[Tweeters] Mt. Baker (Hannegan Peak and Table Mountain) PTARMIGANS and other birds....

khanh tran khanhbatran at hotmail.com
Mon Aug 18 15:29:12 PDT 2008

Hi Tweeters,

This weekend, I had a fine time exploring the Mt. Baker area, focusing on Hannegan Peak (elevation 6200 ft) and Table Mountain (elevation 5700 ft). Weather a bit hot, but the scenery and birding was great. Birdwise it was quiet but I did find some of interesting birds. Surprisingly, NO crossbills were found during the entire weekend. It was a weekend of quality time rather than quantity seen. I think the Mt. Baker area tends to be underated and undervisited. If you don't like the commerical crowds of Mt. Rainier, this maybe an alternative choice.

On Saturday, I decided to do an ambitious day hike to Hannegan Peak, a round trip of 10 miles or more. You eventually gain a total of 3100 ft from the trailhead. The first 3.5 miles were moderately easy but the rest of the trail "kicked my butt" as I ascended to the top of Hannegan Peak (a 1200 ft gain in a mile). The flowers near the pass were in their peak and beautifully carpeted the lush verdant meadows along the entire switchbacks. It was spectacular!! Trails were snow free except for some small patches near the peak. Scenery from the peak is tremendous offering awesome views of Ruth, Silesia, and Chilliwack Valleys along with icy summits of Picket Range and some of the Canadian Border Peaks.

In the early morning as I was driving towards the trailhead on Hwy 542 East I spotted a dark blob in a tree along MP 38.5 right off the road along Hwy 542 East. Thinking it would appear to be nothing I pulled off and found a cooperative BARRED OWL right off the road. It provided an interesting photo as it blended in so well with the bark of the tree and it's sinister red eyes from my camera flash.

A couple of RUFFED GROUSE were also spotted along the Hwy 542. Other birds along the first couple miles of the trail included a dozen CHESTNUT BACKED CHICKADEES, VARIED THRUSHES, and LAUZLI BUNTINGS. At about 3.5 miles and close to the first campground, I heard and spotted at least 4 PINE GROSBEAKS. As you ascend to the first major switchbacks along the flowery carpeted meadows, I found a female SPRUCE GROUSE and a family of SOOTY GROUSE with four chicks.

As I approached to the summit, there was a pair of SHARP SHINNED HAWK soaring in the skies. After taking a well deserved break, I explored the rocky summit and heather filled meadows and found, one male WHITE TAILED PTARMIGAN. The summit meadow was rather dry and snow free, and I failed to find any ptarmigan hens or chicks. This area is relatively easy to comb for ptarmigans and the views are SPECTACULAR.

Sunday, I decided to do a much shorter hike, and had a fantastic time on top of Table Mountain (a elevation gain of 500 ft from parking lot). I enjoyed the whole mountain to myself until noon. Trails were snow covered below the scary switchbacks and there are many snowfields on top. Snow poles would be helpful.

During the four hours spent, I had no problems finding alpine chickens at three direction locations on this summit. There were 4 different male WHITE TAILED PTARMIGANS on top of the summit. I love their handsome summer plumage this time of year as it is very varigated and interesting in color tones. Watching them eat, hanging out while looking at the views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuskan as they peacefully sit on top of a rock was a real treat!! The alpine plants were cool, too. Interestingly, there were no females or chicks found. I suspect that the late snow my have hampered some breeding this year.

Other birds of interested on Table Mountain included four GRAY CROWNED ROSY FINCHES along the snowfields. At one point the group landed right by me for a few seconds before flying off towards Mt. Baker. Their jhew, jhew calls were quite loud for such little birds. Raptors included one COOPER'S AND three SHARP SHINNED HAWK, one PRAIRIE FALCON, and one GOLDEN EAGLE. While studying one ptarmigan, I observed the bird looking to the skies, and suddeningly squatting down really flat on the compressed ground. I looked up in the skies and it was an adult NORTHERN GOSHAWK cruising the skies. The grouse emitted a soft glutteral sound and remained still for several minutes before popping up again.

I took some photos of the scenery for birders to get an idea of the area and a few bird photos (including a ptarmigan dropping compared to a quarter coin). Thanks to Patricia Lott for this suggestion!! Yes, I went "over board" with the ptarmigan shots but the photo opps were too great to pass :) Hope it inspires you to go!! I had a GREAT time!!!


Good birding to you,

Khanh Tran (Portland, Oregon)

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