By Christy Allen
I started birding more than two years ago, but until this summer I had never birded outside the northwest comer of Washington. Like most birders, my other life gets in the way and I’m lucky when I get out more than once or twice a month. I sometimes sit in my living room reading A Guide to Bird Finding in Washington and dreaming about strange and wondrous birds I’ve never seen. Many of these birds have one thing in common: they are located east of the mountains. Obviously, I needed to make at trip to eastern Washington but it was always in the “one of these days” future.
Then the announcement of the WOS annual meeting in Spokane was posted to Tweeters. The more I read, the more I wanted to go. I didn’t know exactly what happened at WOS meetings, but look at those field trips! Selkirk Mountains, Spokane, Potholes. And the birds! Northern Waterthrush, American Redstart, Bobolink, Boreal Chickadee. Surely there would also be Mountain Chickadees, Blackbacked Woodpecker, and Clay-colored Sparrow. Suddenly I was studying birds in my field guide I had never paid much attention to before.
My family said go for it. They are over the weirdness of my getting up at 5:00 on days off to go look at birds, so a trip to Spokane didn’t seem so strange. They assured me they could get along without me for four days. I hurried to work the next day and put in my vacation request. I was having some doubts though. Would everyone else be experienced birders, with life lists in the hundreds, rolling their eyes if I get excited at seeing some bird they’ve seen a hundred times? Would anyone even talk to me? Did novice birders belong at a WOS meeting? I didn’t know anyone to ask. All I could do was go and see. I would just keep my mouth shut and tag along. Those birds looked too good to pass up.
When June 15 finally came, I left Bremerton in the morning and headed for 1-90. I decided that this was going to be one intense birding weekend and so pored over the bird- finding guide for places to bird on the way. I decided to stop at Wanapum State Park at Vantage.
When I arrived about noon, I had left the clouds of Puget Sound behind, and it was warm and sunny. I parked the car, grabbed my binoculars and headed down the hill to the picnic area. I promptly found three new birds: an immature Bullock’s Oriole, a Western Kingbird, and a Black-billed Magpie. Oh yeah, this was going to be a great trip.
I arrived in Spokane in the afternoon and went to check in at the WOS registration desk. There was a group of people standing by the doorway and they were talking eamestly about birds! I can’t say how wonderful I found this. I had never been around anyone who wanted to talk about birds in the passionate way birders do. I wanted to go stand by them and listen, but I felt too shy.
The next three days were filled with birds, birding, and birders. On both Friday and Saturday’ s field trips I sat next to a very friendly woman who was open and helpful without talking down, although it was obvious she had much more experience than me. I found out later that she was Jan Lewinsohn, the secretary of WOS. In fact, everyone was very helpful. Sometimes I felt embarrassed when I couldn’t find a bird in my binoculars that everyone else was seeing, but always someone would patiently guide me until I would finally see it. People made sure that I had seen the birds that had been found and offered their spotting scopes when they found something good. Nobody seemed to mind when I asked questions. I was delighted to discover that some other birders also like to identify butterflies, flowers, and trees, something I was starting to do also. I was having a wonderful time.
Saturday afternoon was for the presentation of papers, which sounded interesting, but l was here for birding and decided to go to Turnbull NWR by myself — who knows when I would get another chance. I thoroughly enjoyed Turnbull. I finally saw a Yellow-headed Blackbird, but missed Pygmy Nuthatch, which the refuge’s bird list says is abundant, “certain to be seen.” Well, not this time.
For Sunday, I had signed up for Homeward Bound, birding on the way back to western Washington. Michael Carmody led the way through the Potholes region. We went so many places on so many dirt roads and saw so many birds that I was dazed after a while. But Michael knew right where he was going and we saw one great bird after another. This was my first experience car birding at 55 miles per hour, where without warning we would stop abruptly on the side of the road because Michael had spotted a bird. It took concentration, but I kept up and more important I didn’t run into the back of his car. It was exciting and a great way to end my trip.
I got home Sunday afternoon tired and happy. I had lots of birds to enter into my listing program, including 35 lifers. But more important, I had satisfying memories of birds, eastern Washington, and the people I met. Now I can’t wait to go back and find that Pygmy Nuthatch.