With a rare sunny day forecast at Westport and Ocean Shores this week, we headed out early in the morning. Though there was some fog early, it turned out to be a delightful, sunny day with some brisk winds.

Since I’ve been told many times when birding Westport in the afternoon that people had seen more birds in the morning, we decided to start out our day at Westport and finish at Ocean Shores. Naturally we didn’t see more birds than usual; we saw less.

I went because I love seeing the Common Loons in breeding colors. Not only did we see fewer loons than usual; none of the ones we did see were in breeding plumage.

Our consolation prize was seeing more Western Grebes than I’ve ever seen at the coast before. This Western Grebe

greeted us as we walked down to the marina.

Not more than a 100 yards away, this grebe was finishing a meal.

When I went to the other end of the marina to see if there were any Brown Pelicans (there weren’t), I saw another group of grebes.This one popped up almost under my feet.

Not sure who was more startled.

I didn’t find the Godwits at Tokeland but was greeted by yet another small flock of Western Grebes.

The only place I’ve ever seen this many Western Grebes is Bear River in Utah.

Peregrine Falcon

I’ve always tended to bird alone, or with Leslie since she retired, but there are definitely advantages to birding with another experienced birder. I would never have spotted this Peregrine Falcon if I hadn’t been walking Theler with John.

I don’t carry binoculars or a spotting scope, and this guy was barely visible without them. My rule of thumb is that if you can’t it see it with your eyes (or glasses) you aren’t going to get a picture anyhow so why bother.

Still, Peregrine Falcons are an “uncommon” sighting here in the PNW; I felt privileged to manage to capture a shot of it as it circle overhead.

John told me that when he walks Thursdays with his birding group he finds even more birds than he does by himself.

Though I can’t remember a time when I didn’t enjoy birding with a group, I find easier to be “at one with nature” when I’m alone or with a single companion.

Common Mergansers at Theler Wetlands

Though my favorite sighting of Saturday’s trip to Theler was the Marsh Wren that posed for me, I was also lucky enough to see the annual gathering of the Common Mergansers.

I’m never sure if they’re having a social to find mates or if they’re merely feeding on a fish run, but I’ve noticed this kind of annual gathering since I started visiting Theler regularly — shortly after hunting season ends.

They tend to mill around on the opposite side of the Union River, as far away from the trail as possible.

There were so many that it was impossible to get a group shot with a photo lens. In fact

there were so many that I didn’t even notice the male Red-Breasted Merganser in the shot until I cropped them at the computer,

and I never realized until now that the Red-Breasted Merganser is smaller than the Common Merganser — they seem to be the same size seen through the camera lens.

I can only imagine what this male and female Merganser must have been saying to each other, but they did separate from the flock and swim off with each other right afterwards.

My favorite shots are always those where birds are flying, or taking off

because they best capture the grace and beauty of these animals.

My First Marsh Wren Sighting of the Year

Saturday we were mercifully blessed with a beautiful sunny day, with temperatures finally above freezing. We didn’t waste a moment getting out and walking Theler Wetlands. We met John about halfway through our walk and I asked him if the Marsh Wren’s had returned. He suggested they hadn’t ever left but that he had just recently heard several of them vocalizing.

That was all I needed to find two of them on the boardwalk. This guy was just on the far side of the reeds.

We saw him chase off a rival that tried to invade his territory, but seemed to be spending most of its time rebuilding nests, constantly ducking out of sight in the reeds.

Though it was impossible to ignore his song, he didn’t sing it with the gusto reserved for attracting a mate.

Spring may not be here yet, even with our 48º temperature, but it’s about to arrive as also vouched for by the first sighting a rather sad-looking skunk cabbage who improvidently emerged before last week’s freezing temperatures.

Sorry Cadet Bone Spurs,

the only things I’m carrying into a classroom are books and lesson plans.

I suspect I might have been qualified to carry a pistol in the classroom while teaching. A 45 was my assigned weapon when I served as a Mortar Platoon leader in Vietnam, though I usually grabbed a “greasegun” from one of the tracks when we came under direct fire. In truth, I would rather have had anything but a 45 in Vietnam because it’s notoriously hard to shoot accurately for any distance with a pistol.

When I bought a Glock a few years ago, I took a class to refresh my skills and the pistol instantly felt right in my hands. In fact, I was more proficient in shooting practice than I had been with my 45 years ago. Having been put in the position of trying to kill Viet Cong for an extended period of time, I’m convinced that confronted by someone with a pistol I wouldn’t hesitate to kill them. I suspect most teachers WOULD hesitate. Few teachers are combat veterans. Hesitation will get you killed, which is probably why police sometimes kill innocent people or people who aren’t really a threat.

Despite the fact that I am accomplished with a pistol and feel comfortable wearing one while out car camping, I would never have agreed to carry one in school. I know just how dangerous they are from experience — especially for those who aren’t well-trained. I didn’t have to do too much weapon training to fear those who had little or no experience with weapons. It’s amazing how stupid some people were on the firing line with live rounds in the barrel of their rifle. They finally took weapons away from the engineers we were guarding in Vietnam because of accidents. In other words, loading and unloading their own weapons turned out to be more dangerous to them than the Viet Cong.

One of the scariest moments of my tour in Vietnam was when I accidentally discharged my 45 while clearing it in the dark right after we’d been hit with a hand grenade thrown off the front of a track. Luckily, I knew enough to be pointing the gun at the ground away from myself and others while clearing it. Everything I’d been taught said that gun shouldn’t have gone off because my finger was nowhere near the trigger, but it did. I can’t imagine the trauma of having that happen in a school setting.

Equally important, I have a pretty good idea just how many bullets miss their target, landing only God knows where. We fired an awful lot of bullets at snipers firing at us from the village without ever getting a confirmed kill, other than livestock we reimbursed a villager for. When somebody is shooting directly at you, you don’t always (like NEVER) take the time to ensure that no one is behind them that might accidentally get hit. Self-preservation is a really strong instinct, much stronger than common sense in most cases.

Despite coming under fire regularly during my tour of duty, I was always amazed at the adrenaline rush after a firefight. It took me hours to come down from it. Does anyone think that a teacher confronted with a shooter for the first time in his life is likely to shoot accurately? The most you could hope for is that the intruder would flee if they saw a teacher with a gun in their hand.

After 30 years of teaching, I would be terrified that a student would find it a challenge to get his hands on my gun just to prove he could. Kids love challenges almost more than anything, and it’s even better if it’s a really dumb challenge. I would probably be so paranoid about the gun I was carrying that no student would ever get near it, but paranoid isn’t a great state of mind for teachers or kids. I’d rather be worried about kids getting harassed by other kids or wondering how I could help a student who is struggling with his schoolwork.