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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Birding With Barry | Nisqually Wildlfie Refuge

Our visit to the refuge did not start out with our minds in the gutter.

The tree swallows... 

...on the other hand…

…were feeling frisky.

Our instructor, Barry Levine - Master Birder, provided a well-paced flow of relevant information to help us distinguish one bird from another. For instance the tree swallows do not have as much white on their cheek as the somewhat similar violet-green swallows. We signed up for Barry's class, e.g. Birding 201 - Intermediate Birding, through Seattle Audobon.

One of Barry's earliest birding inspirations involved seeing a cooper's hawk in action. While his most memorable birding experience was a 1989 trip to the Everglades with his future wife. Instantly, he was smiling as he talked about the incredible variety of birds he had seen through the Everglades fog. 

Speaking of cooper's hawks, during our initial class in Seattle, Barry gave us the opportunity to identify a number of stuffed birds, all of which died of natural causes and were not harmed in any way for our class. This was particularly valuable when comparing cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks. These birds are very similar and very challenging to identify correctly. To learn more about these birds, Click Here.

Back at Nisqually, a crossbill sitting with his back to the sun, provided us a view of his distinctive profile.

A pair of cinnamon teals were a little less free with their profiles.

Although, shortly after we began our trip on the boardwalk the male provided not only his profile but also a flash of his speculum. Barry said the speculum is like a window in the wing, in this case it is green, in the case of gadwalls it is white and with mallards it is blue.

An american goldfinch also provided a profile view. Barry noted the notched tail and the conical bill to help us be certain it was a finch.

A song sparrow gathered cotton which was blowing down from the cottonwood trees. Barry pointed out the grey "eyebrow" and told us to look for the pinspot in the middle of its chest.

Meanwhile a marsh wren, with its speckled back, gathered…

…more substantial nesting materials...

..and flashed its short tail in our direction.

We saw slow growing lifeforms...

…plus the flash of a western tanager (see more tanagers here) who came down from the treetops to sample the salmonberries. 

Earlier, we had fleeting glimpses of a yellow warbler among the willow leaves. Barry taught us to listen for the "Sweet, Sweet, Sweet, I'm So Very Sweet" sound of its song. The bird was much faster than my camera. To see a yellow warbler photo and hear the sound of its song, Click Here.

A bit later a cedar waxwing was spotted. It was also eating salmonberries. The red "wax" on its wing is barely visible just below the obscuring leaf. If you click on this photo you may be able to see the yellow on the tip of its tail.

Beyond the boardwalk we encountered a female brown-headed cowbird.

 In the distance we saw dowitchers.

The debate over the shape of their bodies was aimed at determining whether they were the slightly more sleek short-billed or the lumpier long-billed dowitchers. Barry mentioned for most birders vocalization is the only way to positively identify which dowitcher you are looking at at this distance.

Just after this, with help from Brian and Matt, we also spotted an american bittern in-flight and a yellow-headed blackbird, however the birds were too quick to be photographed. None-the-less, they were wonderful and special birds to see.

The male rufous hummingbird sat with his back to the light which only provided us with a dim view of his distant brilliance.

Even further in the distance, a shy ruddy duck gave us a brief glimpse of its bright blue beak.

A mature bald eagle passed by with regal indifference to our earth-bound existence.

A bit closer, a savannah sparrow quietly showed off its only claim to brilliant coloring, e.g. one of its faintly yellow eyebrows.

The much more colorful common yellowthroat loudly proclaimed its territorial ambitions. Early on in our adventure Barry taught us to listen for the "Wichety, wichety, wichety" song of the yellowthroat, as we heard the sound repeated through out the day, it became a song we are unlikely to forget. To hear the sound, Click Here.

Later, a closer view of a common yellowthroat also showed the small insects it was hunting.

Surprisingly, when the brilliant yellowthroat turned its back among the dry reeds, it almost disappeared.

While we were watching the wildlife, the wildlife was also watching us. About the same time Barry spotted young hooded mergansers that were swiftly hidden by their mother.

Later, we saw a male gadwall and Barry mentioned the rufous coloring hidden beneath its wing along with its white speculum. To see examples, Click Here, and then look at the fourth and fifth photos in the post.

A spotted towhee, formally know as a rufous-sided towhee.

A downy woodpecker. To compare it with a hairy woodpecker, Click Here. 

We also saw a red-breasted sapsucker but it flew directly over our heads and was too fast for photos. An example from last winter in the Arboretum can be seen, Here.

Barry spotted this singular goose, which was the most unique bird we saw all day. Barry's research indicates this is a Greater White-fronted Goose/Canada Goose hybrid.

Birding can be a lifelong endeavor with no end to the learning opportunities, but taking a class from Master Birder can certainly be a great assistance to the process.

Have a great day!


Tanager Update:

I just read a wonderful piece on tanagers. It was written by Dan Pedersen, a Whidbey Island nature-loving author, photographer and friend. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Please follow the link below:


  1. Thanks for the wonderful pictorial recounting of the Seattle Audubon intermediate birding field trip to Nisqually NWR, Larry! Makes me even more excited about the upcoming trip this Saturday.

    1. I wish I could be there to do it again. It would be very interesting to compare how many different birds and lifeforms are seen between the two trips by each half of our class. I suspect that we only see a portion of what is there but the question is, How much? Will those of you on the second trip see the same birds we did? If so will they be 60 or 70 or 80 precent of the birds you see? In any case I am sure you will have a great time, Birding With Barry.

  2. Larry, Thanks for sharing your photos and, just as much, your insightful comments. I recall Barry's words as we viewed those birds, but how did you record those plus the beautiful images? What a great birding day we had at Nisqually. I hope to run into you on a future birding adventure. Barry organizes them regularly. -- Diana Noasconi Rhodes

  3. Diana, Thank you for your kind words. The photos actually help me remember the situations, comments and of course the birds. Plus Barry was kind enough to meet for a review which really helped to fill in the blanks. Yes, It would be nice to do another birding excursion with Barry! -Larry