Bohemian waxwing

Constance J. Sidles csidles at
Sun Jan 13 08:36:08 PST 2002

Hey tweets, My sympathies are entirely with the weathercasters of our
state, who try so hard and fail so often. Yesterday, in the teeth of the
convergence zone that was bringing pailfuls of water down onto Seattle and
into our basement, my husband logged on to the weather buoys out in the
ocean to try to read our future. It was his opinion that the weather would
gradually clear throughout the day, warming all the while as a high moved
in. Conditions in the passes, he thought, would be okay in the early
morning and better and better into the afternoon.

With that optimistic outlook, we piled into the car to drive over
Snoqualmie back to Cle Elum to try for Bohemian waxwings, a bird we have
been looking for for more than 14 years. We just couldn't take the "locally
common," "flocks sometimes numbering in the thousands," "easily seen in
abandoned orchards" phrases in the bird books for another minute.

As we drove east, the weather got worse and worse. Rain changed to slush,
then to ice and snow. We pottered along at 55 mph, a speed I considered the
maximum one reasonably safe (mind you, we were birders on a mission, so
"safe" is a relative term). Naturally, cars were passing us left and right.
So were buses and semis. Everyone seemed to be in a rush to slide into the
ditch first. We had to take a break at Hyak, just to still our pounding

When we got to Cle Elum, the weather was horrible: heavy snow at times,
rain at others, fog all around. The only birds we saw were a few ravens and
many, many starlings. House sparrows were hunched in bushes all over town,
and three forlorn evening grosbeaks perched in the bare tree where we had
seen a dozen last weekend. We birded and birded to no avail. Bupkis. Nada.
Zippo. Finally, we threw in the towel (we really were getting wet) and went
to have an early Mexican-food lunch in Cle Elum. Fabulous food, and kitschy
decor, complete with a painting on velvet showing a man feeding a morsel to
a rooster held lovingly in his arms. "That's a very nice man," said my
clueless husband. "Look how much he loves his pet."

"That's a cockfighter," I replied, looking more closely. We laughed so hard
at our mistake that we almost snorted our salsa.

After lunch, we felt totally gruntled again, so off we went on our rounds
up and down the streets of the town, having already covered the area
completely three times before lunch. Within minutes we spotted a lone
Bohemian waxwing perched high in a bare tree on the corner of Teanaway and
Third. Knowing they seldom traveled alone, we looked for others, and sure
enough found a total of twelve braving the breeze in that tree. They gave
us great, great looks. After some 10 minutes, they flew up, to be joined by
a completely unexpected flock of another 15 or 20 that had been hiding in a
nearby pine tree. Also nearby, feeding on a mountain-ash tree was a
beautiful flock of PINE GROSBEAKS and EVENING GROSBEAKS. In the space of a
moment, our rather challenging birding trip had turned itself into an
ecstastic euphoria of indescribable joy.

After that high point, we headed down Eagle Valley on Thorp Prairie Road,
just because we had never been there before. About 10 miles out of Cle Elum
we found a RUFFED GROUSE feeding on low branches of conifers. Our electric
car is so quiet that the grouse barely noticed us. So we got a long look.
I've seen these grouse before, of course, but not often in such close
proximity (ten feet or less) and for so long. Also in the area was a
NORTHERN SHRIKE perched on a telephone wire. He also allowed us a long
look, instead of plunging off the wire into impenetrable brush, as shrikes
usually do when we look at them. Once again, I think our quiet car made a
good blind.

Coming home, the weather was even worse than the outward-bound trip. Ice
was coming down so hard it rattled on our car. We saw two accidents, and I
know more were happening even as we drove. The storm must have come up
quickly, because the radio weather report was still good, and the speed
limit signs were still signaling 55 - 5 would have been more reasonable.
We've been in an ice storm like that before on Snoqualmie and had to wait
for an overturned semi to be cleared out of all lanes of traffic. We waited
more than 3 hours but had a happy time, because we had packed food, water,
books and sleeping bags. We always do that whenever we go over the
mountains. This time, we didn't need the supplies but were glad to have
them along, just in case. We were very relieved to arrive home safe and

Was the trip worth it? Oh,if you had seen those waxwings, you would never
think to ask. I'm still smiling. - Connie, Seattle

csidles at

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