[Tweeters] Glacier Peak Birds and an even better non-bird
xjoshx at gmail.com
Wed Aug 29 15:20:41 PDT 2018
I spent the last two days around the Glacier Peak (Snohomish County). I've
wanted to bird this area for at least five years, but it is somewhat
difficult to reach (my GPS says I hiked over 32mi and gained 8500ft of
elevation) and requires an overnight stay. Needless to say, I was thrilled
to finally get up there.
I made a quick stop in Darrington to try to tick Vesper Sparrows at
Whitehorse Park. I wandered the entire park without seeing a sparrow before
a big flock of 30+ birds flew in from somewhere adjacent. I quickly picked
out two Vesper Sparrows and was on my way. Unfortunately I would discover
that Ryan Merrill had discovered a Clay-Colored Sparrow here the day
before, but it didn't get posted until about ten minutes after I lost cell
service for the next two days. Alas, the bird (and almost all the sparrows)
had moved on by the time I got a second chance Wednesday morning.
I accessed the area by hiking the N. Sauk Trail to Mackinaw Shelter (which
was finally pancaked into a pile of wood) and up to the Pacific Crest
Trail. I had two Golden Eagles hunting over the meadows on this leg. At the
point where Hoary Marmots started becoming common it became very easy to
detect raptors. The marmots give off a screeching whistle to signal danger
so if you hear multiple marmots whistling start looking up (or around).
After connecting to the PCT I headed south until White Pass. At white pass
there was a flurry of sparrows. I could only confirm Chipping Sparrow,
Savannah Sparrow and White-Crowned Sparrow, but I thought I saw a possible
Vesper fly by as well.
Next I crossed over into Chelan County for a frustrating couple miles
before crossing the ridge back into Snohomish County. This basin is
extremely rocky. It was also damn near devoid of birds other than a few
pipits. I made my camp near rapidly shrinking White Chuck Glacier and
birded a little more before dark, but only had more pipits.
The next morning I began my search for some quality birds. I'd arrived
later than I'd wanted to and the amount of habitat was daunting. Some areas
were completely covered by heather or other vegetation, while the land in
the former footprint of the glacier were only slightly more vegetative than
the dark side of the moon. I took the Goldilocks approach and found a hill
that seemed to be roughly halfway in between these extremes. After quite a
bit of searching I heard and then saw a surprisingly vocal White-Tailed
Ptarmigan. Eventually I noticed the noises were calls to at least three
nearby young birds. I enjoyed watching them for a while before moving on to
other targets. I had hoped to find both Gray-Crowned Rosy-Finches and
Horned Larks, but all my searching came up empty. I did have Juncos,
White-Crowed (couldn't get subspecies unfortunately), and Savannah Sparrows
as I moved down slope and American Pipits were everywhere.
I moved down the drainage through the rocks and meadows. I'd been hearing
marmot whistles constantly but couldn't figure out the cause until I
flushed two animals of a nearby snowfield. I was astonished to get my bins
on them and discover they were Wolverines! I don't think there is a mammal
that I've wanted to experience in the wild more than wolverines so this was
quite a thrill. I watched as they swiftly ascended an extremely steep 600ft
mountain wall in just a couple minutes and continued along the ridge
towards White Mountain until I lost site of them. I did get a quick video
of them which I've uploaded here:
After losing site of the Wolverines (a phrase I never thought I'd write) I
heard some Ravens causing commotion and discovered they were being chased
by a falcon. I had distant looks initially but it came closer and showed
its black auxillary feathers that confirmed Prairie Falcon! I know this
species has been found in similar habitats around Mount Rainier, but it was
nice to get a confirmed sighting here.
I continued on down the White Chuck drainage until I intersected the PCT
again north of Red Pass. Birds here got a little more expected, but I did
have a couple more Golden Eagles. I also flushed five Green-Winged Teal and
an American Wigeon out of a tiny pond along the way.
After crossing Red Pass I had a Bald Eagle fly by. Given the ubiquity of
Golden Eagles up here, this was actually a nice surprise. Perhaps the only
time I'll ever feel this was in Western Washington.
All in all it was a fun trip, but if I had it to do over again I would
certainly plan on having another day to explore the higher altitude spots.
I posted a few videos and a lot of landscape photos on my flickr. I only
had a small superzoom camera and my cell phone, but they do a decent job of
showing the area.
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