[Tweeters] White-tailed Ptarmigan above Sunrise on Mt. Rainier-25 August

Andy Stepniewski steppie at nwinfo.net
Tue Aug 27 22:47:26 PDT 2013


25 AUGUST 2013

We led a Western Field Ornithologists trip to Mt. Rainier. With half the
group coming from California, the target bird was, you guessed it,
White-tailed Ptarmigan. As Mt. Fremont has had the most reports of this
alpine grouse recently, we headed that way from Sunrise. Jon Dunn, author of
the National Geographic Field Guide, was part of our group. We were
privileged to receive lots of his great insight on birds throughout the day.

At the parking lot in Sunrise, we were treated to stunning views of Mt.
Rainier, monarch of the Cascade Range and Emmons Glacier, largest body of
ice in the Lower 48 states. Heading uphill from Sunrise in the Alpine
Parkland Zone (Subalpine Fir/White-bark Pine clumps amid beautiful fescue
and lupine meadows), we noted Clark's Nutcrackers busy chiseling away on the
purplish cones of Whitebark Pine, a tree with which this jay has developed a
symbiotic relationship (not all of the cached seeds are retrieved therefore
assisting this heavy-seeded tree to propagate). There were also many
lispings from elusive Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. Overhead, we
noted Evening Grosbeaks and Yellow-rumped Warblers. At the ridgeline, we
scoped a herd of Mountain Goats and had closer views of another group,
including kids, farther up. One of the kids was completely tan colored,
suggesting it had just taken a dust bath. Golden-mantled Squirrels and a
chipmunk were also seen scurrying about.

The area about Frozen Lake had lots of American Pipits, one of the four bird
species that breed in the Alpine Zone in Washington. On our descent in the
afternoon, Mountain Bluebirds and Chipping Sparrows were noted on these
dwarf lupine flats. We listened for Horned Larks, another nester in the
alpine, but missed these. This white-throated form is reliable on nearby
Burroughs Mountain, though.

Just south of the lookout at the summit of Mt. Fremont, we all had super
looks at two WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN, clambering about the very sparsely
vegetated north slopes. These birds foraged just a couple yards from us,
snipping away at heads of Showy Sedge (Carex spectablilis) and alpine
grasses, possibly a Poa. This bird was a lifer for many in our group! The
spectacular morning weather was gradually giving way to clouds and the
summit of Mt. Rainier became obscured.

Heading downhill, all had good looks at juvenile GRAY-CROWNED ROSY FINCHES,
another alpine breeder and target species for many. Though not as rosy-hued
as adults, these youngsters displayed enough color to please all.

Farther down along the sidehill to Frozen Lake, some in the group watched a
PRAIRIE FALCON, a frequent post-breeding wanderer to the alpine, dash by.
Perhaps it was eyeing some of the numerous chipmunks or squirrels.

>From Frozen Lake, we headed down a different route on the trail towards

Shadow Lake. Highlights on this return leg included very brief views of a
large Accipiter, either a Cooper's or Northern Goshawk. We did much better
on Slate-colored Fox Sparrows, a breeder in the stunted Subalpine Fir
thickets (krummholz). Orange-crowned and Townsend's Warblers popped into
view from these fir thickets, adding to our list.

A Hoary Marmot gave us super views from his perch atop a bluff, the Pacific
Northwest relative of the Woodchuck.

By a lush herbaceous meadow, Jon got good views of a hummingbird that zipped
by most of us and determined it was an ANNA'S, a species rapidly increasing
in the Pacific Northwest.

Though we had experienced a shower or two on our final return to Sunrise,
the weather turned more rainy as we departed from Sunrise. Good timing!

Species list:

White-tailed Ptarmigan 2

Accipiter sp. 1

Red-tailed Hawk 3
Vaux's Swift 3
Anna's Hummingbird 1

Rufous Hummingbird 2
Northern Flicker 1
Prairie Falcon 1
Clark's Nutcracker 5
Common Raven 4
Mountain Chickadee 3
Chestnut-backed Chickadee 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2
Mountain Bluebird 5
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 2
Varied Thrush 1
American Pipit 15
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 6
Townsend's Warbler 1
Chipping Sparrow 25
Fox Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 15
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch 8
Cassin's Finch 1
Red Crossbill 2
Pine Siskin 10
Evening Grosbeak 10

Andy and Ellen Stepniewski

Wapato WA

steppie at nwinfo.net

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