Washington – Pacific Northwest Birding

May 25 – June 5, 2012

California quail

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Leaders: Wayne Petersen, Betty Petersen, & Woody Wheeler

Washington state is home to cathedralesque old-growth forests, spectacular coastline, rugged mountains, dashing rivers and streams, and diverse birds and other wildlife.

Nine Mass Audubon travelers, joined Mass Audubon ornithologist, Wayne Petersen and local expert, Woody Wheeler in the northwestern corner of the United States at a perfect time of year to appreciate flowers in riotous color, birds in the midst of nesting, and a variety of mammal species going about their daily routines. Merely being in the presence of such iconic (if not controversial) species as tiny Marbled Murrelets and reclusive Spotted Owls – both pawns in the long-standing battle to conserve old-growth forests in the Northwest – was in itself a humbling experience. Add to this the opportunity to observe many of the more common signature species of these magnificent forests – Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Steller’s Jay, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pacific Wren, and Townsend’s Warbler – only enhanced their appreciation of this spectacular ecosystem.

The coastal areas where thick with a variety of seabirds and other waterbirds, some northward bound to boreal or Arctic breeding grounds, and others already established on their home turf. Surf Scoters, Red-throated and Pacific loons, and Whimbrels were headed for Alaska or interior Canada, while Black Oystercatchers, Glaucous-winged Gulls, and Rhinoceros Auklets were already in the throes of nesting on the Washington coast. Among the more notable coastal experiences were a fortuitous encounter with a seasonally unusual Glaucous Gull and the chance to leisurely observe several low-foraging Black Swifts on Whidbey Island.

The group’s impressive mammal list was highlighted by the sight of a small herd of Roosevelt Elk – an indigenous subspecies of the American Elk (Wapiti) found only in the Pacific Northwest – and for some of the group, an intimate study of a Mountain Beaver (aka Aplodontia or Sewellel) on our Hurricane Ridge excursion. This strange little burrowing animal is considered the most primitive rodent in the world and is unique in regularly eating its own feces as a way to increase nutrient extraction from its notably unpalatable and low nutrition diet. Is this too much information?

The group also engaged former Mass Audubon colleague, Peter Dunwiddie, for a time to share his extensive botanical knowledge as they explored the lovely Ebey Bluff area. A number of rare and local plant species inhabit this spectacular coastal reserve.

Overall, this was a memorable trip for all in this fun and enthusiastic group.