And Life Goes On

I must admit that in retrospect Saturday at the beach reminded me of W. H. Auden's

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on

There was a bird watcher's convention going on while we were there and they were absorbed in watching the huge number of Sooty Shearwater in Gray's harbor through their spotting scopes


rather than noticing the dead and dying Common Murres on the beach (though I'm sure most were all too aware of the problem).

Other birds also seemed indifferent to the Murre's plight. Migrating Heermann's Gulls surfed breakers mere feet away from dying Murres,


showing no signs of malnutrition or environmental stress.

HermnsGl2 A steady stream of Heermann's Gull headed southward, HermnsGl1 stopping to join flocks of Brown Pelicans for rest across the harbor in the Westport Marina. HermnsGl4

Though the dying Murres definitely put a damper on our day, Leslie and I didn't stop everything and go home, either. No. We still ate fish and chips for lunch in Ocean Shores and sauteed scallops and prawns later at the Tokeland Hotel Restaurant. Though I couldn't help but notice the struggling Murres throughout the day, most of the time I focused my camera on other flocks of birds heading southward.


I’ve been trying to write this blog entry for most of the week but just haven’t been able to say what I feel, probably because I don’t want to feel what I’m feeling. With all the smoke filling the air even here on the West side of the Cascades, I thought Saturday might be the perfect time to go to the beach, particularly since it’s the Fall shorebird migration.

We got an early start and the weather was near perfect, warm with little or no fog. That’s rare for our coast where all too often warm weather draws in heavy fog. I was looking forward to a perfect day at the beach, capped by dinner at the Tokeland Hotel Restaurant.

Unfortunately, the first thing we encountered at the beach was two dead birds that had washed ashore. It’s not uncommon to see dead birds washed up during the winter, but it is unusual to find them during summer. Then I remembered reading that there had been an unusually high death rate among Common Murres and that they were doing a survey Sunday to try to determine how many were dying and what had caused their death. So, it didn’t bother me too much when I saw the two bodies.

It bothered me much more, though, when a few minutes later we encountered this Murre resting on the open beach


in obvious distress. It’s one thing to read about birds dying on the coast; it’s something quite different to watch one dying and not be able to do anything about it.

A few yards down the beach we ran into another Murre which was at least able to stand,


but that’s all it could do, and it should never have stood there in the middle of the beach with people (and dogs) walking around it. It’s disheveled appearance seemed to confirm that these birds were in serious trouble.

Although these were the only two Common Murres we saw that seemed in immediate danger, I’ve never as many Common Murres as I saw Saturday. And even when they appeared to be healthy like this one swimming off the Ocean Shores jetty


and this one trying to bathe miles away in the Westport Marina.


I couldn’t help but feel that there had to be something wrong that they were all so close to shore this time of year. It didn’t help that I saw more Common Murres Saturday than I have seen in the seven plus years I have been birding.

Hell, I couldn’t avoid seeing them nearly ten hours after I’d spotted the dead ones on the beach. Surely it was abnormal behavior for a Murre to be swimming among shorebirds.


A Murre is a diving bird, not a friggin’ sandpiper.

It didn’t improve my mood to see the “beautiful” red sun sinking into the horizon, knowing full well that that “beauty” was caused by the largest wildfires to ever have hit Washington State, which were not unexpected after seeing the number of dead pines caused by recent Pine Beatle infestations, which were, in turn, caused by recent abnormally warm winters.

I still haven’t seen any reports on the likely causes of this year’s Common Murre die-off, though there were suggestions two years ago that another die-off was caused by an unusual green slime off the Washington and Oregon coasts. I’m sure climate-deniers will argue that such die-offs are normal cycles and that all will be well shortly, but the largest fire in state history and the worst smoke pollution I have seen in my life suggest otherwise.

I’m finding it harder and harder to focus just on Nature’s beauty and not get depressed by the constant assault on the environment I can’t help but observe. Even though I knew I wouldn’t see any Murres at Theler Wetlands, the image of those dying birds kept haunting me as I drove there Wednesday.

Perhaps finishing this blog entry will help me to finally get it out of my mind, but I have no doubt that it will do nothing to solve the conditions that are creating our drought and threatening the environment.

Much More than Just a Rose Garden

I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear my favorite part of the Pt. Defiance Rose Garden is the dahlia beds, but I can never resist the temptation to try to photography the many insects that visit the dahlias while I’m there


and visit all the other sections of the garden, including the larger rose garden.


I’m generally frustrated trying to photograph the fuchsias because they’re so low to the ground and I refuse to lay down on the path to take shots, but they definitely have their own beauty.


Although I’m often struck by the different varieties of flowers lining the paths, I seldom know what they are, though I think this is some form of Zinnia.


Sorry, but I find it hard to resist beauty wherever I find it.

Pt. Defiance Dahlias

Although I don’t think I will ever tire of visiting the Dahlia garden that’s part of the Point Defiance Garden, I’m beginning to think that I’ve about run out of ways of original ways of portraying them. What you see is what you get, I’m afraid.

14Dahlia.1 14Dahlia.2 14Dahlia.3


Some readers may remember me noting that several nests I had pictured a Marsh Wren building in the Spring had been wiped out by a high tide just about the time that he should have attracted a mate. I figured after that loss that the wren would simply move on as it would be too late to attract a mate by the time he had rebuilt the nests.

I should never have underestimated the mighty wren’s determination. Long after most birds were dashing around frantically trying to meet the demands of nests full of fledglings, this Marsh Wren was attempting to rebuild his kingdom and attract a mate,


pausing every so often to advertise the newly available estates.


I still don’t understand Marsh Wren well enough to know what all the different tail wagging means,


but it does make for a more interesting shot, so I’m not about to complain.


Unfortunately, in Nature timing is probably more important than persistence because I never saw any signs that he had attracted a mate or that there were any young ones about in later visits.

Birding Locally

Getaways are fabulous and I feel “cheated” when I can’t get away often enough, but “home” is still the foundation of our lives and provides a sense of time and continuity that vacations will never provide.

Watching these young geese grow up over the year has been a treat,


though it’s already hard to distinguish the “babies” from the adults. Not sure how long Canada Geese live, but I do know that they grow to full size in less than a year.

I’ve glanced a lot of “babies” as I’ve walked Theler this summer, but few of them ever emerge like this “thrush” did, probably for good reason.


Spotting this juvenile Red-Breasted Sapsucker


was a treat, only the second I’ve seen in my seven years of birding.

On days when birds seem too busy feeding youngsters to make a public appearance, I manage to entertain myself by gazing skyward,


reveling in summer sunshine.

Cedar Waxwings at Theler

Although birding definitely slows down mid-summer, I still make an effort to get to Theler once a week. I took Lael there the week she and Gavin stayed with us; I took Mary there the week she stayed with us; I took Dawn and Lael there before their trip to Colorado. I’ve gone at least once a week ever since they all left, too. It may not be “home,” but it feels a lot like home.

Though some of my favorite birds won’t be back until Fall, or even Winter, there’s something special about the birds that nest here. One of my favorites is the Cedar Waxwing, which show up relatively early, hanging out in the tallest trees catching insects.


If there are no tall trees around, they hang out in the tops of the smaller trees making it easier to photograph them.


If you catch them while they’re gathering material for a nest, apparently they will pose until you leave so you can’t locate their nearby nest.


Occasionally they will sit on a nearby branch so close that you have to take a step backward to fit them in the frame,


revealing just how beautiful they are, despite a Trump-like comb-over.