Well, it was a distant look at the snowy owls, but we got it!
Also I’m home, etc, nothing caught fire, the beagle is fine, Ben began head-butting me so intensely that he nearly gave me a nosebleed. On to more important things!
The ice was pretty dire, but our hosts were Canadian, so we set out on the road in search of bookstores to sign at and birds to track down. Tina, our hostess, is a fabulous birder and managed to snag me no less than 25 life birds, despite weather that would drive lesser mortals to huddle by the fire with a hot toddy and a travel guide to the Bahamas. (This puts me at a whopping 277 birds. I have high hopes that a trip to Texas in April may put me over 300.)
The snow drove varied thrushes down from the mountains, so for a brief period they were as common as robins everywhere we went. A snowy walk when we couldn’t get very far out of the house got me a hyperactive Townsend’s warbler, and there were wigeons, cackling geese, buffleheads and a ring-necked duck all hunkered down on a nearby pond.
The next day we made it out of the city (which was good, because it got us away from the majority of panicky motorists) to a ferry, which yielded such delights as pelagic and Brandt’s cormorants, a Barrow’s Goldeneye, rhino auklets, and surf and white-wing scoters, as well as a look at a Common Goldeneye that finally got it off my BVD list.* (Most of this was from-the-car birding, because it was pretty wretched out—we’d spot from the car, then get out with scopes if there was something worth scoping.)
We were driving down a road that cut through large fields and saw such an amazing show that Tina quickly pulled over on the shoulder. A crow was dogfighting a peregrine falcon—serious, flip-over-in-the-air-with-claws-out kind of stuff—and the crow was winning. Into the middle of this lumbers an adult bald eagle. The peregrine decides that it will take that crap from a crow, but not from an eagle, and goes after the eagle. The crow decides that the peregrine is now sufficiently distracted from whatever the crow was grumpy about and quits the field, while the falcon harassed the eagle away into the trees on the edge of the field.
Well, it was pretty awesome. We agreed that even with common birds, it was worth watching. Tina started the car up again and that’s when we discovered that the shoulder was not actually a shoulder, but a lot of snow piled up to look like a shoulder to motorists. All-wheel drive will save you if there’s a tire actually on asphalt, but we were well and truly boned. The car slid and wiggled into the ditch. I got out and pushed. Two passing motorists got out and pushed. The car wallowed deeper into the snow.
At this point we spotted that extremely rare bird, The Kindness of Strangers, because not one but THREE cars stopped for us. Two of them were large trucks. One of the drivers lived just up the block and had a tow rope at home, so he leaped back in the truck (accompanied by two interested German shepherds) got the tow rope, and came back. The owner of an even larger truck pulled up in the interim, and with these two gentlemen working under the car, they managed to get the rope attached, the car hauled out, and restore my faith in humanity for at least a month.
Our time in the ditch was actually put to good use. It was late enough in the day that the light was starting to fail and the owls got up and hunting. I got both a short-eared owl and a PAIR of snowys cruising over the fields hunting for dinner, interrupted by occasional trumpeter swans.
The final trek was to Ocean Shores, home to an emperor goose, a king eider, and more snowys. We got none of them, because the storm was so massive that it drove the waves over the jetties in huge gouts of spray and washed out the walkways, driving the eider and the goose to more sheltered homes. But we did manage a few interesting birds, and we got more checking various spots like sewage ponds (always a great location) which turned up various peeps and a harrier taking a dunlin right out of the air. A final drive down the coast turned up more grebes and loons, a marbled godwit, and somewhat unusually for the time and place, a pair of Western bluebirds. (They would normally be on the other side of the mountains, and while they’re spotted occasionally out by the coast, January’s an odd season for it.)
Kevin came out with us on the last trek to experience Guerrilla Birding first hand. I believe the high point of his day was a nap in the back seat. Otherwise it was a lot of jargon, driving in the car, getting out of the car, standing in winds so cold your tears froze on your cheeks, getting back in the car, listening to more jargon, etc. Having made the absolute effort to comprehend my freakish hobby, I hereby publicly absolve him of all birding duties that do not involve accompanying me to places to keep away serial killers.
And then we came home. I devoutly hope that my next trek out there will not be so hedged about with business and bad weather that I can actually do another meet and greet and see some friends, but for deathly weather, we didn’t do bad at all.
*Better View Desired—i.e, you’ve seen the bird, it’s an ID all right, but it was so far off that you don’t feel like you’ve really experienced the bird. I have a fair number of these.