Field Trip and Event Reports

Bird Cruising on Hood Canal

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by Sharon Moore – Led by expert birders Bill Tweit and Gene Revelas, 51 of us from Black Hills and Tahoma Audubon chapters boarded the Lady Alderbrook on April 28, 2019 in anticipation of an excellent birding morning on Hood Canal.  Under clear skies promising good visibility and braced by a brisk temperature, we settled in the deck chairs and along the railings on the roomy 60 ft. cruiser.  Originally built in Coos Bay, Oregon, and named the “Rendezvous,” this craft was specifically designed to accommodate dinner cruises; hence, the excellent hull stability and extra-wide upper deck.

The morning started out well with a raft of Western Grebes sighted in the middle of the Canal.  Bill estimated 500 birds in that flock.  Later we spotted another large raft of Western Grebes to the north of us.  As to why the birds congregate in those waters in the spring, Bill explained that millions of young chum salmon were migrating at that time down the Skokomish River into the Canal to embark on their long journey to the Pacific.  That yearly chum migration provides a rich food source for many species of birds.

The strong Grebe presence we witnessed was a relief to those of us who have been aware that, by the 1980’s, Hood Canal had become severely polluted.  This habitat degradation affected the fish populations adversely, which also impacted bird numbers as well.  By 2006 a Watershed Management Plan (90.82 RCW) was finally approved for Mason and Jefferson Counties to improve water quality, stream flows, fish habitat and marine waters.  In the last 12 years, cooperating municipalities, agencies and tribes have improved the Hood Canal waters; however, significantly more effort is needed to increase levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, which chum and other fish species need to survive.  As birders we understand that improved fish survival will attract more birds into the Canal watershed.

During the morning cruise we identified 20 species including Red-necked Grebe, Western Grebe, Horned Grebe, White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, Common Loon, Red-throated Loon, Pacific Loon, Glaucous-winged Gull, Mew Gull, Red-breasted Merganser, Scaup, Great Blue Heron, European Starling, Bald Eagle, Bufflehead, American Crow, Purple Martin and Pigeon Guillemot.  Towards the end of our time on the water, a Marbled Murrelet appeared in the far distance.  Bill said it was an unusual sighting since that species is seldom observed in Hood Canal any longer.  Severe loss of old-growth forests, needed by Murrelets to raise their young has banished the birds from that historic nesting habitat.

A lovely cruise with plenty of bird sightings made for a successful three-hour event.  With thanks to Lady Alderbrook co-skippers Cindy Sund and Duain Dugan, we disembarked with plans to return in spring, 2020.  (Trip photos by Steve Curry, Western Grebe photo courtesy Frank Schulenburg, Wikimedia Commons)

Birding by Kayak

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by Bruce Jacobs – The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is one of the treasures we are fortunate to share. I’ve made thousands of visits there over the years, but recently, I got another view of the Nisqually Reach, this time by kayak through the City of Olympia Department of Parks and Recreation’s annual kayaking trip to the Nisqually Reach.  Although it’s not a “birding” trip, I would highly recommend it.

The trip I took was in May; it was cool and threatening rain at 9am when a dozen of us met at Swantown Marina. Staff members loaded up the kayaks and gear and drove us to the boat launch at Luhr Beach, where we were greeted by the Purple Martin colony. Once we launched, we made our way south, just about to the end of the Refuge boardwalk, and spent a while exploring.  Although there were only a few birds visible (Eagles, Cormorants, and Gulls), looking at the Refuge from this vantage point was an eye opener (I only wish the weather had been better).

We then made our way north along the shore to Tolmie State Park. In route I saw six Caspian Terns, several Belted Kingfishers, more Cormorants, and at least a dozen Bald Eagles, one of which landed in what appeared to be a nest. About half way, there were three Pigeon Guillemots and an Osprey catching a fish.  I heard numerous Song Sparrows, Steller’s Jays and an Olive Sided Flycatcher calling. Of course, there were the ever-present American Crows and American Robins.  The water was exceptionally clear enabling us to see the clams, fish and jellyfish; the houses and geology along the shore were also interesting to look at.  A number of seals were curious about us, and kept diving around and under the kayaks. We passed the National Fish & Oyster farms, trying not to disturb the oyster crates.  We pulled into Tolmie State Park at about 12:30, had our lunch under the trees and then returned to Luhr Beach under steady rain.

Even though the weather wasn’t the best, I truly enjoyed the trip. The Olympia Department of Parks and Recreation staff are first rate, the trip was well planned and suited for anyone with basic kayaking skills.  Check it out next summer as an optional way to go birding!

South County Bird Binge Trip Report

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By Paul Hicks – Our  South County  “bird binge”  found more than 80 species by 12:30 — not bad for a long morning’s work!  We added several more in the afternoon extension. I thought I’d try to capture some of the highlights, at least those that struck me.

At our first stop (Scatter Creek behind the rail trestle) three Wood Ducks flew over. We found five Turkey Vultures roosting high in a cedar tree — not a common sight. We saw several vultures throughout the day. I’ve seen more around this year than ever before.

Along Scatter Creek behind the high school our attention focussed on two dark swifts. At least one lacked the typical pale contrast in the throat, appearing more like Sibley’s depiction of Chimney Swift, a dark chocolate brown in coloration.  A lovely pair of chattery Bullock’s Orioles made a brief appearance. Two male hummingbirds, Anna’s and Rufous, duked it out for territorial dominance.

A quick stop at the city park produced the day’s only Yellow-rumped Warbler singing high up the fir trees and a Red-breasted Sapsucker working a maple. Towhee, junco, and siskin were vocalizing, plus a Swainson’s Thrush in full song.

At the Mull Street marsh we were treated to the sight and sound of a Wilson’s Snipe’s “winnowing” flight display, a first for several. A Virginia Rail sounded off from somewhere in the tall grasses. A Red-winged Blackbird was observed apparently “hiding” the orange-red shoulder patch and showing only the yellow. A Willow Flycatcher was heard, likely a migrant that had just arrived several hours earlier. The big surprise here was a single Red Crossbill giving its characteristic “kip kip kip” call as it flew high overhead.

Vantine Road offered tons of diversity: warblers, sparrows, vireos, grosbeaks, tanagers, chickadees galore. Perhaps the highlight here was getting a good listen and decent view of the skulky MacGillivray’s Warbler. I was surprised how many were singing. Plus an Olive-sided Flycatcher struck a nice long pose atop a conifer. Further up we coaxed a Downy Woodpecker to pay a visit.

We took the opportunity to study some birdsong: The erratic, burry notes of Warbling Vireo versus the smooth, rich warble of Purple Finch; the simple and straightforward slurred-together couplets of the Robin compared to the Black-headed Grosbeak’s delightfully creative and complex improv.

Bob and Sally Sundstrom’s garden is like nature lovers’ eye candy. A feast for birds and birders and gardeners alike. Lots of colorful (and vocal) Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, and the occasional Steller’s Jay and Black-headed Grosbeak came to the feeders. A House Wren sang his little heart out near the doorway of his birdhouse. Perhaps the “best” bird here was a Cassin’s Vireo delivering its leisurely “question-and-answer” song from the ridge above. Our only Cliff Swallow for the day was spotted nest-building on the well house in the back fields. An unexpectedly “late” Golden-crowned Sparrow looks to be still recovering from an ambush at the hands (talons) of the local Sharp-shinned Hawk.

We were surrounded by active Yellow Warblers in the swampy area a short distance out the Yelm-Tenino Trail. (This connects with the Chehalis-Western Trail to Lacey and beyond.) Gorgeous birds! Here we found the only Cedar Waxwings of the day.

After encountering Brown Creepers singing nearly everywhere the day before, we couldn’t come up with a single one until a pair showed up right at our cars parked at the bottom of Blumauer Hill.

A Lazuli Bunting put on a grand show out Skookumchuck Valley. This was the consensus must-see bird for this trip, and no one was disappointed. Two or three Bald Eagles showed up, probably attracted by the freshly mowed hayfields revealing a crop of rodents to eat. A side-by-side comparison with a Red-tailed Hawk showed just how huge these majestic birds of prey really are! At the bridge we found some very cooperative Northern Rough-winged Swallows and a Red Crossbill.

Our biggest surprise of the day was a thrush foraging like a bluebird on open ground from a wooden rail fence across a pasture field from us. The uniform, warm reddish-brown above, lack of spots below, and the “uncharacteristic” foraging and habitat point toward Veery (!).  I will probably make a report.

Update: I reported our observations to the Washington Rare Bird Committee. The initial response is positive; however Veery is not subject to review because it is common in other parts of the state. This would be only the second sighting in Thurston County. Very (Veery?) cool!

We added a few nice species at our final stop on 180th: Chipping Sparrow, Western Bluebird, and an American Kestrel stooping onto a meal from a snag.

Birding at its Best

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By Sharon Moore – What an extraordinary birding trip we experienced on May 3 in conjunction with the 2019 Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival.  On that crisp, windy day we were led to various Ocean Shores locales by seasoned birders Whittier Johnson and Rob Chrisler.  During the spring migration those specific seacoast and harbor habitats are some of the best birding spots on the West Coast hosting more species per location than anywhere else in the state of Washington.

From late April to early May hundreds of thousands of shorebirds stop to rest and feed on the vast mudflats in the Grays Harbor estuary.  There they find abundant tiny shrimp, worms, horseshoe crabs and microscopic organisms.  Within one square meter of mud there may be up to 50,000 individual invertebrates.  Feeding on those food sources gives the shorebirds sufficient strength and endurance to continue their northern migrations.  Some species travel over 15,000 miles from their non-breeding locations in South America to their breeding grounds in northwest Alaska, the Yukon Territory and Wrangel Island in the Arctic.

Our cohort of 35 stalwart birders, carrying 35 binoculars, 10 spotting scopes, many cameras with telephoto lenses and an assortment of bird books spent seven hours locating, observing, exclaiming over and recording sightings of an incredible array of 82 species.  The five most abundant – Western Sandpipers, Dunlin, Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers and Semipalmated Plovers – were present in large numbers.

Photo – Steve Curry

The following list represents our best efforts to record each class of bird we saw that day on the coastal shoreline, North Jetty, ocean expanse and Grays Harbor estuary environs:  Pacific Loon, Common Loon, Brant, Surf Bird, Wandering Tattler, Sanderling, Barn Swallow, Western Gull, White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, Sooty Shearwater, Pelagic Cormorant, Caspian Tern, Common Murre, Western Grebe, Black Turnstone, Harlequin Duck, Lesser Yellowlegs, Gadwall, Lesser Scaup, Bald Eagle, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, White-crowned Sparrow, Canada Goose, Glaucous-winged gull, Killdeer, Savannah Sparrow, Red-breasted Merganser, Greater Scaup, Black Scoter, Rufous Hummingbird, Violet-green swallow, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Greater Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plover, Whimbrel, Red Knot, Cliff Swallow, Western Sandpiper, Western Gull, Black-bellied Plover, Ring-billed Gull, Red-throated Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, Ruddy Turnstone, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Ring-necked Pheasant, Eurasian Collared Dove, Least Sandpiper, Great Blue Heron, Short-billed Dowitcher, Spotted Sandpiper, Pigeon Guillemot, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, American-Northwestern Crow, Common Raven, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Cliff Swallow, American Robin, European Starling, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler.

Consider joining a field trip during the next Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge Shorebird and Nature Festival.  You’ll be glad you did.

2019 Annual Dinner Summary

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by Anne Kilgannon – The big room in the Community College Student’s Union building once again welcomed Black Hills Audubon members and guests to an evening of camaraderie, reflection and inspiration. The tables were aglow with new etched glass lighted vases, the drinks bar added a convivial gathering place, and, as always, there were raffle displays to tantalize hope. New this year, outdoor events and adventures were featured instead of silent auction items. The Annual Dinner Committee honored tradition while experimenting with ways to keep the evening’s offerings fresh and interesting.

Our speakers, Diane Yorgason-Quinn and Rachel Hudson, delighted the group with intrepid tales of observing and aiding the conservation of Swifts as they pass through our area on migration north and south. Their dedication was infectious; liberal invitations to get involved in the effort to document and save roosting chimneys were extended to all present.

Awarded this year for their work were Maria Ruth – Conservationist of the Year, Scott Mills – Environmental Educator of the Year and Margery Beeler – Volunteer of the Year. They have done so much for our chapter, expanding our knowledge of bird life, advocating for birds and ensuring the work of this chapter is done to a high standard always. We are very grateful to them for their dedication and extend our congratulations to each of them.

The dinner brought in $8400 to the chapter, $3000 of that earmarked for three particular areas of focus: a conservation fund for the costs of local advocacy work; the library partnership backpack project and emerging opportunities with our education committee such as camps and programs for youth around our region.

The crowd was smaller but enthusiastic; it is always a time to renew relationships with fellow birders, share stories and laughter while showing support for conservation efforts which support healthy environments for birds.

Early Spring Field Trip to Port Angeles and Beyond

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by Sam Merrill and Bob Wadsworth – Nine of us devoted the third weekend of March to a field trip for bird finding in the Port Angeles area. Leaving early Saturday morning, we stopped first at Potlatch State Park near Hoodsport, where we found surprisingly good avian variety including Western and Horned Grebes, both goldeneyes, a loon, Dunlin, and a Purple Finch, among others. Then on to John Wayne Marina on Sequim Bay where variety was weak, but included about a dozen Pigeon Guillemots in bright breeding plumage, several Brant, and — best of all — four Long-tailed Ducks. (Well, birders could have come up with a more engaging new common name for this striking species!)

Soon after leaving John Wayne, we passed a large nearby flock of Trumpeter Swans along Schmuck Road before reaching Marlyn Nelson County Park and our first view open to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Here, again, not much variety, but more Brant and our first Harlequin Ducks (some of the old-timers did know how to choose colorful names). Our next stop on the Strait was at the site of the old Three Crabs restaurant, where we quickly spotted a Eurasian Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Sanderlings, and two species each of swallows and blackbirds. A little to the west, Dungeness Landing offered views of the partially sheltered Dungeness Bay, where we observed Pintail and Red-breasted Mergansers. The walking trail at the Dungeness N.W.R. offered a lovely woods, two Bewick’s and Pacific Wrens, and a view of the Spit with its giant curve out to the lighthouse.

After dinner at a Thai restaurant just off the Port Angeles harbor and a good night’s rest, we headed for Ediz Hook, which curls toward the city from the west. More Brant and Harlequins, three Grebes (including Red-necked), Pelagic Cormorants with their breeding-plumage white patches, and Bonaparte’s Gulls. Finally, we reached the rocky shores of Salt Creek Park about 15 miles west of Port Angeles. On the way in to the park, we heard a Hutton’s Vireo and spotted a flock of two of three dozen migrating Turkey Vultures. At rocky Tongue Point in the park, we saw more Harlequin Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers, Red-necked Grebes, and — perhaps best of all — Black Oystercatchers and Black Turnstones foraging among the rocks. A fitting end to a memorable excursion to the rim of Olympia Peninsula.

Did You Miss the Annual Dinner?

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There is still time to take advantage of some of our fabulous “Events and Adventures” offerings. These outings are designed to provide you with a wonderful outdoor experience that combine exploration, companionship, and yummy food. Proceeds support BHAS programs. If interested, please contact me for details. Kathleen Snyder ksnyder75@nullgmail.com or 360-915-9731.

June 15th Bird and Wildlife Garden Brunch ($35 SOLD OUT) – It’s an excursion to upper Scatter Creek just outside Tenino to visit a large garden and surrounding property designed for birds and other wildlife. Your hosts are Bob Sundstrom, lead writer for the BirdNote radio show, and Sally Alhadeff, Master Gardener and wildlife gardening pro. Tour the garden, watch a surprising diversity of birds visiting feeders and water features, and enjoy brunch. Bob will talk about birds of the season and answer bird questions. Sally will lead a tour of the garden and talk about how to create the conditions for bringing birds, bees, and other creatures to your garden.

July 13th Woodard Bay Bat Walk ($35 SOLD OUT) – Greg Falxa of Cascadia Research will take a select group of folks to the Woodard Bay bat nursery at sunset for a unique experience. Greg will share his knowledge while thousands of Little brown and Yuma myotis bats exit the pier and fly in front of our group. He will have acoustic bat detectors to hear the bats’ echolocation calls. To further enhance the evening, wine and dessert will be served. The viewing area is a ¾ mile walk each way.

July 21st Peregrine Hunt Evening ($35) – Join Joe Buchanan, Wildlife Biologist for WA Dept of Fish and Wildlife, for an animated walk through Woodard Bay Conservation Area in search of the magnificent Peregrine Falcon. Joe has done considerable research on this species and has many stories and much information to share. At Weyer Point, participants will be served wine and dessert while scanning for the falcon and any other species that might be around.

July 25th “Forest Bathing” ($35) – Come experience the popular Japanese art of Shinri-yoku, the practice of “forest bathing”. This is a relaxed meditative walk in the woods. During this walk you will focus all your senses on the forest surrounding you and let the forest “bathe” over you. Environmental educator and state park ranger, Kathy Jacobson, will be our guide, and Sally Nole will host. After our bathing, appetizers and beverages will be served. Shelshire Farm is a beautiful 40 acre property just south of Millersylvania State Park. Suitable for ages 12 and up.

Field Trip Report – Sauvie and Swifts in September

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The day was supposed to be a wet one so we were all delighted when we met at 9am under a blue sky sprinkled with high clouds. We were there to ride most of the perimeter of Sauvie Island, just outside downtown Portland, while birding. The island contains a large refuge so birding any time of year is usually worthwhile. For those birders who also like to bike, the island is flat and pastoral so a lovely ride on a quintessential autumn day.

We rode and birded for 4 hours before ending at Kruger’s Farm for sandwiches and shopping. After a few free hours to spend as we each liked, we met up again at the Chapman School in NW Portland to view the nightly performance of the thousands of Vaux’s Swifts that roost in the tower there during their migration south. It was not disappointing! It took about 40 minutes for all the birds to settle inside after gathering, circling and flying lower and lower until at last they dropped into the tower. They cannot perch due to their body structure so are on the wing all day. Besides the thousands of Vaux Swifts, we saw on the island, a stunning flock of about 150 White Pelicans, in migration, over 100 Sandhill Cranes, and 5 Great Egrets.  There were also two Osprey nests along the road, which the birds were still using as staging areas, and there were lots of more commonly seen birds as well.

We saw amazing birds while experiencing a wondeful island ride with a wonderful group of people. Join us next September, and check out other upcoming birding trips on the BHAS web page.

BHAS’s South County Bird Binge Field Trip

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Western Kingbird – Photo courtey Mdf – Wikimedia Commons

(by Paul Hicks) – On May 19 a band of eleven intrepid hardcore birders met at my home in Tenino in the fifth annual quest to find 70 species by 1:00 p.m. The birds were plenty active and vocal, making for a morning of bird bingeing at its best. We hit the 70 mark by 9 a.m., and by quitting time we had tallied 81 species at eleven locations within 5 miles of Tenino.

We began with several common species in my yard and went on to Mull Street marsh, an interesting wetland on the eastern outskirts of Tenino, formed by beaver dams across Scatter Creek. We stopped here three times to check on the changing cast of characters, totaling 34 with several “misses.” We went on to the Tenino-Yelm trail along SR507.  Within a short distance the old railroad grade trail here passes through mature and secondary fir woods, bushy hazelnut, wet willow and beaver pond swamp.

Vantine Road is a dead-end backroad that gradually ascends into old Weyerhaeuser land following Vantine Creek through a diverse mix of conifer and deciduous woods and bushes. The many dead trees along the streambed are a favorite of woodpeckers and other cavity nesters, and we found five warbler and three woodpecker species between our two stops.

Bob and Sally Sundstrom have an incredible bird sanctuary on their property on the outskirts of Tenino. We almost felt like we were cheating, cherry-picking the assortment of finches, sparrows, jays, hummingbirds, wrens and swallows that use their feeders and nest boxes—nearly 30 species total. The bird of the day was a pair of Western Kingbirds; this is only the third time in 30 years I’ve seen them in South County.

Blumauer Hill is crowned with a majestic stand of old-growth Douglas Fir surrounded by tracts of clear-cut at various stages of re-growth. We heard a single Hermit Warbler singing; it had been on territory for the past 2-3 weeks—a scarce migrant and local breeder, difficult to find in South County.

We went on to Skookumchuck Valley, sites along Bucoda Highway, and drove west through Rock and Violet Prairies to the bridge over Scatter Creek. By our target time of 1 p.m. we had found nearly everything on our bird-binge list: 81 species plus one possible drive-by heard-only Olive-sided Flycatcher. Four of us “die-hards” continued the quest, heading eastward toward Rainier, where we added 9 species for a total of 90 for the day.

Top five highlights and/or “firsts” for participants: Western Kingbird; great looks at Red-breasted Sapsucker, Lazuli Bunting, and Hutton’s and Warbling Vireos.

Field Trip Reports: Springtime Birding at Three Preserves

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Among Black Hills Audubon Society’s field trips this spring were forays to three preserves I had never visited before, two of them newly acquired by local land trusts: Darlin Creek Preserve, Powell Creek Preserve, and Morse Preserve. Thanks go to Capitol Land Trust and Nisqually Land Trust for partnering with us and sharing access to their new properties at Darlin and Powell Creeks. The Morse Preserve in Graham is open to the public the second Sunday of each month, April through October (Tahoma Audubon Society leads bird walks there these second Sundays), and by special appointment at other times. All three preserves boasted diverse habitat and offered us sights and sounds of our usual springtime Western Washington bird species.

Most birds recorded by me:
The Morse Preserve is a wonderful place. Its paths and boardwalks are well-maintained, their loops totaling about two miles. There are coniferous and deciduous woods, wetlands with boardwalks, meadows, and a tall observation deck. In mid-May, we saw and heard 41 species. Joe Zabransky would bet money he heard Western Tanager, but the bird eluded our efforts effectively that morning. Given Morse Preserve’s habitat diversity, one would have expected to see it. Ah well….

Most accessible:
For those living in the Olympia area, Capitol Land Trust’s Darlin Creek Preserve is the easiest to visit on a regular basis: located at the end of Lake Lucinda Drive in Tumwater, and open to the public all the time. The day we visited in early May, this spring’s rain and cool had just waned. It was still very cool that morning, and while birds were singing and calling (Wilson’s Warblers were especially insistent, and at one point we heard a Pileated Woodpecker), they did not stir so we could see them easily until the sun had warmed things up a bit. About 25 of us, in three groups, wandered different paths, exploring the preserve’s ponds, upland second-growth forest, and riparian habitat. We had good looks at Western Tanager, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Wilson’s Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, and others.

Most riverine:
Nisqually Land Trust’s recently acquired Powell Creek Property in Yelm comprises over 460 acres along the Nisqually River. The Land Trust is restoring the property and has planted thousands of trees and put up bird houses, in which Tree Swallows and Western Bluebirds have nested. (Alas, no Western Bluebird appeared for us, but the gorgeously iridescent blue-backed Tree Swallows watching us out their houses’ holes were very cooperative.) We tramped through pasture past old slough wetland to Powell Creek’s shore on a beautiful warm sunny morning and totaled 34 species. Notables were five swallow species, Vaux’s Swift, Willow Flycatcher, Chipping Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, female Common Merganser, Belted Kingfisher, Cedar Waxwing, Western Wood-Pewee, and Spotted Sandpiper. (by Bonnie Wood, Photos: Barn Swallow (top), Common Yellowthroat (center) – courtesy Janet Wheeler)