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My Life’s Birds: #469-475

February 2, 2011
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August 4, 2008Grand Tetons National Park, Wy – It was no doubt ambitious of my dad and I to assume that we would get time to bird when we went west.  The trip wasn’t for us, though, it was for my uncle, recently diagnosed with a malicious form of brain cancer and with an idea to get the extended family together to visit the Grand Tetons before the worst, should that be the course of the disease, occurred.  It was something of an odd trip, straddled as we all were between excitement and grief.  People were on edge, and justifiably so, and things for which it would normally be easy to negotiate, like some spare moments for birding here and there, were suddenly a potential minefield.  When lots of people come together, schedules collide, and families who want to do everything together are suddenly faced with the reality that every individual in the group has their own schedule, their own routine, and deviation from that routine causes unnecessary stress.  Plans to leave by 9 become plans to leave by lunch.  Morning trips quickly become afternoon trips.  It’s a tightrope act, made all the more difficult by the situation in which we all found ourselves.  One that, in the stark light of a Grand Tetons morning, proved to be nearly overwhelming both logistically and emotionally.

I was ready before dawn though; I’m usually an early riser anyway and my body was still on Eastern Daylight even though physically it found itself in Mountain.  The first morning my dad and I broke camp before dawn, with a promise to return by breakfast, and birded the entry road to the National Park itself.  Black-billed Magpies scolded us from fenceposts and dashed across pastures flashing black and white.  We pulled over to check out an oxbow lake and were pleasantly surprised to find a family of Trumpeter Swans, including two cygnets, taking up a not insignificant amount of real estate while a pair of Barrow’s Goldeneye (female type birds, or males in eclipse) dove around the edges.   We stopped by a willow grove near the riverbank where a but of pishing brought in a bunch of western birds, Willow Flycatchers and Wilson’s Warbler and a Winter Wren (that I would eventually come to realize was of the population now considered Pacific Wren).  A pair of Osprey sat on a nest constructed atop a power pole, and little Cassin’s Finches called from atop Spruce trees.   With four life birds easily attained, we adjourned to find the family still getting ready for the day.  A piece of cake.

Once everyone got up and moving close to lunchtime we all headed out to a trail on the far side of Jenny Lake.  Like so many throughways in our National Park system, it was crowded with people, families and hikers and the like.  The birds were mostly quiet in the early afternoon, but a little patience and some close attention secured an American Dipper working a riffle just off the trail.  I stood and watched it for some time as hikers passed right on by, heading for the falls at the top of the trail paying little attention to anything along the way.

Afterwards we went to Jackson, passing through a grassy valley in the shadows of the dramatic mountains.  The area north of the town the managed as an elk “sanctuary”, where residents famously leave out hay in the winter months to sate the appetites of a truly ridiculous local population of the giant deer.  In summer though the field is perfect for Mountain Bluebirds, and we saw a few on barbed wire fences.  I managed to convince my family I wanted to walk up the highway while they went shopping, and I saw several individuals before they eventually picked me up on the way back.  And maximizing by birding after dinner, I found a solitary Dusky Flycatcher, one of the grayish western Empids, along with Black-headed Grosbeaks and other western passerines.

It would be the only day I’d get to set aside specifically for birding.  Things happen, people want to do or not do those things, and birding, once again, takes a back seat.  But it was pretty good day under the circumstances, even if there wouldn’t be another like it on this trip.

photos from wikipedia

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