|A male Ruffed Grouse puts on a show for his lady friend|
Our mission? To scout several new areas for owls and grouse, specifically the Boreal Owl. And while I was there, I wanted to understand the Blue Grouse habitat better. Several years ago, they were split. The Dusky Grouse. And the Sooty Grouse.
Pine Grosbeaks were definitely in good numbers for this time of year. We had them at virtually every location. Khanh mentioned that this might be a good sign for winter birding in Washington state.
We maneuvered around hunters during this week on mostly secure roads. During one outing, we had three species of chickadees. My ears could pick out ONE Boreal Owl and we both briefly saw the bird. A huge flock of Mountain Chickadees passed through the area, but one lingered a little longer. Bingo! But it didn't stick around for a pic. This chickadee prefers the higher elevations, above 5,500 feet, in Engelmann spruce. The tighter the growth of these spruce; the better chances of us finding this species of chickadee.
|A Mule Deer evades the hunters|
The roads and hillsides burst forth with bright fall color. I don't think Khanh even knew how wonderful it would be. Every year, I plan an autumn trek somewhere where I can just bird and look at the pretty landscape. During this time of year, the birds take a backseat to all the trees and bushes changing color.
I frosted my hair for this trek so that I would match my surroundings:) Snow. The older I get, the more and more I hate the heat. I'm not sure I could live along the Pacific Northwest because of the constant overcast skies. But eastern Washington or Oregon wouldn't be such a bad option. The minute you leave the rain forest strip, the skies open and the sun shines.
One of the most stressful things about the birding here are the roads. On this trek, there was only one road that was questionable. I mean, if that rock below my feet let go, there's no way of surviving that fall. The pic below shows me on that sketchy part of the road. The rock juts out and underneath the rock there is nothing for a couple thousand feet!
For those of you following my Dusky Grouse search in Arizona, you will know that I have not had any luck with this bird over the years. I have searched the right kinds of habitat for this bird and looked in the right locations. Well, I'm excited to say that I spotted my first 3 Dusky Grouse! After studying them for 20 minutes, I attempted a pic. Understanding their behaviors and where they prefer to feed has helped me understand our only AZ grouse better. They are found in the White Mountains around Greer, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and around Snowbowl north of Flagstaff on Mt. Humphrey. Next year, I know how I'll approach finding my last "new" breeding AZ bird.
|An elusive Dusky Grouse|
It was on our second night, again during the most beautiful snow storm, that we'd find our Boreal Owl in a new location. There was no wind. It was quiet. Dark. And snow flakes gently fell to the ground. The packy kind of snow. As we stood under the snow umbrella of a dense conifer tree, we heard the unmistakable "skee-oo" of the Boreal Owl. Most people just get to hear that call, but I was rewarded with a great look as the bird flew into my light. It's short body and longer wings flew silently under that quiet umbrella into the branches above our head. I didn't know which was cooler, the atmosphere surrounding the bird or the bird itself. It wasn't long, but it was enough to ID and memorize. I closed my eyes and tried to mentally capture this moment for those really difficult days at my job. There are no souvenir pictures other than the one my mind mentally took. I was proud of myself for letting the camera at my side so I could just enjoy watching this bird. "Skee-oo!" and it moved further away. And then another quieter, further "Skee-oo!" The Boreal Owl was gone.
It was hard to top that sighting of the owl, but the following day, we saw a male Ruffed Grouse on display! Never in our lives have we seen this bird display. Khanh sees this bird all the time, but never like this. I have only ever dreamed about seeing this bird in his mating stance ever since the day I began studying them in Wisconsin. I thought I'd never see this bird do it's strut. But years later, both Khanh and myself get the observation of a lifetime!
The larches of the North Cascades were a brilliant yellow as the sun hit them with a gentle ray of light.
We hiked northern Washington along the Canadian border in lots of snow.
Don't mind my crazy hair. Khanh looks great. I need a haircut. Until next time friends!