When Will I Ever Learn

I think one of the main reasons I’ve been so devoted to birdwatching in the last seven or so years is that I am constantly learning new things, constantly realizing just how little I know. For instance, on our last trip to the beach I was taking a shot of this “Yellowlegs”


when three more Yellowlegs flew in. However, the newly-arrived Yellowlegs were so much smaller that at first I questioned if I had been wrong and one or the other wasn’t a Yellowlegs at all.


It wasn’t until I got home that I realized how much bigger the Greater Yellowlegs (the lone bird in the first picture) is than the Lesser Yellowlegs (the two in the second picture). I’m still not sure that I’ll be able to distinguish one from the other unless they are actually near each other, as they were here.

I made another misidentification in the same pond, one I didn’t recognize until I got home. Someone said there was a Red-Necked Phalarope in the pond, but when I saw this bird I thought it was a Wilson’s Phalarope, not a Red-Necked Phalarope. It turned out to be a juvenile Red-Necked Phalarope


a bird I have never seen before, and it appeared to be acting a lot more like the Wilson’s Phalaropes I’ve seen before than the Red-Necked Phalaropes I’ve previously observed. I’m embarrassed enough that I doubt I’ll make that mistake if I ever see a juvenile Red-Necked Phalarope again.

Of course, I could be all wrong and it’s really just the sheer beauty


of these birds that has kept me birding all this time.

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.


A steady stream of Heermann’s Gull headed southward,


stopping to join flocks of Brown Pelicans for rest across the harbor in the Westport Marina.


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.

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