Enjoying Birds in Western Washington

It had been five years since I last visited Washington and I was looking forward to enjoying birds of the Pacific Northwest. My adventure birding in Western Washington began on July 3 at the Mt. St. Helen’s Visitor Center five miles east of Castle Rock. As I approached the front of the building, there was a placard inviting visitors to say “Hi to the Osprey Family.”


I had seen one of the Osprey sitting in the top of a tree behind the building.



I decided to walk the circular trail to check out the local bird life. The first section led through the woods that bordered the wet meadow where I heard and saw American Robins and Spotted Towhees. I remembered the towhee’s song after spending time in southern Oregon the prior month – they have a different dialect than those in the Rocky Mountain States!

The trail crossed the wetlands on a boardwalk and then meandered through the meadow.


Violet-green and Barn Swallows darted over the wetlands, an American Goldfinch landed in a tree next to the trail and Cedar Waxwings played peek-a-boo among the dense foliage.


Cedar Waxwing

A Great Blue Heron flew across the meadow and landed gracefully amongst the water plants.


Great Blue Heron

The trail turned and crossed over a marshy area on a boardwalk. Red-winged Blackbirds flew back and forth between the bushes and the marsh.

As I wound my way back, I heard Common Yellowthroats calling, Song Sparrows singing, and then a thrush-like song, which I confirmed as a Swainson’s Thrush with my Sibley’s app.

As I traveled up along the Spirit Lake Highway and pulled off at viewpoints, I began to see Dark-eyed (Oregon) Juncos.

After returning to the freeway and heading east again to Packwood for the night, I set out to explore Mt. Rainier on July 4.

The clouds enveloped the road on my way to the Paradise Lodge and Visitor Center.


Despite the constant mist, I decided to hike up a trail behind the lodge to Myrtle Falls. While I could hear Clark’s Nutcracker, Varied Thrush and Red-breasted Nuthatch, the only birds I could see were Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos that landed next to the trail.

As I looked up the trail through the mist, I saw what looked like a carved mammal.

“What’s that animal?” someone coming up the trail behind me asked.

I looked at it through my binoculars and it turned its head slightly.  Someone else told us that it was a Marmot.



I had never seen one before. It sat there as we approached and then scampered off down the embankment into the clouds.

As I drove up the road towards the Sunrise Side of Mt. Rainier, the clouds began to break up and by time I reached the parking area, the mountain was “out.”


Sunrise – Mt. Rainier from trail

After lunch, I hiked up the trail behind the Visitor Center about half a mile. There were Dark-eyed Juncos and Chipping Sparrows, but nothing else.

After descending, I walked towards the picnic area with tables scattered between the trees. There were American Robin, Hermit Thrush and a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

All of a sudden a bird swooped over me and landed in a nearby tree – a Clark’s Nutcracker. Of course, I would find ‘camp robbers’ in the picnic area. It was fun watching them.


Clark’s Nutcracker

On the road north of Enumclaw the next morning, I spotted a Bald Eagle sitting on top of a power pole and turned around to take its picture.


Bald Eagle

Before arriving at my friends’ house in Redmond, I stopped to walk the Eastside Audubon’s Interpretive Trail at Marymoor Park. The first part of the trail passed through a meadow. I was impressed with the signs Eastside Audubon had posted reminding visitors to stay on the trail since birds nest in the nearby grasses.


Spotted Towhees were the most prevalent birds in the bushes adjacent to the meadow part of the trail. As I headed into the ticket area, dense shrubs crowded against the trail where American Robins were cavorting and I saw Yellow Warblers. When the trail opened up in the wetland along the shore of Lake Sammamish, four young Wood Ducks swam out of the underbrush and across the end of the lake. Red-winged Blackbirds called from the reeds. The trail followed the slough where a Great Blue Heron was waiting for lunch.

WA-Marymor Park -GBHE

Great Blue Heron

The birds were splendid in my friends’ backyard. I kept hearing a bird that I thought was a Song Sparrow, but the habitat was all wrong. One afternoon, it popped up and it was a Bewick’s Wren singing – another birds with a regional dialect.

In addition to a plethora of Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches, they have a pair of American Crows that have adopted their yard. My friend, Margaret Lee, saves her scraps, e.g. rice, left-over crackers, etc. and sprinkles them on the grass each morning.


American Crows

If she isn’t out early enough, the crows will come right up to the sliding glass door to let them know they are ready for their snack and they use the birdbath to get a drink.


I spent a gloomy day visiting the Seattle Art Museum and then walked down to the waterfront to have clam chowder at Ivar’s. While eating my chowder on the pier, I enjoyed watching the gulls that congregated on the nearby railing. Gulls are notoriously difficult to identify. After studying the various possibilities in my Sibley’s app and then scrutinizing the gulls, I realized that they had red eye-sockets, not yellow like the other ‘look-alikes’ with red spots on the end of their yellow bills.  Bingo – Glaucous-winged Gulls.


Glaucous-winged Gulls

When I met up with my Seattle birding friend Kathy a couple of days later, she also pointed out that the Glaucous-winged Gull doesn’t have dark primaries like the other light-winged gulls.

After a long lunch with friends the next day in Ballard, I drove over to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. As I was crossing one of the walkways over the locks, a Belted Kingfisher whizzed by. There were scads of Glaucous-winged Gulls. As I walked along the Lake Washington Ship Canal passage, I was intrigued watching American Crows trying to pry open clams and mussels exposed by low tide.


American Crow

As I walked back to the locks, I noticed Great Blue Herons flying back and forth across the ship canal and then heard the unmistakable murmuring of juvenile herons waiting to be fed. I knew there was supposed to be a rookery somewhere along here, but had not found it on past visit. I caught a glimpse of one of the juveniles that looked like it was getting close to fledging.


juvenile Great Blue Heron in rookery

On my last day in Washington, I had to detour down the west side of Hood Canal. There are not many places to stop, but finally came to a boat launch-parking lot with a restroom. Barn Swallow parents were zipping back and forth to feed their hungry youngsters in the nest over the restroom entrance.


Barn Swallow nest

A Pigeon Guillemot was swimming near the boat launch.


Pigeon Guillemot

My friend Kathy told that a great place to see a Barred Owl would be in the trees behind her daughter’s home in Gig Harbor and I was welcome to stop by. Unfortunately, the juvenile owls that had been handing around behind their house hadn’t been seen in a couple of weeks, but they told me I was welcome to wander around and search. While I didn’t see the owls, it was nice to bird in their wooded yard. They had feeders and I had the opportunity to see two birds I had not seen previously on the trip – Chestnut-backed Chickadee and what I thought was a Fox Sparrow until I looked at my photo closely and realized it was a Song Sparrow.


Song Sparrow

It was fun to explore new areas, see birds I don’t often get to enjoy – as well as old favorites that have different habits.












One thought on “Enjoying Birds in Western Washington

  1. Pingback: Wildlife Highlights of 2016 | It's a bird thing...

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