home of the Saboteur Bakery.

We took our time on the drive up and stopped at Dosewallips State Park where a small herd of elk was grazing.

We drove over the Hood Canal Bridge, the third longest floating bridge in the world, and could see tons of alcids in the water below.  We stopped at Salsbury Point Park on the east end to try to get views of the birds with mild success.  Lots of Pigeon Guillemots were flying around and a lone Marbled Murrelet was diving close enough for a visual. 

State bird!  Year bird!

We hit up Point No Point also and had our first Rhinoceros Auklets of the trip, but there were many more to come.  From there we headed back south to Bremerton and checked into our waterfront house for the weekend.  Pretty sweet spot!

In the morning we ran the dogs around at Evergreen Rotary Park before grabbing fresh-from-the-oven pastries at Saboteur and heading north to Port Townsend.

We checked in for our morning Puget Sound Express whale watch boat and learned there was a bit of a delay due to a clogged toilet, so we spent a lot of time poking around the docks nearby.

Red Head

 Starling/Kingfisher combo

A pair of Glaucous-winged Gulls had nested on a concrete structure near the dock and their three young ones were hanging out in view.  One of the parents came in at one point and threw up some whole fish for them.  This led to me having a dream about humans throwing up whole fish for each other. 


Meanwhile in the water below a big red jellyfish was washing up to the shore. 

Lion's mane jellyfish?  

The mix of clouds and blue sky was turning the water to the east lovely shades of turquoise and I was pleased to find a Pigeon Guillemot willing to pose in it.

Finally the Red Head's toilet was unclogged and we were able to get going on our search for orcas.  One of the first things I took a picture of was this barge with tons of flattened cars:

Harbor porpoises were a fairly regular sight during the day.

We saw quite a few murres and auklets, but this was the only time we saw them being BFF's.

I was excited to get decent Rhino Auklet photos for once.

We cruised around looking for orcas for a long time, hoping another boat might have found some also.  Unfortunately this never happened.  No orcas.  Not one.  But we did see a few humpbacks so all was not lost.

We stopped at some rocks close to Victoria, BC, and had Black Oystercatchers, a lone dowitcher, tons of seals and Steller sea lions. 

After the whale watch we had to drive back to Bremerton to hang out with the dogs for awhile, then head back to Port Townsend for our evening puffin tour.  We arrived a little early so we returned to the dock we had visited in the morning and found the best views of Rhinoceros Auklets imaginable.

This pair was so distracting we had to hurry to catch the puffin boat.  Again we boarded the Red Head but this time headed to Protection Island where thousands of auklets (14,000 pairs!), gulls, cormorants, and some Tufted Puffins nest.  We cruised around watching the Bald Eagles, Harlequin Ducks, Black Oystercatchers, and finally some Tufted Puffins. 

I had never had such a good view of them on the water, and certainly not at sunset, so that was really cool.

The sunset happened behind clouds and fog, but a little bit managed to break through.

All in all, we had a couple of cool boat trips with lots of wildlife.  We'll have to go back another time to try for orcas again. 

Sunday morning we took the dogs for a walk at Illahee State Park, a few miles from our Airbnb.  We didn't have our cameras so no photos of the adorable young Pileated Woodpecker we saw, but here are phone photos of a cool kelp crab:

We packed up after the park and headed back to Portland.  It was a great little adventure to the north with two lifers for Jacob and two WA state birds for me.  Good times!!!!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mount Rainier- Paradise

You know what July means?  Ridiculous amounts of time spent searching for White-tailed Ptarmigan on Mt. Rainier of course.  On my recent weekend Audrey and I went up to Paradise bright and early to hike the Skyline Trail up to Panorama Point and beyond, checking all the known ptarmigan haunts.  The forecast was for clear skies so of course it was cloudy with a dense misty fog. 

Oh and there was still quite a bit of snow on parts of the trail.  Fun times.  About ten minutes into our first hike we heard a Sooty Grouse booming.  We finally located the fellow tucked into some trees across a snow-covered meadow. 

Because of the fragile meadow we could not get too close so we were extra pleased when we found a female grouse poking around right by the trail, not far from the male.

This seemed like a good sign for our chicken search.  We continued up the trail, or what we thought was the trail, passing marmots and squirrels and things.  At the edge of a large patch of snow we noticed a small bird, a Gray-crowned Rosy-finch!  This turned out to be the first sighting of many, which was awesome.

This was only my second time seeing this species, and it was a lifer for Audrey.  It was made even better when a young one appeared and perched on a rock for us, unfazed by camera clicks.

The adult flew over to a nearby snowfield where things looked like this:

We followed the trail up to Panorama Point, climbed up to High Skyline, and hiked all around the area hoping to stumble upon the elusive chicken.  No luck.  Sometime after noon the fog began to clear and the spectacular scenery became visible. 

I stopped to take a few quick macros when I noticed some Elephant's head pedicularis along the trail.

Magenta paintbrush

After the fog cleared the clouds broke up and the sun even came out.  It was like hiking in a completely different place.  So of course we ended up doing another loop around Pebble Creek to High Skyline and back to Panorama Point.

Hoary marmot

Apparently Clark's Nutcrackers have been fed at Panorama because a couple flew in ridiculously close and stared at us expectantly. 

The ground squirrels and chipmunks at Panorama are equally pathetic beggars, but they will actually grab your food if you turn your head. 

We eventually decided to call it for the day and hike back down.  More rosy-finches were around to offer non-foggy views. 

Mmmm snow grubs

We made it down to the parking area around 5 and talked to a ranger about possible ptarmigan spots.  He suggested everywhere we had just been.  Not helpful.  We camped at the Cougar Rock campground that night, then returned to the trailhead by 5 a.m.  This time the skies were clear, very few hikers were around, and faith in ptarmigan had been restored.

Mount Rainier's shadow

Once again we found Gray-crowned Rosy-finches, though this time there were more begging young ones.  So cute.

Higher up I had an adult fly to a spot in the trail right in front of me, hop around me, and fly down to the snowfield below.  I took a cell phone video for ya:

Again we hiked up to Panorama Point and beyond, failing to find any chickens at all.  Audrey noticed a couple of marmots were either fighting, making out, or playing way up on the rocks.  We hiked up to get better views of the behavior.


 Making out.



 Comparing teeth.

We watched them have about five or six of these "fights" before calling it quits.  They didn't seem like real fights, more like play fights, but maybe that's because they are cute marmots.  Either way, it was awesome to see.

From here we kept hiking the trail above High Skyline up to 7250 feet elevation.  A couple of mountain goats appeared in a snow field ahead and one decided to cross the trail above us. 

Audrey vs. goat

Also in the area were American Pipits.  I haven't mentioned them yet, but they were abundant.  And conspicuous.  The males were putting on fantastic displays, singing and flying way high before soaring down to the ground.  Once I watched the male fly down next to a female and attempt to get it on.  More often they would land on the snow nowhere near another bird.  This one was poking around in the wildflowers, eating bugs.

Back near the Pebble Creek trail a pika posed for us on a rock, as pikas like to do.

As the temperatures rose and the number of hikers increased we decided to throw in the towel.  We had hiked for over 9 hours the day before, and about 7 hours on this day.  The ptarmigans had eluded us once again.  It's okay though, because if it weren't for these damn chickens I would not have spent two days in such a beautiful place, seeing all the awesome stuff we encountered. 

Good times!!