Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Wet and Wonderful? Day

We had wild weather for our Upper Nestucca Christmas Bird Count this year. We usually have wild weather but this year's seemed exceptionally wild. It didn't start out too badly with some light rain or just-gray skies. But it quickly deteriorated to thunder and lightning followed by hail with the occasional rain and/or wind storm thrown in. The ground was frequently covered with white hailstones which melted in the rain only to return with the next round of thunder/lightning/hail.

Not many birds were out in that weather. But some didn't seem to mind, like this Varied Thrush that was busily finding something to eat along the road.

Most of my long hike, early in the day, into the area where I had found a Wrentit on our scouting trip was in pretty decent weather, that is, not too much hail. But the Wrentit refused to speak to me, much less appear. A couple vocal Gray Jays were my consolation prize, along with the usual Pacific Wrens, and a flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets.

By the time I headed back to where Johnny waited with the pickup (his sciatica started acting up again a few days ago so he was not doing much walking), my knees were starting to give out. I stupidly forgot to wear my knee supports. Between the weather and my knees, I spent most of the rest of the day being chauffered from point to point slowly in the pickup, stopping and hiking on offroads that looked promising. Mostly, I just heard Pacific Wrens giving their one and two note alarm calls as I hobbled past with my bamboo walking sticks click clicking.

One of the last roads I hiked had amazing sculptures along it. With time, all the snags in this northwest rain forest grow bonnets of ferns or salal on their tops. I took photos, between hailstorms, of two of them. You can't tell it from the dark photo, but this short snag with the bouffant salal hairdo is coated with moss and riddled with woodpecker holes. Too bad the woodpeckers were not around to be counted.

Here's another favorite that made me laugh out loud. (Remember, this was near the end of a long, wet, cold, fairly birdless day punctuated with knee pain. I was hungry for some comic relief.)

I was also just plain hungry. And I knew that a sumptious meal awaited all of us crazy birders-in-the-hail at the wrap-up, where we share our day's adventures and misadventures, good birds and missed birds. Linda Leavitt, who lives within our count circle (a 15-mile diameter circle plunked in the middle of the coastal mountains), provides the meal in her warm, inviting house.

Johnny and I arrived at Linda and David's house after dark, when some of the participants had already partaken and gone home, others were eating, but a few were yet to drag in. What a meal Linda provided! Before filling my plate, I took photos of the two laden buffet tables, because, at that hungry and tired moment, Linda's food appeared to be the highlight of the day. And it did taste wonderful.

Once fed, warm, and rested, with good company to share the day's stories with, the 26th Upper Nestucca Christmas Bird Count seemed more like an adventure and less like an ordeal.

It is, after all, a rare and wonderful thing to spend a whole day in a vast forest with no noise except the wind in the trees and the occasional bird sound. And thunder. Well, okay, so the hail on the roof of the pickup was sometimes pretty loud. And my rain pants made swishing sounds as I clicked along with my bamboo hiking sticks. But those are comforting sounds... the rain pants were getting wet, not me, and better the pickup should get hit with hail than my face.

For once I did not take photos of the myriads of cascading streams... I didn't want to get my camera wet and the sky was usually precipitating. However at one break in the wet stuff, I took a photo of a vista... miles and miles of trees... probably full of birds too smart to come out from cover to be counted.

Johnny and I found ten species. But altogether over fifty species were found in this coastal rain forest on a wild and, in retrospect, wonderful day.

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