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A Series of Encounters

It's rather amusing to think about the summer solstice in the Pacific Northwest. Here in Seattle, we don't consider it summer until after the Fourth of July. Yet many of the breeding birds are done singing by then, having had at least one brood. Many of us have grown up with these strange, ingrained memories of birds singing on bright summer days, but those memories have little reflection in reality.  

I've been bemoaning the fact that I feel like I missed spring. My journal, of what I've heard and seen almost every day, helps me keep perspective. Here, I've commemorated the passing of the longest day of the year by listing some of the most notable bird encounters, sightings, and aural identifications during this spring. Encounters are exactly what these are, because they weren't sought.  

March 23, 2012 17:10 – The air feels of spring and technically it is. Sitting on a bench on the edge of Union Bay at the Montlake Fill, I'm privy to territorial stirrings. Three Virginia Rails call within 80 meters of my seat. One suddenly appears, bounds across an opening in awkward half flight, half jumping gait, and crashes into another rail at the edge of a bank of cattails. This is the first time I've ever seen rails fighting. The kerfuffle lasts a second but feels monumental.  

Hoh Rainforest © Brendan McGarry

April 21, 2012 15:20 – Spring in the Hoh Rainforest. Blooming salmonberry with Rufous Hummingbirds in attendance. Varied Thrushes are tantalizingly close but still unseen, their shrill song reverberating in my ears. Pacific Wrens are always singing but are particularly brazen, standing ground on their nurse-log perches. Everything is bathed in a sunlit lime of moss and moisture.

April 29, 2012 6:45 – The pair of Peregrine Falcons are flying right at eye level in early morning glow. The tiercel, noticeably smaller, lofts up to land on a light pole by the freeway. His mate, seemingly floating, suddenly tucks and drops out of view below the bridge. I can't complain about having Peregrines on my morning commute.  

May 26, 2012 12:20 – There's an adult Bald Eagle flying over the freeway, being dive-bombed by a Red-tailed Hawk. I'm driving with my mom, trying to split my attention between the road and the birds. An American Crow joins, focusing on the hawk. The eagle does a series of barrel rolls, extending talons at its oppressor. They form a strange triple-tiered circus act that begs a giggle. Birders aren't always the safest of drivers.

May 30, 2012 15:40 – My first Willow Flycatcher is calling somewhere amid the red alder stand before us. I'm guiding a group through the Hummocks Trail in Mt. St. Helens National Monument. There's no time to suss out the bird, to actually see it. Satisfaction in hearing a fitzbew will have to suffice, and it does. 

Common Raven © Brendan McGarry

June 3, 2012 11:00 – Hurricane Ridge is coming to life. American Pipits are already twittering about the matted ground where the snow has been peeled back by the sun. An Olympic marmot lies sunning itself, probably just now unburied from a winter slumber. The precipitous icy peaks, gashed by glaciers and the elements, remind us that it's not yet spring. In trade for a good portrait, I let a hungry Common Raven take a look in the car trunk.



June 13, 2012 13:00 – I'm eating lunch at Discovery Park in Seattle. I hear the piercing call of an Osprey and look up to see one high up, performing a display I've never seen. A second bird joins, higher still, while the first continues a series of shallow dives, thrusting legs out, screaming insistently. Getting home, I discover (as I surmised) that this was likely a male bird displaying to a female. Nuptial displays are often bizarre, no matter the species.

Bushtit © Brendan McGarry

June 21, 2012 12:57 – As I am writing, a group of exceptionally noisy Bushtits are at my window, dangling about birch limbs. I presume this is the pair I've been seeing all spring, now towing around their fully grown young, just barely distinguishable from their parents. The fledglings are crying incessantly for food, the parents hurriedly searching for morsels, shoving them in ravenous mouths.  Just as I am about to turn away, a crow swoops in, presumably to grab a little Bushtit morsel. Alarm calls erupt, but in seconds, things are back to normal.  


I feel a bit better now that I look at it this way.