[Tweeters] Mount Rainier - Sunrise Birds (Long)

johntubbs at comcast.net johntubbs at comcast.net
Tue Sep 30 01:21:37 PDT 2008

Hi Everyone,

Today I really wanted to head to Hart's Pass and look for the now-famous Northern Hawk Owl, but lacked the time for the logistics needed. So...I took a quick trip to Sunrise on Mount Rainier to try to find White-tailed Ptarmigan and Gray-crowned Rosy Finch. I succeeded on neither of the two target birds, despite spending a couple of hours hiking up to about 7,000 feet and back. However, I did have some great birds, and a funny encounter.

The funny part was hardly out from the parking lot, just above where the trail splits with the left trail heading toward Frozen Lake and the right trail to Dege Peak. I saw a small bird (probably a Mountain Chickadee) fly into one of the conifers and so brought up the binocs and was intently trying to pick it out for a few minutes. While I was engaged in this activity, I heard two other hikers approach, stop right near me and go, 'Oh, WOW, that's a cool bird he's looking at, what is it?!' Since I didn't have anything in my field of view except highly magnified spruce needles, I wondered what on earth they were referring to. So I dropped the binocs, looked at them to see what they were looking at and there perched in the top of a different tree not fifty yards away was a PRAIRIE FALCON which had flown in while I was looking for the silly chickadee. I grabbed for my camera, which of course was the signal for the raptor to immediately vacate the area and so I was left mutt!
ering t
o myself about missing the picture. As I was rearranging all the gear and getting ready to resume the hike, two older female hikers arrived and the first one, whose 'voice' was audible from at least a half mile away as I was to continue to be reminded for a good part of the remainder of the morning, said, "Why is everyone getting so excited about a CAMP ROBBER!??' Of course, it was the civic duty of a (theoretically) knowledgeable birder to educate the general public, so I politely said, 'Well, that's because it wasn't a robber jay, it was a Prairie Falcon.' To which Ms. Pipes Aplenty started laughing derisively (and yes, very loudly - I'm sure everyone in the parking lot heard her pronouncement) and informed the entire area, 'I KNOW a CAMP ROBBER when I see one, and that was a Camp Robber.' Being slow on the uptake in situations like this at times, I had not yet recognized that this was one of those situations where education isn't possible because the recipient doesn't!
ve an educational void. So I naively launched into a helpful description of how to tell a falcon from a Gray Jay. When my 'student' walked by and I saw her don't-tell-me-mister! expression, I (wisely, but belatedly) decided it was time to simply 'zip lip'. She and her hiking partner walked on up the trail with her loudly (and sarcastically) proclaiming, 'OK, I BELIEVE YOU!' half a dozen times. Unfortunately they headed up the trail where I was going and so I got to listen to her ongoing stream of hiking instruction and travelogue delivered non-stop to her hiking partner at 125 decibels. I was hoping for her partner's sake that she was hearing-impaired (a friend of mine says the one advantage of having to use hearing aids is that you can just turn them off and mutter uh-huh and unh-uhh periodically if you're in a conversation you really don't want to have). I decided to hold back and not pass them lest she point out a ground squirrel and insist it was a Hoary Marmot. S!

While the rest of the morning and early afternoon didn't produce the target species, it was a good day for raptors. Included were at least two Red-Tailed Hawks, another (or the same) Prairie Falcon, a Merlin, a Cooper's Hawk and a probable (too far to be completely sure) soaring Golden Eagle. And for good measure, I really did see several Gray Jays (I will never see another one without hearing a mental replay of CAMP ROBBER shouted out). Also Clark's Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler and a few others. All of this in brilliant sunshine and blue sky and 65 degree temperatures at 7,000 feet in late September. Glorious!

The second Prairie Falcon encounter was breathtaking, almost literally. I was climbing up the spine of a ridge on the Huckleberry Creek Trail and had stopped to take a breather when a literal stream of perhaps two dozen birds rocketed past me just overhead and on both sides of me, swooping down the ridgeline to a stand of trees. They came by so quickly I didn't have time for any ID's and I turned to watch them, hoping they would land in trees close enough for an ID. Then from behind and over my right shoulder, no more than twenty feet over my head, came the impetus for their high-speed flight - a Prairie Falcon, in close pursuit. The falcon skimmed close to the trees, then made a sharp turn back into the wind and hovered/soared back along the ridgeline. By then I had my binocs on the falcon and watched, hoping to see a successful stoop, but the bird just continued soaring and eventually turned and soon soared out of sight. I scanned the trees for any sign of the fleein!
g birds
, and could not find a single one - a successful day for a lucky group of passerines. The only other natural phenomenon I have seen similar to this was when snorkeling in Hanauma Bay in Hawaii many years ago and wondering why there were frantic reef fish all zooming under me in one direction. The large, silvery Barracuda that soon swam only a few feet under me following the smaller fish was the explanation in that case.

John Tubbs
Snoqualmie, WA
johntubbs at comcast.net

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