This is the first part of our trip to the US. It mentions topics other than
To Port Townsend, Washington and Salem, Oregon
On March 20, Michael and I left Darwin for the USA.
This was to be a lecture tour, mostly arranged by past clients. I was also
going to do some research on my PhD topic American couples who travel
internationally to watch birds. We hoped to do some birding as well.
However, first we were going to have ten day's break to get over jetlag, and
to cope with any colds etc that we might have picked up.
The flight to Los Angeles would have been more comfortable had we more seat
space - the man on Michael¹s left was so large, he forced the seat arm
between them into Michael who then had to lean into me. After that we made
sure that all our seats were on the aisle!
On arrival at Los Angeles airport we settled down to wait for the Alaskan
Airlines flight to Portland, Oregon. Security was tight on all airline
travel we undertook. We always had to remove our footwear, and I was glad
that I¹d decided to wear my gumboots. There wasn't much in the way of birds
at the airport, namely American Crows and what appeared to be Western Gulls.
After a night in a motel in Portland we set off by train for Seattle where
friends were to meet us. Train travel promised leg room, a more intimate
view of the countryside and the ability to bird. We had hoped to do much of
our journey by rail. However, I was advised against it as passenger trains
were often very late (in the west they have to give way to freight).
Friends Fred and Anne met us at the station, and we set out on the sixty
mile journey to their home in Port Townsend. Like so many we met on our 2
1/2 month trip, they had a Toyota Prius.
Fred is a wetlands ecologist, but while working for the EPA, he became an
authority on uplands and an architect of President Clinton¹s forest policy
which still stands. Fred pointed out one tree after another red alder,
cypress, different species of fir and also the myriad weeds broom, ivy
and others. Turkey Vulture and Red-tailed Hawk were a common sight over
the forest and remained that way for much of our trip (there is even a beer
named Red-tailed Hawk) .
Later we went for a long walk through the forest, Fred and Anne pointing out
various plants spruce, Douglas fir, huge Western Red Cedar , Arbutus
menziesii, a beautiful tree with coral-coloured bark, mid-storey plants eg
Shepherdia, and flowering herbs such as the pretty mauve Oysynium douglasii
of the Iridaceae. We saw a couple of Bald Eagles, a juvenile and an adult,
and American Robins hopping around on every patch of grass,. There were
Mourning Doves, Varied Thrush, and Northern Flicker. Pileated Woodpecker
was calling and we saw the rectangular holes they made in the bark of trees.
No sighting though.
Anne and Fred showed us posters of plants they put up around the park. At
their home tucked away between the trees, Fred and Anne told of the plans of
the State government to sell off the Port Townsend forest and the community
fight to oppose this. It is an old, sad, and all too common story.
The next day we visited beaches and wetlands where we saw a range of other
birds - Horned and Pied-billed Grebe, Glaucous-winged, Western, Mew and
Bonaparte gulls, Brandt, Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorant, Rhinocerous
Auklet, Marbled and Pigeon Guillemot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Brandt and Canada
Geese. There were many ducks, most of them new to us Bufflehead, Common
and Red-breasted Mergenser, Green-winged Teal, Wigeon, Surf Scoter, Gadwall
and Common and Barrow's Golden-eye, and Lesser Scaup. There were also
American Coot, and in grassy areas, Brown-headed Cowbird and Brewer's
At one pond we stopped to watch Violet-green swallows, and in the midst of a
debate over whether at least one was a Tree Swallow, a raptor suddenly dove
out of the sky Northern Goshawk.
We also visited some wetland projects that the Weinmanns are involved in
at one, Anne said, the project manager had sunk up to her waist in mud, and
so warning signs were much in evidence. I knew that special kind of sinking
feeling well, having had similar experiences in the mud of Top End
mangroves. At this particular site we saw Killdeer and Belted Kingfisher,.
Much of the time it was too cold and wet to go outside, and so we spent
hours in Fred and Anne¹s comfortable loungeroom watching the bird feeder and
surrounding trees. Some birds became quite familiar Varied Thrush, Junco,
Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Spotted Towee, Rufous Hummingbird, and Song and
Fox Sparrow, and getting to know them well made birding easier in other
places (I often suggest to my clients that they spend a few hours at my home
learning to tell the difference between the various similar honeyeater
species that visit my garden).
Douglas Chipmunk, Grey-mantled Squirrel and Black-tailed Deer also visited
the garden and the field next door, and I spent many happy hours attempting
to get reasonable photographs.
After a few days with our friends, drinking great wine and coffee, and
eating fabulous food and watching wonderful wildlife, we caught the ferry
back to Seattle and boarded the train back to Portland and on to Salem.
Nicole met us at Salem station, with Sara, her dachshund. It was really
cold, but we soon warmed up in Nicole¹s cosy home, with a good meal and a
couple of glasses of a fine Washington red inside us. Her living room was
studded with pictures and furniture dating from the 17th century. One wall
was lined with shelves filled with books on every aspect of environmental
science. The office sported posters from National Geographic for whom she
has worked for many years.
Nicole has made wildlife her life¹s work. An authority on otters (she had
just returned from a meeting in Cambodia), she also founded TRAFFIC, an
organisation dedicated to stopping the trafficking of wildlife. She is now
lecturing at Oregon State University, to do with evolution and ecology..
Nicole was in the Top End back in the early 1970s, and then again a few
years later with Dr. Janet Kear, an authority on waterfowl. In 2000 she
returned on assignment for National Geographic.
On our first day we drove to the beach. It was freezing, and raining as
well. There were few birds in evidence, namely Western Gulls, and several I
couldn't identify through the rain and fog. Several harbor seals were
swimming in the rough water, but a sea lion had decided it would wait out
the storm in a calmer place, and pulled its great bulk onto a small jetty.
The second day we drove to the little towns of Bend and Sisters through the
Cascades The Cascade Mountains, are part of the Pacific Ring of fire, and
have been the source of all contiguous US eruptions in known history,
including Mount St Helens, in 1980. The scenery was a winter wonderland
with snow up to a metre thick covering the ground and capping the trees.
However, I only spotted one bird a Ring-necked Pheasant.
Later, another friend, told us that the Cascades had the heaviest snowfall
of any place in the US, up to 20 feet. He said the cabins are often covered
with snow so the owners mark the roof with a pole topped by a flag. Owners
skiing in the area can then dig down and enter their cabins through a
trapdoor in the roof. I wasn't sure whether he was pulling my leg it
sounded rather suicidal to me! Perhaps a reader can enlighten me.
The boreal forests of Washington and Oregon are under threat from the balsam
woolly adelgid, a member of the Hemiptera (bugs) introduced in the 1900s
from Europe, and trees throughout the Cascades died.
Once out of the mountains we came upon semi-arid zone vegetation including
tumbleweed and juniper trees. In a park at the little town of Sisters I
spotted Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay and Western Scrub-Jay, and a Hairy
Woodpecker. On the way back we saw American Kestrel and several Red-tailed
hawks and Turkey vultures.
The last night in Salem we spent some hours at the home of Nicole¹s friends,
Hannah and Joan. Their property is surrounded by woodland, and the birds
came thick and fast to the feeders. The gorgeous blue and black Stellars
Jay was a new addition as was White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped
Chickadee, and Downy Woodpecker. We heard Pileated Woodpecker calling, but
didn¹t see it. The next morning Nicole drove us to the airport. She is
trying to find some research and lecturing in Australia, so that we won¹t
have to wait so long to see each other again.
Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow
PO Box 3460 NT 0832, AUSTRALIA
Ph. 61 08 89 328306
Mobile: 04 386 50 835
Birdwatching and Indigenous tourism consultant
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