West Coast Wrap-up

Well, all good things must come to and end, and as of today this is my last day of a wonderful vacation. But first an apology to all my readers. I had all the right intentions to update my blog during my trip out west except for my earlier post from our stay in Novato California. This trip was a wire to wire, we’re not wasting daylight, itinerary filled trip. By the time Kathy and I finished with our day I was too tired for any writing. So now that I’ve been home for a few days and have time to upload all the pictures taken, it’s high time I do some writing.

The main reason we went on this vacation was for me to finally see a portion of the west coast, and for Kathy to re-visit Olympic National Park. And with 2 weeks at our disposal we started with visiting our nephew in Novato California.

img_4945But first a drive from the airport, through San Francisco, and across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Our nephew was out for the afternoon hiking, so with time on our hands and having checked into our room, we asked for some fun sightseeing things to do at the hotel desk. Not wanting to waste a beautiful day we hit the road, particularly Hwy 1, that scenic but windy road with some great vistas.

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It was difficult to pay attention to the road, enjoy the views, and get some birding in all at the same time. As a matter of fact birding was a challenge this whole trip. Back home in Ohio late summer can prove to be pretty non-birdie. Migration has started but not really in full swing. Plus the birds aren’t very vocal, which never helps. Well the same can be said about the west coast. But I wasn’t here for the rarities, I just wanted as many common birds as I could find.

And it started out quick. As we were unloading our rental car at the hotel (Best Western Plus in Novato was beautiful, clean, and highly recommended) I heard a chatter in a clump of trees I’ve never heard before. Acorn Woodpeckers.

As we enjoyed our afternoon drive along Hwy 1 we passed Bolinas Lagoon where we stopped for a moment to check out the mud flats, which were extensive. Long-billed Curlews, Gulls and peeps…and is that a Whimbrel? OMG it’s a WHIMBREL. My nemesis bird is finally ticked off, and so was the bird as I was ready to take it’s picture.

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The evening was spent visiting with our nephew and going to a local brewery for dinner. The next day was a work day for him, which left us to explore even more the area. This time we traveled to the Visitors Center at Point Reyes National Seashore where I soon discovered why the California Quail was the state bird, they were everywhere.

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img_4977As were Brewer’s Blackbirds…

img_5045California Scrub Jays, Band-tailed Pigeons, and California Towhees.

After we left the visitors center we were off to Point Reyes Lighthouse, where maybe I can pick up some Common Murres and Cormorants.

The drive to the lighthouse was over some very windy roads past historical ranches and sparse vegetation. As we pulled into the parking lot and starting our hike to the lighthouse we were treated to some spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the coast.

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img_5035Point Reyes Lighthouse

It was from the lighthouse where I picked up my lifer Common Murre, Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants. Trying to get any photograph proved futile because of the windy conditions. The water was real choppy and it was difficult to hold the camera still.

After our stay in Novato we headed north to Redwood National Park, with our home base in Arcata California, just north of Eureka. All I can say about Northern California is WOW. I can now see why people love it here.

It was while we were on this drive through rolling country past countless vineyards  as any good birder would do is always watch for birds. This morning was no different as I glanced skyward at the Turkey Vultures. After and hour or so I noticed a particularly large bird that wasn’t flying like a Turkey Vulture. As we got nearer I first noticed the white windows on the wing tips, and the uniform darkness of the bird. As luck would have it, a immature Golden Eagle. Sometimes it better to be lucky than good.

img_4360The view of the bay in Trinadad California on our way to Redwood N.P.

img_5075This is just a sample of what I was in store for. Trees of monumental size and girth. If you’re not a lover of trees, than this isn’t the place for you. Pictures don’t do it justice, and the endless photos I have of trees will do nothing more than wet your appetite or bore you.

On one of our hikes were at the Lady Bird Johnson Grove on a walking tour with one of the park rangers. After the tour was over we continued onto another trail which looped back. as we walked Kathy stopped and told me to listen. CHIP…CHIP…CHIP. Skulking around in the thick undergrowth was a MacGillivray’s Warbler. I wasn’t expecting this, but I’ll take it. And just like it’s cousins the Mourning and Connecticut Warbler, it disappeared into the brush.

img_5069I did score on the beautiful Stellar’s Jay.

On the second full day at Redwood N.P. and surrounding areas, I convinced Kathy to a 4 am wake up to head over to Prairie Creek campground. According to eBird this open prairie surrounded by mountains will have fly over Marbled Murrelets as they leave the forests of the Pacific coast on their way to the open ocean to feed.

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img_4378I wish it had been this clear while we waited. Coasted fog hung low over the prairie as the sun started to rise. We had waited for over an hour, after having moved to a different parking lot to get a better view. As time wore on I finally spotted one flying low and fast as it came out from under the fog. I wanted a better view. so we waited.

Then we both heard a bird call. But not your normal bird sound, more of a too-too-too-too. I’ve heard this before on the King Ranch in Texas. It called again…too-too-too-too. Has to be a Pygmy Owl…too-too-too-too, it called again a little further away. I hurry for my smart phone to open my Sibley app…too-too-too-too, even further away now. I’m shaking now as I open the call of a Northern Pygmy Owl. Holy Cow… that’s it. Never in a million years would I have thought of ticking off an owl quite like that. There was no way in chasing this bird, nor was I going to try and attract the bird by playing it’s call loudly over my phone, which is against most park regulations concerning wildlife.

img_5060A very cooperative Black Phoebe poses on a beach at Redwood N.P. This photo sure does beat the one I took of a Black Phoebe while in Texas.

I hated leaving such a beautiful place but we had an 8 hour drive as we motored towards Portland Oregon to check out the city. We stayed at a Ramada Inn down by the river, and I would highly recommend this place as well. Plus it’s on the streetcar line which makes getting around really easy.

Our next stop was a small city of Port Angeles Washington on the north coast. For the next 4 days we really packed in activities. After arriving and settling into a below average hotel (Red Lion Inn) we set off on foot to see the water front before dinner. We climber a observation tower that overlooked the harbor and me without my camera, only bins. In the water floated my lifer adult Mew Gull. Go figure.

img_5109The most common gull species was the Glaucous-winged Gull. Another lifer.

The next day we meet up with our guide for the day, Kaiyote Snow. Kaiyote owns her own guide service and has been leading backpacking trips and bird tours for years. She picked us up at 7 am sharp and we were off on our all day adventure. After the introductions our first stop is Hurricane Ridge. Kaiyote was a wealth of information on all the flora and fauna, with a mix of geology thrown in.

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Besides the outstanding views the birding wasn’t too bad either. Besides this Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco, I ticked off Chestnut-sided Chickadee and Townsend Warbler

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Time to come off the mountain, have a little lunch and plan our next location. As we ate next to the harbor in Port Angeles we sighted a large congregation of Heermann’s Gulls, distant Rhinoceros Auklets, and a few Harlequin Ducks.

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After lunch we were off towards the Lake Crescent area. Let me tell you the setting for this historic lodge besides the lake was nothing but spectacular.

img_5143Lake Crescent Lake Lodge

img_5144Cabin row at Lake Crescent

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But we weren’t there to check out the accommodations or the scenery, we were there for the American Dipper. This small, solitary bird the color of river rocks, that feeds along fast flowing mountain streams on aquatic insect larvae is probably one of the coolest birds in North America. Kaiyote parks the car next to Crescent lake Lodge as we hike towards Barnes Creek. We start our search at the bridge of Barnes Creek over Hwy. 101 right next to the lodge. Kaiyote was here yesterday scouting the area and saw one in one of the pools. We hike a little further along and stop at another clearing next to the creek. Still no Dipper.

We continued this hike,stop and look for about 30 minutes until I noticed a caught a disturbance of the water. I pulled up and found the bird.

img_5128This birds wasn’t going to cooperate for a photo-bug like me, and continued to feed all the time we were there.

img_5131How could you not love a bird like this.

The day was getting late and we needed to start heading back to Port Angeles, however before Kaiyote dropped us off we went to this small park in town. It was here that I picked up Spotted Towhee and Golden-crowned Sparrow.

img_5155Golden-crowned Sparrowimg_4581Kaiyote and yours truly.

I told Kaiyote that I would give her a free plug for your tour company. So if you’re ever in the area contact and set up a tour. It may seem expensive to some, but for what you get it was so worth it, and would recommend it to any birder. Here’s a link to her website.

Kaiyote Tours

It was a great day. We were tired and hungry. We ate and went to bed early in preparation of our whale watching trip the next day.

It’s a 45-50 minute drive from Port Angeles to Port Townsend Washington where we were pick up our ferry ride to Coupeville on Whidbey Island. Being a very popular ferry reservations need to be made or might miss the boat. And we needed  be at the office of the Island Adventures (name of the whale watching company) an hour before the boat sails.

Well we made it with plenty of time to spare. Enough time we went had breakfast at a local restaurant set up in a small residential home.

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 The whole trip was a huge success. We saw plenty of Orcas, 3 pods to be exact, and some lifer birds.

img_5172A unexpected surprise, a Peregrine Falcon.

img_5169Plenty of seals, Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants

img_5177Common Murre

img_5175And another one.

img_5359 img_5242 img_5267 img_5270 img_5273 img_5349And plenty of Orcas

img_5364Rhinoceros Auklet

img_5093Black Oystercatcher

It was another long, tiring day. We drove back to Port Townsend and had some dinner at this really small seafood restaurant called Sea J’s. Their fish n chips are off the charts.

The last full day at Olympic N.P. Kathy and I drove to the Hoh rain forest. It wasn’t till we had lunch when I spotted my last lifer for the trip. Gray Jay.

img_4614The weather really cleared up as we passed Lake Crescent

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img_5385Gray Jay

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On our return to Port Angeles we made one last stop at Sol Duc Falls. A pleasant hike with some great photo rewards.

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We left Port Angeles the following morning an drove to Bainbridge Island to catch the ferry to Seattle. We spent several hours touring around Pike Street Market and had lunch at the Chowder House. We finally found our way to the hotel in a suburb and settled down for the long flight home the next day.

It was a special vacation that rates right up there with some of the best I’ve been on. Would I do it again? You bet, with some alterations.

Some of the disappointing moments was not getting any photos of some of the prime birds of the Pacific Northwest, notably the Varied Thrush and Pacific Wren. Being late summer hardly any birds were calling and trying to locate birds in such a tall tree canopy was next to impossible. I saw plenty, just no pictures.

All told I scored 38 new life birds, which isn’t too bad. This brings my life list to 444.

  1. California Scrub Jay
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird
  3. Acorn Woodpecker
  4. California Quail
  5. California Towhee
  6. Spotted Towhee
  7. Mew Gull
  8. Glaucous-winged Gull
  9. Heermann’s Gull
  10. Chestnut-sided Chickadee
  11. Townsend’s Warbler
  12. MacGillivray’s Warbler
  13. Tufted Puffin
  14. Common Murre
  15. Pigeon Guillemot
  16. Marbled Murrette
  17. Rhinoceros Auklet
  18. Red-breasted sapsucker
  19. Northern Pygmy Owl
  20. American Dipper
  21. Golden Eagle
  22. Gray Jay
  23. Stellar’s Jay
  24. Whimbrel
  25. Band-tailed Pigeon
  26. Brewer’s Blackbird
  27. Western Wood Pewee
  28. Pacific Slope Flycatcher
  29. Pelagic Cormorant
  30. Brandt’s Cormorant
  31. Black Oystercatcher
  32. Violet-green Swallow
  33. Vaux’s Swift
  34. Harlequin Duck
  35. Northwestern Crow
  36. Pacific Wren
  37. Varied Thrussh
  38. Golden-crowned Sparrow
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2 responses to “West Coast Wrap-up

  1. Pingback: Birding the Oregon Coast |Road-trip from Seattle to San Francisco

  2. theafternoonbirder

    Gorgeous photos from your trip! I love your Acorn Woodpeckers and California Quail!

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