[Tweeters] Fancy chickens at Smoky Sunrise

Jon Houghton jon.houghton at hartcrowser.com
Sun Aug 12 22:15:47 PDT 2018

Hi Tweets - Today, Jen Kunitsugu and I led a fine group of birders on an (almost annual) 'Birding the High Country" field trip for Seattle Audubon. We arrived at Sunrise in Mt. Rainier NP at about 9 this morning and the mountain was quite visible and freshly whitened in the morning light with yesterday's snow. We were a little surprised by the numbers of birds, mostly Dark-eyed Juncos, Mt. Bluebirds, and YR Warblers, around the picnic area and up the first leg of the Sourdough Ridge trail. We hiked on up toward Frozen Lake and saw a lot more of the same, plus a few other species like Chipping Sparrow and Clark's Nutcracker. Our real target, of course was the White-tailed Ptarmigan that have been seen repeatedly near Frozen Lake, on the Burroughs Mountains, and up by Mt. Fremont. Because the most recent report had been from the lower part of the First Burroughs trail, we spent a long time there. Notable sightings were a large number of American Pipets, a single American Kestrel, and a full plumage Khanh Tran, searching diligently, as were we, for the elusive Ptarmigan. Khanh and a friend had been back and forth over First Burroughs a couple of times already and not seen the Ptarmigan family. After an hour or so, we all failed at finding this family but did get nice views of a Prairie Falcon, and about 50 mountain goats, as we ascended the west side of First Burroughs. We descended the Sunrise Rim trail from First B toward Shadow Lake very slowly because this is where Blair Bernson and I had seen a family about 3 weeks ago. As we were moving slowly along, Khanh caught up with us and went on ahead a bit, soon calling out "We've got an adult!". And, indeed there, not 200 feet from where Blair and I (and several others) had seen a mother with 6 plus chicks about 3 weeks earlier, was a beautiful Mama White-tailed, standing motionless (and nearly invisible to normal eyes) on a rock. After we all watched her for a bit, we began to see fairly large chicks moving about in the tundra, remarkably well camouflaged. These definitely met the definition as one of Khanh's 'fancy chickens' and it was great to have shared these birds with him! We counted a probable 5 chicks and provided scope views of Mama for a number of non-birder passers-by, most of whom were pretty surprised at how excited we all were to see 'just a bird', but all warmed up to the coolness of it all, once they saw her. Hiking on down to Shadow Lake, we saw a few more Nutcrakers and Juncos but not much else. While standing on the knoll at the top of the steps down to the Lake, we heard, then saw, our first Mountain Chickadees of the trip. Then, one of the gang picked up a large raptor at some distance, being harassed by a smaller bird. Both turned out to be accipitors and we were pretty sure the large one was a Northern Goshawk (perhaps the same one reported by Heather Vorobil today) but confirmation of our sighting must await analysis of Roland Kelcher's photos. After Shadow Lake, a highlight on the way back to the parking area was a flock of about 10 or 12 Townsend's Warblers - great to see, but slightly disappointing in having no associated Hermit or Nashville Warblers that have been reported in the area. All in all, a great day with a great group of birders, nicely augmented by cool weather, Khanh, and a pleasant young birder from Olympia who joined us for most of the second half of the day. We saw some nice flowers, NO BUGS, and about 25 bird species (to be modified pending review of photos). In addition to the goats, we also saw a coyote (near Crystal Village), 3 elk (on the way down the Sunrise road), and the usual marmots, pikas, Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels, and chipmunks. Oh, and the smoky part - by noon, the top of the mountain was wrapped in a plume of smoke and by mid afternoon, it was invisible above Steamboat Prow (about 10k feet). Much more smoke is in our future, I fear. But...Happy Birding - Jon Houghton, Edmonds

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