Sunday 21 June 2015

Washington State - Day 3

Day 3 – Hurricane Ridge, Ediz Hook, west to La Push, Ocean Shores and Tacoma

Ever since Rich B had told me about Hurricane Ridge I'd been looking forward to this morning of birding. The road that starts at Port Angeles and winds its way up into the Olympic Mountains for roughly 5000ft of ascent over 20 miles. To make the most of it and be first up the road I was up at first light, only to discover it was still cloudy and drizzly. No choice, I was still going for it, but the weather gods smiled and after I passed 2000ft or so it thinned out and eventually stopped altogether. The Varied Thrushes continued their sad calls, but the first bird I actually set eyes on was also a much-wanted target – Sooty Grouse.

A female bird was unconcernedly crossing the road in front of me, so I pulled over a got a grab shot through the window. I then tried my luck carefully getting out of the car and amazingly the bird didn't more. This early in the morning I had no compunction not to crawl along the tarmac, there would be nobody else coming along the road, so I shinnied my way as close as I could. Continuing up the road I frequently encountered Juncos, and a Hammond's Flycatcher sang from atop a tall dead pine. As I reached higher elevations Olive-sided Flycatchers started to be seen, and at the very top of the ridge stunning male Yellow-rumped Warblers sang from small firs. Still no Varied Thrush, although I seemed to be closer up the top. I nearly descended a mountain meadow to where the calls were coming from, but it was extremely steep and I knew that I had a lot of ground to cover that day. I had one more chance as I crossed east over the Cascades the following day, and crossed my fingers that my luck would improve. As I came down the ridge again I came across a male Sooty Grouse, but the weather was getting worse, and it wasn't far down the road before I became enveloped in mist and fog, which lasted all the way to sea level.

The 'Alpine' meadows right at the top are stunningly beautiful

The west coast of Washington is unbelievable green
I birded the spit at Ediz Hook, checking the log rafts and the inland beaches, but barring a single Black Oystercatcher and a few Harlequins it was very quiet, so I pushed west, anticlockwise around the Olympic Peninsula. My stops were frequent, the scenery was stunning beyond belief, and so I didn't get to La Push until mid-afternoon. This was a fabulous location, my first view for many years of the Pacific Ocean – 13 years to be precise. The sun came out, and without the dominating effect of the mountains the skies were blue and I birded in shirt sleeves for the first time.The Ocean was wild, brutes of Gulls zinging along, Northwestern Crows milling around, and out to sea, on the stacks, Tufted Puffins, my target after failing at Diamond Point. The views were poor if I'm honest, but a tick is a tick as they say. I also picked up my first Surf Scoters, as well as Red-necked Grebe and Red-breasted Merganser. A fabulous place all in all, Bald Eagles perched like sentinels on the breakwater, and lots of activity on the sea. But as always I had to keep moving on, I needed to be in Tacoma, and at La Push, you're about as far as you can be in either direction on the 101. I carried on south, and spent the late afternoon at Ocean Shores. Here you could drive your car right onto the vast sandy beach. Numerous people had done this, and were chilling out in anticipation of a fabulous sunset. They probably do this every night, but I was more interested in the Gulls and the small flocks of Sanderling, many in decent plumage of the sort you never see in the UK. I spent a fun couple of hours here soaking the landscape in, but still managed to hit Tacoma by 10pm. Dinner in a Hooters and a dreadful Days Inn were the perfect antidote to an otherwise fabulous day.

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