Thursday, June 07, 2007


Once again, we awoke to beautiful weather. Since I had to be at choir at 3:00, Adam and I did some local birding at Ridgefield NWR and Vancouver lake. We first went to the Carty unit at Ridgefield, and upon our arrival we were greeted by a pair of Lazuli Buntings right by the parking lot (this one is the male).

Lazuli Bunting

A steeply arched bridge crossed the railroad tracks, and we walked the gravel roads to the Cathlopotle plankhouse (a replica of the native American structures found in the area), where the "Oaks to Wetlands" trail actually started.

Bewick's Wren

We had just begun meandering through the beautiful dense oak canopy when we found a female Western Tanager foraging on the trail in front of us. She seemed to prefer the shade, but I got my best photo when she paused in some patchy light for a second.

Western Tanager

Exiting the oak forest, we found ourselves on the edge of the marsh where Song Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats were abundant. Photography was difficult in the harsh midday light. The highlight of our walk was when Adam located our first Townsend's Warbler at the very top of a tall oak--I pretty much had to lay on my back to get a glimpse. Pleased with our success there, we did a quick run through the auto-route on the River S unit, watching and photographing the typical Cinnamon Teal, Barn Swallows and Great Blue Herons along the road and at the observation blind.

Cinnamon Teal

Great Blue Heron

After a quick lunch, we headed over to Vancouver lake, where we found my first Bullock's Orioles (absolutely stunning birds, I wish I had been able to get pictures) in a grove of birch trees. Here's a neat shot of a Spotted Towhee I took at the same place.

Spotted Towhee

Then it was time for choir and from there back home to prepare for our big trip on Thursday.

All photos © Benjamin Berkompas 2007, taken at Ridgfield National Wildlife Refuge


It was gorgeous sunny weather so we decided it would be a good day to visit Mt. St. Helens. Daniel volunteered to come, and we headed out at about 8:00 for the monument, taking I5 up to the Castle Rock exit toward Johnston Ridge and Coldwater Ridge. We arrived at Johnston ridge about mid-morning.

The Mountain from Johnston Ridge

Toutle River Valley

I hadn’t been there for years, and since it was such a barren wasteland it didn’t look too promising for birdlife, but the beautiful wilderness environment more than made up for that.

Though the views of the Mountain were great, the wind was really powerful, and carried particles of ash and dust that would be sure to scratch lenses and make photography difficult (as you can see in the following photo :).

So we walked around inside the visitor center for a little while, examining the seismographs, photos and stories of the eruption. Adam said that when he used to work in a cave in MO, they had a seismograph which could pick up activity from all around the world. Sometimes they would see indications of an earthquake or eruption and several hours later the news would confirm an event at the time the machine recorded it.

The wind died down a bit and allowed us to get some neat shots before we left for Coldwater Ridge. On the way back down through the hills we spotted a hawk flying overhead. In typical birder form, Adam found the nearest pulloff--on the other side of the road--and swerved in there. The bird turned out to be just a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, so we kept going. We stopped at the short “Birth of a Lake” boardwalk trail on Coldwater Lake, where we got some neat photos of the lake, and saw a few Yellow Warblers and Willow Flycatchers.

Coldwater Lake from the "Birth of a Lake" trail

As we were eating lunch at the trailhead, the resident ground squirrel came for handouts--there was a $250 fine for feeding the animals so I shot him instead!

Then we were feeling adventurous enough to attempt the Hummocks Trail (named for the ubiquitous rounded mounds that are found in the valley), a 2.5 mile loop through some of the most amazing terrain around the mountain in the Toutle River valley. There weren’t too many birds, but the scenery was even more magnificent than the route description promised, so we really enjoyed that hike.

Scenery from the Hummocks Trail

I kept imagining how much fun it would be to kayak down the Toutle River, but I don't even own a kayak, and they might not allow it. Too bad.

We then visited the Coldwater Ridge visitor center, which was really nice and tourist-friendly (without the wind!), offering great looks at the lake down below and the mountain.

Me at Coldwater Ridge (photos by Adam Nisbett)

View from the Coldwater Lake Visitor Center

Though the birdlife was pretty subdued, the mountain was spectacular as always. It really is a national monument to Creation.

All photos © Benjamin Berkompas 2007 (unless otherwise indicated), taken at Mt. St. Helens National Monument WA

Monday, June 04, 2007


Jonathan had Memorial Day off, so he had been planning on going to the beach with Chelsea. Naturally, Adam and I were more than happy to go along, so at about 8:00 in the morning we departed for Long Beach located at the mouth of the Columbia river. Our route actually took us into OR first, then we crossed a really long, low bridge over the river to WA; we saw several Bald Eagles perched on posts in the middle of the river right by the bridge. I had never been to Long Beach, and it was very pretty, offering neat views of the North Head Lighthouse on Cape Disappointment in the distance.

There were a lot of gulls--mostly Western and Ring-billed--and crows, but the highlights were the rafts of alcids or sea ducks way out on the ocean, the Brown Pelicans gliding past over the surf, a flock of Sanderlings, and a lone male Red-necked Phalarope.

American Crow

The Sanderlings weren’t very cooperative subjects as they kept lifting off and touching down farther down the shoreline, but eventually they got close enough to where we could easily watch their antics through Adam’s scope, and get a few neat photos of the flock in flight. It was amazing how coordinated they were. The whole flock seemed to move as a single entity, and a few of my photos showcase that really well. We watched them swing way out over the surf, then circle back, land, and scurry around in the mud looking for food as the waves receded.


A grassy slope ran all the way along the beach, in which we could always hear and see Savannah Sparrows singing. Adam and I wandered up there to get some shots, and while we were examining a Gray Whale skeleton exhibit, we chatted about how neat it would be if a sparrow flew onto a nearby rock. A moment later and beautiful little SAVS obliged and perched on a sweet lichen-covered boulder to sing, while we slowly raised our cameras and started snapping pictures. The lighting was great because, even though we were shooting around midday, it was slightly overcast.

Savannah Sparrow

Adam wasn’t using a tripod or monopod, so he got a few shots from a lower angle than I did, including some ocean blue in the BG--that made me kind of envious, but oh well. Jonathan and Chelsea wanted their picture taken, so that done we had lunch and headed south to Cape Disappointment.

White-crowned Sparrow

We made the brief hike up to the North Head Lighthouse, and saw a Swainson’s Thrush and my first Orange-crowned Warbler.

North Head Lighthouse

The lighthouse and view was beautiful, but so was the vantage point. From the top of the cliff we were able to spot several Pigeon Guillemots out of the surf with Adam’s scope, as well as tons of Pelagic Cormorants nesting on the surrounding cliffs.

Pelagic Cormorants

I got one photo of a distant Pigeon Guillemot flying against some neat foaming waves which might make a good painting.

Pigeon Guillemot

Again, we saw some distant alcids or ducks but we couldn’t identify them.


Me (photo by Adam Nisbett)

After that, Adam and I left to catch up with Jonathan and Chelsea who said they would be at the gift shop. When we got there they had already left, so we talked to the lady at the counter for a little while, and answered a few questions like, “Are you professional photographers?” Oh ya, totally... :) As we left she told us that there were a few deer nearby, and we got to see a pair on the way back to the car.

Columbian White-tailed Deer

Jonathan then drove us to another nearby lighthouse, which we hiked up to, passing Dead Man’s Cove (which prompted quite a few jokes) and a spooky little concrete structure that looked like a tomb. This lighthouse was beautiful as well, offering more views of the nesting Cormorants and a huge flock of them on the water along with tons of Caspian Terns and a few gulls.

Finally, we spent some time down on Wakiki beach (I know, it sounds Hawaiian) photographing Terns in flight against the blue sky and cliff face. Though there were a lot of birds and they got fairly close, I’m still an amateur at flight photography and really struggled to get any keepers, though that experience certainly improved my technique.

Caspian Terns

We tried climbing along the rocky dike to look for turnstones and other things, but they weren’t around and it got pretty treacherous. I got some great looks at a small group of Surf Scoters that paddled into the cove--one of my favorite sea ducks! Before we left, I couldn’t resist setting down my gear and splashing around in the waves for a few minutes. I kept wondering, “Why did I wear jeans today?...”

Big thanks to Jonathan and Chelsea who put up with two “crazy birders” for a day. Jonathan had some rather unusual sightings, like the Red-bellied, Blue-backed Kites that hovered over the beach, and apparently a Bird of Paradise too... :) Hmmm, weird...

All photos © Benjamin Berkompas (unless otherwise indicated), taken at Long Beach & Cape Disappointment WA