[Tweeters] High elevation birding Mt Rainier, Mt Baker, and Mt Adams (updated photos)

Khanh Tran khanhbatran at hotmail.com
Mon Nov 4 20:42:53 PST 2013

It's been a while since I posted any sightings or photos. The end of October was a great month for nice, fall weather so I seized the moment. Mountain birding has always been appealing to me for several reasons; the beautiful scenery, the special birds, and the somewhat, physical challenges that it can bring. Every year, I set goals of finding certain, challenging birds with a mind set that I will find them. Skill and luck can play a factor, but persistence and being optimistic helps, too! This attitude gives me extra energy and focus to be consistently successful at finding these elusive birds.
Here are my recent findings at Mt Rainier, Mt Baker and Mt Adams the last couple of weeks. Most of the hikes averaged 6-8 miles round trip in some deep snow, and some of the birding was done along the forest roads. At times, there can be very few birds up in high elevation but the finds are usually rewarding. Finding a LAPLAND LONGSPUR and SNOW BUNTING at 6500-7000 ft at Mt Rainier during the last week of October was really cool. In past years, I have found Baird's and Least Sandpipers at 6500-8000 feet. Hiking Mt Baker in the middle of October was spectacular for fall colors but the birding there was very quiet as well. I did not find any ptarmigans, rosy-finches or sooty grouse. The only birds found here, were two nice surprises-- a BROAD-WINGED HAWK and some WHITE WINGED CROSSBILLS. You can never predict what you will see and there is usually is an element of surprise. I could always count on seeing rosy-finches and pine grosbeaks in both locations during the fall but this time, dipped. Owling was surprisingly productive at Mt Adams, with many species being quite vocal on a calm, clear evening. We heard up to five species at night within a 90 minute time frame last weekend. The nice surprise was finding a BOREAL OWL near Baby Shoe Pass (4300 ft) near Takhlakh Lake. Not the typical boreal owl habitat but always fun to stumble upon this reclusive, and under studied owl. The next day on a cold, crisp fall morning, I got to witness several SPRUCE GROUSE (2 male: 2 female) eating grit along a less than ideal habitat near Killian Creek of Mt Adams. At one point, there was a female SPRUCE GROUSE next to a SOOTY GROUSE. Very few places were you can find both species side by side. All birds were seen within a short time frame and the rest of the day, it was dead. Looking up in the skies produced a GOLDEN EAGLE and NORTHERN GOSHAWK. Horseshoe Lake was noticeably quiet and devoid of birds but Red Crossbills and AMERICAN THREE TOE WOODPECKERS kept the forest alive with their persistent, kip kip calls and loud drumming. Lastly, I have seen close to 700 ABA birds, but nothing is more special that seeing a ptarmigan in pure white plumage. The alpine grouse in good light, literally glow with radiance and beauty. Being very confiding, and allowing close looks adds to their appeal. My recent hike last Tuesday to Mt Rainier produced the target of my affection; a trio of WHITE TAILED PTARMIGANS in pure winter plumage. I can never predict where these elusive birds will be and thought they would be down in lower elevation with all the fresh, recent snow. To much of my surprise, they were found at the very top of the Higher Skyline Trail at roughly 7000 feet. It was such a nice treat to see a trio of these beautiful birds feeding and bathing in the snow.
Some photos can be found here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/23662496@N02/ Hope you enjoy the photos! My motto is to have an open mind, expect the unexpected, and explore new areas not covered by other birders. Don't go with the flow and make assumptions, try and experiment with new ideas and places. Having this mindset has enable me to have more fun and find more birds. It is definitely more rewarding when you find something on your own!
Don't forget to enjoy the views when birding is slow in the mountains. Hope you enjoyed the nice, fall weather. Good birding,
Khanh Tran

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