Willapa National Wildlife Refuge

We were all really excited to visit the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge near Ilwaco, Washington on our recent vacation. The refuge is made up of units near and along the Long Beach Peninsula. The variety of habitats from old growth forest, to marshes, and open ocean make this refuge a great place for bird watching, hiking, and just enjoying the coast. The Cutthroat Climb at the Headquarters Unit was a huge hit with the Younger Fives. You will definitely want footwear that can get wet during the spring. The Leadbetter Unit at the tip of the Long Beach Peninsula was great for birding along the bay, but the trails to the ocean were all flooded past thigh level. We ended up visiting the refuge on several days and would love to return to do some camping on the island portion of the refuge.

Cutthroat Climb at Headquarters Office

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Leadbetter Unit

Bonding While Birding: A Family Big Year

As a family we started to get interested in bird watching back in the spring of 2015 when we lived in Wyoming for a while. During this time we spotted many migratory birds passing through the area and made a trip to see the Sandhill Cranes at the Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Our enthusiasm for bird watching only increased when we lived on Vancouver Island and had the pleasure of viewing bald and golden eagles as well as many species of seabirds.

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With 2017 just underway we made a decision the other day to work towards a “Family Big Year”. A Big Year in terms of bird watching is a competition between birders to see who can identify through sight or sound the largest number of bird species in one calendar year. A great film with Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black was made based on the book The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession telling the story of 3 men who tried for a Big Year in 1998. We highly recommend watching the film or reading the book to learn a little more about this fun birding competition.

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While we don’t expect to get anywhere near the 780 species of birds spotted by 2016’s Big Year winner, we have set a family goal to spot 105 different bird species in 2017. All five of use will have to see the species in order for it to count towards our total. We are all super excited about this challenge and have already had up close encounters with Wild Turkey, American Crow, and Bald Eagle. The kids are diligently tracking each species we see, researching more about the bird’s characteristics, and studying up on basic birding techniques.

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We were very fortunate to be able to tap into the resources of the Flathead Audubon Society who make learning about birds in our area fun and interesting. They offer Educational Trunks to homeschoolers and we were fortunate to start off our Family Big Year by borrowing their Common Birds of the Flathead trunk. The field guides, CDs, and pictures inside have been a great resource in getting our family up to speed on what common species of birds we should be looking for in our surrounding area.

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In order to record our Family Big Year we will keep a list and photo gallery of each bird species that we spot in 2017 on the  Nature On The Fly page of our blog. We can’t wait to see what this big year will bring!

 

Birds of Baja

Since arriving in Mulege, Mexico our animal spotting skills have switched over from trying to pick out big mammals (bear, elk, wolves, etc.) from among the trees, to identifying the abundance of bird species that make the Baja Peninsula their home. Our morning walks along the Río Mulegé bring us within feet of Pelicans, Heron, Egrets, Osprey, Gulls, Turkey Vultures and Ducks. So far we have all enjoyed observing these flying species and especially like watching them catch their morning fish. It has also been a nice change of pace not to have to worry about running into a bear or being charged by a bison. However, Five Ball can testify to the fact that it is still a scary experience to have a pelican decide to drop down from the sky and fish right where you are swimming!

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Pelicans commandeering a boat along the Río Mulegé.

Egret fishing in Bahía Concepción.

Egret fishing in Bahía Concepción.

Ducks feeding in the Río Mulegé.

Ducks feeding in the Río Mulegé.

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Five Ball swimming in Bahía Concepción while a heron fishes close by.

 

Feathers Over Freeport, Maine

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We had a great time at the Feathers over Freeport birdwatching weekend at Bradbury Mountain State Park today. We got to see some birds close up, learn about an owl that hunts during the day (the snowy owl), make our own binoculars, hike to the summit to spot some broad-winged hawks, and, of course, get some quality time on the playground. It was a day to remember!

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Five of Hearts with her custom-made binoculars.

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The tally board keeping track of all the birds passing by overhead.

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And no visit to Bradbury Mountain State Park is complete without visiting the playground.

Amerca’s First

On March 14, 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt established Pelican Island, the only brown pelican rookery left on the east coast of Florida, as America’s first National Wildlife Refuge. Thousands of pelicans were being killed for their feathers, fashionable in ladies’ hats, and for their eggs; several local residents including Paul Kroegel and Frank Chapman took it upon themselves to stop the hunters and protected the birds from future harm. Luckily for the Fives, this special place is located just off of Route 1 in Vero Beach.

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Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge provides protected habitat for not only pelicans but also for an abundance of wildlife. Our campsite being just up the road at Sebastian Inlet State Park, we were able to spend two mornings exploring the reserve. Our first morning we took a stroll along the Centential Trial. After winding by a lagoon where numerous bird species were fishing for their breaksfast, we came to an unusual boardwalk. Puzzled at first at why each plank had a place name and year, we soon realized we were walking back in time through all of the National Wildlife Refuges. Seeing refuge after refuge in such a visual way was deeply moving and really helped the younger Fives appreicate the sheer number of proected places. Some planks were even grouped together to commemorate important conservation milestones, such as 1980’s Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act which protected over 100 million acres of intact ecosystems and wildlife habitat. The last plank of course was for Pelican Island itself and came right before the observation tower looking out over the island. By the time we made our way back down, we were dreaming of volunteering at many of these protected areas in the future.

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We returned to the reserve the next morning and challenged ourselves on the two-mile Joe Michael Memorial Trial, named after a local citrus grower who had spearheaded efforts to preserve land surrounding the island and keep it free from development. The mowed path wound through a mangrove forest where we spotted many crabs as they scuttled to find refuge in their holes. We then were able to see some bird species up close from the observation tower as we ate lunch. All together we saw pelicans, egrets, comorants, spoonbills, storks, and several other birds we couldn’t quite identify. Our first-hand observations helped us discover three different ways that birds fish (diving from the sky, standing in the water, and diving underwater) and how birds’ bodies help them specialize in a certain feeding technique.

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Birding isn’t all this area of Florida offered the Fives. Between the wildlife refuges (yes, there is more than one) and state parks, the area has an exceptional amount of land and water preserved for wildlife and human recreation. Sebestian Inlet is one of Florida’s premere fishing destinations and also home to the McLarty Treasure Museum which sits on the location of a camp used by the survivors of the 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet that shipwrecked just off shore. We were able to learn about the recovery of the treasure that was destined for Spain and see many artifacts from the 1700’s. While the fish and the treasure were impressive we had been dreaming of seeing manatees during our visit. Luckily on our final evening while walking the state park’s northern jetty, Five Spice spotted a manatee heading through the inlet from the Indian River. We watched as it sped along the sandy bottom and around the jetty to the open ocean, surfacing evey once and a while to breathe. Meanwhile the many surfers in the water were competing for our attention, providing inspiration to us all as we have been hard at work practicing our bodysurfing over the last week.

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All in all, the Fives could get used to calling this area home. Spotting a bunny over dinner on our last night only made the connection stronger since we have spent countless hours watching them at our previous house. High Five is probably the most loco for lagamorphs out of us all and delighted in chasing it around yelling, “BUN!” He continued his chant well into the evening as we retired to our tent for bedtime, and other campers likely heard an unexpected addition to the twilight chorus of tree frogs and insects.