All it takes is a little Sunshine

With sunshine predicted, we spread our wings and headed to Ft. Flagler and Port Townsend last Sunday.  Unfortunately, as is often the case here, the predicted sunshine was heavily filtered by dense, low-level clouds.  In fact, even though we had gotten up for an early start, I almost decided to return home when greeted by eye-level clouds and raindrops as we crossed the Narrows Bridge.

Sunrise highlighted the recent snow on Mt. Baker, but the mountain itself was hard to distinguish from the grey skies.

Still, I was grateful that we didn’t get rained on during the whole day, giving me a chance to photograph several birds I haven’t seen for quite a while, like this female Red-Breasted Merganser. 

Thanks to the miracle of modern cameras, Photoshop, and Topaz DeNoise all these distant shots are much clearer —and brighter— than they were in real life, and the water is even blue instead of gray as it appeared that morning.

Being able to see birds like this Common Loon that I rarely see locally made the hour-long drive worthwhile. 

Heck, even seeing birds we commonly see locally in a different setting, like these Double-Crested Cormorants, reminded me why we return here so often in the winter and spring.

The early morning light and the surprise of seeing this heron at Ft. Flagler even inspired me to take yet another shot of a Great Blue Heron, sitting on the post that is usually reserved for cormorants.

It didn’t take long before I was glad that we hadn’t been deterred by the cold and the overcast sky. 

Almost a Reunion

I don’t get any great pictures at the Port Orchard Marina on my last visit, but I was excited to see the return of many of the birds that overwinter here mostly Barrow’s Goldeneye.

I did manage to get fairly close to these three goldeneyes, but it was so bright that most of the details in the white areas were blown out (it’s been a long time since I’ve had that problem here in the Pacific Northwest.). 

I couldn’t manage to get a good picture of the small flock of Hooded Mergansers in the marina, but it did manage to get a fairly good shot of this Horned Grebe.

There weren’t any Widgeons in the marina, but there was a large flock near where I parked and I got a shot of this pair swimming away from the main flock.

Hopefully, the Surf Scoters will have returned by my next visit.

Winter is definitely my favorite time to bird in the Puget Sound region.

A Break in the Clouds

We managed to sneak in three days of sunshine last week, and I took advantage of every one of them to get outside.  Leslie worked with her daughter one day, so I decided to drop her off and go to Theler. I’m glad I did because It was the brightest day of the week, the perfect light to capture this shot of a Spotted Towhee with a red berry in its beak.

Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of birds on the refuge, perhaps because the tide was way out and the birds that feed on the mudflats were taking advantage of newly exposed food.

The best sighting of the day were these two Bald Eagles who seemed to be pairing off and preparing to nest.

Luckily, the birding was better at the Port Orchard Marina, which isn’t unusual this time of year.  I was greeted by this Great Blue Heron that appeared to be floating above the roof as I walked down into the marina.

I wasn’t surprised to see it wrapped in its winter coat; cold weather invariably seems to accompany sunshine this time of year.

I was also greeted by a Pelagic Cormorant.

I was pleased to see that several winter residents had returned to the marina, though it didn’t seem like as many as in past years.

I Really Am A Vietnam Veteran

After a rather long, frustrating effort I recently started receiving Veterans Benefits with a 30% disability rating.  I originally applied nearly ten years ago after suffering from throat cancer and prostate cancer, two cancers commonly attributed to exposure to Agent Orange.  

Although I took several people’s advice and applied through a local VFW, I never heard back from them or the Veteran’s Administration.  When I applied, the Veteran’s Administration was underfunded and overworked, so I didn’t think too much about it when I hadn’t heard from them for six months.  Finally, I reached out to the VFW retired colonel who was handling my case.  Turns out he had suffered a stroke and seemed unclear what the status of my application was.  The initial process of gathering materials and writing about my time in Vietnam had been stressful enough that I was unwilling to start all over again.

Flash forward ten years.  While trying to figure out what would be the best Plan D insurance policy, our agent suggested that as a Vietnam Veteran I was entitled to prescriptions through VA.  I decided that my copay was high enough that was worth applying again, and it seemed relatively straightforward, relatively, as it turned out.  After all. I had my discharge papers and that’s all that I seemed to need to get the benefit.  Nope.  Not true.  

The proverbial Catch-22 revealed itself. I couldn’t be sent to Vietnam if I had less than six months of service left, but since the boat took nearly a month to get there I wasn’t in-country for six months and wasn’t eligible for the Vietnam Service award.  I thought that the phrase “Vietnam Veteran” on my discharge papers meant that I had served in Vietnam.  The VA department didn’t think so and told me I wasn’t eligible for the prescription benefit because I hadn’t proved I served in-country.

If I had appealed they would have had to dig out my service records, but they told me there was a six-month delay because of Covid-19.  Luckily, when I explained that I had symptoms of Agent Orange Exposure, the VA worker referred me to my local AmVets center.  What a difference they made. It turned out the most convincing proof I had that I had served in Vietnam wasn’t the APO of the unit I was released from (which was Vung Tao province) , it was the photos I am posting here (and the newsletters Sgt Desmond sent me after I returned home).

Though I have no memory of ever looking like this, this is, indeed, a photo of me holding a “grease gun” taken from the FDC because there was no way in hell I was going to be stuck with nothing but my assigned 45 when we got fired on during the night.

We were officially a heavy mortar platoon, but, in reality, the tracks were set up to function as a recon platoon with machine guns mounted on the sides.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, my platoon was assigned to protecting the engineers who were preparing our site for the battalion barracks and headquarters and, later, assembling the building ourselves.   Fortunately, because we weren’t required to provide convoy escort like the tank platoons and recon platoon were. Unfortunately, because we didn’t see any real action other than serving as target practice for the Viet Cong that lived in the village we were “protecting.”  We caught enough fire initially that they finally assigned two tanks to our unit, which effectively deterred the nighttime attacks.

So, we spent the entire five-plus months I was there putting up buildings during the day and standing guard duty at night.  

It was definitely grunt work, but someone had to do it, and I was proud of how hard my platoon worked to get it done.  

I even pitched in and helped with the construction, though I’m sure my company commander wouldn’t have approved since I had been reprimanded back in the states for helping maintain our equipment instead of just supervising.

If we hadn’t been shot at regularly and if I hadn’t been on duty 24 hours a day because I was the only officer on the premises, I think this would have been my favorite time in the army. I know it’s a cliche, but I have never felt closer to a group than I did there.  I felt so close that I volunteered to extend my duty until the whole unit could return to the states; when I was told that my replacement was already on the way and that I would be reassigned to a unit in Saigon if I extended I was on my way home.

For better and worse, those five-plus months were the most influential in my life.