Mt. Rainier

Right after the grandkids went home, Leslie’s friend Mary from Boston spent a week with us. Without the chickens to feed and dogs to care for, we managed to get out more than we did the previous two weeks, though I still didn’t get back to the gym.

For me, the highlight of the week was the day trip around Mt. Rainier, and, although it was barely July, it turned out to be the ideal time to visit the mountain. Our Summer of Sun continued in full force, and not only was Mt. Rainier beautiful from the north side

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but I think this is the best view I’ve ever gotten of Mt Adams from the north side.

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Usually it’s blocked by haze or clouds.

Although the north side isn’t as well known for its flowers as the south entrance, the flowers were in full bloom. My favorites were the Indian Paintbrush,

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which could be found in a variety of striking colors.

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Though not as bright as the Indian Paintbrush, purple and white Lupine still dominated the landscape.

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If you could take your eyes off the towering mountain long enough, you could see not only the flowers but butterflies and insects everywhere.

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Despite the crowds, you almost felt like you were experiencing Nature directly.

Where Did Summer Go, Already?

The main reason I crammed my trip to Utah-Malheur-Tule and my trips to Big Beef Creek so close together was that I knew Gavin and Lael were coming to live with us for two weeks while their parents were in Mexico so it would be nearly impossible to squeeze in any day-long birding adventures. Having to feed the chickens twice a day, walk two dogs, and feed two growing kids didn’t leave much time for tripping, though we did manage to get in one day trip to the beach while they were with us.

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Local birding is still slow and since I’m not interested in getting shots of people’s meals or pictures of shops or galleries, there wasn’t really too much to photograph, though habit required me to take my camera and birding lens on our beach walk.

This Common Tern’s squawk made it impossible to miss,

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and I was surprised to see these three female Harlequin ducks, the first I’ve ever seen in summer.

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The big surprise of the day, though, was this small flock of Rhinoceros Auklet,

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the largest flock I’d ever seen. A little online research revealed that summer is the main time to see this species in the Puget Sound, that they breed here, not further north like most birds we see here.

The kids’ two-week stay made me realize just how deep of a rut I have built with my routines. I didn’t get to the gym once in nearly three weeks, although I still managed to get in my exercise with early morning walks along the beach with Lael and daily walks into Point Defiance Park with the two dogs. I’m definitely hooked on exercise, though I don’t have to go to the gym to get it.

Playing Dragon Age with Gavin and Wi racing games with Lael helped speed the time when I wasn’t cooking, or grocery shopping. The two weeks raced by quickly, and I even had a few days off and a chance to get to Theler Wetlands before Leslie’s friend Mary arrived from Boston.

Herons and Bald Eagles

Great Blue Heron are by far the best fisherman to be found at Big Beef Creek, though fish are so plentiful during the sculpin runs that even crows and gulls get their fill. There’s no doubt Bald Eagles could easily catch all the fish they wanted to, but apparently they’ve found it easier to steal a fish from Great Blue Herons than catch one themselves.

Immature Bald Eagles seem to enjoy flying over a flock of Great Blue Herons just to harass them,

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but mature Bald Eagles don’t waste their time just flying over. They single out a Great Blue Heron that has already caught a fish,

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drive it off,

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land, and take off with their catch,

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ignoring any other herons in the vicinity. A truly efficient bully.

Crows and Eagles

Although it’s fairly unusual to see Great Blue Heron’s fighting each other, it’s quite common to see Crows and Bald Eagles act aggressively towards each other. In fact, one of the best ways to find raptors or owls is to listen to the crows who will often “mob” a predator that dares to enter their domain.

If there’s food to be found, crows will be there to claim their “share,” even if a Bald Eagle has already laid claim to it.

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Though I’ve never seen crows actually take food away from an eagle, they’ll certainly pester an eagle to the point of exasperation.

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It’s common to see a crow swoop down out of the clouds nearly atop an eagle.

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It’s less common to see an eagle flip over and try to return the attack,

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but apparently even the noble Bald Eagle has limited patience.

Luckily for the crow, the eagle can’t quite match its speed and agility,

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though I noted the crow decided not to pursue the eagle any further after it attempted to turn the tables on it.

Herons Fighting Over Fishing Spot

The stranded sculpin left after a high tide are so numerous that there is more than enough food for all the birds that show up at Big Beef Creek. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, there is an awful lot of intimidation that goes on. Usually it’s eagles that harass the herons to drop a fish, but it’s not unusual to see a Great Blue Heron chase other herons away from the area where it is fishing.

However, I’ve never seen an incident quite like this one. Two herons had staked out a fishing spot when a third heron flew in and quickly drove off one of the two.

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The other heron was having none of it, though, and stood its ground as the other one tried to intimidate it.

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It was hard to be sure, but it actually looked like the dispute came to blows

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and not merely a show of strength to intimidate a rival.

The jumping and flapping of wings went on for several moments before they separated.

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In the end, though, the “battle” ended like all the other battles I’ve seen here, with both combatants alive and well, though egos may well have suffered unseen damage.

Great Blue Heron at Big Beef Creek

I’m sure most photographers go to Big Beef Creek to photograph the Bald Eagles, but I would still go if there weren’t any Bald Eagles just to photograph the Great Blue Heron. Despite having hard drives full of heron shots, I’ve never gotten as good of shots of them as I consistently get at Big Beef Creek.

It’s one of the few places where you can look directly down on them as they fly to different fishing areas.

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You can get spectacular shots of them as they land.

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You can get remarkable closeups

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because they are solely concentrating on the fish near the shore.

It’s also one of the few places where I’ve ever managed to photograph them displaying,

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making it clear that this is their fishing hole and other herons had better keep away.