BIRD WATCH: Attention, birding hikers: We need your help

IF THERE WERE more serious hikers who were also serious birders, we would have better data on the birds in the Olympic Mountains.

I recall one summer when a young man who is not only a birder but a hiker shared some of his bird sightings while visiting favorite trails in these mountains. Ian lives on Bainbridge Island and every year makes hiking part of his summer fun.

Those of us who put away our packs once the kids were grown are now reading about the birds seen through his 10×50 binoculars.

It would be great if other hikers who visited the mountain peaks would turn in reports like those from Ian: “From the summit [Mount Buckhorn] the whole picture [included] Vancouver Island and the San Juan Islands, down the Sound to Rainier, Adams and St. Helens … Birds of the day included hermit and varied thrushes, nuthatches, band-tails, olive-sided flycatcher, half a dozen horned larks, three gray-crowned rosy finches and a pair of Clark’s nutcrackers.”

Nutcrackers are listed for the Olympics, but they don’t hang out near the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center and picnic areas the way they do on Mount Rainier. Some birders have questioned their presence in the Olympics, but the Department of Fish and Wildlife maintains the birds are there.

Just the same, there is something more satisfying about reports from fellow birders. Ian noted that the last time he saw them was 10 years ago near Marmot Pass, barely a mile from the Buckhorn sighting.

So, if climbing Mount Buckhorn is in your summer plans, please keep an eye out and let us know if you see the nutcrackers.

Further reports from Bentryn included material gathered on hikes to popular mountains many of us are familiar with. Mount Townsend’s summit yielded horned larks, American pipits, hermit and varied thrushes, olive-sided flycatchers, blue grouse, winter wrens and a red-tailed hawk.

A hike up Mount Zion produced his “first ever hermit warbler.” That’s interesting because many of us head for Mount Walker when looking for this elusive warbler.

Several years ago, while visiting with members of the local Mountaineers, we were discussing a need for birding hikers. One young man had recognized a mountain chickadee on one of the photos we were sharing. He said he had seen them when hiking in the Bailey Range of the Olympics.

Sightings of this bird in Western Washington are few and far between. It would be exciting to learn that it nests in the Olympics.

Another hiker familiar with our birds reported seeing great blue herons migrating over Gray Wolf Ridge. Were they herons or sandhill cranes using a long-established route? There is still new information to be gathered on birds in the Pacific Northwest.

Looking back on the hikes we enjoyed over the years, it’s frustrating that the only interesting bird sightings I remember involve coastal hikes designed to introduce us to the sport. Once we started climbing mountain trails, I had a difficult time keeping my eyes anywhere but on the trail.

I wish I’d paid attention to the birds when we were camping in mountain goat country, but my uppermost thought was usually how I was going to make it back down the trail we had just climbed.

If more information is to be gathered about the bird life at the higher elevations in the Olympics, we need birding hikers who will share their sightings.

Unlike the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Nevada and California, it isn’t possible to drive to numerous high-elevation places in the Olympics to look for birds. It’s up to the hikers.

I’d sure like more reports on gray-crowned rosy finches and Clark’s nutcrackers.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: [email protected].

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