Everett couple keep watch for birds, near and far

  • By Debra Smith Special to The Herald
  • Friday, October 26, 2012 7:36pm
  • Life

For Rick Taylor, birding started as a way to fill his weekends.

Now it’s a full-fledged passion for the Everett man and his wife, Tina — one that has the couple traveling around the state and the world to catch a glimpse of one more bird they haven’t seen.

It gives them an excuse to travel with a purpose and explore the outdoors. The couple, both in their late 50s, has visited every county in the state and birded abroad in a few dozen countries. They’ve even birded from the deck of a cruise ship.

If they feel like sticking closer to home, there’s still plenty to see.

“We can go out and see 80 species in a day,” Taylor said. “That’s just routine here in Snohomish County. People don’t realize there are so many.”

Not all birders approach the sport in the same way. Some prefer to spend long periods of time observing the behavior of certain birds. Others cart cameras along to document what they see. For some, birding is a social activity done with friends. For others, it’s a solitary sport.

For the Taylors, birding is more like hunting. But in this hunt, there are no restrictions on where or when they can go. There’s no bag limit or license. And no birds are harmed.

“It’s like hunting season is open 24-7,” he said.

They collect sightings, keeping detailed lists of the species of birds they find. They amble along slowly, binoculars trained on the trees or a lake.

Sometimes, especially in the wet, dark months of Northwest winter, they take a drive and watch from their car. Whidbey Island and the Skagit Valley are great places to do this. The ability to see so much from a vehicle makes birding an accessible activity for virtually anyone.

If you want to see birds locally, the Taylors’ recommend a trip near Everett’s Water Pollution Control Facility. That’s right, the sewage treatment plant. Nearby Spencer Island offers one of the best places in the county to see dozens of species of birds. Public access to the island is scheduled to be closed until Nov. 1. Check with the county before going.

Some sites are better in certain season than others. Right now, many birds can be seen along Edmonds’ waterfront, he said.

The Taylors enjoy traveling to far-flung parts of the state that are “under birded” — places such as Asotin and Garfield counties in the southeast corner of Washington. The Taylors keep lists of what they find and share this data with Cornell’s eBird site, a massive worldwide database of bird sightings developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. Find the site online at ebird.org.

The Taylors have done some crazy things to catch sight of a rare bird. Last December, Taylor was on a business trip when he learned a biologist had spotted a Ross’s gull at a remote lake in Okanogan County. The gull, an East Siberian arctic species, had only been seen one previous time in the state.

After Taylor arrived home late, the couple woke at 3 a.m. the next morning and drove to Eastern Washington to catch a glimpse. They saw the gull, and about two dozen cars loaded with birders who had made the same trek.

“There was quite a line of spotting scopes set up,” he said.

Birding is relatively inexpensive to get into. The only equipment needed is a pair of binoculars, which start under $100, and a field guide. Expert birders sometimes purchase a spotting scope. High-quality binoculars can run into the thousands of dollars.

Taylor recommended bypassing the cheap pairs and investing in one good pair that will last. Expect to spend about $500 for a high-quality pair. He also suggested asking other birders you encounter if you can peek through their binoculars or spotting scopes to see if you like a certain brand. Warning: This might cause scope envy.

For field guides, the Taylors recommended “The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America.” They also like “Birds of Washington State” by Brian Bell and Gregory Kennedy. The latter tells readers where and when to find certain birds.

Getting started

What you’ll need: A decent pair of binoculars and a field guide, such as “The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America” or “Birds of Washington State.”

Where to go: Summer, the Big Four area along the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River east of Granite Falls; fall and winter, Smith Wildlife Area between Stanwood and Camano Island; fall and winter, along Boe and Norman roads near Stanwood; year-round, Everett’s Harborview Park at midtide.

How to meet other birders: Pilchuck Audubon Society, pilchuckaudubon.org, 425-252-0926; Washington Ornithological Society, www.wos.org; or Seattle Audubon, www.seattleaudubon.org, 206-523-4483.

Washington Birder: Listings of every bird ever seen in Snohomish County, www.wabirder.com/.

Birding trips

Pilchuck Audubon Society: Tuesday birding trips, some weekends. Info at www.pilchuckaudubon.org.

• Nov. 3: Greenlake, Seattle: Meet at 8 a.m. at Everett Mall near the transit facility. We’ll carpool and walk about 3 miles around the lake. Waterfowl activity. Bring bird scopes if you have them. We’ll stop for lunch. Leader: Terry Nightingale, 206-619-2383, tnight@pobox.com.

• Nov. 3: Mushroom hunt: All day hike with mycologist Greg Hovander. Hike location will be selected based on conditions. Space is limited to 12, so reserve a spot with Kathy Johnson, 360-659-7252, katherine@earthlink.net.

• Nov. 6: Snohomish and outskirts: Meet at 8 a.m. at Snohomish park-and-ride, Highway 9 and Bickford Avenue. Pack a lunch. Leaders: Art Wait 360-563-0181, Virginia Clark, 360-435-3750.

• Nov.13: George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, B.C., on Westham Island: Meet at 7:30 a.m. at Quilceda Village Walmart, I-5-Exit 200. Park away from store next to I-5. Waterfowl, chickadees and nuthatches. Bring passport or enhanced driver’s license. Pack a lunch. Trip Leader: Virginia Clark, 360-435-3750.

• Nov. 20: Smith and Spencer Islands: Meet at 8 a.m. at Langus Riverfront Park, Everett. Waterfowl and raptors along Langus Riverfront Trail and Spencer Island. Lots of walking. Pack a lunch. Trip Leaders: Ed Cushing, 425-438-4146; Art Wait, 360-563-0181.

• Nov. 27: Birch Bay/Semiahmoo/Drayton Harbor: Meet at 7:30 a.m. at Quilceda Village Walmart. Park away from store next to I-5. Migrating waterfowl, dowitchers, yellowlegs, Dunlin, long-tailed and harlequin ducks. Wilma will provide soup and dessert at her beach cabin. Trip leaders: Wilma Bayes, 360-629-2028; Virginia Clark, 360-435-3750.

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