Smoke from nearby forest fires has made its way to the Flathead Valley and our usually brilliant blue sky is now overcast. This past week we headed to the northern end of the lake and the haze was so bad that it felt like we were canoeing at dusk even though it was noon.
The north end of Flathead Lake offers a stark contrast to what we are used to in the Lakeside area. The Somers end of the lake used to be home to a saw mill and railroad tie factory and the remains of industry can still be seen in old pilings and buildings.
Along the shoreline the water is very shallow and sandy compared to the rocky shore that we usually swim off at West Shore State Park. The Younger Fives had a ball jumping out of the kayak and running along the lake bottom while we floated along behind them.
With the overcast sky it seemed like we were canoeing along an ocean bay instead of on Flathead Lake. The bird spotting was thick along the shores of the lake with geese, gulls, and osprey spread out in the shade of the large cottonwood trees. We all enjoyed the change of environment even though we were still on the same body of water.
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.
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.
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 Obsessiontelling 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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Pelicans commandeering a boat along the Río Mulegé.
Egret fishing in Bahía Concepción.
Ducks feeding in the Río Mulegé.
Five Ball swimming in Bahía Concepción while a heron fishes close by.
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!
Five of Hearts with her custom-made binoculars.
The tally board keeping track of all the birds passing by overhead.
And no visit to Bradbury Mountain State Park is complete without visiting the playground.