Steve White’s Animaux

Recently I walked around Vancouver’s Trout Lake with a couple of friends. I saw a duck that I couldn’t identify paddling around with the others. And it was ugly, mostly black, with mottles, and something like a comb or something hanging off its bill. Maybe a Muscovy Duck.

I’ve had lots of very pleasant walks around North Seattle’s Green Lake. This last time, there were more American Coots than you could shake a stick at. There were hundreds. I don’t remember ever having seen so many, or having noticed how grotesque their feet are. There was also a Cormorant striking the classic outstretched- wing pose, but I can’t say what kind. And there were ducks that might have been Mallards and maybe thought they were Mallards, but...Well, maybe they were hybrids of Mallards with American Black Ducks and domestic Ducks.

I took a walk with friend on a gray windy winter evening on the one little beach in Seattle. Among a lot of common water fowl, we saw Black (or Pacific) Brants.

Spring in Renton brings spectacular Wood Ducks to the little pond.

There’s a new suburban walkway down the Cedar River, which runs North through the Renton Boeing factory to Lake Washington. Lots of water fowl clean up the lean pickings here, including Barrow’s Goldeneye and the Common Merganser.

I took a trip down to my birthplace in West Texas. Some birds that I identify with the place are the unavoidable Northern Mockingbirds and Turkey Vultures. There were also always Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays.

These days, Great-Tailed Grackles are everywhere.

The single most amazing bird, that strikes me as being unreal and out of place, is the Scissor-Tail Flycatcher. I hadn’t remembered—or noticed, that they are light pink underneath! In a drive around the back roads around Abilene, we saw a Wild Turkey.

My sister Linda and I went for walks around San Angelo, where we saw an Ash-Throated Flycatcher, a Brown-Headed Cowbird, a whole flock of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, and everywhere, always Mourning Doves, White-Winged Doves, Inca Doves, and Killdeers.

In the San Angelo cemetery, we saw White-Crowned Sparrows, Cactus Wrens, a Western Kingbird, and (possibly) a Hermit Thrush.

Highway telephone wires comprise a huge aviary, if you bother to look, and have a pair of binoculars. We saw a Pyrrhuloxia sitting on one.

I wasn’t expecting to see American White Pelicans, Double-Crested Cormorants, Northern Shovelers, and Great Blue Herons, though. Fill it with water—they will come.

What we didn’t see was birds of prey. No Shrikes, Hawks, or Eagles. With so many other birds around, what does it mean?

We also had a walk around San Angelo State Park. We got off to a late start, so we didn’t see many birds (although we heard them). We saw huge turtles, a doe, and lots of ants.

Now, Texas is full of ants. The Red Ant figures heavily into my oldest memories of the place. We saw a column of Red Ants that seemed to be harvesting the seeds of a wild mustard plant. To our surprise, the harvesters would bring a seed to the opening of the mound, drop it, and go off for another. Presently, an ant would emerge from the mound and proceed to carefully choose one of the seeds that had been dropped at the opening, then take it inside. Division of labor!

For the first of several camping trips in Western Washington State, I camped out at a place called Denny Creek on the I-90. It’s a pretty campground, but the Interstate howls and blats all night, to the point of interfering with conversation and sleep. I eventually saw a lovely Dark-Eyed Junco, who sat on a bush six feet away making his tiny peep—peep—peep while I trained my binoculars on trees across the road looking for him. In the morning, watched in fascination while a chipmunk found, defended, and devoured an apple core almost the size of its own body. Later, a Steller’s Jay came around for coffee and conversation. It left me a beautiful black-and-blue flight feather, which I kept.

I saw a bat a couple of days ago. It was flitting and diving between the apartment buildings here in downtown Seattle. I watched for about 15 minutes, as it foraged for bugs.

Walking around in Vancouver with a friend, I noticed a funny black-and-white wasp. I don’t remember seeing it anywhere but there. My friend had been stung, and was scared of them. Turns out, her fears were well-justified: it was a Bald-faced Hornet.

I just got back from my big trip around NW Washington State. I camped out three nights, each at a different campground. First, I drove down the Mountain Loop Highway (Hwy 92), and camped at Red Bridge. The next night I drove up Hwy 530 to Rockport and camped at the Rockport State Park. Then I drove all the way up Mt. Baker, white knuckles all the way. Next I took the North Cascades Scenic Byway (Hwy 20) across the North Cascades National Park, where I camped at Colonial Creek. Finally, I drove South down the Okanogan Valley, East of the Cascade range. I crossed back to Seattle through the Wenatchee and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forests on Hwy 2.

I didn’t see any unusual wildlife in the campgrounds. There were Steller’s Jays (see above) at each, and the ubiquitous American Crow and Raven. I saw a Raven even at the top of Mt. Baker. It was canvassing the parking lots, in search of a stray french fry, no doubt.

At Colonial Creek, Red Squirrels barraged me with shrill squeaks. In the rain, a hundred swallows, mostly Violet-Green Swallows, skimmed the surface of Lake Diablo.

Just a few miles out of the Okanogan National Forest, the terrain becomes semi-arid. There have been wildfires all summer, so you couldn’t see the mountains for the smoke.

South of Twisp, I started to see lots of birds. On a telephone wire, with a berry in its beak, sat a beautiful Black-Billed Magpie. Just a few miles South of that I found a Lewis’s Woodpecker either foraging or storing food on wooden posts. It seems this bird was first described by Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark expedition: here is a journal entry.

Another trip, this time around SW Washington State and NW Oregon. Some very beautiful hill country there. Camped out at Willapa Bay, where I saw interesting fungus and was accosted by squirrels. Didn’t see many interesting birds, although I’m sure there are times of year when there are many.

I went to Long Beach, which is a truly amazing place. My first impression is that here, one truly cannot see the distinction between the sky and the sea. My second impression is that it isn’t necessarily true that one can drive on the beach. I was stuck immediately and had to be pushed out by a septuagenarian.

Tsunami warnings everywhere serve to explain how they’re all going to die when it comes. Some shore birds, possibly Willets.

Crossed the Columbia at Astoria, drove East in Northern Oregon, making careful note of the clear cuts and nuclear reactors. Spent an afternoon in Portland, which seems livable, and very Pacific Northwest, in the same fashion as Seattle and Vancouver BC. Then turned north and camped at Swift, which is some kind of playground for the mean and intolerant middle class. I innocently drank myself to oblivion, to be annoyed and threatened in the morning by nutty fundamentalists. They didn’t care about the birds I was looking for. They really didn’t care. They wanted me out of there so they could zoom their motor boats outside the shadow of my evil decadence.

Proceed up Mt. St. Helens. Now, the top is a very impressive thing to see even 20 years after the eruption. But I was there to see birds. At a single rest stop on the way up, I saw Western Bluebirds, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, possibly White-Breasted Nuthatch.

My sister, Linda, visited me in August. We went on several nature walks. She pointed out several birds to me. In return, and to her amazement, I showed her our glorious Northwest Banana Slugs, (so named for the comic spills that occur when they inadvertently tread on banana peels.)

We took a walk around and through Seattle’s Seward Park, which, besides featuring what is probably the only remaining old-growth trees in the entire Seattle area, has lots of fine birds. She pointed out the difference between Black-Capped Chickadees and Chestnut-Backed Chickadees, and also pointed out some Fox Sparrows.

The next day, we went down to the Black River Riparian Forest, where we saw the usual birds there, as well as Spotted Sandpipers. Within just a few minutes saw a Red-Tailed Hawk and a Cooper’s Hawk overhead.