By Caryn Schutzler
Seattle is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own unique flavor—from the Scandinavian enclave of Ballard to bustling South Lake Union, from funky Fremont to vibrant Columbia City, and everywhere in between. Accordingly, Seattle Audubon is proud to introduce a new series for the blog, Birding My Neighborhood, with volunteer, writer, and amateur photographer Caryn Schutzler. After her adventure in Seattle's Wedgwood community, she heads west and over the bridge to West Seattle to bird with Trileigh Tucker.
Channeling my inner Moley (after just having re-read Wind in the Willows), I put aside my late spring-cleaning and head out on my next neighborhood birding adventure — in West Seattle. Like Moley, longing to see the Wild Wood, the world beyond my doorstep. Luckily, I have GPS.
Somehow it seems fitting to return to the neighborhood where I resided prior to migrating to Wedgwood. Crossing the West Seattle Bridge, gulls drift overhead. Since living here, condos and apartment buildings now dot Fauntleroy Way like hoodoos in an urban canyon. Nothing seems familiar.
At Lincoln Park, not far from where we used to live, one of several parks in this locale southwest of Seattle proper, I met Trileigh Tucker. Trileigh is a recently retired Associate Professor Emerita of Environmental Studies at Seattle University. She kindly agreed to meet me there, not far from her home, to bird.
As she parked her bicycle, I recalled our first in-person meeting last year at the Leavenworth Bird Festival. Reuniting in Lincoln Park, we hugged as if finding a long lost friend, a life bird. Binoculars draped from our necks, cameras slung on shoulders, we set out for a noon walk. Beneath the dense canopy, I felt diminutive next to towering Douglas Fir, Giant Sequoia, and Coast Redwoods.
As we as we padded along braided trails on thick forest duff, I asked Trileigh about a secret birding spot. She delivered her prompt, semi-expected reply, with a sly smile: “If I did, I wouldn’t tell you.” Understandably, birders revere their sacred spots, wanting to keep them secret, especially when trying to protect nesting birds and habitat. In 2012, this oasis of 135 acres was slated for a zip-line installation. As we walked through this peaceful park, I couldn’t imagine a zip-line filling the park with screaming people waiting for a three-minute thrill ride, ripping through trees at high velocity, at the expense of priceless habitat. Fortunately, due to a chorus of disapproval from concerned residents, it was rejected. Indeed, it does take a “neighborhood.”
As we walk in Lincoln Park, a dark bird flushes just above us. Expecting it to be a crow, its large bill, shows some residual gape, deeming it a juvenile Common Raven. It sat still for a brief photo shoot, until a telltale call like marbles being gargled echoing in the trees, lured it away.
Out of the corner of my eye, a leaf bobbed and quivered, like a fish on a line, alerting us to something in the brush. Trileigh recognized the sharp, triple-tseets as a Pacific-slope Flycatcher. She captured a photo of this one in her garden. Because Trileigh has a perennial stream running through her property, it’s a welcome respite for thirsty birds nesting in the area or migrating through.
West Seattle, a conglomeration of diverse habitats — ravines, riparian and salty shoreline — hosts many species of passerines, sea and shorebirds, migrating and resident, depending on the time of year. With summer solstice just past, Trileigh tells me that winter is really the best time for birding in West Seattle. Black Turnstones, Surfbirds, and other sea and shorebirds can be found along the miles of shoreline that surrounds this piece of land that juts into Salish Sea, A.K.A Puget Sound. Trileigh has compiled this list of birds, and other useful info about West Seattle.
Many other spots here, including the Water Taxi dock near Salty’s restaurant, Lowman’s Beach, or along Alki Beach, might proffer unexpected sightings. Once while enjoying great fish and chips at Marination, near Alki’s Seacrest Park (birders have to eat!), I noticed a banded Double-crested Cormorant. Via help from Tweeters, I sent my photo to the banding group, information they greatly appreciated.
Chatting quietly along the trail in this local “Wild Wood”, we pass a family having a picnic in a sunlit glade. She tells me a few of her favorite bird sightings in Lincoln Park: Barred owlets, Pileated Woodpecker fledglings and young eagles. This American White Pelican and Peregrine Falcon are definite standouts, among the birds mentioned.
Juncos and Song Sparrows flit about blackberry bramble above a well-hidden, nearly dry stream. In a thicket of ocean spray, Bushtits and chickadees anxiously chitter. An Anna’s Hummingbird zips perch to perch. Like a group of squawking crows, they alert us to an intruder in our midst.
“Look.” Trileigh points into the brush. About twenty feet from us, and ten feet off the ground, a Barred Owl sits staring down. As we shift to get a photo of this perched apparition, it looks straight back at us.
Urban parks in Seattle are seeing more and more of this so-called invasive species. But nonetheless, it’s always stunning to come upon an owl.
Further down the path, Trileigh points out scattered stick debris at a tree’s base, remnants of an eagle’s nest. Overlooking the Sound, the nest had been sited perfectly to find fish for young eagles.
Toward the end of our walk, I had a realization: When we bird with our neighbors, we discover, we learn, we branch out. Though I often have pangs of envy when reading about other’s birding treks to other lands, sometimes a bird will turn up in a nearby neighborhood. When a Swallow-tailed Gull from the Galapagos Islands appeared in Edmonds, Washington, just a quick 20-minute jaunt north on Interstate 5, I went to see this bird I’d probably otherwise never have seen. And I was able to come home to sleep in my own nest!
Heading home to Wedgwood, I ponder Moley’s escapades into the Wild Wood and wished I’d packed a picnic. Next time. I realize there’s always more to see. In the words of Moley’s friend Ratty: “…there’s nothing, absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as messing around with birds…” As I contemplate my next neighborhood bird outing and what I might find there, I am grateful to the friends (Thanks Trileigh!) that help me discover the birds unique to their neighborhoods — and the ones we all have in common.