Recently I kicked it up a notch- maybe because I slowed down a bit, but mostly because the other big year birders have encouraged me and helped me realize it's more about the birds and birders, it's about living every day intentionally, and having an opportunity this year to do a Big Year that few others will replicate. After I returned to Seattle from Barrow I was ready to see some rare birds. Missing both Ross's and Ivory gulll in Barrow stung a little bit, as both birds are required to reach my goal of 750 species. Don't get me wrong; had an amazing time in Barrow and seeing Polar Bears made up for missing the gulls, but as a particular Facebook friend would remind me, I can't count count bears.
Sunday October 9th Gig Harbor, WA
It was great to be home, even for less than 24 hours. I managed to unpack and repack, enjoyed a home-cooked meal, and figure out some logistics with my car licensing as I find my new place of residence after the year ends. Eating a home-cooked meal and spending time with my parents was the highlight of my "down" time, before jumping in Dad's Jeep and heading down to Mt. Rainier and looking for some grouse.
This past week was unlike any other I've had this year. With that rationale, a different week deserves a different blog post. So, stepping out of my typical writing style I'll simply recount how I saw what I saw, and where this crazy adventure took me. Hopefully you enjoy it as much as I have. -Christian
9-11 October Slept at Home
Birding Summary: Saw 3 grouse species, including White-tailed Ptarmigan, Sooty Grouse, and Ruffed Grouse. It was a treat to meet and bird with owl guru, Khanh Tran. Having him as my birding partner-in-crime made searching for fancy chickens much more enjoyable!
I couldn't sit in Seattle for long. There was low-hanging fruit growing on the bird tree- grouse ripe for the picking. I met Khanh, the best owl and grouse guide in the business, for an interview and birding expedition. I've shared his interview below. We enjoyed several fantastic hikes around the Mt. Rainier area, finding multiple owl and grouse species. I encourage you to get out with this expert birder- who loves a good challenge and has fun traversing the variety of mountainous terrain in search of elusive birds... and it pays off! Successful in my grouse search, cleaning up on 3 species (and my last code 1 bird for the year, Ruffed Grouse) I grew restless and started scheming about how to get down to California.
12 October Slept in car near Moreno Valley
Birding Summary: Great looks at a Little Stint, and a lot of roadside birds while driving to AZ
I booked a cheap one-way ticket from Seattle to Los Angeles. The city of Angels gave me a heavenly deal on a rental car: about $20/day. I drove the heck out of that car for 3,030 miles! I started driving at night towards Arizona, stopping in a town close to reported Little Stint in California. Slept in back of rental car in an abandoned warehouse parking lot across from Jack in the Box. Sleep rating was 4/10. The next morning, I drove a dozen miles and was staring a Code 4 Little Stint in the eye- what a neat bird! I also had a great time talking and birding with Tom. Spent the rest of the day driving to Flagstaff, Arizona where I met a friendly police officer along the highway. No speeding ticket and no Lesser Sand Plover. Beautiful light and a herd of horses was a nice bonus to a peaceful evening.
13 October Slept near Flagstaff, AZ
Birding Summary: No Sand Plover; Highlights: Chestnut-collared Longspurs and American Avocets
I didn't enjoy my second night of sleeping in rental car. Sleep rating was 4.5/10. I promised myself I wouldn't sleep in the car the next night... Woke up before sunrise and scoured two puddles for the reported Lesser Sand-Plover, which hadn't been seen in over 24 hours. The bird simply wasn't there. I couldn't perform magic, or check around on every pond around the unfamiliar Navajo Reservation, so I left after photographing some avocets. Chances are the bird may still be around on a different wet area- who knows. While watching the Avocets, I noticed one bird was banded, and I'll look into the band numbers and info later. I interviewed several birders at this spot, (Sam and Bernie) and saw some birders who I'd met at other rare bird chases earlier in the year.
14 October Organ Pipe, AZ
Birding Summary: Recorded owl vocalizations at night, looked for Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Slept 50 yards away from my desert scrub spot from earlier in the year in Organ Pipe, on a concrete pad behind an outhouse. Woke up before light, hearing an owl. Was it a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl? You'll have to read the book... I birded Organ Pipe in the morning, then drove to Dateland, Wellton, Yuma, Mittry Lake, ending at night in Los Angeles National Forest. I checked old locations for Ruddy Ground Dove, a species I still need this year. I put some miles down today, and was ready to sleep by the time I reached the mountains above L.A. Glass on the ground kept me from sleeping outside, so I reluctantly slept in the car.
15 October Los Angeles, CA
Birding Summary: I’ll coin L.A the land of introduced species! Parrots and Peafowl! (not-countable) Birded Bayfront Park waiting for Laura's flight, spotting hundreds of shorebirds.
Woke up with three bears outside my car, literally. I could hear their breathing, crunching on their food, and having a dispute with other bears. All during the night they visited the dumpsters in the parking lot, walking past my car multiple times. I shined my headlamp in their eyes to keep them wary of me. Drove through some winding mountain roads, spotting quail and raptors. Drove to San Francisco and picked up Laura in evening from airport, after birding the mudflats surrounding the airport. It was pretty cool to see Marbled Godwits fly in front of an A380. Storm blew in, dumping rain and probably pushing some birds around.
MEET THE BIRDERS
I'll be adding interviews to this section from the dates during this blog post. Check back and see the updates- I simply can't upload everything at once due to the bandwidth!
Khahn is a fantastic birder. Friendly, engaging, and an amazing attention to detail. He knows his quarry intimately, specializing in birds of the Pacific Northwest where he lives. He's great about sharing his knowledge and pictures in the online birding communities in Washington and Oregon. I had the chance to meet and bird with him recently, and thought I'd share some of his interview with you.
What makes you different than other bird guides?
I specialize in are tougher high-elevation birds- some of the tougher grouse and owls. I’m consistent at finding them. I think being persistent and really having a sense of curiosity and studying them- that’s been the most valuable for me.
I think grouse are very under-appreciated. Most birders don’t put the time and energy into studying them- knowing their habits, and finding them. they’re kind of a mysterious and challenging group of birds.
Why do you bird?
Birding is fun and addicting for me. There’s a technical aspect of it. Studying the sounds, the field marks, it's an intellectual challenge. There's an artistic quality- photography and photographing the birds. Birding is art to me too. There's a creative part, combining the photography and the art. Lastly, there's a spiritual part to birding. It boosts my morale, I get a high off it. It's physically challenging- I like to be outdoors.