Saturday, May 29, 2010

Alaska Holiday - Day 1, Bellingham

Another holiday! This one much planned and anticipated. Helen has a sister, Alison, who lives in Bellingham, which is a small city in the north-west of Washington State. We organised a holiday to visit with her and her family and then to head on further north and west, to Alaska.

We travelled all day on Thursday May 13th, arriving early evening in Seattle for the sunlit drive up to Bellingham. After some sleep, I rose early with the dawn light, as did Alison, so we headed out on a short walk to Cornwall Park in the city.

This Northern Flicker had me laughing straight away, as he'd chosen a metal heat vent to use for drumming:

I can't imagine how noisy that must have been inside the house!

On the way to the park, we saw Herring Gull and Steller's Jay, and in the park spotted Bushtit, Black-capped Chickadees and American Robin. However, in the very low light of morning none of the pictures I took came out sufficiently well.

Having met back-up with Helen and with Alison's family safely at work and school, we headed out to Tennant Lake. We parked-up and walked through the scented native flower garden towards the watchtower, spotting first a number of Marsh Wrens:

With further, closer views from the boardwalk around the reserve:

Also from the boardwalk, a Green Heron:

And a Spotted Towhee (worth a closer look this one):

These birds are usually deep in bushes scratching-up leaves in their search for food. This time of year of course brings them up to the top of the bushes to sing and defend their territory.
Up in the watchtower, a Tree Swallow had perched almost within arm's reach:

We later walked under one perched above the boardwalk, so you can get a picture of the crisp plumage of the species:
Another plentiful bird was the Song Sparrow:
As was the Brown-headed Cowbird:
This latter species is not such good news as, like the (not so) Common Cuckoo in the UK, it is a nest and brood parasite and the ever increasing numbers (due to deforestation, farming practices, etc.) means more and more broods of other species are being parasited, hastening their declines.
A familiar bird but always a good sight, an Osprey glided over an area of the lake:
Before we left I captured a picture of Mount Baker, the view summing up both the weather and the scale of the landscape:
As we headed back to our car we saw that the car park was over-run with the dog teams from the US Border Patrol, who were doing dog training and testing. It was funny as our inbound flight had also been met by a dog team, with one particularly enthusiastic Alsation almost bowling Helen over in his eagerness to get to the bags. In speaking with them it turns out we probably met virtually the whole team in less than 24 hours! I resisted petting the dogs...
From Tennant Lake we headed on to Lake Terrell and then Whatcom Falls Park. The latter has a trail that runs first alongside an Audubon owned and protected marsh. Here you can see the most vocal and common inhabitant of this habitat in the continental United States, a Red-winged Blackbird:

Add a female:

And the male starts to display:

You can see how they raise the red wing patches. They also sing, call and make song flights often all together, to declare and advertise their fitness to mate:

Just a little further along, a species whose song we initially confused with the familiar American Robin, though over time we could pick it readily, a Black-headed Grosbeak:
Further along the trail moves into the forest:

As we walked along a Raccoon appeared on the path before quickly heading off again into the forest:

Of course ever-present, and this was true of almost everywhere on our trip (except the next bit), was the American Robin:

A creature more often heard than seen, a smallish squirrel, I'm not familiar with the species:

Our last species of the day was this Bushtit:

I should also mention the Stimpson Family Reserve. It's an old forest, granted as a gift to the City and people of Bellingham by said family and, apart from the paths, it an untouched forest - one of the very few original patches of forest left in this part of the State. We did a long up-and-down walk to round off the day, seeing few birds but very much enjoying the spot.

We counted 45 species on the first day of our holiday which was a very good start, so home for a late afternoon meal of pizza and some tough timezone adjusting...

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