Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Weekend Sunday was Largely for the Birds

Memorial Day Weekend has been memorable for work in the yard or, more accurately, the patio, and yesterday's bike/canoe outing. Metro was also involved but I prefer to gloss over that and concentrate on the quite excellent bike ride from Ballard to the Waterfront Activity Center and then on our time on the Lake Washington itself. It was a fine day to be out on the water; whether because of the long weekend or because the weather was somewhat marginal, there weren't many big boats in the ship canal, and there was no wait to get a canoe for our own expedition. Work on 520 has made some parts of the water off-limits but the nice woman at the canoe rental window made a point of telling us (and everyone before us and, presumably, everyone after us) that though there were some "canoes not allowed" signs elsewhere, we were to ignore those as they were public waterways. I sensed some sort of power struggle which always amuses when one isn't directly involved.

And such a very fine day it turned out to be. The bird list was not particularly long but I added a new species to my life list (which is to say that I marked the relevant page in Sibley's and also annotated my lab book): a spotted sandpiper. An argument could be made that I consider every bird I see as one of the most attractive but in this case there really is no question: the spotted sandpiper is a damned good-looking bird (if not the most obliging photo subject I've ever encountered).

 But there was more than just the sandpiper. Mallards, gadwalls, and pied-billed grebes have all been busy in recent weeks making new mallards, gadwalls, and pied-billed grebes and much adoreableness has resulted. I learned, as I clicked through the hundreds of photos I took yesterday from a not-entirely-steady canoe, that I am physically incapable of deleting a photo that contains a pied-billed grebe and doubly incapable of deleting a file that contains a pied-billed grebe chick/fledgling. I endeavor to limit myself to one snap here.

But, seriously, why would one attempt to delete such creatures? Just look at how adorable they are! She looks so proud and he (or she) looks so damned preposterous. How can that feline-face turn into something that looks like a grebe? It's unfathomable, it is.

Aside from the cute chick action, we also encountered the most bizarre pileated woodpecker shortly after we drew the canoe out on Foster Island for a few minutes. At first it was all about draining a little water out of the boat and admiring some chicks, but then a pileated woodpecker swooped in to demand that its photo be taken. Many times. He gave us such looks. There were times that it seemed likely he (or, okay,  equally possibly "she") was going to hop over and see if Scott's leg might not contain a few bugs. He should, really, have been giving me that look since I'd earlier found a young dragonfly resting on my hand and, later, a honey bee convinced that my knee must contain some nectar somewhere.

Hey, what about those cute duckling sorts? The photo below is out of focus but, well, focus may be overrated. This little fellow was momentarily separated from his flock and, when he realized it he became quite alarmed--and also confused, as he seemed to be making a beeline for me, rather than his mother. It all ended happily with the family reunited.

The low light, possibly, resulted in a lot of lovely reflective water--something I rarely bother to resist. In addition to taking a million snaps of birds, I insisted we pause the canoe for a few minutes while I took some shots of a particularly nice waterlily and its perfect reflection. The greenish bit at the bottom is Scott's paddle, I think--or more likely my own. It's tricky photographing from a canoe, I tell you.

And then there is the pure horror that one sometimes encounters in the sweet old natural world where, it turns out, things aren't always so sweet for all participants after all. Some of nature smiles while other parts bleed. There is, undoubtedly, a profound lesson to be learned, but I just post a perhaps gruesome photo (consider yourself warned!) and note that great blue herons have to eat too, (Me, I'm happy that what Scott is busy preparing out in the kitchen while I do battle with Photoshop, Blogger, and Comcast, is a nice tofu and vegetable stirfry. I may be off fish for a bit.)


  1. There was a Spotted Sandpiper hopping along the lilypads on the Southwest Pond on Sunday. They are indeed very lovely birds, and I like them because they are one of the easiest sandpipers to ID. Very accommodating of them.

    Pied-billed chicks! I've been watching for them without success! Lucky you.

    What, you didn't want catfish for dinner? After seven years of serious birding, I've decided that 90% of nature is Things Eating Other Things and the other 10% is Things Creating New Things That Will Eat Other Things. Humans are clearly unnatural creatures.

  2. Which is the southwest pond? I am sure you will be rewarded with a sighting of the grebe chicks soon; we saw them in a couple of locations. Alas, I don't know all the names of the various locales so I can't say where, precisely.

    I'm not so sure that humans are that different from the rest of nature; that might be what makes it so disturbing. Dinner here was salad with bread tonight.

    1. The Southwest Pond is the one right after you summit K-2. You see, as you leave the CUH parking lot, which perhaps you don't because you take the bus and approach everything backwards, but if you did it properly from the parking lot, you would, of course, pause first at the kiosk to see what Connie wrote, which she hasn't for over two weeks now which is somewhat alarming.

      Next you would turn left at the fork to work clockwise around the Loop Trail, stopping at Shoveler's Pond before making your summit of Everest. Everest is, according to Connie, the highest point on the trail and is just across from the Old Pine which was lost in the fire and barely there now. Then you go to the lake with the bench under the cottonwood tree where it shouldn't be because cottonwoods are the ones that break off limbs or completely fall down more often than any other tree. There you admire the turtle logs until the cottonwoods make you nervous.

      Then you wind around past Boy Scout Pond which doesn't get much in the way of actual water and past the Reading Rocks which are nearly opposite the Main AKA Central Pond where there are not many shorebirds anymore which is very sad for all concerned.

      Next you wend your way along the lake some more, making a summit of K-2, the second highest point near Jessie's memorial bench, and which I call Kanchenjunga after the hill in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books but which no one else calls that. And as you continue walking away from the lake, you come to the Southwest Pond which is really an extension of the cove by Conibear Shellhouse and also connected to the Slough. You often see Pied-billed Grebes and herons here. Then you go past Hunn Meadow East, back to Wahkiakum lane, turn left past Kern's Restoration Pond and walk through the Dime Lot to the wooden bridge over the slough while ignoring Truman's protests that this is Not The Way Home (oh wait, you probably don't do that, either...) to look at ducklings before turning round to head back along Wahkiakum Lane to the parking lot which you also don't do because of that whole No Car thing.

      I do hope that has clarified matters sufficiently. I'm not terribly concerned about seeing the chicks, though it is always delightful, having had my fill of the grebe family last August who had their nest ten feet from the path right out in the open. I doubt I'll ever get better grebe chick action than that.

      I had fish for dinner last night. Yum.

    2. Oh, we call that "the pond where we see usually see herons." That's what it's called on my map, which I have here somewhere, honest.

      The pileated was, really, only about four feet from me. He was determined to have his photo taken. Or to peck my shoe.

    3. Yes, that's a good name for it. Also "Pond Where There Are Always Blackbirds Yelling At You As You Walk Past".

      I've heard about that Pileated Woodpecker on Foster Island -- very nice of it to be so accommodating. Was your shoe covered in grubs or something? Were you dressed in brown, decaying wood colors?